Gwenda Bond linked an interesting article from Southern Cultures. The author, Meredith McCarroll, who comes from Western North Carolina, talks about her efforts to blend in and hide her cultural heritage and eventual acceptance of who she is.
Yet while I was proud of my home, I was also learning that powerful stereotypes about Appalachia had arrived in places like Boston well before me and had influenced the way that even the most considerate people thought about me. The banjo lick from Deliverance backed many introductory conversations when I said where I was from. Instead of calling people out for their ignorance, I distanced myself from Haywood County. I laughed along. I waited longer and longer to reveal my background. I blended in. During this time, I applied to graduate school. In my visits to prestigious universities in Boston, I actively tried to “talk right” and hide my accent. One lingering linguistic marker caused me the most panic when I slipped. Long after I attached ‘G’s to my gerunds and bleached out the local color from my language, I stumbled over the word “on.” When my mom told me to put my coat on, those words rhymed. She told me to call her when I was on the road. And those words rhymed. To my Appalachian tongue, “own” and “on” were pronounced exactly the same way. But not for the rest of the world, I learned. This reminder that I was not from around here meant, to me, that I might not belong in a Boston graduate school.
I learned to always use adverbs. I took my groceries from a buggy and put them in a cart. I (nearly) stopped calling my hat a toboggan. I forced my vowels into shape. It worked. I got into graduate school. I got a PhD. I learned to pass. But I lost my voice. With Granny’s chiding in my ear—“You’re talking uppity now that you live in Baaaaahston”—I developed a new way of speaking. And it wasn’t until a decade later that I heard my own repressed voice echoed back to me in West Virginia.
I still say buggy. I learned my English in North Georgia. My first trip to a US grocery store, featured Piggly Wiggly. I could by now lose the accent, but I don’t care to, because that’s who I am. My daughters are the same. Neither of them looks typically American, both of them picked up a slight accent from me, and people comment on it. Both of them tried to fit in when they were teenagers but now they are adults. Kid 2 was trying to cheer Kid 1 one after someone said something snide to her out of pure spite.
The truth is that you and me both are very pretty in a foreign way. We don’t look American. We bring attention to ourselves even when we’re not trying and some girls see that and are immediately threatened.
This is true. Our kids are unusual and memorable, both in their looks and background, and people react to it, mostly with interest but sometimes with spite.
So I get feeling like an outsider.
That said, I intensely dislike Western North Carolina and Appalachia at large. ( By this I don;t mean places like Asheville. I mean deep mountain towns.) People come there and see beautiful mountains. I see crushing poverty. I see people who start the conversation with “who you’re kin to” before deciding if they’ll repair your car and say things like, “You’re foreign. You don’t need to be here.” I see self-segregation. I see a lot of religious intolerance. No church in Jackson county would marry us unless we went there for a year and proved that we were good enough, which was fine with me, but getting constantly judged because you don’t go to church to get saved every Sunday got old fast.
I see a culture where – if you’re not from around there – it’s okay to take advantage of you. It’s okay to charge you double for the same repair, it’s okay to bump you down the line for work you need to get done, and it’s okay to feel superior to you while all of this is happening, because you’re either a Floridiot, who obviously has a ton of money to spend on vacation house or you’re a foreigner and you don’t belong in the country anyhow.
Gordon probably has a different perspective, but I have to tell you, after living there for five years, I couldn’t get out fast enough.
Gordon here: I will say only this, there is a reason we haven’t lived in Jackson Co, NC for a very long while. I lost my accent like Meredith did, but I don’t miss it.