What Media And Politicians Still Don’t Get About Appalachia

The Federalist | 9/20/2019 | Farahn Morgan
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My favorite childhood memory goes something like this: It’s mid-afternoon on a summer day, and I am with my mamaw on her front porch in Letcher County, Kentucky. The sun has dropped behind the ridges that rise up on all sides.

We are surrounded by grocery bags filled with half-runner beans from the garden, a subsistence plot that has kept generations of men, women, and children alive. We are breaking and stringing beans in huge heaps, and she is telling me the “grown-up” gossip. Sometimes she sings folk songs. A life of hard work and hardship has made her hands drawn and painful, but Leora Branham still sings while she works.

Donald - Trump - Election - Glut - Analysis

Leading up to and following Donald Trump’s election in 2016, there has been a glut of mainstream cultural analysis about rural Appalachia and its people, from J.D. Vance’s much-lauded “Hillbilly Elegy” to the Wall Street Journal’s feature about the residents of Buchanan County, Virginia: “Donald Trump is Still Their Man.” As a native of rural Appalachia, I’ve read each piece of writing with faint amusement and hope that the spike in visibility will turn the tide of ignorance, bigotry, and outright cruelty with which Appalachian people are often met. What I’ve seen instead is, at best, a misunderstanding and, at worst, a misrepresentation of a culture that is undoubtedly in crisis.

Take, for instance, an article that appeared in Saturday’s New York Times called “In Coal Country, The Mines Shut Down, The Women Went to Work, and the World Quietly Changed.” Its premise is that the immediate answer to the collapse of the coal industry and the looming economic crisis is a cultural shift that allows women to enter the workforce.

US - Census - Estimates - Article - Citation

According, presumably, to U.S. census estimates (the article doesn’t include a citation), Letcher County, Kentucky, saw “the greater [sic] shift of gender...
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