Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ya'll Come Back Now, Ya Hear?

On Mondays, Ainsley goes to a little sports readiness program after school. That allows me to stay a little later at school with no little one running around needing me to help with homework and entertainment. Now, I could use this distraction-free time to get real actual library work done. But mostly I read CNN's political ticker and get my feathers ruffled by some remark made in the comments section of an article.

Do not worry; I will not use this forum to tell you which horse I've got in this steeplechase to the White House. I was raised to not discuss politics in mixed company. However, if you ever find yourself up in the 859, come over one night and I'll tell you whatever you want to know about my views while we sit on my deck and have a drink and smoke a cigar. That really is the only way to get me to be unabashedly honest (as a certain lurker from Lexington can attest.)

With the West Virginia primary today and my own state's next Tuesday, and with the Democratic race kinda sorta not decided yet, all political eyes are on us. I never thought in my lifetime that a vote in the presidential primary in Kentucky would actually matter. But people are talking about us, politically, and what they're saying ain't too nice.

More than one commenter in the stories about West Virginia and Kentucky has made an astute and witty observation somewhere along the lines of,

"What do you expect? Those are the two most inbred, ignorant states states in the union. Who cares what they think?"

Hold it right there, bubba.

I've heard a lot of crap about my home state in my lifetime. We're inbred. We're ignorant. We can't keep our teeth. All us women are barefoot and pregnant and living in a trailer in Butcher Holler. And I'm tired of it, y'all. 'Cuz only some of it's true.

As a proud Kentuckian (I was recently quoted in the paper as saying so when a reporter stopped to ask me some questions as I was placing a bet on derby day) I want to step onto my trusty soapbox and dispel some stereotypes. We Kentuckians are a more diverse and complicated bunch than the rest of the country gives us credit for. (And look at that, I just ended a sentence in a preposition, because that's how we roll in the bluegrass.) Someone else will have to speak up for West Virginia, however.

The Mad Kentuckian's Manifesto

1. Kentuckians are NOT inbred.
I did not marry my cousin (at least that we know; neither Jason nor I have a real firm grasp on our geneology, but we think we're safe.) And I have never, ever heard of anyone on either side of my family going back three generations who married anyone even distantly related. Now, on my mom's side, there was a scandal when her brother's wife had an affair with, and eventually married, another of my mom's brothers. While that might be Jerry-Springer worthy, it ain't inbreeding. And, kids, my family comes from the heart of hillbilly country, where inbreeding would take place if inbreeding did. My gene pool is deep, and I do not know of a single Kentuckian swimming at the shallow end.

2. We may not have all our teeth, but we've got plenty of brains.
I do wish I could dispel the whole toothless stereotype, but I personally cannot. When Idol Gives Back came on last month and they showed a run-down house in eastern Kentucky populated by a family that probably had a dozen teeth among all of them, I started to get all defensive. But then I looked at my husband, who has actually had to have a tooth pulled, and thought of my dad, who had to have every tooth in his head yanked when he joined the Army, and of my mom who wears a partial, and my mother-in-law who wears a bridge, and all my grandparents and aunts and uncles who were fitted with dentures before they were the age I am right now. I think my mother is as proud of the fact that I have the correct number of natural teeth as she is that I am a college graduate. Some of you northern Kentuckians probably resent this stereotype, but look it up some time: Kentucky ranks in the bottom of the nation in dental care. It's hard enough to get doctors into the mountains of southeast Kentucky; it's all but impossible to get enough dentists. And for people who can barely afford to feed themselves, getting regular checkups and paying for fillings can be tough. Even with my dental insurance, I find myself out a couple hundred a year getting my weak teeth shored up.

But, while you may look at a person with dental issues and assume that person is dumb, it simply isn't true...

3. Uneducated does NOT equal ignorant.
I know so many Kentuckians, from both ends of the state, who are my age and are the first in their families to go to college or even to finish high school. We don't rank so high in terms of percentages who seek a post-secondary education. However, we have just as many "smart", socially aware people as any other state.

My dad, on his pre-military IQ test, scored a 130. He barely squeaked by with a high school diploma because he wasn't pushed very hard. Not only was he smart, but he was clever; in an elementary school spelling bee, afraid to stand up in front of the class, he gave the spelling for the word "pound" as "l-b, period." He thought a lot about world and national issues and watched Meet the Press every Sunday morning and Jon Stewart every night and had asked to borrow my "America" book just before he died.

My mom's oldest sister, who left school in the eighth grade, had a house full of a wide variety of books and magazines (she's the one who forced a first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird into my mother's hands shortly after it was published and told her she absolutely had to read that book) and memorized large sections of the bible that she could quote book, chapter, and verse.

My mom's brother, a decorated Air Force veteran and Honor Guard member, didn't finish high school either but was so gifted at mechanics that he was heavily recruited to lead a maintenance team at Disney World when it opened; after having fought in Korea and being stationed all over the world, he declined the offer and instead lived in obscurity in his home county.

I come from a long line of literate, knowledgeable Kentuckians. I wouldn't call a single one of them "ignorant" seeing as how most of them have some set of experiences, know-how and expertise that I don't have with my 5 years of post-secondary work. Just because some of them live in run-down trailers does not mean they couldn't go toe-to-toe with some of the judgemental folks who post their enlightened opinions anonymously on political blogs.

4. Just because you live in a trailer doesn't mean you're trash.
In the part of Kentucky I am originally from, homes are rare. Not just that a mortgage loan is hard to get on the average Appalachian salary, but that they are literally hard to find. Unless you want to own a house in town, or build a home, you could wait years for a house to be for sale. But land is rather plentiful. If you get a couple of hillside acres given to you by a family member, you could do much worse than to put a double-wide on it. And if you can't own a plot, there are plently of landowners who rent spaces with full utility hook-ups. People from all careers and socioeconomic groups in that part of the world own some kind of manufactured home, from coal miners to professors at Union College.

My husband also lived for a while in a trailer park right here in northern Kentucky, and he is far from trash. Though it amuses me to watch, I'm afraid the crew from My Name is Earl have given trailer-park living a bit of a stigma. It's not all Joys and Darnells.

I've heard that every stereotype reflects a tiny grain of truth. And if you look at certain parts of Kentucky, there are some superficial truths to the stereotypes that surround us. But those truths are only superficial, and are not representative of all of us. It's so easy to classify us based on our statistics, by what you see in news stories and on TV sitcom exaggerations. I laugh at Cletus the slack-jawed-yokel, but recognize that's not really who my "hillbilly" relatives are. He's a two-dimensional parody. The real "yokels" in my family tree might look a little like him and talk like him, but they are real people who have lived rich lives and have a more complicated back-story than incest and skunk-eating. And show me any state in our union who doesn't have a Cletus or two stuck away somewhere (there's a reason why we never really know where Springfield is) and I'll eat my hat.

So, back off, bloggers.

Don't make me come after you with a pitchfork and a jug of moonshine.


Rick Hibbets said...

I had no idea that you enjoyed cigars! I would have loved to enjoy a cigar with you when you guys were down here on your way to Disneyworld. What do you like to smoke?

Library Lady said...

From Cranky:
I am not remotely knowledgeable about cigars other than I enjoy smoking a few a year, mostly when I have something to celebrate or when it's a gorgeous night and I want an excuse to retire to our deck for a little while. I have a friend who brings over Swisher Sweets from time to time (yeah, I know, very low-brow) but occasionally someone will give Jason and me a "good" cigar that we take at face value without asking its origins.

There's always next time, Rick!! I look forward to being enlightened.

Rick said...

Swisher Sweets? We can certainly do better than that. Maybe I'll email you a few suggestions :)

Heather said...

Don't be dissin' the Swishers! The Cranky Librarian and this Lexington Lurker ruled the world that night on the deck! I liked this post. Thanks for helping dispel some of those myths!