Keeping up with Kincaid: Am I “poor, illiterate and strung out?”


Laken Kincaid

Campus Editor, Laken Kincaid, examines their thoughts for the past few weeks.

Laken Kincaid, Campus Editor

Surprise, surprise; Laken is writing another column about being from West Virginia. I know, I am not shocked either and since I plan to spend two more years at The Carroll News writing columns, I think my readers might as well acclimate to my constant discussion on my home state. After all, it is where I lived 18 years of my life; it is the place that curated the very being writing this piece now.

While I am not a loud and proud West Virginian at heart, I do not shirk away from the title entirely. I am not like my Facebook friends who bleed blue and gold and post about Randy Moss and/or Steve Harvey every other day. However, I do acknowledge my background with a twinge of pride; it was instilled in me at a young age. In eighth grade, the required social studies class by the state curriculum was West Virginia history after all. How else would we win a golden horseshoe and be knighted by the governor?

All throughout my life, I was told I would be underestimated because I am from West Virginia, and I think everyone else in the mountain state was given the same memo. However, the residents of West Virginia generate enough pride to boast over most negativity. It does not matter what the statistics say, we are thoroughbred hillbillies who can grab a catfish by the jaw with our bare hands but may not be able to operate cable television.

I know not only West Virginia but West Virginians themselves. We are proud people with our heartbeats synchronized with the rhythms of Country Roads. While our reputation has been tarnished by the media and men talking to national news with more bathtubs in their front yard than teeth, we stand strong. Even writing this, I thought about separating myself from the “we” statement I am using to describe West Virginians, but I owe too much to the state to do so.

So, you can understand the outlash that occurred when Bette Midler tweeted a statement criticizing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), saying that he was going to make the rest of the United States “poor, illiterate, and strung out” like his home state. There was a movement all over social media and everyone posted their graduation pictures with a huff critiquing the phrase. Yet, I think there are two sides to the message at hand.

On one hand, I agree that Manchin should do better in Congress and stop pandering to his red home state as a blue legislator. I have seen how we as West Virginians have suffered not only because of Manchin but because of events from 2000 on. According to the United States Census, West Virginia is one of the states with the least diverse populations, one of the highest poverty rates, the highest obesity rate and the highest opioid usage rate. I can’t deny these figures even if I muster as much state pride as possible. I remember hearing racial slurs in high school like they were prepositions, and I was told once at a summer camp in Huntington to watch where I walked because of the needles on the street.

I grew up in West Virginia and I will be honest about it like I would with the love of a sibling who is dating a Soundcloud rapper. I will be blunt because I care about my home and do not want it to fail. To put it lightly, the mountain state needs to do better but we have not been given the opportunity to do so. The progressives flee the state like mice when they get older, and Manchin continues to box not only West Virginia but the entire nation from change. So yeah, one of our senators has made us seem this way because he is a silly little rascal.

However, just because Manchin dances around party lines does not mean that all West Virginians fall into the category laid before us. I already feel a looming reputation every time I tell people where I am from, and I feel like Bette Midler’s tweet only made it worse. While the statistics presented above do look grim, I want you to know that we are not all what is reflected in the numbers. It is like assuming everyone from Chicago is violent because of the high crime rate (my apologies TJ, but your city was the easiest comparison). I do not fall into that mold and many of my fellow West Virginians do not either.

I am writing this piece on a laptop and listening to Spotify premium on my Apple iPhone. I go to a private university for Pete’s sake. I think that shows I am not poor. I also hope you can examine the rhetoric I use in this article and all the stories from my career with The Carroll News and know that I am not illiterate. As for strung-out, well, we may have to wait a few more years, but right now I feel like I am doing decent for myself. 

When people spread pessimistic messages about regions that, albeit are not as well off as others, it causes those outside of the region to create preconceived notions about us. And, as more of those notions are created, the harder it becomes for us to break them. I mentioned in an article I wrote last year for The Carroll News that when I tell people I am from West Virginia they either give me a look of disgust or praise me for “getting out” like it is a prison sentence. The more these thoughts encircle the state the thicker the words become until they are impossible to escape. They engulf the population until they believe the rhetoric themselves.

I am sure you JCU students who are going on the Appalachia immersion this year will want to post pictures all over social media saying how you helped the poor rednecks and now they have actual toothpaste and do not have to brush their teeth with Moonshine and whatnot. I am asking you now politely not to. Please. I already have a vendetta against the white savior complex to begin with, but it stings even more when my home is made to look like a Discovery Channel special.

Yes, The Hillbilly Elegy narrative (which was written by an Ohio native running for senate, so I am taking this time to ask you to vote in our midterm elections) is somewhat true. Does the state have room for improvement? Absolutely. But does any area when you examine it under a microscope? Of course. I believe Manchin can alter West Virginia’s ghastly reputation which frankly does need a little tweaking. However, it is important that the reputation is not smeared further especially when you are doing so because of the actions of one man behind a shiny desk.

I promise you, the documentary you saw about the mountain people who bark to communicate in Odd, West Virginia (conveniently located 17 miles from where I am writing this piece) does not represent me nor most of the state. Yet, the fact that this is happening in our state’s borders, the fact that they are being publicized and humiliated, and our representatives are not doing anything to change it is truly the most concerning aspect of this whole ordeal. The people’s problems will change when we are allowed to.

Laken Kincaid is a sophomore Campus Editor from Beckley, West Virginia. They can be reached via email at [email protected] or through Twitter at @lakengkincaid.