Coding “White Trash” in Academia

Source: Coding “White Trash” in Academia

I read this essay and, by the end, I was in silent tears.  I know exactly what this person is saying and it is true.  Coming from Appalachia I am very proud of where I’ve come from.  I am proud of my heritage and the rich history of my people, but it has always been looked down upon.

My sister, Sister2, tried to prepare me for the double standard of what going to college was going to be like and the job world.  I didn’t understand right away because I assumed I would be judged more for my disability than anything else.  In college this was mostly true, in the work world every single thing about the that was different was pointed out and made fun of even though I was still in the middle of Appalachia.  The consensus was, quite simply, “Only hicks live in the mountains of Kentucky.”  This is one thing I could never get over because I simply refused to be different.  I like this person I am.  It is based on the people I knew growing up; the family stories; the basis of faith, honor, and integrity.

However, I did have to change some.  I was always on the outside looking in at all social functions at my job.  My disability was made fun of just as much as the way I spoke or that I enjoyed reading “high-brow” books (personally, I never considered Charles Dickens to be “high brow”, merely good).  I smiled through it all, but often was in tears the moment my car door was closed and I was heading out of the parking lot.

Things became worse for me when I found someone I truly fell in love with.  His skin color caused SO much trouble.  This was such a shock for me because my entire family said, from the first fully memory I have of being in my family, people are just people.  I was just as much a real person as anyone else, and that was all that mattered.  Being hit by a double standard hurt my soul and made me angry for a long time.  For a while the only place I genuinely felt comfortable was with The Husband’s family.  They recognized I knew discrimination because I am not a physically perfect white girl.  I am physically flawed.  I can’t hide it, but they liked the person I am.

Things worked out for my love and me and our families.  He is just as much a part of my family as I am of his.  Both sides aren’t perfect, but they are family and we wouldn’t trade either side for anything else.

Now The Husband is laid off and having to look for another job and for one reason or another he isn’t landing one:  He is too educated.  He isn’t educated enough.  He is too old.  He doesn’t have enough life experiences.  He needs to own his own CADD program (which runs in the thousands of dollars) and computer set-up.  His hair is too long.  He has dreds….  There are even some “You would be perfect for the job, BUT” thrown out there.  Frustrating?  You bet!

One of my sisters suggested I go back to the mountains and live in the house there and The Husband could work in Harlan, Hazard, or Manchester because there are African-American people in these areas so he wouldn’t be frozen out of having a job.  I looked for jobs in these areas.  There isn’t one job he could do that his pay wouldn’t get eaten up driving back and for to work.  Discovering this almost crushed me and made me see the hopelessness pervading my beloved mountains and why heroine is such a problem. (And, NO, I am not giving them an excuse for the drug problem, but I understand how hopelessness and lack of employment can destroy your feeling of self-worth.  I am SO proud of those who make it OFF the drugs and stay clean.  They are some of my most-loved heroes.)  So, “going home” is out of the question.

When all of this settled onto my heart and shoulders I felt as if not only the world was on them, but the Universe in its entirety.  The Husband and I are going to need to live without friends through this winter.  After that…?  We will see.  However, all of this did make me sit quietly for a couple of days and decide what I really wanted out of the rest of my life with The Husband.  The answer was not what I expected.

I want, genuinely:

  • to live in the country surrounded by birdsong, trees, etc.
  • to have chickens for eggs
  • to raise some beans, tomatoes, and other vegetables in raised beds so I can  truly tend them
  • to be safe
  • to have my dogs nearby and feel they are safe
  • to write my stories, novels, and poetry and publish them on Kindle in peace and joy (after editing, of course)
  • to knit
  • to be warm, safe, and dry in the winter; and cool, safe, and dry in the summer

This is what I want.

I talked it over with The Husband and he added a few more things to the list like 1) a job to keep us fed and bills paid; 2) a place where he can make his flutes in peace (although he might need to make sure there is a baby door available because I’m not sure Wickett EVER intends to leave The Husband alone when he is working with wood); and 3) to be able to get to our church for services.  I agreed with him on everything he wanted.

Going back to the country feels right at this point in my life.  Looking at the state of the world, I am feeling the farm is the perfect place for us to be.  We have Internet and electricity now and the world I see I don’t often want to participate in other than a few crafts festivals and family gatherings.  Going to movies is always a fun thing for us, as is meeting up with our friends.

In some ways, I feel as though I’ve come full circle, just in a different place.  I am not a gypsy.  I need roots.  I’m tired of living in apartments.  I need a place that is mine.  (One of the reasons I’ve never decorated any of our apartments is because I knew we were going to have to eventually move, why get attached to a place so much?)   Now, we just have to work toward making it happen.

There is nothing wrong about being educated and being in the country where you can blare Trace Adkins and Beethoven depending on the feeling or inclination.  You can’t go home again.  You really can’t, but you can make a new home.  One that fulfills all of your requirements.  This is what my parents did, so this is what we will do.



About Henrietta Handy

I am a Kentucky mountain girl far from home, perhaps far from the girl years. I am an aspiring writer with a wonderful husband who puts up with this writing and reading addiction I have. He also puts up with all of the yarn and knitting. I have four canine children and a ton of friends I love dearly. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 2 1/2 and have still managed to have a good life despite all the pain. So, I invite you to join me in this journey and just possibly have fun along the way.
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6 Responses to Coding “White Trash” in Academia

  1. Brian Bixby says:

    One of the elements of the article you cite worth additional thought is who your friends will be. Different experiences can make one a fish out of water even back at home. I’m not trying to discourage your plans, just saying think about who, where , and how you get your friends as part of your choices.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The area we are hoping to move to is close to Lexington so our church and friends shouldn’t really change. If we went all the way to the county I’m from we would indeed be fish out of water, including myself, except for my family of course. We thought of who we would be getting to know, or losing, as part of our choice. We just hope we get to move to the farm close to here. Thank you for also pointing this out, too. We have learned no person is an island, and, if you ARE, it can wreck everything you’ve built or are trying to build.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As an African-American who has been subjected to differential and uequal treatment based on the color of my skin, I empathize with all that you write. Within the African-American community, I have been subjected to differential and unequal treatment based on darkness of my skin. Like you, I have been subjected to both caste and class discrimination. So happy you and your husband have made the choice to move away from the negative environment and move to a place where you can find peace, happiness and joy. Took a break from blogging for a short while and I am glad to reconnect with you.

    Liked by 1 person

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