Not Putting Its Best Foot Forward

There is inescapable coverage today of what a bunch of ignorant racist hillbillies voters in West Virginia are. Consider this quote from today’s Fish Wrapper:

“I’m going to write in Hillary on the ballot,” Jester said outside the IHOP, crushing her half-smoked cigarette. “I want to see a woman in there before I see a . . . ” She stopped, and her sister finished the sentence with: “a man of color.”

And then there’s this delightful thirty-second video, which features a lovely woman named Janet who can’t bring herself to vote for Obama because she knows he’s a Muslim, and even though he says he’s a Christian she just doesn’t believe him. The linked article also includes this quote from another lifelong West Virginia Democrat: “I heard that Obama is a Muslim and his wife’s an atheist.” (Right, because Muslims who care about their religion regularly marry atheists and, as we all know, atheists can’t be loyal Americans because they don’t say the pledge of allegiance. Actually, we do say it, we just omit the part that got added in later and which doesn’t mean anything anyway.) Best of all is this little bit from the WaPo: “He’s a half-breed and he’s a Muslim. How can you trust that?”

The coverage of racist ignorance getting in the way of the annointing of St. Obama is so overwhelming that a part of me wants to resist and say no! The MSM must have it all wrong, they must be cherry-picking people to feature in their stories because modern America just isn’t like that. It’s just not that way. It’s just that some of these voters aren’t putting their best feet forward; they really like HRC better because she’s, well, she’s a safer choice.

But then again, I lived in Appalachia for two uncomfortable, eye-opening years. What I saw there was three societies, all juxtaposed atop one another. I found the New South quite agreeable because it embraced tolerant social and racial attitudes while still holding on to other political and social values like gun rights, low taxation, valuing education, suspicion of governmental intrusion into peoples’ lives, and a variety of other kinds of political and social values with which I have general agreement.

Some of the more religious New Southerners were a little bit sketchy on the whole separation of church and state part of our national heritage, but when pressed, they were willing to concede that an individual’s right to privacy was probably more important than their own notions of morality, even in the case of, say, gay sex which they obviously did not approve of but were typically willing to look past. These were both black and white people, and while cross-racial friendships were still uncommon, they were also not unknown. Pretty much all of the educated professionals I met with, the lawyers and accountants and such, fit into this category. But also, a considerable number of people without advanced education had this live-and-let-live attitude, too; for instance, our next-door neighbors in Knoxville were as racially and socially tolerant as you could ask of any American family. Thinking about the blacks who came from this class, they almost all had at least some college, and at least the guys I got to know from being their lawyer, I saw that they had high enough incomes to afford to play golf on their days off, which they loved to do. Seriously, some of them could pretty much only talk golf, golf, golf, all the time when we weren’t talking business. And they really wanted me to go out and shoot eighteen with them on the weekends. I found it amusing that these guys would so enthusiastically embrace golf, historically one of the last bastions of racial segregation, although that fact was, for them, a historical footnote that was of little relevance to their lives. As it should have been.

But then there was the Old South, the part of society that the Chamber of Commerce isn’t so keen to put front and center of its promotional materials. For these people, white and black do not mix. They pretty much tolerate one another, but only because they are told to, and this does not mitigate the mutual antipathy and distrust that you can sense when they are around one another. Such whites thought nothing of using racial slurs (around other white people; they did not do so when blacks were in the room) and both groups acted as though some degree of geographic separation was a necessity for society to remain peaceful.

I have a hard time understanding how the blacks of this society bought into the idea of de facto segregation as something they were comfortable with despite disliking it. But that was pretty much their attitude. In my interactions with some of them (all professional, none at all social), the attitude seemed to be one of mutual cynicism and distrust — “You’re using me to make money off of my lawsuit and I’m using you because I need a lawyer for my lawsuit to be worth anything at all; all we are is money to one another.” I wouldn’t be surprised if at least some of them thought that they were better off keeping things insular to their own communities as much as they could depsite the limited economic opportunities that left them. There was certainly a different mood to the parts of the city east of downtown which were mainly black.

These were also the kind of folks that I spoke to who were very proud of how deep their roots were in the local community; a great many had never left East Tennessee (aside from their military service) and at least one person bragged to me once that in his nearly fifty years of life, he had never left Knox County. (As if that was something to be proud of.)

So that’s what I found, socially, living in one of the biggest urban centers in Appalachia. Charleston, WV, is probably not all that different from Knoxville, TN; they’re similarly-sized cities where professionals of necessity congregate around folks with more rural backgrounds. If anything, Charleston* is a much smaller city than Knoxville at only abuot 50,000 people and only about 300,000 in the metro area; Knoxville’s metro area has more than twice as many people as Charleston’s.

That suggests to me that there will be fewer “New South” types (but not none) in Charleston and that yes, it will be older-school. Demographically, West Virginia is about 96% white. It’s entirely possible that some of these people, adults, may have never seen a real, live black person; their only experience with black people has been watching them on television. This idea absolutely blows my mind but at the same time I have little difficulty believing that it’s true. And for such kinds of people, I really don’t have a lot of difficulty believing that they say things like the quotes I mentioned at the start of this article — and meaning them.

So I’m thinking the MSM’s reporting from West Virginia may not be as far off the mark as defenders of Appalachia might wish. My own experiences tell me that there are people like that out there. There very likely are a bunch of ignorant racist hillbillies voters in West Virginia, and today, they get to vote, the same as all the rest of us Americans. We can hope that they look past their prejudices and make decisions that are based on facts and rational consideration of the various issues of the day. But that’s probably too much to hope for.

You know, democracy would be a great thing if everyone voted the way I think they should. But that would completely defeat the purpose of having a democracy in the first place.

* I enjoyed the line in the Wikipedia entry about Charleston that described a local radio station as “96.1 The Wolf. The station plays mostly Republican country music, but also has a mix of Southern Rock.” (Emphasis added.) So now there will be Democrats falling all over themselves to point out that they like country music, too.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.