Tag Archives: poverty

Weird Travels: Jamaica

I’ve traveled to a lot of places in my life, some usual and some at least a little weird. For example, while in London I went to 221B Baker Street to take a tour of the Sherlock Holmes museum. (The top floor had an ornate porcelain toilet that looked like Wedgewood.) And I took Donald Rumbelow’s Jack the Ripper evening walk.

But that’s far from the weirdest, which was probably Jamaica. Actually, it was supposed to be Haiti. My boss was sending me there to report on the work of a charitable organization called “Food for the Poor” that, well, gave food to the poor in the Caribbean.

There was political unrest in Haiti at the time (as there frequently is). Someone (or ones) were shooting presidential candidates. I wasn’t too worried, as I can by no means be mistaken for a presidential candidate. Then they started shooting journalists. Yikes! It was time for me to bail.

Bailing became unnecessary when the destination was changed to Jamaica. This was not to be a tour of the beaches and villas, however. No, this was the poverty tour. (There’s plenty of hungry poor in Jamaica as much as in Haiti.)

When I (and the other journalists) arrived, we were treated to a swank dinner at the hotel we would all be staying at, and told when our wake-up call would be. (Too damn early. It was too damn early every morning.)

We toured a school. It was a little unnerving, but dozens of second-graders swarmed out to greet us with cheerful greetings and insistent hugs around our legs and waists. We went to a church mission, where we learned statistics on poverty in Jamaica. We went to projects where Jamaicans were making handicrafts to sell. I bought a handwoven set of placemats, though they didn’t match my kitchen’s color scheme.

In the evenings, we retired to our hotel, too tired to do anything but sit at the bar by the pool and have a Red Stripe beer. In fact, sometimes I got so tired from the day’s work that I couldn’t even write. I’d try to write an “f” and it would come out “t.” I got leg cramps from all the walking we did.

Still, there was no opportunity to feel sorry for myself. We went to a huge garbage dump, where many people lived. There were only a couple of pipes where you could get water amid the acres of trash. People lived on the things that were thrown away from swank dinners like we had been served – leftovers, cloth napkins, a fork. A knife was a particularly prized find. There was a small stand amid the garbage where local inhabitants sold a few scavenged goods to their fellows. I asked for a soft drink, which they did have a bottle of. The proprietors huddled for a minute, wondering what price they should put on it. They eventually settled on $2 American, which I paid gladly but sadly.

Another day, we went to a project where people went to develop marketable skills, such as sewing. There was a singing and dancing group. Then they served us lunch, which was, of course, impossible to refuse. It was a stew of curried goat. I can report that the taste and texture were like a heavily curried pot roast. Actually, not bad.

The most unusual place that we visited, however, was a leper colony. Yes, with actual lepers. We were reassured that they did not have active infections, though it was apparent that many of them had lost limbs to the affliction (now called Hansen’s Disease). There was singing of hymns, accompanied by a guitar played by a man with three fingers. I lingered a moment and asked if they could play a local tune. Suddenly, the people’s voices lifted in a rollicking song with more decibels and life than the hymns had. I asked if there was anything they wanted, what would it be. The workers wanted a new washing machine. The guitarist wanted new strings.

On our last night there, we journalists all drank our Red Stripes and discussed what we would take away from the experience, which was largely more awareness on how the desperately poor lived. A couple of the journalists stayed on for a few days to explore the beaches.

When I got home, I wrote my article, which was a major flop. Despite the fact that it appeared in a religious magazine, it solicited few funds for the charity, which had been the point of the tour in the first place. But I still have hope that the article opened a few eyes, as it had opened mine.

Looking at the People of Walmart

Yes, I know. We’ve all seen the pictures. Fat people. Poor people. Poorly dressed people. Disabled people. Photos taken secretly at unflattering angles and then posted on the Internet for others to share and mock.

Doesn’t sound so funny when you say it like that, does it? Don’t try to tell me it’s all in fun. It’s not fun for people who see their own pictures being posted. If you wouldn’t point and comment and laugh at a person IRL – and I’d like to think no one over the mental age of 13 would – why is it okay to do it online?

It’s not that I’m a fan of Walmart. I’m not. I won’t shop there myself, and not just because I’m afraid of seeing a picture of my ass when I bend over to get something off the bottom shelf displayed on my Facebook feed.

But some people have no other realistic choices. People who live in rural areas, for example. Walmart may be the only grocery store/department store within miles of where they live. It’s the same for people in small towns (once Walmart has run all the Mom-n-Pop shops away). I live in a nice suburban area with lots of shopping choices, but I know people who don’t. For them, making a monthly or weekly trip to “Wally World” is a necessity.

Other people shop at Walmart simply because they can’t afford to shop anywhere else. Walmart may not be known for high-quality products or an appealing selection, but they are known for low prices.

Do these people really need to add potential humiliation to the struggles of their everyday lives? Or do they deserve respect like other human beings?

It’s also worth giving a thought to the people who work at Walmart, which is not known as a kind and sensitive, or high-paying, employer. Many a Walmart worker gets so little income from their labor that they are receiving SNAP benefits (as food stamps are now called). It’s been pointed out that when employees have to rely on food stamps and the employers don’t pay a living wage – and get government tax breaks – it is actually corporate welfare.

Finding reasons to hate Walmart is easy enough. Marketwatch once published a story, “Four Reasons Walmart Is the Most Hated Retailer in America.” AlterNet reported that Walmart and its managers treat workers “like dirt, including low wages, no benefits, irregular schedules, and unreliable hours,” as well as disrespect such as forcing workers to do heavy-duty work despite medical conditions and pregnancies. Recently Walmart took a hit when it reclassified a disabled greeter’s job so it required him to be able to lift 40 pounds. (Public outcry caused them to walk back the decision.) Walmart also has a bad record with regard to settling employee grievances and labor organizing.

So as far as I’m concerned, say what you will about Walmart the company. Bitch all you want to about their merchandise, their checkout lines, and their corporate management. But leave their greeters and other employees out of it. They have it rough enough. They deserve respect, too.

And before you post a picture titled “People of Walmart,” think twice. The fact that the photos are taken and shared without the subjects’ permission may mean they are technically legal since they are taken in a public place. But honestly, don’t we have better things to do than appearance-shaming people who shop there – or any people, for that matter? Show some class, people. Don’t share the photos.

Looking for Work Is a Job Itself

It’s not that I’m unemployed. It is, rather, that I’m underemployed, as the saying goes.

It’s not like I haven’t been here before. When my husband and I first married, we paid for our wedding reception food with food stamps (think of that what you will). A peaceful Saturday morning was standing in line together at the unemployment office. (This was way back when you had to show up in person.)

Since then I have lost the ability to work full time, or in an office. Or even in a burger joint where I’d be required to stand all day. My skill set is solidly in the field of writing and editing, and those I can do from home, on my own computer and schedule. In my pajamas.

A freelancer’s life is iffy at best, though, and recently I’ve experienced a downturn in clients. The economy is to blame, I suppose. Or the recent eclipse. Or Mercury being in retrograde, for all I know. I am looking for new clients and more work from my old ones. I am looking for other sorts of telecommuting jobs, and even part-time outside work that seems to be within my modest-at-this-point physical and mental capabilities.

I pursue these avenues every day.

(This process is hindered by the fact that all the job search engines are lousy. When I say I am a writer, I get leads for technical aerospace writing and service writers for car repair shops. When I say I’m an editor, I get invitations to become a driver for Uber. True story.)

I did get a small gig writing a children’s story, with the possibility of writing four more if I’m picked out of the pack. That would be good, and would at least pay the cable and the electric so I can keep writing.

And while I’m searching for more possibilities? When the days stretch out with nothing happening and the sofa calls my name?

I blog. I work on my mystery novel. I house-sit. And I take surveys.

Admittedly, none of these pursuits brings in mortgage-payment-sized money. The surveys bring in a couple of dollars a day, which is pitiful, but helped with a getaway my husband and I booked before the finances went belly-up.

(My husband is still working, but his wages alone aren’t enough to pay all the bills. We need both of us, a situation familiar to millions of people in the U.S.)

And we’ve instituted cutbacks. We typically spend way too much on food and now must revisit our newly married days, when we subsisted on mac-n-cheese and tomato sandwiches. It’ll be good for us, I tell myself. We could both stand to lose some weight.

I’ve applied for some of the most unlikely jobs as well as the more likely ones. I’ve even applied to write for Cosmo, for God’s sake! And writing greeting cards, which I once swore I would never do.

Security is nowhere in sight.

Working at home is great. Looking for work from home is not. But at least I don’t have to go buy a suit for interviews. It would take months of surveys to raise enough money for that.


Shame, Shame, Shame!

When I was a child and had done something wrong, my mother would shake her finger at me. I hated that pointing, wagging finger more than I hated getting yelled at. The gesture conveyed shame, even if my mother’s words didn’t.

Nowadays we seem to see a lot of pointing and shaking fingers, pronouncing blame or shame on the offending parties. Here are some that you are likely familiar with and others that you may not be.

Fat-shaming This is probably most common kind of shaming and comes in various forms. One of the most noticeable kinds is fat-shaming actresses for carrying a few extra pounds – or even ounces. Increasingly stringent and nearly impossible standards are held up. Who the hell notices whether the woman in the supermarket or on the soccer field has a thigh gap anyway? Are the rest of us supposed to try to achieve this dubious standard? Thigh jiggle was bad enough. And 99% of those “People of Walmart” photos? Fat people in outfits that don’t even have the “decency” to try to hide it.

Body-shaming There are other types of body-shaming. Skinny-shaming. Have you ever heard someone pass a thin woman and call, “Eat a sandwich”? Fashion models are held to unrealistic standards of thinness, then mocked when they do. Women at science fiction conventions are shamed for having the “wrong” body type to wear a She-Hulk or Slave Girl Leia costume. And forget black Supergirls and Wonderwomen. You’d think we’d be over this by now. But no.

Slut-shaming Even the term makes my skin crawl. It contains the assumption that there is such a thing as a slut who can be recognized on sight. Or if you’re not going strictly on clothing, hair, and makeup, it becomes sexual-behavior-shaming. It’s a thin line between that and blaming rape victims for the crime.

Mommy-shaming Suddenly, everyone’s an expert. Underprotective mothers, overprotective mothers, breastfeeding mothers, bottle-feeding mothers, mothers of “free-range children,” “helicopter moms” and “tiger moms.” Worst of all, people feel entitled to comment on their behavior, not just on social media, but face-to-face with the mothers themselves. Oh, there’s plenty on social media too. Recently a celebrity was caught giving her child the wrong sort of toy, which apparently viewers could see had eyes that were a choking hazard. There’s nothing like 100,000 people telling you you’re killing your child.

Age-shaming This started in Hollywood too, it seems. Feminists have long noted that female actors’ careers are over when they hit 40 – or long before, especially if they play romantic leads. Meanwhile, male actors star in such films long into their 60s or 70s – with ingenues young enough to be their granddaughters. Body-shaming is also involved. When it was announced that Meryl Streep was starring in the action-adventure film The River Wild, critics couldn’t help sniping that no one would want to see the 45-year-old Streep in shorts or a bathing suit. But this insidious trend isn’t limited to LaLa-Land. Think about all those articles you’ve seen that tell women over 40 what they shouldn’t wear – even women over 30, for God’s sakes! I’m not throwing away my leopard-print flats just for them!

Poverty-shaming Again, think about those “People of Walmart” photos. Who shops there? Not the rich. So the poor are targets for shaming. Now think of the “Welfare Queen” stereotype – a woman on public assistance who drives a Cadillac, has her hair and nails done weekly, smokes and drinks and drugs, never works, dines out on steak and lobster while feeding her kids junk food. You’ve seen it in memes and rants on social media and even heard it from elected officials. This is particularly hurtful, because it affects public policy. And it’s simply untrue. Most people on public assistance have jobs and close-to-the-bone lives. But even school lunches for their kids are politically controversial. Life is hard enough without the shaming.

Am I just ranting that shaming is shameful and wrong? Of course I am. It’s mean-spirited and insulting and unnecessary. But look at who gets shamed the most – women. And often, it’s other women who do the shaming. From the time when fashion magazines covered the eyes of women committing clothing “crimes” to nowadays when women can be shamed for how they look – no matter how they look – and for what they do and how they behave.

And people wonder why women have low self-esteem and doubt their every decision, and why poverty is seen as a moral failing. Shaming is a nastier form of gossiping, which is nasty already, but it is worse than that. All those pointing, wagging fingers are pointing the wrong direction. What we need is a little more shame-shaming.


Poor? Mentally Ill? Sorry, You’re on Your Own.

Poverty and mental illness have something in common.

There is a stigma attached to both.

Both are seen as moral failings. If only people tried harder, worked more, improved themselves, they could lift themselves out of poverty. Without relying on anyone else’s help, which would be shameful.

And if only people stopped being so negative, looked on the bright side, smiled more, thought more about others, their positive mental attitude would make all those shrinks and pills unnecessary. They wouldn’t be shooting people with assault rifles and sucking up tax dollars for disability payments, which is shameful.

Society can’t afford poverty and it can’t afford mental illness. Why should we make the effort when the poor and the mentally disturbed don’t?

Why should these two conditions both be associated with such stigma and for such similar reasons? It’s simple. People don’t want to think that poverty or mental illness could happen to them.

The truth, however, is that a vast number of Americans are living one paycheck or one illness away from poverty, and one in four or five Americans will face a mental or emotional disorder at some point in their lives. And they are afraid. So they tell themselves that the conditions only affect Other People. And those people must be stupid or lazy or unmotivated or something, or they wouldn’t be poor or mentally ill in the first place.

And that’s where stigma begins.

And what are the consequences of stigma?

Well, first of all, it means that no one wants to spend money alleviating either condition. If these Other People can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps and improve, the thinking goes, why should we pay them not to? Job training programs, child care, higher minimum wage, insurance coverage, community mental health centers, treatment programs for addiction, need to be paid for some way, but not with our tax dollars, by God!

And it means we don’t want to look at the Other People for fear of seeing ourselves. Don’t put halfway houses, group homes, unemployment offices, treatment centers, psychiatric hospitals, and other reminders in our neighborhoods. Not In My Backyard!

It’s not just a failure of compassion, though it’s that too. It’s not just a failure of the social “safety net,” though it certainly is that as well. It’s also a failure of the imagination – what would it be like if poverty or mental illness should happen to me? The reality is too unpleasant to think about, so don’t.

And while we’re talking about unpleasant, let’s mention the place where poverty and mental illness intersect – homelessness. Don’t we assume that homeless people are both poor and mentally ill? As such, spending money on them is doubly wasted. Why bother? It’s not like it’s going to help. Poverty, homelessness, and mental illness are incurable, after all. (Unless a person can cure their problems without outside help, of course.)

So what’s my stake in all this? Am I a bleeding-heart liberal do-gooder who wants to cure society’s ills and make us all foot the bill for it?

Well, yeah.

But I’m also living month to month on my income. My husband makes only a bit over minimum wage. We have both, at one time or another during our lives, been on unemployment and/or food stamps. We have no nest egg or emergency fund. It wouldn’t take much in the way of reversals to wipe us out. Even at that, we’re relatively privileged.

And I have a mental illness – bipolar disorder 2. Without insurance, I could not afford to see a psychiatrist, or buy medication (one of mine costs $800 per month), or get inpatient treatment if I ever need it. Right now my condition is moderately well controlled, but if I should suffer a setback, I might not be able to work at all. And there we are, back at poverty.

These two unfortunate conditions – poverty and mental illness – affect me directly, so I can’t look away and say they only happen to Other People. I know that they affect others more severely than they do me, and I don’t know how those people make it through.

But I do know that stigma isn’t helping any of us.

Hungry Children: A One-Act Play

Sharing food with the needy

[Setting: The Halls of Power]

Guy in Suit: The media keep saying that there are hungry children in America.

Other Guy in Suit: Let them eat dinner.

Bleeding-Heart: That’s the problem. They don’t have dinner to eat. Or even breakfast maybe.

GIS: We already give them lunch at school. That’s five days a week.

B-H: Unless they’re absent or on vacation or a snow day.

OGIS: Then it’s the parents’ problem.

GIS: Why do schoolchildren have so many vacations, anyway? We don’t get all those vacations.

B-H: Uh, yes you do.

GIS: Oh. Well, never mind that now. We were talking about tax cuts…uh, job creators…uh, feeding children. That was it.

OGIS: Suppose the media are right?

GIS: The media are never right unless we tell them what to say.

OGIS: Well, just suppose. For a minute. OK? The problem I see is that it looks good for us to feed poor, hungry, starving American children. By the way, are they as pitiful-looking as poor, starving foreign children?

GIS: Probably not. You were saying?

OGIS: If there are hungry children, and we do need to feed them, how are we supposed to do that without feeding the lousy, lazy, good-for-nothing moochers at the same time?

GIS: Ah, yes, the parents. If we give the parents anything, it should be one bag of rice and one bag of beans. And — hey — they could feed their kids that too.

B-H: But children need good nutrition — fruits and vegetables and vitamins and minerals and enough to keep them full and healthy.

OGIS: Hey, we have plenty of minerals left over after fracking. Won’t those do?

B-H: No.

GIS: But if we give kids all that fancy food, what’s to keep the parents from eating it?

OGIS: Or selling it for booze or cigarettes or drugs?

GIS: Think about that! The drug dealers would be getting all the good nutrition. Then they could run faster from the police.

OGIS: We can’t have that, now can we?

B-H: But…the hungry children? Remember? Eating at most one meal a day, five days a week, when school is in session?

GIS: That’s plenty. I heard American children are obese, anyway. They could stand to lose a little weight.



I thought it was time to revisit this post when my husband and I visited IHOP for their No Kid Hungry promotion, which raised money for www.nokidhungry.org. (You can donate at their website. I did. Besides buying all those pancakes.)

I was also reminded of a conversation I had with someone who works in the education sector. She was at a conference, talking with a group of teachers. One of them mentioned how many snow days they had that year and my friend responded, “Oh, boy! I bet the kids loved that!” There was an awkward silence. Finally, one of the teachers spoke up. “On a snow day,” she said, “many kids don’t get to eat. The only real meal that they get is at school.”

My friend had never thought about that, and neither had I. We both came from times and places when there was always food in the fridge and a hot dinner on the table. Sometimes we forget that life isn’t like that for everyone.

In this election year, we’ll hear a lot about welfare and funding for schools and improvements in educational policy. Childhood hunger may not be mentioned, but it is intimately tied up with all those issues.

You can donate to local food banks and charities. You can work with nokidhungry.org. Or you can leave it up to the Guys in Suits, for whatever they think it’s worth.

Lessons Learned From Waitressing

My theory is that at least 80 percent of people who go to college spend time as waiters or waitresses. The rest have rich parents.

I took a year off college after my freshman year to think things over and to earn money. I spend that year as a server (as they’re called now) and a cashier at a chain family restaurant notable for having large statues of juvenile males holding up hamburgers while wearing checkered overalls.

I learned a lot while I was there, both from my own experience and that of my fellow waitresses. (There were no fellow waiters at that time and place.) These lessons may not apply to fast food places or fine dining establishments, but for middle-of-the-road places I think they’re pretty typical.

The truth about tips.

  • Tips are not a living wage. It’s likely that your server has a second job in order to pay the bills. Or is caring for a relative at home, which is a second job all on its own. Many servers have Tupperware parties or sell candles and gift wrap to their coworkers, which bsicallly just shifts too little money around.
  • I worked at a time when a dollar tip was considered something special. Nowadays, with the battered economy, dollar tips aren’t rare – but very few patrons tip the recommended 20 percent or even the formerly recommended 15 percent. (Hint: 20 percent is easier to figure. Bill x 2, then lop off a zero.) And I don’t care if all you got was coffee and it cost $1.50 – $.30 may be 20 percent, but you should be embarrassed. Leave a buck, will ya, or at least half a dollar.
  • Tips are even worse at bill-paying when the management fiddles with the figures. Back in the day, waitresses were required to record – and pay taxes on – enough tips to make their hourly pay equivalent to the minimum wage – whether they actually made that much or not. I don’t know whether this illegal practice is still a thing, but if it isn’t, I’m sure there are new ways to screw servers out of their full pay.
  • A tip is good. A thank you and a tip is better. A tip and snapping your fingers in the air when you want something is not better. And blaming the server (and lowering the tip) for any dissatisfaction may not be warranted. Slow service could be caused by the cook being swamped with orders, or the manager not scheduling enough workers, or dozens of other reasons. If your server is rude, scatterbrained, or otherwise clearly to blame, fine, lower the tip. But think of all the other reasons your food might not be piping hot and delivered instantly. P.S. Cooks, managers, etc. do not live on tips.
  • Religious tracts are not tips. They may look like tips, with dollar bills printed on the cover, but if the inside says “Want a tip? Find Jesus!” it does not pay the bills (see above). And this can lead to poorer service the next time you dine (see above). Plus, I have never known these pamphlets to work as intended. “What a good idea! I’ll go to this church and turn my heart over to the Lord!” said no server ever. Besides, it’s vaguely insulting. Why assume that all servers are pagans in need of salvation?

Church groups can be annoying.

  • They arrive in parties of a dozen or more, push tables together without regard to servers’ assigned stations, and all order fried chicken (which takes a long time to cook, especially in mass quantities). (I know I’m generalizing here, but that’s sure how I remember it.)
  • When you arrive with the huge platter of food and are holding it precariously on one shoulder, that’s when they decide to pray. Couldn’t they at least wait until the food is in front of them? (Yes, there are stands for huge trays, but never when and where you need one.)
  • They also steal silverware and salt shakers. Not every group, not all the time, but we definitely noticed that the amount of cutlery often diminished after a large church group. Other large groups like softball teams were more likely to leave tips under an overturned glass of water or loosen the top on the sugar shaker. We were not amused.


  • I developed a great many skills that have been useful in later life. Cursing, for example. I never used to swear until the day that I slammed my hand in the sliding door of the case that held the pies.
  • I also learned to sneeze without actually sneezing. This was essential while holding the aforementioned tray of chicken dinners at the aforementioned prayer time. I can’t quite describe how to do it, but it seems to involve closing your mouth and closing off your nasal passages at the same time. I don’t think it’s good for your eustachian tubes, but it’s better than ruining all that chicken.
  • Police officers were some of our best customers, even if they did get 50 percent off their tab. They were jovial, polite, and usually would just say, “Give me the usual.” (I did know one police officer who wouldn’t take the discount. I just shrugged and let him have his way.)
  • Night shift was the best shift. Yeah, we had to do all the cleaning when the restaurant was closed and an inspection was impending, but we could also crank up the music and make a party of it. There were slow periods when we could get a little crazy (the manager once breaded and deep-fried a piece of cardboard and told the cook it was his check). Then off to the all-night Putt-Putt or a poker game.

Bottom line: Waitressing was hard, silly, frustrating, fun, colorful, exhausting and weird, sometimes all on the same day. I’m glad I had the experience; it builds empathy for other service workers.

But, God willing, I’ll never do it again.




The Hive Mind and Signal Boosting

Lately I’ve been involved in a number of grassroots efforts, crowd sourcing, and increasing the bandwidth of various projects (other people’s, not my own).

It’s the modern version of networking. I can’t increase the sales of a friend’s book or a favorite local restaurant, but I can let people know where to find it. I can’t rescue a stranger from poverty or foot (paw?) the vet bills for someone else’s cat, but I can contribute something. I can’t speak authoritatively about a lot of subjects, but I’m a whiz at knowing where and how to find information.

In a way, it’s like the Six Degrees of Separation (or Kevin Bacon) theory – if I don’t know how to do something, one of my friends or one of their friends does. It’s one of the reasons I’m on Facebook, despite its many flaws. It’s similar to a giant “Phone-a-Friend” lifeline from the old version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

“The hive mind” is just another way of saying “brainstorming.” “Signal boosting” is tech-speak for “spreading the word.” “Crowd sourcing” is the modern way to “pooling our resources.”

It’s an answer to the question “But how can I, one small person, make a difference?” And it’s a way to “stand on the shoulders of giants” to see farther. Come to think of it, it’s a lot of the reason we have WordPress blogs.

If you’re interested, here are some groups that do crowd-sourcing:

Kiva.org (rotating micro-loans to help alleviate poverty)

DonorsChoose.org (funding for individual teachers’ classroom projects)

Kickstarter.com and GoFundMe.com (fundraising for creative projects or personal needs)

I’ve made donations through all of these and never regretted it.

And while I’m at it, here are a couple of friends of mine whose signals I am boosting:

TomSmithOnline.com and thefump.com, for those interested in Dr. Demento-style music (FuMP = Funny Music Project)

Rejectedprincesses.com, neglected kick-ass women of history and myth who would never make it in a Disney movie

What organizations or projects would you like to promote? Just leave a comment below. No waiting for the beep.



Hillbilly Bashing

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.