Friday, September 28, 2007


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.


notfearingchange said...

I shudder. I shudder in how people deal with society. I shudder when people forget that we are all humans with needs. I shudder when I watch the hate that festers underneath people. I shudder when I see the lack of tolerance, acceptance, curiousity people have toward one another.
Imagine what a world we would live in if everyone who felt hate felt love? What a different world that would be....

Eve said...

I have a friend who proudly calls himself a hillbilly. He's from South Carolina. He and his friends make moonshine, shoot stop signs from moving vehicles while drunk, and have big families.

He's a professor.

Kiyotoe said...

When i think "hillbilly" I think banjos and "squeal like a pig".

Is that wrong of me?

I'm so ashamed.

CS said...

As you know, I also post occassionally with a blog called "Hillbilly Savants." I guess it's one of those claiming the insult deals. And even though I poke fun at my Appalchian neighbors at times, it is with more affection than anything else. This article in Time is just ignorance - ironic given that they are mocking the ignorance of the poor, Southern immigrants. (But I had to laugh at the idea of somene "cracking his fingernails." I didn't even know that was a custom here.

Natalie said...

Notfearing- It would be a much better world. Someplace where change actually might happen and human rights would be recognized.

Eve- He sounds like an ok guy to me.

Kiyotoe- Not at all, not at all. Or, if it is, I am right there being wrong with you.

CS- The article was so incredibly wrong I couldn't ignore it. Now, I make plenty of fun of hillbillies (see upcoming post which is actually more about rednecks) but I'm not this bad.

Monica said...

that was so much fun on friday teachng the germans about hillbillies. tony was very matter of fact about the whole thing which made his contributions the funniest.

Johnny Yen said...

I was watching a History Channel thing about Appalachians this week with Billy Ray Cyrus, and it mentioned that article!

I grew up in Albany Park, and there were plenty of hillbillies there (as well as my own relatives in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana). They're generally very nice people. There's a big difference between hillbillies and white trash.

Natalie said...

Monica- Yeah, Tony is pretty funny. He believes since he is part south he is a pretty good authority on all that mess.

Johnny Yen- You are very right that there is a difference between hillbillies and white trash. I didn't always see the difference but I think I am beginning to understand.

dmarks said...

Do they publish "Snuffy Smith" anymore?

I had a brother in law (if you call the guy married to your sister in law that) at one time from a family of hillbillies way down south.