As a white man, it has always been easy to move around in the world, to go where I please, to feel relatively safe, and to have my voice heard. As I’ve started to examine the privilege I have – the privilege I was simply born with and have done nothing to earn – I’ve been asking a lot of questions and trying to wrap my head around some things.
When I consider how Appalachia is, and has historically been, portrayed, I think of the structures and systems that have been intentionally put in place to “other” Appalachia. When I consider the story of West Virginia and the long history of colonization and rule by extractive industry, I think about the influence of power, money, and fear.
When I think about working to deconstruct the stereotypes of our region, specifically through visual scholarship, I am keenly aware of the challenges involved. I cannot fight against the willful stereotyping of Appalachia without acknowledging the harm that has been done to the region long before it was called Appalachia by white men.
Everywhere I look, I am aware of how history, white history, has been written or rewritten to proclaim the accomplishments of white men, express their benevolence, or justify their acts of murder, rape, theft, war, and expansion, to bring about a civilized society.
I recently did an erasure exercise of this sign in Mingo County to read “Nearby, white leader and white settlements in effect exterminated tribe.”