Diverse Heritages of Appalachian Peoples
Last week I had an off-line comment that made me realize that it is important to discuss stereotypes. Thank you Phil, for keeping me on track! There is much stigma associated with being an Appalachian person, and the tag line of last week’s blog inadvertently may have contributed to the continuation of the old stereotypes. For this, my readers, I apologize.
Let me be clear; Appalachian persons come from many different heritages, geographic areas (though by definition an Appalachian person is someone who lives in or comes from the Appalachian region), economic situations, educational levels, social classes and races. There are urban, rural and suburban Appalachians and Appalachians are comprised of every racial and ethnic background that one can think of. (In fact, there are a group of African American Appalachian persons who refer to themselves as ‘Affrilachian,’ which I love!) There are Appalachians everywhere on the LGBTIQ spectrum, as well as heterosexuals and all other expressions of sexuality and sensuality. I have the sinking feeling that I have forgotten some categories, but I hope that people get the point here. We are all different and want to be respected as individuals and looked upon as a stereotype.
What I am trying to convey is that Appalachian persons are just like people from everywhere else. Painting everyone with the same brush only serves to marginalize and compartmentalize people into categories that are not realistic or true for all.
All Appalachian persons are not poor, inbred, moonshine-making, NASCAR-loving, uneducated yahoos. Neither are we all subsistence farmers, unemployed, on welfare, dressed in gunny sacks or live in log cabins and shoot squirrels for dinner. Examples in the media of Appalachian stereotypes abound and many comedians have made lots of money doing stand-up, publishing books and other activities that denigrate Appalachian persons and their cultures. These are Appalachian stereotypes, people!
One easy way to find out if a client is Appalachian or not is to ask where their people come from. Where did your family originate? Many Appalachian families dispersed from the region to more industrialized areas looking for well paying jobs, and as they went, so did their Appalachian cultures. So even though someone may be living in a non-Appalachian area, they may have Appalachian cultures at work in their lives and in their families.
Here, in a nutshell, is what counselors, counseling students and all other helping professionals (and the general public) need to know about Appalachian cultures; there is no ‘culture of poverty,’ even though some poor Appalachians exist. Wealthy Appalachians and those in the middle classes exist also. There is no one social class that typifies Appalachian people, nor one type of music that we all like, or kind of vehicle that we all drive or things we all do for fun.
As a counselor of clients who are sometimes of Appalachian heritages and sometimes not, I rely on my basic multicultural counseling skills. If I don’t know something or suspect that I am seeing a person who is Appalachian, I respectfully ask about their background and about how that background influences that particular client. Those basic attending skills that we all learn are very useful with all types of clients.
All of this said, there are some key cultural values that are prominent in the Appalachian region. These cultural values are, according to Loyal Jones (1994) Religion; Independence, Self-reliance, and Pride; Neighborliness; Familism; Personalism; Humility and Modesty; Love of Place; Patriotism; Sense of Beauty; and Sense of Humor. Another researcher, Susan Emley Keefe (2005) combines some of these values to list six key cultural values. Her list includes Egalitarianism, Personalism, Familism, Religious world view, Sense of place and Avoidance of conflict. These key cultural values will be discussed in next week’s post, so stay tuned!
Thank you all for your continued readership and for your comments. I love knowing that other counselors are interested enough in this topic to read the blog and make comments!
I will sign off today by quoting Dennis Miller, who always ended his rants like this:
Of course that’s just my opinion, I may be wrong.
Pam Ebert is a counselor in private practice while completing her doctoral work. She has a special interest in both rural and Appalachian cultures and how they pertain to the world of counseling.