You’ve heard all these before. And while there is some truth in some of them, they’re not that funny and actually pretty offensive.
1. No, it’s not all relative in West Virginia.
West Virginia is usually depicted in popular culture as being a haven for incest. But actually, according to scientific research, that’s simply not the case. In a 1980 study, an anthropologist found that there’s no significant levels of inbreeding in Appalachia; nor is it particularly common to our state when compared to other regions. In fact, West Virginia has stricter laws against incest than states like Virginia and Vermont, according to Slate. So no, it’s not all relative in West Virginia.
2. No, we’re not hillbillies.
The roots of the West Virginia incest stereotype likely began alongside the hillbilly stereotype. Slate blames it on “exaggeration prone outsiders.” In the 1880’s and 1890’s, writers came to Appalachia looking for local color and came upon depressed, isolated communities. An exaggerated story is better than a sad one. Pared with reports from missionaries of the incredible poverty of West Virginia, the image of the West Virginia hillbilly took off. But don’t ever let people confuse backbreaking poverty with backwardness.
3. No, we haven’t all lost our teeth.
This West Virginia stereotype, too, likely has its origins in the same over exaggeration of incest and poverty. Like the hillbilly stereotype, this stereotype grew out of extreme poverty. But there’s some truth to the roots of toothlessness in West Virginia: oral healthcare has historically been a problem. In the late 1990’s, the CDC released a report that found our state led the nation in tooth-loss in the elderly. Almost half of the state’s residents above age 65 had lost all of their natural teeth. But again, oral health is linked to poverty. So it’s really not that funny.
4. No, we don’t all drink moonshine.
Of course moonshine was (and is still) made in the Mountain State, but it’s not nearly as pervasive as the stereotype would have you believe. There’s no reliable data on just where the most illegal moonshine is produced—it could be anywhere in Appalachia from Georgia to Pennsylvania. And distilling liquor at home is against both state and federal law—whether you’re making one gallon or 10,000. But the good news is that relaxation of state laws have given birth to a new industry of small, commercial distillers who (safely) make moonshine.
Featured photo by Jo Naylor/Flickr