If you hang out at left-leaning blogs or discussion boards and make comments that aren’t from the approved hymnal, you stand in good chance of being labelled a hillbilly–among many other things. That’s usually meant as an insult, often made by the same people who would get offended at many other ethnic slurs being used, and in fact, such comments miss their intended mark.
This picture is of the famous Hatfield clan. The label, hillbilly, is of obscure origins, first appearing in print around 1900, as in this quotation from the New York Journal:
A Hill-Billie is a free and untrammeled white citizen of Alabama, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires off his revolver as the fancy takes him.
The Hatfields live on the border of West Virginia and Kentucky, and I’m from the hills of western North Carolina, but otherwise, that definition about sums us up.
The people of the Appalachians and the Ozarks in the United States in large part come from Scotland originally. In other words, they were already a strong-willed and dour lot. The rulers of Britain wanted to change the demographics of Ireland by shipping in a group of Protestants to Ulster. The Irish being as stubborn and rebellious as the Scots, that plan didn’t work out too well, so many of those people moved on to America, where the land was wide open and the government far away.
That picture is from the Blue Ridge Parkway, a handful of miles from my childhood home. It’s typical of the kind of land hillbillies occupy: rough, not all that productive in the agricultural sense, and therefore of little interest to those in power.
Given that kind of land, it’s no wonder that we have a reputation for insularity in thought and genes. But living in that territory requires a toughness that doesn’t come from buying food wrapped in plastic at a store. It also makes necessary a strong loyalty to family and a sense of self-reliance.
And it gave these people a distrust of outsiders coming in with citified ideas. One story I recall hearing a while ago is about social workers who decided to introduce the flour biscuit in preference to cornbread, thinking that what got served on the tables of the rich folk was a superior food. The problem is that with regard to calories and nutrients, cornbread is better. And it tastes better, too.
That’s the flaw that many people have when they construct pedestals for themselves. Just because something works for you doesn’t mean that it’s best for everyone. And it’s wrong to say that we hillbillies never open up to the outside world. For example, I’ve been to graduate school and teach school (English composition and literature) and I’ve done a bit of book writing of my own.
For a good overview of this group of people, have a look at the History Channel’s Hillbilly: The Real Story:
You’re welcome to come around for a plate of beans and cornbread–and maybe something a mite stronger, if you don’t tell the revenuers–but if you take a mind to telling us how to live, you’d best be able to run back to town faster than 850 ft/sec.