willis lake in air bellows
photos by tj worthington
Just now read an article from what I suppose is a blog by Terri Barger of Nashville. The Social Prejudice Against People Who Speak With a Twang, is the title of the article. Very well spoken account of the actual prejudice against people of the mountains when they're outside the mountains. I've experienced that prejudice without even leaving here. Yankees coming in here and telling us hillbilly gum-chewers how to talk right and clean up our yards. Every time I've been outside the South somebody has to make remarks from on High like their ignorance is important to me. All they do is piss me off and make me want to say something hurtful or turn around and walk away. With Southern politeness a part of the Southern way, I can't let myself just walk away from somebody unless I'm at a place where my arm is livening up and I'm ready to stop a smart mouth with Xtreme prejudice. I really don't want to make a scene and I would rather use a pipe than hurt my knuckles on some knucklehead Yankee who is prejudiced against Southerners for being prejudiced against black folk, who doesn't know whether I'm prejudiced or not.
A Southerner in Yankeeland gets treated like an American in London. After I'd spent some time in London, friends back home who were planning a trip to London asked me what to expect. I told them they will return with an understanding of what it's like to be black in America. They came back saying, Right! They were Southerners not prejudiced against black people. The English are even worse than Yankees about American Southerners. I know so many Southerners not prejudiced, most of my friends, that it runs all over me when a Yankee tells me what's wrong with us ignernt prejudiced Southerners. The Appalachian accent is treated the same way throughout the South. Everybody likes to laugh at hillbillies; Dukes of Hazard, Beverly Hillbillies, Andy Griffith, Lil Abner. Some years ago a woman from the Florida keys visiting friends of mine here in the mountains asked if the people here are like on the Andy Griffith Show. I said there are no people anyplace like on Andy Griffith. Pissed her off and she wouldn't have any more to do with me. Another fantasy bubble popped. Oh well. I think: are you blind? We have brick houses with central heating, paved driveways, lawns, cars, 5 Walmarts 30 miles from Sparta like the points of a star, shopping centers, Pizza Huts. Everybody has television. We have universities too. Not all hillbillies live in trailers up in a holler with black teeth from crystal meth. Hillbillies were no more stereotypes in the old ways than they are today. The hillbillies I know are proud of being hillbillies. They can't be insulted for being a mountain goat. We stand on hillbilly pride. Talk down to the hillbillies I know and you'll not find an apologetic audience. Hillbillies are Southerners too and know how to tune somebody out like muting the volume.
I went to a particular pub with a name I don't remember one evening in London to carry a greeting from friends at home who knew the pub owners. I went in, sat at the bar for a beer. I didn't like bars and was way outside my comfort zone. A man at the bar, an empty stool between us, heard my Southern accent and started with, "I know about you Southerners. I've been in the South." He told everybody in the pub, speaking to me loud enough for everyone to hear, about the South of his experience, which told me he only knew about the South from television. I knew he was lying about his absence of experience, but did my best with Southern politeness to put up with him. I sat there thinking, all I have to do is extend my left arm such that my fist connects with his chin, he falls over backwards with the stool, hits the back of his head on the floor and dies: suddenly I'm the American in an English prison. I saw a guy of my generation sitting at a table. I picked up my glass, walked to his table, asked if I could sit at his table and calm down. I told him I was on the verge of breaking and didn't want to. He said, "Don't pay any attention to him. He's an asshole and everybody in here knows it." I told him everybody in there was about to find out I'm an asshole too when I deck the smart-mouth bastard. We talked pleasantly a little while, I finished my beer and thanked him for lending me a hand when I needed one. Never stepped inside a pub again.
old turd hillbilly
I've no interest in returning to London. I felt too much like a black person feels in especially the South. I don't like that feeling. It makes me want to lash out physically. I understood better than ever before how black people felt. I thought I had some understanding, just from empathy before, but London taught me that white people are really mean to black people. I'm not and people I associate with are not, so I don't see much of it, except in police behavior, public news items. I can't change social situations, but I don't have to participate. I made it a life commitment to regard people of all races with the same respect as for white people. Why not? Alas, that makes me vulnerable to "reverse prejudice." I've known a few black people since then who alienated me with their racism. Racist black people are the same to me as racist white people. I attribute racism to absence of self-awareness. If I want to convert someone from racism, I need to work on their self-awareness first. But it's not my place to fix other people, so I just stay away from people who annoy me with their particular style of egoism. That's all prejudice is, uneducated egoism. I don't mean school uneducated, but experience uneducated.
I'm seeing in this time the people who watch television, everybody, have been dividing up between conservative and liberals, hawks and doves, though by now it's breaking down into stupid and not quite so stupid. The problem I have with teapartiers is not so much that they're confrontational, but they never shut up jabbering republican parrot talk, "What about Benghazi," like they're inspired by original thought. I find them too boring to be around, so I just stay away from them. I don't even look at short utube quips by Hannity, Beck and Limbaugh. Even though I turn on one of their videos to see what the parrots are saying, half a minute into it I can't tolerate hearing the egoic ignorance and turn it off with a vengeance and a short run of cuss words. When I was a kid I believed adults were intelligent, had knowledge, had experience and maybe even some wisdom. Did I ever find out that was a fantasy with no foundation in anything but maybe a child's hope that he is ruled by people able to make intelligent decisions. Growing up into the world of adults it's depressing to see how wrong I was. Then deal with the depression. Prozac Nation. I tried it for a few years and really liked it. I was in a good mood all the time. After some years of being in a good mood, I missed myself. I felt like I was existing apart from myself. My self was like in a box and I was living sort of separate from myself.
It wasn't like an identity crisis, just that I take the wave of a period of feeling "good" and a period of feeling "bad" for the flow of forward momentum. I just missed the part of myself that was not necessarily happy. So what if I don't keep an artificial level of bliss going? I want to deal with my own issues as myself, not just a part of myself. I want to live my whole self. It felt like my light side was getting all the attention and my dark side left in the dark, something like the moon that doesn't rotate. It's the rotation that makes the heat of the sun bearable and the cold without the sun bearable. The moon cooks on one side and freezes on the other. I want my planet to turn. I don't mind it when I get in a pissy mood. I don't care to be around anybody much when I'm feeling low without explaining I'm in a mood so I won't be any fun, and I don't want to pass it on. But I do want to live it. If I want to go around here cussing under my breath, depressed over seeing what I see everywhere around me, people trading in their humanity for the promise of a little bit of money, I feel like that's as important a part of self as the side that smiles a lot. At a friend's house I see kids on American Idol desperate all the way to the soul to become a corporate product. I think: Why? Fame and money? And when they get it, it aint as pretty as they dream it when they don't have it. Then I tell myself it's the nature of the arts. It's like auditioning for a role in a Broadway play. Many audition, few are chosen. If you want to play the game, you have to be able to take rejection. Artists understand rejection very well. Then it gets kind of interesting and I understand why so many people like it.
These Blue Ridge Mountains pulled me like an electro magnet. Air Bellows Mountain it turns out is the home of my soul. I'd rather live with hillbillies than any other kind of people I know of. I had to rethink the nature of intelligence, just out of the American educational system that taught me school is the only legitimate source for knowledge. NOT. Right off, the hillbillies I worked with and came to know as neighbors showed me that these people got a whole lot more on the ball than I did. I found everyone I met with fast, retentive minds, people who can do a lot, like fix automobile engines, raise cattle, market cattle, weld, shoot a gun impressively, know how to clean a gun, figure out how to do something they've never done before, cut a tree so it will fall exactly as aimed, drive really fast on mountain roads, like really fast. Nobody I went to college with could drive a mountain road at 140mph and drift the curves at 100. I began to redefine intelligence away from the white middle-class version of it I'd learned all my life. In 1983 I volunteered at the high school as a tutor to help a kid having a hard time. They gave me a senior in last semester. He needed the credits to pass so he could graduate, illiterate. Everybody in the office and some teachers told me he was just dumb. On sight I saw he was not. Walking down the hall to our room to work I said, "What's up? You're not dumb." He said, "I know it." Continually failing in school, unable to read, he took a Mustang motor apart and put it back together so it ran better than before, unable to read the manual. That's not dumb to my way of seeing things. There was no time in my life I could have done that.
freaked out fish