I know that it was a brief, somewhat enigmatic comment that likely wasn't even noticed by most. And I know that people can be too thin-skinned.
There is a difference in being made fun of by the people on the other side of town or in the next state and being a national joke. And too often, we are a national joke. The result is that we are often viewed a certain way when people find out where we are from. In a recent job I experienced this often, particularly from residents of states that were far away and who had likely never met a West Virginian. Assumptions are made; programmed reactions set in.
This can get very, very old.
When I was in high school (in the seventies), there were still researchers who believed that people from the Appalachians were genetically inferior. Seriously. Our history textbooks featured pictures of poor West Virginians who could possibly be helped by LBJ's "Great Society" programs (again, this was the seventies, proving we needed new textbooks
), and until very recently, any report on the national news from West Virginia was certain to feature the most stereotypical person available.
In the eighties, I worked for a local newspaper. One of the newswriters was from a large city on the east coast. He regularly referred to West Virginians in general as illiterates and fought to have pictures of people riding mules and the like on the front page of the paper every given opportunity. This was typical of West Virginia, he said. I still remember a profile he wrote of a school's valedictorian in which he told me that he thought it was important that people get a picture of her as someone who lives "a mile up a hollow". And no, he wasn't talking about her overcoming adversity; he was talking about the way she was portrayed in the story.
I try not to be too sensitive, but I also can't pretend this isn't a problem. The poverty here is real. Our education system is in need of repair. But when we are constantly portrayed as not having the capability
of being better than we are, this grates. It grates bad.
This also affects our view of ourselves in insidious ways. One of the things that holds us back the most is that we become hopeless and feel that we have no say in our destiny. We are poor hillbillies, and we should be satisfied with our station in life.
And so we become satisfied, and the cycle continues.
Sorry for the rant.
(btw, I tried not to mention specific states or cities because none of this was directed at anyone here. In spite of my ranting, I'm not particularly upset or offended at the moment. I really just shrugged off Pete's comment; he's like the crazy uncle you kind of overlook. This is just a natural flow.)