‘While this book is about Appalachia, it’s a story of class warfare’
Brad King writes: I’m writing a book about Appalachia. More specially, I’m writing a memoir of my family, which helped settled what is now the poorest county in the country: Clay County, which The New York Times dubbed “The Hardest Place to Live in America.” The book, called So Far Appalachia, is almost done. You can sign up for the newsletter if you’re interested in more discussions about what I guess we’re now calling the “poor, white, rural voters.”
That’s the context for why we’re here.
I’m writing this post because since the Presidential election, in which our country choose Donald J. Trump as our next leader, so many of my liberal friends have been struggling to understand why — WHY? — so many working class white folks voted against Sec. Hillary Clinton.
More specifically, on Friday, December 2 I posted this NPR piece “In Depressed Rural Kentucky, Worries Mount Over Medicaid Cutbacks” on my Facebook page. Predictably, the new code phrases that signal disdain for Appalachians appeared. You know them: “low information voters” and “voting against their self interest.”
Instead of fighting on the Internet— which nobody enjoys— I promised that I’d dig into the book’s draft, pull out a few bits and pieces that explain why those white, rural, poor folks didn’t vote against their self interest, and wrap it up with this little introduction.
There are two things to note:
- I’ve left all the social science out of this post. This is the exposition from the book that explains all the social science. I’ll follow up with another one giving my science-minded friends — the evidence-based crowd — the opportunity to stop spinning conspiracy stories, and instead read up on all the social science that’s been done on the region; and
- I’ve written an entire book on the subject. This problem is complex and complicated. This post is really a distillation of some of the larger themes in the book. But really there’s so much more.
Before We Move Forward: A Note
I need to frame this discussion — and the book. What I’m doing is very simple: explaining, not excusing. Great writing and storytelling help us see and understand worlds that are different than ours.
Great stories do not whitewash away the rough edges. I can’t write a book about Appalachian culture without dealing with this important idea.
I love Appalachia, but we’ve got to recognize that racism and misogyny are deeply — deeply — embedded within the culture. Blacks and African-Americans have been nearly wiped away from the history of the region, and so too were women from all backgrounds. This isn’t a book meant to prop up the noble Appalachian working class. Nobility isn’t bestowed on any class. Not Appalachians. Not the working class. Not anyone. Nobility, where it exists, does so within individuals, in tiny moments in their lives. My family — and Appalachians — aren’t noble. My family owned slaves. There is no way around that. We did, and that’s a shame that we must bear and own.
But there’s two points that we need to clear up right now. The first is that neither of those issues is inherent only to Appalachia. The second is addressing issues of race and gender are deeply important to the future of our country. But neither will be part of this book.
While this book is about Appalachia, it’s a story of class warfare.
A Hypothetical Conundrum to Begin
Let’s begin with a hypothetical. Read the rest of this entry »