Please welcome guest blogger Shea Daniels. Daniels is a Creative Writing major at Ohio University through the Appalachian Scholars Program, one of Future Women of Appalachia’s co-founders, and its Director of Big Ideas. “FWA believes that every girl deserves to be a girl,” she says, “and we believe that empowering girls and young women is one key to overcoming generational poverty. In an economy contributing to the impossibility of dreams-come-true, we at FWA strive to empower girls and young women to value themselves and their dreams.” You can find out more about the FWA at their Sweet Lorraine blog.
As 09/30 is Ohio University’s Appalachian Heritage Day, I wanted to informally share some Appalachian stereotype-associated things I’ve been thinking about. To the extent of my knowledge the purpose of this day is not particularly to conquer any stereotypes; these are just things I’ve been thinking about when I think about Appalachian Heritage Day.
1. The “Stupid Hillbilly” stereotype really has to go. We might be from the hills, but that doesn’t mean we’re stupid. Our college completion rates are significantly lower than the national average, but this has everything to do with generational poverty and nothing to do with intelligence.
2. “Y’all” might be a four letter word, but it’s not one of the ones you should be avoiding. Using “y’all” will not cause the plague to come back. It will not bring about apocalypse. It’s a gender-neutral plural of “you,” akin to the Spanish “vosotros.” It’s great for addressing large groups of people. Try it sometime!
3. While our region is poor, poverty is not what we’re defined by. Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine an Appalachia without poverty. I tried it, and my first reaction was something like, “But….how will we hold onto (insert facets of our culture here)?” But the thing is, resourcefulness does not depend on poverty, and neither does tenacity or the other things that blank might be filled with.
4. I’ve been told that I don’t look like a hillbilly a couple of times during the past year, usually when I mention that I work with Future Women of Appalachia. I mean, really. What does a hillbilly look like? Should we don straw cowgirl hats and get muddy boots? While I’m unsure what the stereotypical hillbilly actually is, I know that it’s an outdated image that does nothing good for modern Appalachia.
5. Lack of knowledge about Appalachia perpetuates all of these stereotypes. It is really easy to throw statistics at someone. In fact, we’re planting statistics all around OU’s campus. We’re spreading awareness of the amount of poverty here, among other things. These sorts of statistics tend to grab people’s attention. It’s more difficult to chronicle the amazingness of this place. There’s no statistic like “74% of Appalachian Ohio residents have contributed their time or resources to bettering their community in the past six months.” It just doesn’t exist. Or, if it does, I am ignorant of it.
So, once again, Shea here on behalf of FWA. *Waving.* We’re going to be hanging up posters and chalking around campus to spread a little awareness of Appalachia during the coming weeks, and we invite you to do the same in your own ways.