Monday, April 11, 2005

On the Use of Appalachia

PBS is offering what looks to be a pretty interesting documentary about Appalachia. That got me thinking about how often I hear about the place--not very. In fact, the only time I really here it mentioned is when people are talking about the sociology of poverty, or something like that, and don't want to talk exlusively about urban or black poverty, preffering to throw in some poor white people too.

So, you'll be talking about institutional or sociological pressures that create poverty and you'll hear something like, "poor people from Harlem or Watts or Appalachia," and you'll wonder, "Wow, where did that come from?" Or, you'll be talking about how awful poverty is and you'll bring up the aching poorness of mountain Tennesee or Kentucky and you'll recall all of those WPA black-and-white pictures of barefoot little girls with coal smudges on their faces looking blankly at some camera.

I know it's all grim, but I wonder how related the poverty is. Is poor-is-poor-is-poor? Or, is there a difference in degree or causality about poverty in Watts and Appalachia? If we just throw in that last bit about Appalachia, are we doing it as some form of off-the-cuff, let's be inclusive about how we talk about "the Poor?" Or, are some folks displaying some sort of soft-conscious white-backlash--letting people know that poverty isn't all about African Americans? Or, do we really mean to remind ourselves that poverty is very broad and widely diffused throughout society's various geographies? Depending on what question we answer and how we do it, I would suggest that we might just be using Appalachia and its imagined (in the sense that we are just imagining what that kind of poverty is like) poverty for our own momentary linguistic or argumentative purposes.


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