It seems that hillbillies – people from Appalachia or the southern U.S. – are the last remaining group of people that is acceptable for people to poke fun at, insult, and demean.
Every other stereotyped group has been taken off the comedy table. Indeed, most remarks about stereotypes are not permitted in polite company. You can get into trouble for saying black people are lazy. Italians are mobsters. Fat people are disgusting. The Irish are drunks. The Polish are stupid. The French are snobs. Blondes are dumb (and “blondes” is code for “blonde women“). Feminists are lesbians. Scientists and other geeks can’t get laid. Men are hopeless at child-raising and household chores (or if they’re not, there’s something wrong with them). I’m sure you could add your own examples.
But hillbillies are fair game. Whether you call them hillbillies, hicks, rubes, briars, rednecks, jethroes, bubbas, or peckerwoods, you can make jokes about how they marry their sisters, drink moonshine, screw livestock, and eat roadkill. Honestly, you’d think some people believe that Hee-Haw was a documentary.
Jeff Foxworthy made millions with his “You may be a redneck” humor. It was gentle, seldom-vicious, well-intended humor, but it was stereotypical nonetheless. And was it more acceptable or less because Foxworthy himself was a Southerner? I haven’t decided.
If you look at “reality” shows (I try to avoid them), you’ll get a whopping dose of “Let’s all laugh at the stupid hillbillies. We’re way better than they are.” Duck Dynasty. Honey Boo-Boo. Moonshiners. Hunters and fishers and survivalists. And someone is making a lot of money off these shows. I’ll give you a hint: The moneymakers don’t eat roadkill or have outhouses.
But let’s forget comedy and reality shows for a moment. We all know that’s just entertainment, not one culture actually demeaning another. Let’s look at real reality for a moment.
The other day someone posted about the contaminated water scandal in West Virginia. Many people who replied to this post were, well, less than polite. Here are some examples:
People in those communities need their own Martin Luther King, someone who can raise their spirits and challenge them. Someone who can bypass the whole political process (Me: so far, so good. But wait for it.)…. And because the people there are so fearful of minorities, this version of Dr. King will have to be white and one of their kin, while being aware of much bigger things and principles than Appalachia usually considers.
And this, regarding an elected official who ignored the disaster in his own state:
Yep, and $20 says he gets re-elected. Why? Have you LOOKED at the average citizen of West Virginia?
And my favorite:
Don’t believe in science? Fine. How about being a good steward of the earth like that book you’re constantly jizzing yourself over says, you half-witted, superstitious dumb-fuck!
Admittedly, there were commenters who called out those who made such comments:
There’s a good chance the “average citizen of WVA” may be keeping your lights on and letting you post insulting things about them.
Extremists have a choke-hold on American politics–and this is true in more places than Appalachia.
And (again, my favorite):
Don’t make the mistake of confusing the politicians and the people. It would be a mistake to stereotype the people of Appalachia as ignorant and racist. You can find ignorance and prejudice in every corner of our nation. You can also find brilliance and humanity in every place as well.
Now I admit I have a vested interest. I was born in Kentucky and so were most of my relatives. And my family has produced teachers and coaches and civil servants and businesspeople and college graduates. And me. Someone who uses proper grammar and punctuation, and makes a living doing that. And yes, listens to country music, knows how to shoot a rifle, has milked cows and collected eggs, and has relatives nicknamed Jim-Bob and Spud.
My culture is as worthy of respect as any other. Appalachian people make beautiful art and music. They have become scientists and celebrities, inventors and innovators.
And let’s not forget that the Appalachian land has been exploited for its mineral wealth, with the profit flowing out to other regions. The farmers who try to make a meager living from land not really suitable for agriculture have had to become sharecroppers. If many people there are poor and undereducated, it’s not because they like it that way.
They may be different than you. But you are not better than they are. Show some respect. The ones who jeer and demean are the uncivilized ones.