I will start this post off by warning that this post will be in no way politically correct. I don’t think I could make this politically correct if I tried. So consider yourself forewarned.
I have been away from my home land for 3 years now. In those 3 years I have gone back for a visit 4 times, usually for less than a week at a time. I left my home town in the Tennessee Mountains with a population of just over 26,000 to a coastal city with a population of just over 300,000. The move was not a huge culture shock for me as I have traveled extensively all over the world and had spent a large part of my college summers in this area. It was not till I moved out of Appalachia that I began to realize the extent of prejudice against people like me. This was the biggest culture shock to me.
I first came up against this stereotyping at my job. The sheer amount of off color jokes and comments about my home was disturbing. I will pause here and say that this is racist behavior, the dictionary definition of race is “a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics” and racism is defined as “racial prejudice or discrimination”, just because it happens to be socially acceptable does not change this fact. As time as gone on I still come up against these issues and I am convinced that had my boss not graduated from the University of Tennessee I would have not gotten an offer.
Remarks like you have “you have all your teeth” and “you are wearing shoes” were common when people found out where I was from. I have had my knowledge and education (Bachelors degree with 12 years experience) of my field (IT) questioned and belittled. Even with all of this I refuse to hide where I am from or hide my accent. I do peacefully correct the person when this happens and have mentioned my frustration to my superiors. When I did I was told to deal with it and it was not against any rule for me to be treated as such, however I know had the tables been turned and I had insulted them in the same manner, I would be fired on the spot.
Yea I got angry, pissed off honestly, and I “dealt with it”. I distanced myself from those persons and built up some internal walls. I also began to ask myself why this was the way it is. I have always tried to be forgiving and see things from others perspective as well as educate…it is the way I was raised…ironic isn’t it. The more I thought about it the more I began to realize the horrific stereotypes that have come to define what Appalachia means to those from the outside. We are seen as dumb, backwards, fearful of outsiders, lacking in hygiene, lazy, and many more. This is NOT Appalachia and I am really tired of seeing the region and its people marginalized and exploited. Appalachia is full of people who have had to work hard just to scrape by a living and have been exploited along the way.
Many have come into Appalachia and stripped it of its resources and taken all the profit with them as they left. First the timber companies came and stripped away the old growth forests and left poverty and poor soil in their wake. The land was left barren and the floods came and with them more destruction and death.
When the coal mines came in they brought jobs but they also imported exploitation and corruption. They forced the miners to not take a paycheck and instead get a “script” that was only good at the mine company store. A store where the miners routinely had to go into debt just to live, due to the inflated prices. When the miners began to attempt to unionize the coal companies then hired groups of armed men to kill union sympathizers and instill fear in miners. Even though eventually the unions prevailed the coal companies still exploit Appalachia through unsustainable mountain top removal mining that poison the water and the land and completely remove a mountain from the landscape for the sake of profit. Let me make it clear I am not against mining or even coal but it must be mined in a sustainable and ecologically responsible way, and be used efficiently and without great waste.
Many make jokes about how dumb people are in Appalachia. While it is true that there is a need for better education in the region, people there are far from dumb. As a group of people who have had to make do with what they have many intelligent inventions have come from the region. It was in Tennessee that one of the major sites of the Manhattan Project (where the atomic bomb was developed). Many major manufacturing and chemical companies still call Appalachia home. As the technological revolution has developed major tech companies like Google have moved into Appalachia and have created data centers and server farms.
As far as the stereotype that Appalachians are fearful of outsiders- I have not personally seen this. I have seen people treat outsiders with skepticism and not trust them… but not be fearful of them, and all the while treating them kindly. I’ve never seen the out and out violence that is stereotypical. However, with the history of exploitation coupled with the stereotypes who can blame someone for being skeptical.
I’ve always known the stereotypes and have struggled in times past to educate as to their fallacy… especially while over seas… but after moving away full time the issue became more apparent. I began to wonder what was fueling this train of thought. It was then that I noticed the proliferation in mass entertainment that props up the stereotypes. Now I know that may sound odd in a way but in my defense we had purposely chosen not to have cable television, and instead watch Netflix and Amazon Prime, for years and during that time avoided the commercials and network TV. As I began looking into this I was surprised to find that the exploitation on the “hillbilly” stereotype in TV was nothing new.
I found movies and TV shows all the way back into the 40’s that exploited the stereotype for some laughs. During this time it was not uncommon to see racial stereotyping used for comedy. As time went on the old films with black faced actors fell into history never to be released again (as they should have been) but remastered versions of Ma and Pa Kettle, and others, are still being produced today because it is still socially acceptable to make fun of Appalachians.
Fast forward to today and you have shows like Outsider on WGN. When I first saw that trailer I was speechless as to how insanely racist it was. It seems like the writers and producers pulled out a checklist of stereotypes and began checking off a list one by one. Lawless…check…Dirty…check…outsider-phobia…check…small family tree…check…language…check…and the list goes on. As a side note I might add that the accents are horrific, it is easy to tell that none of the main actors are from Appalachia (in fact at least 3 aren’t even born in the USA). Just a visit to the website of this show with its “Speak our language” quiz and “Knives N’ Shine” knife throwing/moonshine drinking game is enough to be revolting. I ask you in all honesty if there was a website for a major TV network that had a “Spanglish” or “Ebonics” quiz would they be boycotted and vilified? I won’t even get started on Deliverance.
So what is Appalachia really then? It is more than it’s beautiful vistas and windy roads. It is a place with people…kind, hardworking, and honest people who help each other out. A place where people still stop on the side of the road to let a funeral pass. A place where doors are still held open for others. A place where if you are stranded on the road somewhere someone will stop and help.If being a kind, hardworking, honest, and God fearing Appalachian makes me backwards in the eyes of mass society then so be it. I am proud to call myself an Appalachian and would not have it any other way.
Look up nature in the dictionary and there are several definitions but this one is the most raw…the most natural definition as it were. Mankind likes to take control and control our world. As a race we strive to control our lives and create our own world. We use terms like “man made park” and “man made lake” to label what we call our creations. However, these aren’t creations at all, not in the truest sense. We manipulate the created to make into something we desire and call it our creation, but we have not created anything we have merely manipulated the created world and rearranged it to better serve us. We build dams to have lakes that allow us to power society and manipulate the irrigation of our land. We beat back the weeds and cut down the trees to make our cities with all their conveniences. We do these things in the name of progress trying to control the world around us and in turn our lives.
The irony in all of this is we haven’t truly created anything and unless we continually fight nature what we have built will be destroyed. If we do not continually cut back the woods they will take over. If we do not continually monitor our dams and relieve the water pressure regularly the dam will burst. Over the centuries we have slowly tricked ourselves into this belief that we are creators of our own world. So much so that with the modern advances in science we are trying to clone and genetically modify plants and animals. Slowly we have told ourselves we are a pseudo-god that can do as we wish. Sadly may have used the Bible itself to say this is good quoting Genesis 1:26 as their reference for their right to dominion.
Many have used the term dominion to mean we can do whatever we want with the world around us. In truth we can’t. To have dominion means we are called to be a good steward of the land, to watch over it and nurture it. For centuries mankind did this in relative consistency, there were those that exploited the land but as a general rule the land was taken care of and nurtured. Somewhere this all changed, in my mind this begun in earnest at the industrial revolution, and we began to treasure money, power, and things more than we valued the world around us. We became obsessed with inventing to make our lives easier and have more and to have it quicker.This has morphed into the instant gratification device crazed society that we have become.
Over time we have not only lost the respect for the land but also for one another. We have begun to stop respecting life. As a society we don’t respect the natural world and feel free to take from or simply destroy if it suits our current desires. We see evidence of this with mountain top removal and deforestation. Nature is destroyed in the most harmful way to make our lives easier or make more money, and in the process poisoning the people and nature in the area. It is easy to point the finger at the coal company who blows off the top of mountains or the real estate industry that is stripping the land to make way for a shopping mall, but we are to blame as well for it is us, as consumers, that drive the profits of these industries.
God is everywhere but mankind has invented distractions so that we may not hear or see Him. It is only in nature, surrounded by His creation, that we remove these distractions and can truly hear and see. I find that it is in nature that I am able be come closer to God. Yes, in church while worshiping God I can feel His presence but even during liturgy there are our man made distractions that dull the experience. In nature, if we leave the cell phone and other tech off, we are not only able to worship God ourselves but also are able to join with creation in worship.
He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” ~ Luke 19:40
So many times my time in nature has balanced me back to center. When I am feeling discouraged and worried nature drives home Matthew 6:26 , especially during winter. When I am feeling angry my time in nature God revels to me how my anger is pride based and humbles me. In nature there is a type of freedom that one can only get while surrounded by God’s creation. Turn off the cell phone, leave the tablet and internet at home and walk into nature and simply sit and listen to creation it will change your perspective. When it is time to come back into your regular every day life try to hold on to the knowledge gained and return often.
With the large amounts of snow that has blanketed the south (myself included) I marveled at how people flocked to the grocery stores and gas stations. This was of course expected by the retailers and they jacked their prices up to accommodate the hoarding masses. It got me to thinking about how we, as a society, are not prepared for any interruption to our daily life. I have to say, somewhat embarrassingly, I found myself in that boat this time as well (I couldn’t believe the beach could get 10″of snow). I won’t let that happen again that is for sure. I had to brave the snow covered roads (my city of 180,000+ people only has 4 plows) to make it to the only open store around…Wal-Mart. I found isles and isles of empty shelves. if it related to heat or food/drink it was mostly gone. I was able to get what we needed but only barely and by paying almost double what it would have cost me only 2 days prior.
As I walked down these isles the one thing that did stand out to me was what was mostly left was the non-convenience foods. If you wanted Hamburger Helper or Mac-N-Cheeze you were out of luck. However if you wanted something like say spaghetti that takes some prep (all be it not much) there was plenty of that. Bread, Lunch-meat, frozen foods, etc all gone. As a nation processed foods make up 70% +/- of our diets.* Most of the ‘food’ in the stores is so heavily added to with chemicals and other additives that it is more man made than natural. Our drive towards instant gratification and constant experience has driven this. We want to drink our orange juice year round even though the growing season for oranges is small. As a society we eat what we want when we want…the result of this is our food is mass produced and shipped from all over the world.
This mass production and worldwide shipping has allowed us more ‘variety’ in our stores but what has it done to our health. Phosphates are one major ingredient in these foods; from good ole’ Mac-N-Cheeze to frozen dinners and soda’s have phosphate laden ingredients. These ingredients have been shown to affect the kidneys and lead to deterioration as well as weakened bones.** High fructose corn syrup (a leading sweetener) blocks the hormone receptors that tell you that you are getting full.*** This leads to overeating and obesity; Splenda and Sweet-N-Low aren’t any better.****
So what to do? I am a realist when it comes to this. I don’t think that most people can cut the artificial and processed out of their lives completely. Unless we all went back to a slower and more planned lifestyle there is no way. We can however limit our exposure. Eat out less and home more. Stay away from the middle of the grocery store; most processed foods are in the isles in the middle of the grocery stores. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables or better yet grow your own garden.
What it really comes down to is knowing what is in your food and how it was grown/produced. Most processed foods are not made in a sustainable way. The animals are packed side by side in inhumane conditions and given antibiotics so they don’t get sick from the feces they are standing in and are pumped with growth hormones to make then mature quicker and be ready for slaughter sooner. This is not sustainable and it is not respecting the life of the animal. It is not being a good steward.
A good steward would respect the animal and that it is giving its life for our subsistence. A good steward would respect the farmer and their way of life and financial situation. A good steward would respect the consumer and their health and quality of product. This does not happen. Industrial food is driven solely by profit and efficiency. It has driven the charge to genetically modify foods to grow faster or be resistant to pesticides so they field can be dusted. It has driven the mass slaughter of animals who have been drugged to increase their meat quantities.
Do you know what is in your food? Do you know how that Chicken or Beef was raised? The best thing anyone could do is buy local. If you buy local from farmers you can talk to you will know these things and so much more. You will know what you are eating and have a better connection to the food you eat. It may not mean you can have your favorite vegetable year round but it will me you are eating quality food.
Last night I did our weekly grocery run and in doing so I have to pass over a bridge that goes over a Norfolk Southern rail yard. These rail lines supply the Newport News Coal Terminal with a steady supply of coal. Hampton Roads is the largest coal terminal exporter in the United States and one of the largest in the world *. This coal goes over seas to many different countries for various reasons but I can’t help but think of the mountains this coal came from as I see them passing by in mile after mile of railroad cars.
This coal is blasted out of the Appalachian Mountains in mountaintop removal surface mining. In this form of mining, as the name implies, the top of a mountain is literally blasted and hauled away. The veins of coal are so small that a traditional mine would not be able to economically get to the coal. So in the interest of economics and efficiency companies blast a mountain away just to get the coal. What is left is the discards of rock and soil and those tend to just get pushed into the valley and left. This allows dangerously high levels of toxins that were once trapped forever to be released into the rivers and streams and then into the drinking water. Killing plants, animals, and even people. I’m not going to go into the details of the mining process but you can read more here.
Why do we go to such great lengths to extract this coal and suffer the consequences of the process?….is it worth it?…does the benefits outweigh the cost? The first question is easy really…profit…plain and simple coal is big money. It always has been big. With the industrial revolution coal drove the “progress” of this nation. Now as we have moved into a more technological revolution coal is still used to generate power but not as much as it once was. We have seen how unsafe it is and have found other ways to generate our power. As other countries are growing and going through their own industrial/technological revolutions they are demanding more and more coal. China comes to mind but there are others for sure.
The next 2 questions I suppose are all in one’s perspective. In my opinion no it isn’t worth it. We are taking a limited resource from our land in an unethical way and selling it to other countries that use it to facilitate the making of goods that they then sell to us. It would be one thing if the coal was removed in a more ethical and holistic way but it is not. We are poisoning our people and nature to gain money. Money that only a few really see or benefit from. Somewhere along the way the social responsibility has eroded away and been replaced with greed. Wendell Berry said:
“In the loss of skill, we lose stewardship; in losing stewardship we lose fellowship; we become outcasts from the great neighborhood of Creation. It is possible – as our experience in this good land shows – to exile ourselves from Creation, and to ally ourselves with the principle of destruction – which is, ultimately, the principle of nonentity. It is to be willing in general for being to not-be. And once we have allied ourselves with that principle, we are foolish to think that we can control the results. (pg. 303, The Gift of Good Land)”
― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
In Genesis 1:28 you find “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (KJV). This passage, often to referred to as the dominion mandate, has been used to almost justify our right to do things like mountaintop removal mining. This passage is interpreted in a God says I am to “rule” over nature therefore it is mine and I can do what I want. The problem is that this passage is one of a charge to responsibility. Just as the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 14:30 the master (God) is charging his servants (man) to take care of and be responsible for his property (creation). In this parable the master expects the servants to be good stewards of his property.
Stewardship is greatly lacking in this world. In the quest for bigger and better…we have lost our understanding of stewardship and how to take care of what is given to us. When something breaks we throw it away and get another instead of repairing it. We choose cheap and poorly made goods over those that are well built and will last a lifetime. We would rather buy a $25 axe from India, that was made with most likely US coal, with a fiberglass handle that can’t be repaired if broken with steel that is brittle and cheap; over an axe that is hand forged from quality steel with a fixable hickory handle. Sure the quality axe will cost you $120 but your great grandchildren will be using it when the cheap one has had to be replaced 20 times. (Can you tell I was looking at axes last night)
Going back to the coal we are whoreing away out natural resources and destroying the land for the sake of money to buy cheap disposable goods that came from overseas and made (at least in part) with the coal we sold to make the money. The icing on the cake as it may be is we are disposing of these goods into landfills and they are harming the land and those around it. I am not saying that coal is evil but the way it is mined is foolish and will cause irrespirable damage in the long term. Yes there are better ways of mining…even better sources of power (some just as harmful if not more however)…the bottom line is we must become better stewards of the land and resources we have been given. If we don’t take care of what we have we will lose it one way or another.
** Images from website http://www.ohvec.org/galleries/mountaintop_removal/019/index.html
*** Image of coal terminal at beginning of post from the Dominion Terminal Associates website http://www.dominionterminal.com/Blending%20Options.htm