Tuesday, October 25, 2011

All About Density, Part Two

Gorgeous, isn't it?
In Part one, I wrote about what I love about cities and why I plan on raising my son in one. Here in part two, I talk about the problems that I have encountered here in a small rural town and why I will move to a larger metropolitan area as soon as possible.

My partner, who grew up here in Applachian Ohio, found this Wikipedia page on this region of the world and was stunned to see a listing of cultural values that seem to be prevalent in this area of the world. He believes it to be accurate based on his life experience, and from the limited exposure that I have had, I tend to agree. Below, I list the values and some of the issues that I have with some of them.

Appalachian writer Loyal Jones has defined traditional "Appalachian values" as the following:
  • 1. Individualism: often the most obvious Appalachian characteristic: look after oneself; enjoy solitude; freedom from external restraints; do things for oneself; not wanting to be beholding to others; make do; strong work ethic; courage; defend oneself or take revenge, rather than relying on "the law." A common value of decentralized farming cultures.
  • 2. Strong Sense of Extended Family: Family-centered, rather than community-centered; Appalachian people settled in kin-groups, not towns; loyalty runs deep; responsibility may extend beyond immediate family; "blood is thicker than water."
  • 3. Love of Place - the term "homeplace" (roughly like the German "Heimat") is common; never forget "back home" and go there as often as possible; revitalizing, especially if a migrant; sometimes stay in places where there is no hope of maintaining decent lives.
  • 4. Neighborliness and Hospitality - help each other out, but suspicious of strangers; spontaneous to invite people for a meal, to spend the night, etc. People are friendly, but not open to strangers. Trust is important. Tend not to ask your advice until they trust you. Relationships are important and deep relationships are developed slowly. This suspicion of outsiders is based on the exploitative past. Historian David Hackett Fischer pointed out it preceded the American experience and went back to the border wars in England that many of the immigrants had lived with. .
  • 5. Traditionalism – a strong love of tradition; skeptical of schemes for "progress"; love of things as they are. Change comes slowly. This is typical of more isolated areas.
  • 6. Personalism - relates well to others, but think in terms of persons rather than degrees or professional reputations; go to great lengths to keep from offending others; getting along is more important than letting one's feelings be known.
  • 7. Modesty and Being Oneself - believe one should not put on airs; be oneself, not a phony; don't pretend to be something you're not or be boastful; don't get above your raising.
  • 8. Sense of Beauty - displayed through music, folksongs, poems, arts, crafts, etc., colorful language metaphors; home and beauty are closely connected.
  • 9. Sense of Humor - seem dour (unfriendly), but laugh at ourselves; do not appreciate being laughed at; humor sustains people in hard times. Humor is often sarcastic.
  • 10. Strong sense of solidarity - Stick, together, even if you disagree, express yourself but stand together, especially against outsiders, government, or big organizations.
  • 11. Strong sense of Patriotism - goes back to Civil War times; flag, land, relationships are important.

While of course all of these values can be good things, I have found some are taken to extremes and are not the kind of environment that I want to raise a child in. Here is what I have experienced here:

The rugged individualism, while normally something I value, seems to translate into an non-empathetic, Fox-News-watching, other-blaming mentality that is problematic to me. I think this couples with the patriotism in many ways for a combination that freaks me out. It leads to closed minds and a refusal to question what they have been spoon-fed by television. There is no agree-to-disagree here in most people. This is why my local UU church is so important, it is a refuge for those that want dialogue and diversity.

I love how dedicated my partner's family to to kin. They are so into helping family and spending time with them (and we are of course benefiting from it). Rowan is thriving here, having a Nanny and Pap Pap to dote on him. But I also see that "outsiders" are perpetually outsiders, and that blends with other social issues like racism, classism, and immigration status in a way that I do not appreciate. Again, it leads to a non-empathetic response to others outside the family.

I kid you not, I have sat next to Klan members in a restaurant and heard them wax poetic on the good old days before integration of schools and use words for people they do not know that I do not want my son to be exposed to right now. He picks everything up and repeats it now and that is not something he needs to repeat. I have had to ask relatives to stop telling racist jokes anywhere near my son, for example. I personally don't care about "cuss words", but I'll be damned if my son uses words only meant to harm someone of another race, religion, or ethnicity. HELL NO.

Lest you think that all is horrible here, I assure you that it is not. It is easy here, perhaps too easy. I think I need a little more friction and edge, personally. I have been treated well here and welcomed. I have experienced that Appalachian neighborliness and hospitality first hand- especially at my newly-adopted UU church. I have social engagements in my calendar already. Rowan has been gifted an awesome John Deere child-sized tractor that actually runs using a gas pedal from a neighbor down the street! It has helped me feel more welcome.

As a Witch, I also appreciate the love of place. Honoring spirits of the land and listening to them is important to me and something that I will be teaching my son. It is easy to do here, they are very vocal. Having a place to return to for gatherings and a sense of history is of value to me. I am happy that Rowan will be able to return here for holidays. It is a gorgeous land.


  1. I grew up near that area, and what you're saying is true. We lived there for over 6 years, and we were always "the people from california."

    It goes without saying that every place has it's positives and negatives, and much of it depends on what an individual requires in their life. I don't miss the closed community of Ohio, the gossipiness, the strict adherance to church "morality." But in the city, I feel it's easier to disappear and not be missed. I am not a major social butterfly, and there have been dark times in my life when I felt ignored by those I love, when in reality they didn't know I needed them because there is so much going on in city life.

  2. Oh, those photos! the changing leaves! It really is beautiful, the wild country.

    But the racism, I don't miss. The small-mindedness, the way that an outsider is always an outsider, the way that folks value the appearance of civility over genuine harmony ... no, those are not values I want passed onto my children.

  3. I am glad the post was taken in the spirit it was given.

    Blue: I hear you about the cons of the city. I have felt that at times as well. I am hoping to create a hybrid system- a tribe of close-knit people within a city. It takes lots of work, but it is a major goal that I will work on.

  4. I was born in Youngstown...I never knew it was still technically an Appalachian County...though there's certainly some crossover into places like Youngstown and Warren where I spent summers as a kid...
    Thanks for this post...fascinating. Also reminds me why my Mother moved to Los Angeles when she knew she was raising a gay son. ^_~

  5. I don't know much about southern Ohio, but I have lived in West Virginia most of my life. After high school, the only discrimination I have experienced came from an out-of-state college administrator. I have been out as Queer, Pagan (formerly "Witch") and communist for most of that time. I have experienced more bias from non-Appalachians for being Appalachian than I have from anyone at any point for being Queer or non-Christian.


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