I spent my entire childhood thinking of West Virginia as a dumping ground full of uncultured, uneducated, unfriendly, and uncouth people. This description didn’t really fit anyone that I knew, not my teachers, not my parents, or my neighbors, but I knew because this was the West Virginia that was all around me.
I knew from violent, ogre-like criminals in movies with a backwards outlook on life and southern accents as thick as tree roots. I knew from ignorant, bucktoothed country cousins in overalls that came to visit main characters in the cartoons I watched. I knew from history books that portrayed my home as this place spilling over with bumpkins too dumb and too weak to defend themselves and their land from big business. And I knew from jokes on the radio and on TV that made it ok for people to use the words “redneck” and “hillbilly” without understanding that it was (and is) extremely demeaning and insensitive to an entire culture.