Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Open Letter to Barack Obama

Please do not write off eastern Kentucky and the rest of central Appalachia. There have been two excellent pieces in the last few days, by West Virginian dawnt on the daily kos and by Dee Davis of Whitesburg, KY on Salon.com about the need for Obama to include central Appalachia in any campaign for the presidency. Both writers explain why it is a huge mistake to write off this region of the nation. Appalachians can be won over. We just have to be asked -- in person -- for our support.

Appalachians are the last American ethnic group that it is socially acceptable to negatively stereotype. While I'm not suggesting that no basis exists for some of the stereotypes, the stereotypes blind people (inside and outside the region) to the reality of the rich human tapestry here.

Folks living here in Appalachian include affluent business owners, educated professionals, solid middle class white collar workers, technical and health care workers, hard working skilled blue collar workers, dedicated factory workers, minimum wage workers who scramble to make ends meet for their families, retired folks on social security, and poor folks on SSI and temporarily on welfare. Yes, the percentage of elderly, disabled, and poor are higher here than suburban America, but they are not the majority.

We may live in "hollers," and the red-lining practices of banks may make manufactured housing ("trailers") easier to obtain than "built" houses, but folks here lavish care on their homes as much (or maybe more) than folks anywhere. [All photos are of homes in my "holler" in Hemphill].

People in Appalachia care about the same issues as other Americans: Health care, the economy (jobs and prices), the war in Iraq, the environment. In fact, I would argue that each of these issues is even more important to us here, since there are fewer jobs that provide health insurance, lower median incomes mean that economic uncertainties hit harder, a higher percentage of our young people are likely to enlist, and the nasty consequences of strip mining have immediate impacts on us here.

One of the most damaging stereotypes that has been brought up in this election is of Appalachians as racist. Sure there are racist folks here, as there are in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C., Eugene, Oregon, etc. But there are also African Americans who live and work peacefully along side whites in Appalachia. There may not be many African Americans in eastern Kentucky, but there also aren't any ghettos in eastern Kentucky. In Letcher County, there are black teachers, administrators, sanitation workers, surgeons, ministers, housewives, coal miners, secretaries, and many other occupations.

Moreover, being a lower income region, a very higher percentage of the physicians in this region are from the middle east and the Indian subcontinent (and many of whom are Muslim and Hindu). A brief perusal of the physicians listed in this region includes names like Ahmed, Alam, Alchureiqi, Ali, Ambalavanan, Appakondu, Bajwa, Chandarana, Chandrasheker, Chaturvedi, Garimella, Guindi, Gutti, Ghazal, Khater, Khouzam, Mehrpouyan, Mohmand, Narola, Pampati, Paliwal, Podapati, Quddus-Roopani, Rahman, Sahay, Singh, Abubakar Tidal, Valavalkar, Yalamanchi. These are highly respected members of the professional community. For example, folks around these parts swear by Dr. Tidal. I can't even begin to count the number of times in the past 12 years, that one of my students has said started a sentence with "Dr. Tidal says..." Until I did this little search for this post, I had no idea that Dr. Tidal wasn't an native born American of European descent.

I believe that most folks in Appalachia would welcome Barack Obama if he'd just take the time and come and visit with us face-to-face. We like to judge people as individuals, on their character, but we're folks who want to make those judgments in person. We need to see and talk to folks to decide whether or not we trust them. We don't like to depend on media images or stereotypes.

1 comment:

the teach said...

I hope Barack, or his staff, reads this letter, Sue. I come from Queens, NY the most ethnically diverse county in the nation. The names of your doctors are very familiar.