The Truth About Appalachia

Historians in the News
tags: Appalachia, Elizabeth Catte, What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia

Appalachia is home to coal miners, addicts, Trump voters—and nobody else, according to the average article about Trump Country. In her new book, What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, historian Elizabeth Catte tries to diversify these tired narratives. The Appalachia she presents is a complicated one, marked by the coal industry, yes, but also by passionate, sometimes violent local opposition to its practices. Appalachia isn’t monolithically white and it isn’t monolithically conservative. It may be Trump Country, but that’s because we all live in Trump Country.

“If it is appropriate to label a small but visible subgroup as unambiguously representative of 25 million people inhabiting a geographic region spanning over 700,000 square miles then we should ask a number of questions,” Catte writes. “Where were, for example, the ‘Bernie Country’ pieces about Appalachia? As a point of reference, there are more people in Appalachia who identify as African American than Scots Irish, so where were the essays that dove into the complex negotiations of Appalachian-ness and blackness through the lens of the election?”

Catte, who is from east Tennessee, spoke with me about her book, hillbilly elegies, and what Appalachia actually needs from the world outside its borders. What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia is out on Tuesday from Belt Publishing. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Sarah Jones: Why this book? And why now?

Elizabeth Catte: I really took exception to narratives that centered Appalachia as the beating heart of Trump Country. It seems that reporters were going to Appalachia to attach Trump’s success to a narrative of economic anxiety. They were using Appalachia to make that argument real, to give it a human dimension.

I wanted to dig into the reality of what Appalachia is. Because a lot of the Trump Country pieces use myths about Appalachia, such as that we’re all crazy for coal. I didn’t expect the Trump Country pieces to have such a shelf life. I did not expect to be seeing them a year and a half after the election, but here we are. And they haven’t changed much. ...

Read entire article at New Republic

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