Nearly no horse in the American race
My heritage is not something well-known, and it leaves me profoundly ambivalent. I thought I’d talk about that.
Those Americans with basic sociological awareness are probably familiar with the lines and ridges of history that continue to guide and define society and politics today. They are aware of the major lines of history, burned into place by conflict: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Great Depression + World War II, in that order.
The Civil War is arguably the deepest and most profound among these, as it cuts to the heart of American belief in a way the Revolutionary War merely helped define – and one which FDR was merely a rescuer and resuscitator of. There is no shortage of aftermath that colours the South and the North to this very day in culture and history, and there are a lot of complexities beyond racism and civil rights that any amateur historian would know. I come here to say just that it ain’t me.
My personal culturing as an American is one of an Appalachian yeomen acclimatised to the South. I went to grade school here, in North Carolina, and I continue to live here amicably as an adult, but that’s not where I nor any of my family or ancestors are from. No, we’re all from Appalachia, most recently West By God Virginia. Originally, my ancestors came over on indenture, probably working fields alongside African slaves for a time, before fleeing into the mountains to be pioneers and start families. We weren’t that much better off than the slaves themselves back then.
There’s a lot of history about West Virginia I hold close to my heart. The Battle of Blair Mountain is still a source of endless pride for me, and serves as a moral guidepost for how I act in the face of might, lest I forget. But it’s not just the heritage of history for me, either. My paternal grandfather was the last of the so-called coal miners – that is, before the coal companies collapsed under union pressures and resorted to the environmentally disastrous strip mining practises they do with mechanisation today. The story of the coal mines in WV is something I know very well not to be a black-and-white conflict. It had nothing to do with socialism, either, a conflation invented by rich Yankee socialites to weave our blood, sweat and tears into their narrative about Kampuchea or whatever pet story they had about Empire at the time. This hurts us more than words could ever describe.
I don’t like the Yankees for this, and for many other general reasons of culture. I have a huge distaste for their Separatist and Puritan roots, finding it to be one of the most disgusting and horrifying outgrowths of Christianity the world has ever known. I inherited a reflexive (and usually unfounded) disdain for “the French”, an accident of sorts that just carried on as an uninterrupted oral tradition in my people since 1066. For the record, I quite like the actual French. I also have a reflexive (and also usually unfounded) distrust of the 20th century immigrant-Americans (German-Americans, Italian-Americans, etc), which is usually assuaged by me actually talking with them. This was probably because of the mega corporations’ tendency to bring in scab labourers fresh off the boat to replace us and starve us out. All of these things are implicitly carried over from the shared tradition and culture, what little tattered shreds of it we had, that my parents passed down to me. There were times throughout history when it was a matter of survival to be hostile to these people, and now it’s little more than hubbub and town talk.
But I’m not an Appalachian boy in demeanour, merely Appalachian in heritage and heart. I grew up in the South, with a recess for high school in Colorado, and as a result I am very comfortable with white Southerners and the blacks that comprise a majority of the cities. I went to elementary school in Garner, which is one of the blackest satellites of Raleigh as far as I know. It’s normal to me, and I don’t mind it. I would feel a lot more uncomfortable moving to New England if I’m being honest.
But for the historical record, my sympathies for the Southerners don’t stretch far beyond shared contempt for the Yankee, carpetbaggers and such. Southerners of both races are often stupid and rightly deserving of ridicule in their own ways, and I do think international people are much more well-versed in the details of why, so I won’t labour to explain. You’ve probably heard all the talking points before.
The bottom line is, regardless of what the line of opinion is, most people have a horse in the race, so to speak. Even a Southerner who is assuredly not racist in the slightest still has a life and righteousness they are moved to defend and exalt, a shared experience with their kin, if you will. Ditto New England, ditto the Pacific Northwest, ditto California, ditto New Orleans, and so on.
But I don’t really have a horse in the race, and it’s strange and sometimes sad. All of my people have been dying in vast numbers for the past 70 years, and they haven’t been prospering at any point before then either. In the Civil War, America’s most defining cultural moment to date, we were kicked around back and forth by the pre-eminent powers of the North and South, often merely for the sake of resources.
We like to think the North brought us into the Union because we were all poor yeomen where blacks and whites alike were equally poor, because that part of us is true. But the truth is, they never cared about us, and at this rate they probably never will. We don’t matter. We are one of the Others of America’s history as a Chosen Nation, kept as a footnote but forgotten in the mythos and legends and stories passed down. We don’t teach our children about Blair Mountain, and if we do, the story is probably completely wrong anyway.
I just felt it was important to say that.