When I got home from work yesterday Tony called me to the computer to view this fifty year old article from Time Magazine about hillbillies. He wasn’t sure if it was incredibly funny or utterly appalling. I came to the conclusion that it was both. It was funny in the same way as I find all racism funny; its utter disregard and lack of understanding for people and their situations. I thought the article served as a nice juxtaposition to my post from yesterday. I enjoy writing about all issues of inequality, even the old ones.
In 2007, you wouldn’t find an article such as this outside a publication geared towards bigots and hate-mongers. You certainly won’t find it in one of our most recognized magazines. This article let me look back to another time. While I knew that most migrant groups were reviled no matter who they were, to see this article really drove it home.
Some of my favorite parts of the article are as follows:
“Coming from states whose literacy rates are below the national average (exception: Missouri), the clannish, independent migrants show a deep-rooted aversion not only for the law, but also for sanitation, schooling, church, and most other alien urban institutions as well.”
“Reporter Browning set out to stalk and observe a species ‘whose customs and culture-patterns are as incomprehensible to us as dial telephones are to them’”
“They have the lowest moral code, if any, of any [group], the biggest capacity for liquor and the most savage and vicious tactics when drunk, which is most of the time.”
Fifty years ago wasn’t the distant past by any means. I wonder where those hillbillies, and their children, are today. Are the second generation hillbillies still afraid of immunizations? Where in the city do they live? How long did it take them to “assimilate” into everyday Chicago culture? Are they still bitter about the way that their families were treated? If they, as the group that was called the most alien migrants that ever came to Chicago can overcome such stereotypes, why has it been harder for other groups?
These questions are probably not all that hard to answer. You just have to do a little digging. The question I hear asked most often when talking about these issues is the last one and that is the easiest of them all to explain. The answer is that these people fundamentally look the same as the majority of the population. When they get rid of their sure hillbilly signs of “shoulder length bobs (slightly matted, heavily greased) and bubble gum,” they become barely distinguishable from a “native” city resident. In my opinion, the ability to look like the majority with little effort is essential to “fitting in”. I wish that were not true but I think that it is. Until we can get past visual labels we will be unable to truly unite as a country. I think we are working on it, but it is taking far too long. We’ll see where we stand in another fifty years.