Just like how I reject the idea that we should be embracing slurs, I also reject the notion that we should embrace stereotypes. Embracing oppressive attitudes and concepts while living within an oppressive system does not destabilize said system, it reinforces it. Privileged groups do not perceive oppressed groups as a threat when we embrace terms and stereotypes they created to keep us oppressed. All we are doing is reaffirming and confirming their privileged position and our lesser privileged one. It is regressive. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
“I expect to lose my life to it, I guess,” he (Larry Gibson) says about his defiance … ”But if I stop fightin’ for it, they’ll take it,” he says. “Do you know what it’s like to hear a mountain get blowed up? A mountain is a live vessel, man; it’s life itself. You walk through the woods here and you’re gonna hear the critters moving, scampering around, that’s what a mountain is. Try to imagine what it would be like for a mountain when it’s getting blowed up, fifteen times a day, blowed up, every day, what the mountain must feel like as far as pain, as life.
“I’m not a highly-brained guy here,” he continues, “don’t have a lot of education. I just point at the common denominator of things; You screw up one thing, another is gonna fall, and if that falls something else is gonna fall, and how much more do we have to fall before we start saying, ‘Whoa, there’s something wrong here somewhere,’ you know?”
“See that red pole up there?” he says, as we move toward the far end of the ridge. “It’s a marker. From this corner across there, OK? What gets me about this is, my family owned this. And when I go up through here, I look at it as if I was walking on what was my family’s before. They say it belongs to them now. An’ remember I told you how they took it? I look at it as if it still belongs to me and my family. But now you are on coal company property. You can be subject to arrest. You like peanut butter and pork and beans? That’s what they serve ya in jail now. I’m pretty regular.”
“They’re gonna destroy my state, and the government’s gonna give them the incentive to do it,” he says. “My grandchildren and great-grandchildren won’t have any heritage here. They won’t have any mountain culture here, ‘cause they’re wipin’ it out. I had the best of time of my life not knowin’ if I wasn’t rich or comfortable or wealthy. How could I enjoy myself outdoors if I wasn’t wealthy? Who measures wealth? How do you do it? All the energy we have, all the people they destroyed, all the fatalities on these mine sites, and they keep makin’ reference to this as cheap energy.”
“What keeps you you going?” I ask
“I’m right,” he says. “That’s all.”
(From Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt”)
The term “Appalachia” was first recorded by Washington Irving, who proposed it as an alternative to America (though his top pick was Alleghenia). Had he—and others like Poe—had their way, we’d all be Appalachians now.
“It is a thousand pities that the puny witticisms of a few professional objectors should have the power to prevent, even for a year, the adoption of a name for our country. At present we have, clearly, none. There should be no hesitation about “Appalachia.” In the first place, it is distinctive. “America” is not, and can never be made so. We may legislate as much as we please, and assume for our country whatever name we think right — but to use it will be no name, to any purpose for which a name is needed, unless we can take it away from the regions which employ it at present. South America is “America,” and will insist upon remaining so.”
Edgar Allan Poe, 1846