Wednesday, June 20, 2018

I know where I come from

My parents, Raymond and Marian Early McIntyre, spent their entire lives in Fleming County, Kentucky, in Appalachia.

They graduated from high school in Elizaville, their twelve grades in the same school I entered, with eight grades in five classrooms. My mother was the Elizaville postmaster for a quarter-century. My father worked for many years as an engineer for the state highway department; I have driven on roads he helped to build.

And when I went to school at Michigan State University, they were a little apprehensive, fearing that they would be seen as "country" by the cosmopolitans of East Lansing. (That distant rumbling is the sound of thousands of Michiganders snorting.)

I bring this up because a little while back I got into one of those fruitless online political discussions with some people back home in Fleming County. One of them ultimately accused me of dismissing him as an ignorant hick. The interesting point is that I had not said that. I had chivvied him about being too credulous about right-wing memes of questionable accuracy, but I had not disparaged his origins.*

I know who I am and where I come from. I am the child of Raymond and Marian McIntyre, who were devoted and supportive parents, and good citizens. Also good Democrats: Roosevelt, Stevenson, Kennedy Democrats, progressive Bert Combs and Ned Breathitt Democrats.

My father's mother had a sister who was in the DAR, so I suppose if I did the research I could claim an ancestor who fought in the Revolution. My great-great-grandfather on my mother's side bought the land that became the family farm in 1862, so the family link to that land lasted a century and a half.

I am a child of Appalachia, and I had the benefit of growing up among good people. I had teachers like Frances Dorsey and Linda McKee, dedicated to the profession. (The people I was arguing with had some of the same teachers; they had the opportunity to learn how to think more independently.) I had as employers Lowell and Jean Denton of the Flemingsburg Gazette, where I began to learn journalism. They helped me become who I am.

I have never been ashamed of where I come from, have never attempted to conceal my Kentucky heritage, though I am aware of the stereotypes many people have about Kentuckians. (It's not just coastal elites; there are people in Ohio, who think that way, if you can credit it.)

It doesn't do any good to be ashamed of your people, and it doesn't do any good to shame others because of their people.

My Scotch-Irish ancestors chose to live in a scorned backwater like Appalachia because they weren't wanted back in Britain. Our founding colonists were mostly considered trash by the people back home.

The Germans who fled the draft and endless eighteenth-century European wars were not esteemed here; Benjamin Franklin worried that they would ruin Pennsylvania, in part because they didn't speak English. You know if you're Irish that your nineteenth-century ancestors who fled famine were openly despised in this country; a political party organized against them. And the same with the Italians, the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Eastern European Jews, the Chinese and Japanese in California, the latter of whom we interned in concentration camps during the Second World War for no reason other than blind prejudice.

And today people from Mexico and Central American are being called vermin by the descendants of people who were called vermin in their own time.

It doesn't do any good to be ashamed of your people, and it doesn't do any good to shame others because of their people.

* One of the parties to the conversation thought it a crushing retort to call me a "libtard," but I long ago took the measure of the type who is noisy in the schoolyard and mute in the classroom.