The Musings of an Appalachian Activist

Trump Loyalists, Here Are Ten Reasons to Shut Up and I ain’t jokin’.

10 Reasons for Trump/Conservative/Christian Loyalists Excusing and Supporting These Barbaric Policies Terrorizing Immigrants and Creating American Concentration Camps:
  • The first thing I want to address is just how deceitful this administration, the spokespeople for it,  and the one’s you have seen constantly on facebook. There is NO LAW that requires parents to be separated from their children. This is a lie the Trump administration is pushing to deflect away from the fact that no administration previously nor any previous congress passed any legislation of any kind that made this a mandated policy or something similar. Contrary to the lies it was not started nor a policy under Clinton or Obama, nor George W. Bush for that matter. This is a debunked lie (easily found by numerous fact-checking sites) and I encourage everyone to call it out where ever you see it. This is nothing more than that person trying to justify this stomach churning policy.
  • Jeff Sessions announced this “zero-tolerance” policy. Trump administration staffer Stephen Miller, who has a long history dating back to high school of disgusting racism particularly against immigrants was the driving-force behind it. He has admitted that in an interview, said it was an easy decision, and along with that fact the Sessions announcement is all easy to find with a 20 second google search. This would take a phone call to stop. Not even a signature let alone an act of congress.
  • Speaking as someone who can’t have kids due to being sterile from chemo/radiation as a child, what is going on is still something I can’t imagine going through with any member of my family, friends, or just witnessing a stranger. It’s inexcusable from any decent human being regardless of political affiliation. I’ve never met a parent worth anything who would or should find something like this acceptable and I doubt any exist.
  • I consider myself an atheist (a secular humanist to be more precise), but contrary to how many far-right religious extremist may think I have morals that are unwavering. I also come from a christian background and while I find much wrong with any religion, particularly hypocrisy, I will absolutely say many, many christians and all faiths find this, yes, this is DEPLORABLE, as well even if very conservative.
  • I have ranted about this before but people still never seem to get it through their mind that no one is an “illegal”. That word is not a noun. These are people seeking the best they can for their children, as any good parent would do and children who have not broken any law whatsoever. They are willing to risk their lives not to take a job from some US citizen but escape danger and poverty most of these disgusting apologists couldn’t fathom in their dreams.
  • I realize, unlike these far-right conservatives and alarmingly loyal Trump supporters do, I am LUCKY as my mother was lucky enough to be able to pop me out on this side of a manmade, invisible line we call a border. I, like any Trump supporter, could have by nothing but chance been born in another country surrounded by third world poverty and danger/fear on extremes I can’t imagine. You should be thankful and how dare you tell anyone to do something the “right way” when you’ve never done anything, any way to have become a citizen. No similar circumstance that would have you in that situation to pay tens of thousands of dollars for sometime’s year -plus long processes to be able to take a test I’m positive at least 95% of Trump supporters could pass and the vast majority could afford even with a year’s salary.
  • Also unlike them I realize I have no right atop a high horse as well. Trump apologists, especially the line about “paying for them” should just be silent unless calling for justice. You don’t pay jack or you likely pay as much as them. They pay taxes like anyone whether it be local and state taxes, partcularly taxes like sales, gasoline, etc., and have paid a surplus into programs like Social Security because of the fact that over 40% of undocumented immigrants are here on legal visas that expired who pay into the system yet do not collect. The older Trump supporters particularly living on the work of these terrible immigrants they like to call them. They’re paying for YOU. Not the other way around. Essentially the things they may be eligible to use are schools for the children who never broke any law being brought here and their undocumented parents are paying for, or emergency room visits.
  • Sit down, be quiet, or they might cut you off like you’d be cutoff by shipping all immigrants out with things like your food prices rising among the shortage of the undocumented immigrants who are directly responsible for not just the prices but the reason you have things like the vegetables on your plate. Don’t bite the hands that feed you, even if they are brown.
  • When you say these people are criminals, you show nothing but your attempt to dehumanize them. The 40% of undocumented immigrants here have overstayed their visas have done nothing but commit a civil penalty under our laws. Also, according to federal law entering the United States without the proper documents is a misdemeanor that carries fines and a possible six months in jail. To just give an example, in the state of Virginia if you go 20 mph over the speed limit or exceed 80 mph over the speed limit it is a Class 1 misdemeanor which carries possibly up to a year in jail. So when you’ve passed someone on Interstate 81 where a large portion in Virginia the posted speed limit is 70mph and exceeded 80mph you have committed a more severe crime than these border crossers. -Do you think people who have sped 10 miles over the speed limit should be detained, put in a detention center and separated from their children while they are also detained for weeks in cages and perhaps after sent to a foster home? If somehow, some judge sentenced you to jail for a year for your crime which is allowed under Virginia law? No? I didn’t think so. Sit down. Be humble. Be thankful. Annnnnnd don’t you dare have the gall to hypocritically support something so barbaric for something not suported by law (and even if it did the law is barbaric along with it’s creators and enforcers), and to anyone who sees someone from another country as a human if you wouldn’t support something as ridiculous as my real-life potential scenario I used as an example.
  • Lastly, I have to mention that while growing up in the 90’s and 2000’s I grew up and around many undocumented immigrants myself right here in SWVA. During this over decade of my upbringing the closeness of us as family friends to even relationships with multiple members of my family. Not to mention the familial bond between me, just as a kid and teen, I developed. Every single one I had met came here as a child/teenager. Every single one of them were some of the nicest, generous, and hardworking people i have ever met working from dawn to dusk in the tobacco fields at that time. All the while these people were being paid paltry wages to begin with but even harsher they were were paid far less than the white workers that would occasional work in the fields with them for the few weeks they could last in the scorching Virginia sun. Even as a kid helping to just lay the sticks to help out being exhausted when I would hang with them, and my family, in the fields the days we would visit them at work. I would trade 10,000 of these terrifyingly Trump loyalists defending and lying for him for a single one of those people I grew up with.

Some people need to prioritize. They are identifying as some republican, conservative, or ignorant to mask their racial ignorance and racism. These are human beings. Sorry, but I’ve never met a single person in my life, and this includes two President’s and countless amazing people working on campiagns I’ve had the pleasure of meeting…along with the undocumented immigrants I grew up with and some I know now, who are better than each other. That means Billy Bob with the memes joking about children being abused, and yes this is abuse, and targeting good people who lack a number Billy Bob was lucky to have been born with. Either understand this, think about it, or reject it with or without merit and live a life of that of a coward, ignorant, xenophobic and racist person that will always espouse these views until they croak and the rest of us march forward past them and onward as progress is a fire in us who care that will never be extinguished. NEVER.

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I Am Here

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about depression, and I’m certainly not shy about the topic online, or if anyone has any questions. Still, I felt the need to write another piece about it because I don’t think there are enough words I or anyone could say on the subject and it be enough. I’ll still try again.

I suffer from clinically diagnosed depression, anxiety, and PTSD. This is mostly attributed to my bouts with cancer. It’s certainly taken it’s toll on me in many ways. I guess when you’re twelve years old and your life is put into percentages, and you have to contemplate death before you imagined death would ever find you, it does a number on a kid. Then there’s the survivors guilt. This one is hard to explain and it’s even hard to to myself. I’m proud I beat cancer. It was hard, especially as a kid, and we all know that not everyone is fortunate enough to beat it. That’s where the guilt comes in. What makes me special? I met dozens, maybe hundreds of kids over the last 15 years since I was diagnosed and I know more than a few who didn’t make it. That in itself contributed to my depression. Having friends, fellow young people, lose their life all around me. But I’m here for some reason? I’m a 27 year old who works for campaigns and try my best to give back to my community but I feel as if no matter what I do, it’ll never be enough. Poor me, huh?

Those kids I befriended, or just saw as a passerby in the halls of St. Jude, could have been anything. Doctors. Nurses. Teachers. Senators. Presidents. Scientists that could have cured the cancer that struck them as a child. I’m none of that but they could have been everything. What did their deaths do to their families? I’m sure it triggered countless cases of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and that same survivors guilt in them. Did it break-up families? Break hearts of parents, siblings, grandparents? I’m sure it did. It was all rough on my family but I’m here. Why? How?

Am I the rose that grew from the concrete or the dream deferred like Langston spoke about because I haven’t met my full potential? I was a slacker in high school. A slacker for the first two years of college. I’ve wasted days in bed doing nothing, not bettering myself at all. Even writing this I feel like I’m talking about myself too much.

I wanted to write this blog because recently I was diagnosed with some health problems and the outpouring of support I got from so many was overwhelming. It made me feel strong. It gave me confidence, strength, and I know I’ll be just fine. With that, however, I know for a fact that there are people just on my friends list suffering from health issues, more severe mental issues, and countless other problems they deal with on a daily basis and without the folks I have in my corner.

I know some of you reading this harm yourself. I know some of you have thought of ending your life. I know some of you have attempted to end your life. And I know there are some on my list who aren’t reading this because they were successful in doing so. Depression has brought me to my knees and made it impossible to get out of bed. PTSD has smothered me until I could barely breath. Survivors guilt has put me in a closet on the floor crying my eyes out with two words replaying in my mind “Why me?”, not why me that I got cancer, but why did I survive it. I, however, have been fortunate enough that my mental illness hasn’t caused me to manifest sadness and guilt into self-harm or serious thoughts of suicide. I’m only lucky.

I don’t know why I wanted to write this besides to let anyone reading this know that I am here. For whatever reason I beat cancer. Maybe this is the reason. And when I say I’m here, I mean I’m here for you. I know words jumbled into a blog, in a text or message, or whatever doesn’t fix things. It won’t always stop you from harming yourself or having those thoughts of taking your life.

I just want you, whoever you are, that I am here for you. I’ll drop everything and come to you. I’ll hold your hand. I’ll give you a hug. I’ll hold you and let you cry on my shoulder. Or I’ll just do what so many people don’t do, listen. Listen to your problems. Listen to your day. Listen to anything you want to talk about. I’m here for you. I don’t care what I’m doing, just get ahold of me. All of my contact information will be at the end of this post. And yes, I know full-well the feeling of what it’s like to not want to reach out to others because you feel like you’re bothering them, putting your problems on them, or any excuse you can come up with to not talk to someone else. I don’t care. You will never bother me. You will never, ever bother me. I’m not a trained professional and I encourage all to seek professional help but if you just need a short, chubby, nerdy guy to be there for you I’m here. Even on days where I feel like I can’t help myself…I’m here.

Address: 13354 Crab Orchard Road, Coeburn, VA, 24230

Phone: 276-395-4632

Snapchat: mskeens13

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dem.mskeens

 

Another message to Trump deplorable’s in Appalachia…

You can divorce policy from support but you cannot divorce morality and decency from it. When you endorse a candidate, or support them, it is not an adoption of every single thing they have ever said or done. An approach to democracy through this prism of perfection does not function. Why? We’re imperfect, individualistic human being’s casting a ballot for other imperfect, individualistic human being’s to lead them and run the country. While politicians should be held to incredibly high-standards, you can still vote for one even if you disagree with them on some issues. The only person that will every agree with you one hundred percent of them, and one hundred percent of the time, the person you’re left with is you. The bar should be high but everything to everyone is simply not realistic.

Trump and his mob, however, are different. Their antics and reconciliation with their candidates flaws, which is being an all-around vile person, is not something mature adults should have much dialogue with. This is a candidate similar to very few before him while at the same time being this close to the White House.

If you support Donald Trump and will be voting for him, but you also support and standby his:

The man has literally called voters like you, who you may not vote for him because of these reasons and a plethora of others. dumb like he called Iowa voters. What. Is. The. Matter. With. You.

I’m not saying that the entirety of the Trump mob are the worst people in the world but they are more than just a “basket full of deplorable’s” because I think every person by now has to believe some deplorable things to support Trump in any shape or form. Trump supporters, and I assume some are good people, can never been taken seriously anymore. The ones with the Trump yard-signs are either the same or couldn’t find a sturdy pole to strap a Confederate Flag to their vehicle. Appalachia, it’s poverty and way-too-many low-information voters have no excuse either. We have way too many in the coal-bucket full of deplorable’s to deny it. The rest of us, however, must stand strong. Our vote counts as much as anywhere else in the state, especially in a battleground state like Virginia. Let’s be sure to wake up November 9th and know that the good guys won and all of those obnoxious, ridiculous Trump supporters will be losing their minds and solace can be found. We’ll go high but we’ll stay there a little longer once this man and his ilk are defeated because it’s that serious if we don’t take a
collective “PHEW!” and realize we did something great.

Another message to Trump’s Appalachian deplorable’s…

You can divorce policy from support but you cannot divorce morality and decency from it. When you endorse a candidate, or support them, it is not an adoption of every single thing they have ever said or done. An approach to democracy through the prism of perfection does not function. Why? We’re imperfect, individualistic human being’s casting a ballot for other imperfect, individualistic human being’s to run the country. While politicians should be held to incredibly high-standards, you can still vote for one even if you disagree with them on some issues. The only person that will every agree with you 100%, and 100% of the time, that person is you. The bar should be high but everything to everyone is simply not realistic. Trump and his mob, however, are different. Their antics and reconciliation with their candidates flaws, which is being an all-around vile person, is not something mature adults should have much dialogue with. This is a candidate similar to very few before him while also being this close to the White House.

If you support Donald Trump and will be voting for him, you also support and standby his:

  • Outstanding amount of lies, real fucking lies that matter, even with all of the evidence in front of him.
  • Mocking a physically handicapped reporter because the reporter, wait, never mind….it’s not okay regardless of what the reporter did and googling can confirm it if that’s not enough for you.
  • Degrading women, proudly, openly, and continuously since long before his campaign ever began.
  • SEXUALLY ASSAULTS WOMEN, admits to this on a hot-mic, and then proceeds to write it off as “locker-room talk” and also finds time to attack some of the victims looks and complete integrity as a person. I should really stop here even if I started with it at the top because that’s just fucking enough, but…
  • The denying of the the stories of numerous women who have said he has sexually assaults just to let others know.
  • Support killing the children and family members of people who happen to be terrorists.
  • Support deporting tens of millions of people who a good many of you, especially around here, have never, even seen more than one hispanic a day for like a month. They aren’t stealing anything from you including jobs, and likely contribute as much to our society for your ungrateful and ignorant so, as Louis CK says, even though it’s not true to begin with, that “if someone without contacts, money, or speaking the language steals your job, you’re shit.”
  • Mocks a POW, John McCain, that either you or the same family that voted for him, and is influencing your horrible source of information concerning politics and social issues, because he was capture and to quote Trump “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK?”
  • Literally uses dick-jokes and dick measuring-contests in rebuttals on a national debate stage.
  • Ban an entire religion of people, a religion of people most of whom you’ve never met, from entering the country like that’s a real thing that can be done in the first place.
  • Support someone who literally has no actual political positions or a platform. He, and this is confirmed by studies, speaks at a elementary school-grade level because his supports understand and latch-on to it because “we’re going to build a wall” is about as in-depth as they think about any issue, simple or complex. Name me his five, detailed policy proposals if if were to win…
  • Has numerous endorsements, and counting, from a laundry-list of white supremacist and Neo-Nazi groups, leaders, and the most infamous racist in recent American politics, David Duke. You’re okay with that? I know some people around here, unfortunately and disgustingly, actually do.
  • You support someone who literally has nothing else in common with you besides that you both breathe air and if it were up to him, you’d have to pay for it. He’s not like you. His claim-to-fame isn’t being a good businessman or a leader. It’s for being famous. He was the Kim Kardashian before their was a Kim Kardashian. He doesn’t know what the color of coal is and sure as hell what color it turns lungs. He wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire so let’s stop pretending he’ll save the world even if he had the best intentions and wasn’t a maniacal person to his core.
  • You support a man who boasted incessantly about helping veterans yes who has literally stiffed multiple veterans organizations before he was running for President.
  • A man and his candidacy who has literally caused an uptick in bullying aimed against jewish, black, hispanic, etc. children in school all because of the exposure to the hate this man spews and you, if you’re a parent, LET THEM! What. Is. Wrong. With. You.
  • Insulted a Gold Star, muslim family, for his vitriolic and disrespect language toward muslim heroes and has certainly not apologizing to them at all. Yes they can and are heroes, by even attacking the mother claiming that no it wasn’t the grief of speaking about her dead son, but it was her religion?? What’s wrong with y’all?
  • Even though he had appeared in a soft-core porn, he also signed an anti-porn pledge this cycle? Again, WHAT’S WRONG WITH Y’ALL?
  • Insanely claims that a highly-respected and competent judge couldn’t possibly rule fairly on the disgusting Trump University scam because he was born in Indiana and his parents were immigrants. Oh yeah, he was appointed by a republican governor.
  • And if you’re still believing that President Obama, you’re an idiot. I have to include it though because this man was one of the biggest backers of the racist and utterly asinine”birther-movement”.
  • And finally, but only because I could list at least a hundred more things, we can all pretty much assume he’s attracted to his daughter and has recently said some really, um I don’t know, questionable” remarks about 10 year old and 14 year oldWhat the FUCK is wrong with y’all?

The man has literally called voters like you, who may not vote for him because of these reasons and a plethora of others, are dumb like he called Iowa voters. What. Is. The. Matter. With. You.

I’m not saying that the entirety of the Trump mob are the worst people in the world but they are more than just a “basket full of deplorable’s” because I think every person by now has to believe some deplorable things to support Trump in any shape or form. Trump supporters, and I assume some are good people, can never been taken seriously anymore. The ones with the Trump yard-signs are either the same or couldn’t find a sturdy pole to strap a Confederate Flag to their vehicle. Appalachia, it’s poverty and way-too-many low-information voters have no excuse either. We have way too many in the coal-bucket full of deplorable’s to deny it. The rest of us, however, must stand strong. Our vote counts as much as anywhere else in the state, especially in a battleground state like Virginia. Let’s be sure to wake up November 9th and know that the good guys won and all of those obnoxious, ridiculous Trump supporters will be losing their minds and solace can be found. We’ll go high but we’ll stay there a little longer once this man and his ilk are defeated.

Part II: Race: Thoughts from a white kid from Appalachia

“Race doesn’t really exist for you because it has never been a barrier. Black folks don’t have that choice.”

― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


 

To my white friends reading this, has any of what I stated in the first part of this blog happened to you? I don’t mean once or twice. We all know there isn’t anyone immune to police brutality if you find yourself being harassed for no legal reason by a brute with a badge. Do you live in fear every day you’re in public that you will be stopped, and perhaps frisked, by a police officer? Do you have that fear driving? I get a bit nervous but then I check my speed and know I’m not breaking any law. It ends there for me but not for many others. Could any of you ever fathom that you might ending up hanging in a jail cell like Sandra Bland? Did your parents ever have a talk, a serious one, about how to interact with law enforcement? I’m guessing there’s not many. I am also guessing that there are many people of color in this country that would answer “Yes” to every one of those questions and many of them probably have multiple stories that the rest of us should listen to and learn from. That’s one thing I have learned working in african-american communities. While you and your buddies may have a story dating back to your high school days with a “run-in with the law”, every single person of color I met had more than one, regardless of age or gender. It’s not the same and it’s not an accident.

I have never been stopped by an officer walking in any neighborhood I have worked in including many in several states working voter contact operations. I could see myself living the next 50 years without a single incident like that. That’s probably the case for many of my white friends reading this too. I’ve only been pulled over three times in my life: once for speeding when I was 19, once for expired sticker in 2012, and once for expired tags in 2015. I had pleasant experiences and didn’t even get a few tickets I could have. I understand that when an officer pulls someone over and has general concerns that a simple traffic stop, or approaching someone on the street, could get ugly and very dangerous. That’s especially so with the gun culture we live in today and the members of law-enforcement that we have witnessed do atrocious things with their power. What I’ve learned, a little about, is that people of color have those same fears too but vice-versa. They know they have a gun and they don’t know what type of person it is who is carrying it. I’m not talking about the nervousness you get when you’re pulled over for a ticket and or when you may get nervous talking to person of high authority. I’m talking about a very real fear carried by the citizen of color, that an officer may fear because of their color or for whatever reason, approaching a vehicle during a traffic-stop. That person of color may also always be thinking that this could get ugly and very dangerous but not because of their actions….but of skin-color, ignorance, and baseless fear this society churns out for white consumption.

To make matters worse and to compound the ignorance, the lengths people will go to to deny that such a society exists is another reason why this problem isn’t going away anytime soon. Some will deny it because they just don’t believe it and have never experienced it. Some will deny it because they live in some alternate universe where minorities have all of the rights and they’re the ones really being oppressed. Others will simply deny it because they know it exists and that’s exactly how they want it. When you hear these typically white, and typically conservative, folks pining for the “good old days”, this is what they mean. They want minorities to occupy a lower place in society and always know their place in “our” country. They want people of color to know their place, period. They want them to stay with their “own kind” and not to mingle with whites more than “necessary”. They should always keep their head down and whatever they do, don’t ever date their children. Those are the simpler days they ache for and when they say “take their country back”, they literally mean to a time when they had more control and power was handed out almost entirely by race. It’s like that in many areas in this country. It’s just like when they fight to discriminate against LGBT citizens or “keep the Mexicans out”. It’s all the same white-supremacist mindset. They want their life to reflect a 1950′-60’s sitcom where the characters were white with an occasional person of color in the background, always silent.

There’s nothing more threatening to a white, particularly older conservative, person than a minority having an opinion and having the nerve to speak it. But I can’t just pin that on the right as us on the left can be just as bad with our “whitesplaining”. It’s a threat to everything they know and the order of the society they want. They think that when a person of color, or a member of the LGBT community for example, speaks out against discrimination, it will somehow turn into discrimination them. When they speak, whites feel like their voice and cries can’t be heard. Of course this is all nonsense. It’s not a legitimate concern to any rational person, obviously, but more of a reaping of what our ancestors have sowed perhaps. When someone gains their rights and becomes freer, it doesn’t take anything away from anyone else. If someone speaks out against blatant injustices, whether you acknowledge it or not, there’s no dark hand that appears over your mouth to keep you silent. Stop pretending there is and understand that sometimes, you should shut the fuck up for a minute.. You’ve always had a voice. Some of our voices have been taken by politicians and corporations, but we still have one. Others, however, deal with those same suppressions while also having to deal with the heckling and calls for silence from the white crowd that just don’t like what they’re saying.

After writing all of this I’ll still readily concede that I don’t know what it’s like to be anything other than a white male in this country. I never will. A better understanding as I grow older, learn, and listen more is what I can hope for. I don’t know if society will progress as much as it needs to, or even come close to it in my life time. I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know what else to say, but what I do know is that those who don’t understand, including myself, need not say anything sometimes. We just need to listen. Since the events in Ferguson, and long before that I’ll add, we have learned a lot. A litany of truths about our society have come out and are staring us in the face. The racism and ignorance we thought died decades ago, buried under white robes and sheets, surfaced soaked in blood letting us know that it never, ever left. We need to listen, acknowledge, and learn. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll begin stepping in the right direction again. It won’t be easy. The same types of people that stood in front of the doors in Little Rock or hurled disgusting threats at freedom marchers are still there. They now have another platform, the internet, to do it as well. They won’t stop and they won’t learn. We just have to march past them and leave them behind where they belong. I hope I’m walking. I hope I’m walking in the right direction. I do know that if I am, I’m on the right side stepping in the right direction as they take the lead.

So, there’s what little I do know and all I don’t learning little-by-little from the POV of a white kid from the mountains of Central Appalachia. I also know that whenever a white kid like me from my part of Appalachia goes on some facebook rant about how people should think and feel after the deaths of people like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, or the dozens of others, it shows how far behind the youth in this area are and I’m sure all across the country. It’s a warning sign that racism and ignorance of these issues will be carried on for generations to come.

Here’s some personal advice for those particular people who seem to think they understand racism or the issues surrounding this string of deaths the past few years: Shut up. Your opinion is likely derived from how little you know, not what you do know, and what you do know comes from people who only root for black and brown people sitting in the stands of a sporting event. People of color around here need more, and truly genuine, support than the kind they get under Friday Night Lights. Not the kind that would only argue unfair treatment towards a person of color only if a yellow flag is tossed or whistle is blown. Those are the only “fouls” you are aware of or choose to acknowledge. You live in a place where you can literally go months while attending school, going to the store, and all of the other normal daily activities and never see anyone that isn’t white. Stick to talking about what you know at that age: Carhartt jackets and bragging about how you get to miss school come deer season. And if you think I’m just talking about white males around here, I’m not. The “my daddy would kill me if I dated a black guy” crowd should probably keep their very uninformed opinions to themselves as well. You wouldn’t believe how many girls I have dated that shared that fun-fact with me when I was much younger and ignorant. I’m not taking shots at Appalachian youth to degrade them. I’m commenting on them because I am one and I grew up  surrounded by the same mountains and ignorance they are growing up in. The same kind of ignorance you can find in far too many parts of this country. Go out into the world, those “big cities”, and leave your prejudices behind in the hollers and mountains. I love these beautiful mountains but they shelter us from the real world. Learn from people who aren’t like you, or I should say people who don’t look like you. You might just learn something.

I did and will never stop trying to.

Part I: Race: Thoughts from a white kid from Appalachia

If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you.

– Lyndon B. Johnson


 

I don’t know a lot about this topic because my place in society shields me from it. I’m Southern. I’m white. I’m male. I have lived in the South my entire life. I love it. I was born and raised in rural Virginia and until I was 21, I had never visited a state that wasn’t either in the Confederacy or a state that was claimed by them such as Kentucky. That’s how growing up is for a lot of  kids here in Appalachia. We don’t “get out much” as some say. Why on earth would we leave? Like many, I always heard growing up how bad the “big cities” were up North. Yeah, we still use terms like “up North” and they don’t mean direction as much as they mean things like culture and color.

How many of you reading this were taught by others around you that you would get killed in a “big city”? That for all of the racism here, if it was even admitted, it also existed tenfold in a large city in the North? That for every black person that experiences racism here, there might as well be two poor white folks that face it there? I heard it then and still do today. I believed this to some degree until I started to travel. I’ve been to Chicago, DC, Detroit, NYC, Newark, NJ, and spent a good portion of my life in Memphis, Tennessee. Not a single time did I face any racial discrimination whatsoever. I took public transportation in all of those cities and sometimes worked in the “bad” neighborhoods as well. Nothing. I’ll add, however, that I’m not naive. I know full-well there are areas in large cities that would be very hostile to me because I’m white, and mostly because of gang presence, I definitely wouldn’t be welcome. If I were hispanic it would probably be the same way. Or if I were black in an area run by hispanic gangs, it’d be the same.That’s because bad people do exist and always will. Regardless, it was nothing like what I was told. You won’t get murdered just being white and in a large city. Still, a lot of people are scared to even leave the area because of what the old-timers, who have never left either, have told them their whole life.

Growing up in this area you’re taught a lot of things. You get used to a lot of things. When I was a child, the correct word for african-americans/blacks was “colored”. I went on for years thinking that this was the actual, politically correct term. How many of you heard that as well? How many grandmothers and grandfathers used that term? “Colored” was what was used to separate those around that used “nigger” from us. How many of you heard that word growing up? It’s the norm for many around here. Confederate flags, any derogatory word you can think of towards blacks or hispanics, and many of the same views Dylann Roof, spewed in his racist manifesto, are things not hard to find. Many people read his words and were appalled as each word dripped with disgusting racism and white supremacy. For others, like myself, it was on par with what you may hear from a family member or overhear if you sit down for breakfast at Hardee’s. That’s why he wasn’t taken seriously beforehand. It’s easy to understand that others looking in from the outside couldn’t fathom how such extreme views could be looked over and the warning signs ignored. I get it, though. Growing up around it you can find it disgusting and not the least bit serious at the same time. I’ve seen more confederate flags than I can count. I’ve heard rants in school, in college, online from locals, etc. all similar to what Dylann Roof said as he was going on his murderous rampage. “They’re taking over”, “They’re raping our women”, and on and on. I’ve heard it all before and I’ll hear it all again. The biggest problem isn’t that one white kid held racist beliefs. It’s that his racism was so common in places here in the South that no one gives it a second thought when it should be addressed and removed like the disease it is. We accept it, some embrace it. Regardless, it’s all packed away in the box labeled “southern heritage” draped with the confederate flag. That’s why any attempt to call out this racism that “southern heritage” shrouds is met with this warped and ridiculous defense of “the way we live” and the “way it’s always been”.

The biggest problem I’ve found growing up in the South is ignorance coats the opinions of the misguided. Racism can be stomped out. It has to an extent in many areas. The problem is that people are ignorant to what racism is or if they’re racist themselves. People can hold racist views and fly off of the wall if you call them out on it. It’s a far greater insult to be called racist than the racism itself here. People hardly flench at the sight or sound of racism, if it’s even considered racist at all, but call something or someone racist? That’s where you’ll get the reaction.

White privilege is something that does exist. I know some of you reading this are saying “here’s a young white kid full of white guilt” or maybe “here’s another white liberal telling us all how black people really feel like he really knows”. I’m not full of white guilt. I don’t even really know what that means. I don’t feel guilty for a lot of things beyond my control or what people who look like me have done for centuries in this country. It’s not that I don’t feel remorse. It’s not that I’m not aware of an oppression that isn’t in some history book but in today’s news paper and will be in many obituaries that will be printed for years to come. I do feel responsible, however. That’s something that I didn’t always understand about living as a white person, a white male, in this country. I also am not writing these words because I think I know exactly how it feels to be black in this country. I’m writing this because I don’t know how it feels. I just recognize and acknowledge that it’s just not the same. I’m not writing this from a POV of a my black peer, a young black male. I’m writing this from what I see as a white person. I know it’s different. It’s different in so many ways that I haven’t even learned about yet.

White-privilege is a term, to me, that comes with a disconnect. Besides the fact that most of us will never have the chance to walk in the shoes of a person of color, the ignorance is exacerbated by the knee-jerk defense mechanism that I mentioned before about how being perceived as a racist is more worrisome than racism itself. None of us, naturally, like being accused of something that we think we are not, no matter the color. We also tend not to like judgements about us, our past, or anything about our character. This is especially true if we feel it’s negative or offensive to us. The word “privilege” implies special or extra rights to many. It’s perceived as additional/extra advantages that one may not feel they possess. That notion is hard to swallow for a lot of people that may have grown poor, disadvantaged, or had a hard life. That disconnect is palpable among people in my area with poverty, drugs, and numerous other issues that one might experience and have come to the conclusion that they don’t hold a higher place in society than someone of color.

No one is saying that whites can’t have a hard life. The issues of class in this country affect all colors, perhaps not equally as a whole, but poor whites in places like Appalachia grow up in and around things like poverty, domestic violence, drugs, and many other issues that plague poor minorities in an inner city. Privilege, however, isn’t implying that you had it easy or have a special set of rights. It doesn’t mean that you’re treated as a special human. No. To me, white privilege is something that describes how we are all supposed to be treated as human beings. A person is supposed to be able to walk down a street in this country and not fear being stopped by law enforcement. A person isn’t supposed to be discriminated against by their skin color in a store, a school, employment, or anywhere at all. That’s how it is supposed to be: normal. No racial stereotypes, prejudice, or discrimination. We don’t have extra rights, we just have the ones we’re born with, that all of us are supposed to be born with in this country. We are treated like human beings. We are approached with the respect or indifference based on the amount of melanin in our skin , not caution and suspicion  because of the lack of melanin. Because that’s what it boils down to. The amount of melanin in your skin: the more you have, the less rights you’re born with. 

The problem is that in the society we live in all of us aren’t treated like that. Some don’t have those rights. They were born with them but the pale hand of our society took them away. They don’t have the respect the rest of us have. They are much more likely to be stopped by law enforcement, treated with suspicion in many areas of society, and handled as if second-class citizens. That’s just a small part of it and a few issues of many that I haven’t even learned about yet. I do know that minorities aren’t treated as I am, an American citizen. Our society that creates, fosters, and maintains white supremacy ensures that minorities feel like foreigners at home.

Poverty comes with a Friends of Coal sticker….

 

kennedycoal

Election time is approaching and the war drums are sounding again here in Southwestern Virginia. The “war on coal” cries have started up again for what’s mostly uncontested races in this part. It’s all an early start for next years Presidential election, one that will most assuredly end up with this area voting against their own best interests. More recently Alpha Natural Resources has given fodder to the conservative peddlers that President Obama is killing the coal industry and turned a prosperous area into a ghost town. Only in their parallel universe is this true. The math only seems to work if you just pretend the world began in 2009 when President Obama took office. Every time we hear about a layoff by a mining company it’s always “Obama’s war on coal and EPA regulations are killing our way of life!” According to them he’s been dishing out regulations hand-over-fist on coal plants and killing the price of coal. Never mind the fact that the EPA, nor Obama, has not implemented any regulations on carbon emissions the entire time he has been in office. That doesn’t stop these people from playing on fear and uncertainly ingrained in this area to win votes.

Back in 2008 we heard about the “cap and trade” bill and how it was going to destroy the area and coal industry so we must vote for John McCain to avoid it all. What was never mentioned by these liars is that John McCain had been a champion for “cap and trade” legislation for years prior. He had not only voted for, but co-sponsored legislation in 2003, 2005, and 2007 with his Climate Stewardship Acts that would have capped and taxed carbon emissions. We heard it again in 2010 from local conservative interests in the race for the 9th congressional race. Congressman Morgan Griffith and outside groups that flooded millions into TV ads warning us of another bill that President Obama and Congressman Boucher were apparently working on some bill to kill the coal industry. Of course, in their usual manner, they left out the part where Congressman Boucher had voted Yes on a energy bill that contained a cap and trade portion because of amendments he added that would offer coal plants free offsets to virtually not have to abide by any regulations at all. The other convenient fact is that that bill had died in the House in mid-July in 2010 and was completely abandoned with the focus on other issues and legislation as democrats anticipated losing control of the HouseBut no, Superman Griffith was going to swoop in and save us all from this non-existent threat. In 2012, like every year before, we heard the same lies again. This time, however, it Mitt Romney who was our savior. The same Mitt Romney that stood in front of a coal-fired plant in Mass., stated they killed, and vowed to shut them down. He too was a supporter of cap and trade legislation and called it quote “good for business”.

All of these were facts you weren’t likely to hear in 30 second ads that ran every commercial break. What you did hear was this line repeated over and over: “So if somebody wants to build a coal power plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.” That was President Obama’s comment, out of context, about coal-fired plants ignoring potential regulations that, once again, still haven’t been enacted. If that 12 second clip had just been rewinded a bit, it would have included the full quote before: “This notion of no coal, I think, is an illusion, because the fact of the matter is that right now, we are getting a lot of our energy from coal, and China is building a coal-fired plant once a week. So what we have to do then is we have to figure out how can we use coal without emitting greenhouse gases and carbon. And how can we sequester that carbon and capture it? If we can’t, then we’re going to still be working on alternatives.” More pesky facts that didn’t quite make it to voters. It doesn’t matter. It worked.

We’ll hear it all over again next year. This time the names will be replaced as they have been in every election in this area for the last seven years. Why not? It’s a winning formula. People soak up an ad, one-liner, and fear-inducing propaganda. It’s a much easier message to push than what I just explained. It still doesn’t make it any truer, however. The truth is that coal companies have been doing what they always have: taking advantage of us, making millions while we wallow in poverty, and proceed to not let the door hit them on their ass on the way out. Alpha is a perfect example. They would have us believe that they just have to absolutely positively layoff 70 employees here, 40 there, all just to stay afloat. They weren’t too concerned about this when they were paying CEO Kevin Crutchfield a $2,000,000 bonus just a few months ago. Or the $6,000,000 in 2011 and 2012. Is that bad enough? No. How about the fact that they’re  still paying their former President, Paul Vining, $4,500,000 annually? The miners weren’t a concern then while they were running the company of a dying industry into the ground before declaring bankruptcy. CONSOL just recently announced they would be going back on their promise to fund miners healthcare with some tough choices because the industry was taking a big hit. They were doing so bad in recent years that they were forced to pay their CEO, Nick DeIuliis, $8,300,000 last year. That was a 45% pay increase from 2013 according to their SEC report, yet they just couldn’t find the funds to pay for local miners health insurance. They also had to contribute to Republican Delegate Will Morefield’s campaign over $46,000. Poor CONSOL only managed to be only his second top campaign contributor. He just happens to be the delegate for the two counties where they have mines in Southwest Virginia. They have also donated large sums indirectly to Virginia republican State Senator Ben Chafin’s campaign as well. Poor CONSOL only managed to be only his second top campaign contributor. They of course also spent quite a bit on Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign in 2013 but after his office was caught helping rip off landowners with the natural gas royalties, they kind of owed him. Lastly, I just couldn’t ignore Arch Coal. Last year they announced layoffs of over 200 miners in Wise County and Letcher County, KY to soften the blow of met-coal prices plummeting. If you don’t know, metallurgical coal is used for steel and iron production, not electricity and coal fired plants these non-existent regulations would cripple. While this company was struggling to survive cutting over 200 jobs in Wise and Letcher in the process, who have poverty rates of 19.3% and 27.1% accompanied by unemployment rates of 9.2% and 10.7% respectively, they had to pay their President and CEO, John Eaves, $7,300,000.

Do we get it yet? Is your stomach churning? I’ve felt a bit sick writing this. We have a entire delegation of politicians in this area that stand with these robbers, hold their hand, and promise to take on big, bad Obama and save us all. Why is it that our memory only goes back seven years? Are we just going to pretend that the mining industry wasn’t collapsing for decades before Obama took office? Lets see just how thriving it was…

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 12.37.21 AM

A total loss of  90,989 coal-miners from 1984 until 2008. Half of the coal-mining workforce.

Link

To further point out the hypocrisy and short memory of our conservative friends, lets do a quick comparison. What was the average mining employment under Bush? 76,470 jobs. Obama’s average through 2012? 88,152 jobs.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 12.33.28 AM

Link

It’s also higher under Obama’s tenure compared to Bush’s in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia individually. Here’s a look at Virginia’s…

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 12.33.46 AM

Link

So even though coal employment is up during Obama’s tenure, as high as it was in the mid-to-late 90’s, we’re just supposed to pretend that the industry didn’t lose over half, 90,000+ jobs, of its workforce in the 20+ years prior to Obama? Oh yes, those regulations that haven’t been enacted, only proposed, now re-proposed after the first proposals were shot down by SCOTUS this summer anyway, have taken its toll on the these poor coal companies. When that fact is pointed out, conservatives then fall to the argument of speculation and just the proposal of regulations that have caused the layoffs all on their own. If this was the case, why did Alpha spend and borrow $7.1 billion in 2011, after several years into Obama’s first term to buy Massey mines? Would a company do that because they thought/knew that coal prices would fall or rise in the coming years? It doesn’t take someone with a business degree to know the answer to that.

Those are all facts that just can’t be spun, though they will be denied by the politicians who pathetically play on the fears of an area that is drowning in poverty, unemployment, poor health, and a list of other issues, to win votes. They’re fighting for us, they tell us, and they have the Friends of Coal sticker on their cars and campaign flyers to prove it. While they’re at it they’ll also keep voting to deny healthcare to this area via Medicaid expansion like every republican representative in Southwest Virginia They’ll vote against any state or federal minimum wage increase like every republican representative in the state. They’ll vote over 60 times to take healthcare away from me in attempts to repeal the ACA which has also made it easier for miners and families of miners to get the black lung benefits. I guess they’re too busy on the battlefield fighting the invisible army of terror that hates Appalachia so much they want to provide tens of millions of dollars to the area to help get these miners that these disgustingly selfish companies have laid off to continue paying their executives millions of dollars plus millions more in bonuses!

We all need a boogeyman, though. When an area feels so helpless about what’s going on around them and has been going on around them for decades, they’ll do anything to feel like they have a say. They can’t vote to oust coal prices in Asia, so the guy they already think is Muslim-atheist born in Kenya, and wants to make the white folks slaves, is an easy choice in an attempt to fill that emptiness and hopeless feeling in their gut. Even so, the rest of us suffer from this blind hate and ignorance. It’s time for us to grow a backbone again. Why are we still letting King Coal hold this area back? In the entire Commonwealth of Virginia, there has never been more than 5,500 coal miners employed in the last 15 years. Those were of course located in Southwestern Virginia but even here that is a tiny, tiny portion of employment and has been that way for decades. Coal is done here. It’s done in the states where there’s higher employment as well such as Kentucky and West Virginia in Appalachia. It’s never coming back. No, not because of some mythical regulations or a personal vendetta to attack us Appalachians by President Obama. It’s done because coal companies have come into the area, extracted the finite resources we have, polluted, poisoned, and destroyed tourism and future development…and made a run for it like a bank robber with sacks full of cash. We’re left holding the coal bucket that’s full of nothing but depression, poverty, and the absence of what little we had to begin with. Until we start electing representatives on the local, state, and federal level in these areas of Central Appalachia…we’ll keep getting screwed in the dark because coal sure as hell ain’t keeping the lights on.


Update since first published:

When I wrote this piece it was around the time Alpha Natural Resources had filed for bankruptcy, not because they were going under, but to shift or drop debts, employees, and even a spare coal-bucket if it would save them a few pennies. They did that laying-off 90 miners in Dickenson County ,a county with a 9% unemployment rate, more than twice the state average, and poverty rate of over 21%. My uncle was included in those layoffs with my stepfather just making the cut. During mid-December of 2015 Alpha seemed to find quite a bit of money lying around, however, when it asked the bankruptcy court to approve $14.8 million in bonuses for 17 senior executives. A week later, on Dec. 18 and a week before Christmas, they seemed short on cash again after announcing another layoff in West Virginia of 100 miners in Raleigh County, who has an 18.5% poverty rate coupled with an 7.5% unemployment rate, and in Boone County who boasts an 20.4% poverty rate and 9.8% unemployment rate, respectively. This was also all while it was pushing to stop medical and life insurance benefits for 4,500 non-union retirees and their families. In the end, the same bankruptcy court approved those bonuses of nearly $12 million for those executives in January and in May, granted another, separate ruling that allows Alpha to drop it’s union-contracts to retirees benefits and healthcare. Let them eat coal!