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Tue May 20, 2014, 09:20 AM

Okay, I need some feedback from this group regarding an article

Last edited Sun Jun 1, 2014, 03:10 PM - Edit history (3)

First of all, let me get this out of the way: Alice Ely Chapman is a remarkable philanthropist for her Appalachian community and the world certainly could use a few more people of such resource and dedication. The programs she has initiated and supported in Washington County, Ohio will undoubtedly return their investment an hundredfold.

The article to which I'm referring is:
A Connecticut Yankee in Appalachia
by Howard Husock
Alice Ely Chapman wages a one-woman war on poverty.
Spring 2014
http://www.city-journal.org/2014/24_2_alice-ely-chapman.html

The struggle I'm having with the article is the tone in which I perceive it is written. Perhaps it's just me. I went to bed last night really bothered by the nagging feeling that as Appalachians we had just received a good dose of condescension. I had hoped that if I gave it a fresh look this morning my hackles would smooth. Unfortunately, after several readings I'm still bothered by the slant of this article. Perhaps what I really need is some feedback from others here because I now question my objectivity.

Those of us who've posted here have pretty freely discussed some dire issues facing Appalachia: poverty, unemployment, drugs, lack of educational opportunities et al. It's when those problems are presented in the manner I have illustrated by the excerpts below I have to ask, "Who the hell do you think you're talking to?"

All this dysfunctional behavior—the disordered families, the aversion to work, the welfare dependency, the drugs and violence—is what Marietta leaders mean when they use the euphemistic phrase “Appalachian values.” Social thinker Edward Banfield, in his classic book The Unheavenly City, described something similar when he wrote of chaotic lives marked by “present orientation”—that is, unable to plan rationally for the future and addicted to immediate gratification. Sociologist Joseph Howell called the conduct “hard living.” Economist Thomas Sowell has gone so far as to suggest that the values of the poor, antebellum Scotch-Irish Southern whites who settled the region became the cultural norms into which poor African-Americans eventually assimilated. Appalachian values, he believes, were imprinted on black culture, with the urban underclass its cultural product. City treasurer Harper links the drug and alcohol abuse among the young to what she calls “community disorganization.” Around here, bad choices are so common that people just accept them as normal.

To me, the paragraph above seems to smack of the worst kind of stereotyping. To add further insult to injury, the author then proceeds to fold these descriptors into what is described as "black culture" (and here we must assume the author is referring to the litany of our moral failings, such as "the disordered families, the aversion to work, the welfare dependency, the drugs and violence". I'm sorry, but to me that's racist, plain and simple. It's also a theme parroted more than once in the article.

The moral judgments seeded throughout this piece -- But school officials say that they are battling powerful and destructive forces in the community, with many students living in disorganized households with multiple children from multiple fathers. -- is the same lexicon employed against poor folks everywhere, not just Appalachia. Painting Mrs. Chapman as some genteel, cultured New England lady of breeding who stepped from the drawing room into a hillbilly pigsty rubs me the wrong way and I'm sure Mrs. Chapman doesn't view herself in that manner, either.

The efforts of Mrs. Chapman to uplift the youth of her Appalachian community is a noble legacy. For some it will provide a hand up but for many others a ticket out, further propelling the "brain drain" of the best and brightest from rural Appalachia. Therein lies the conundrum, because the underlying problems facing not only much of Appalachia but our society as a whole, remain. Income inequity and unemployment are the economic cancers of a people without hope. The people of whom Mr. Husock writes have been undone not by their own moral failings but by a plutocracy that has abandoned them and then as if to assuage the guilt, created a alternate reality wherein the victims themselves are to blame for being victimized.

Well, I've had my rant for this morning. Just had to get this out of my system. As I suggested, perhaps I'm just a bit too thin-skinned regarding this topic or perhaps I've misinterpreted the tone of the article. I'd appreciate some feedback.

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Arrow 16 replies Author Time Post
Reply Okay, I need some feedback from this group regarding an article (Original post)
theHandpuppet May 2014 OP
get the red out May 2014 #1
theHandpuppet May 2014 #2
LoisB May 2014 #3
theHandpuppet May 2014 #6
Staph May 2014 #4
theHandpuppet May 2014 #5
Fred ONeill May 2014 #11
Tsiyu May 2014 #7
Fred ONeill May 2014 #8
theHandpuppet May 2014 #9
Fred ONeill May 2014 #10
theHandpuppet May 2014 #12
theHandpuppet May 2014 #13
Fred ONeill May 2014 #14
theHandpuppet May 2014 #15
Fred ONeill Jun 2014 #16

Response to theHandpuppet (Original post)

Tue May 20, 2014, 10:38 AM

1. Yes

That's way over the top and sounds like some kind or right wing screed. And I have a lot of left-over resentment against the culture I grew up in in Eastern Kentucky. But, man, that's too foolishly stereotypical for me to digest.

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Response to get the red out (Reply #1)

Tue May 20, 2014, 10:44 AM

2. I am SO sorry I forgot to include the url for the piece

http://www.city-journal.org/2014/24_2_alice-ely-chapman.html

Duh... I'm just a bit overtired right now.

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Response to theHandpuppet (Original post)

Tue May 20, 2014, 12:50 PM

3. I think your reading of this is absolutely correct. I found it rather insulting and I am

not an "Appalachian".

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Response to LoisB (Reply #3)

Tue May 20, 2014, 02:19 PM

6. I'm relieved to know it's not just me.

If there had been just a single passage of condescending snobbery in this piece I might have given it a pass. But the whole article is peppered with snarky salvos of class warfare.

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Response to theHandpuppet (Original post)

Tue May 20, 2014, 02:05 PM

4. In my view, the biggest problem in Marietta,

as is in many of the communities here in West Virginia, is drugs. It isn't the "welfare culture" that stops these folks' ambition -- it's the easy access, simple manufacture, and escape offered by drugs. Why take a low wage job when you can make meth in your home or car for little effort, sell it for considerably more money than minimum wage, and sample the product to boot?

But it's the tone of the article that really bothers me. I have read many complaints by blacks concerning the role of blacks in movies and television -- there's always a white savior coming to the rescue. In Ghosts of Mississippi (1996), about the murder of civil rights leader Medger Evers, the main characters are the white lawyers who bring the murderer to justice. In The Help (2011), it's the white lady author who brings the story of the black maids to the attention of the world.

And in this article, it's the New England aristocrat (notice how many times that her learned and noble ancestors are mentioned!) who has come to bring the poor, uneducated hicks out of poverty. It's exactly the same tone as the "white savior" films. I hate it.


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Response to Staph (Reply #4)

Tue May 20, 2014, 02:13 PM

5. A great analogy

Yes, your analogy to the "white savior" films is spot-on. It's exactly how I felt when reading this article.

Also, regarding the proliferance of drugs -- you make an excellent point and much better than the author did when he wrote, "There’s a street calculus, too, that says a job should pay at least $12 an hour in order to make it more worthwhile than a life on “benefits.”

Wow. I felt like putting my foot through the screen with that one.

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Response to Staph (Reply #4)

Tue May 27, 2014, 03:58 PM

11. You make some good points

Staph - In Marietta the "working poor" are regarded in much the same way that early 20th century southern whites regarded black persons - as useful for cleaning up after or serving the "elite" (especially during the "River Roar" or the Sternwheel Festival) but not worth treating like human-beings or being paid a living wage ... And if they complain, they are branded as 'lazy" or "drug-abusers" by the local self-absorbed tea-party clique ... The Marcellus-Shale "boom" is over-rated. Most of the jobs are shipped in from elsewhere, and only a few will reap the profits (if any). Wal-Mart remains the "company-store" ... Also, local infrastructure, environment, and water-resources might be damaged beyond repair by the time these wildcatters have finished and moved on to greener pastures ...

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Response to theHandpuppet (Original post)


Response to theHandpuppet (Original post)

Tue May 27, 2014, 09:53 AM

8. Feedback on "Connecticut Yankee" article

Apparently, The City Journal is the magazine venue for the (laugh now) non-profit 501(c)3 Manhattan Institute that puts forth the sort of "Atlas Shrugged" propaganda that lost Mitt Romney the last election. Howard Husock is a regular contributor to Forbes and The National Review, and is a promoter of the "philosophy" of Charles Murray, the author of the controversial 1995 book, "The Bell Curve" that proposed that "cultural inferiority" is behind low-performance testing of some African-American young people ... Husock is performing the same "service" for the residents of Marietta, Ohio who he portrays in his article ("A Connecticut Yankee in Apppalachia" as being mostly misfits and drug-addicted single-parents who need both Marcellus Shale developers and the philanthropy of people like Alice Ely Chapman to keep them from sliding into the pit of Hell ... Actually, like many other towns, Marietta has its share of problems - yes there are fewer jobs than in the 1960s, and there is a sizable drug problem - but it also has many good people and many cultural attributes (it was just named the "sixth nicest town to visit by The Smithsonian Magazine. Our most pressing problem is that some of the entities here that reap big profits are too cheap to pay their workers a living wage. As far as the Marcellus Shale play is concerned, most of those hired are from places like Texas or Oklahoma, and those workers (that Husock mentioned as staying at local motels) will be on-the-road again once they finish trashing the local water supply ... Here's the deal. The Mid-Ohio-Valley tea-party gang here are a very active (and often very nasty) group that would not be above slipping a few choice morsels (i.e. the night photo of a west-side house scheduled for demolition) to some faraway hack to promote their Social-Darwinist, "blame-the-victim" message ... My guess is that Mr. Husock spends most of his time in a cushy office, and has never come within a 100 miles of the town that is so pompously trashing in his lengthy article ... I certainly hope that the good folks at the Eli Chapman Foundation (who HAVE done much good work with children from ALL backgrounds) will notice that their name is being used to promote a spurious political agenda, and that they will respond accordingly! ~ Fred O'Neill, Marietta, Ohio

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Response to Fred ONeill (Reply #8)

Tue May 27, 2014, 12:23 PM

9. Thank you so much for shedding some light on this article

It's really an eye-opener and actually confirms some of my suspicions.

I'm a native of Portsmouth so the problems experienced by the folks in Marietta are quite familiar to me, sans the Marcellus Shale. I was really incensed by that article; I've been to Marietta many times and despite the problems it faces due to the economic woes shared by many river towns, I've always found the people there to be gracious and the town itself historic and charming -- a town with a lot of pride that didn't deserve that condescending portrait.

My best to you...

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Response to theHandpuppet (Reply #9)

Tue May 27, 2014, 03:43 PM

10. I feel your pain!

Handpuppet - I once taught history at Grant Junior High School, have many fond memories of Portsmouth, and know a few people who still live there. I remember when Detroit steel closed. Fortunately, our situation in Marietta is not quite as bad, but the job-outlook could be better than it is ... The article was obviously a hatchet-job, but who instigated it? Hard times have affected many towns up and down the Ohio, but only a craven FOX-fixated idiot - or a fanatic strung-out on "Atlas Shrugged" - would use a worthwhile charitable group like the Ely Chapman Foundation to promote a "blame-the-victim" agenda ...

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Response to Fred ONeill (Reply #10)

Tue May 27, 2014, 04:24 PM

12. Well that's the very good question, isn't it?

What was so obviously lacking was any indication that the article was penned either by an academic with a particular interest in Appalachia or even by someone familiar with the area who had since "moved on", so to speak. Apparently the inspiration sprang from his keyboard like Athena from the head of Zeus. Very odd, if you ask me. I don't think this guy has ever set a foot within an hundred miles of Appalachia.

BTW, I attended Grant Jr. High and it was there I met the teacher who most influenced my life, Mrs. Reese. This was many, many moons ago.

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Response to Fred ONeill (Reply #10)

Wed May 28, 2014, 09:29 AM

13. By the way, here's an article about Portsmouth from Life Magazine, 1989

http://www.maryellenmark.com/text/magazines/life/905W-000-039.html

There were a lot of folks in town very upset by this article, too, because they felt the magazine cherry picked the most woeful examples they could find. But unlike the piece on Marietta, I for one never felt there was a sinister political agenda at work here.

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Response to theHandpuppet (Reply #13)

Sat May 31, 2014, 07:24 AM

14. My response to The City Journal piece ...

can be found on the op-ed page of the May 31-June 1 weekend edition of The Marietta, Ohio Times ... Some others might want to comment on Husock's elitist publication & its skewed opinions of our region. The Times welcomes LTEs from all over Appalachia, and Mr. Husock needs to be told in no uncertain terms that he has done a great disservice to both the people of Marietta, Ohio and the Alice Ely Chapman Foundation that does good work in this community ...

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Response to Fred ONeill (Reply #14)

Sat May 31, 2014, 08:14 AM

15. I'd love to read your LTE but the Marietta Times requires a subscription...

... even to read an article online. Could you post it here for those of us who are non-subscribers?

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Response to theHandpuppet (Reply #15)

Sun Jun 8, 2014, 01:48 AM

16. The Times finally responds to the City Journal hatchet-job on Mariettta, Ohio

While it's difficult to send links to non-subscribers (since the Marietta Times went to its "pay-to-play" format in April) but, after about three weeks, our local paper finally printed an article about the Howard Husock "makers vs. takers" article in Spring, 2014 issue of The City Journal ... See if someone can find the June 5 edition of The Times. It contains a front-page article entitled "Offended; disappointed - Magazine article about Marietta gets big reaction", as well as an editorial on page 4 entitled "There's more to Marietta than recent article shows" ... There ARE some revelations. It seems that Husock DID visit Marietta twice last year - but no word on who invited him. One of the people he "interviewed" was Cathy Harper (who Husock called "Cathy Jo" the current City Treasurer (who was NOT yet elected when Husock met her). Cathy is a nice lady who runs a group that tries to help young people with drug problems, BUT she is under the influence of local tea party characters like Khadine Ritter and G.O.P. Chairperson Leslie Hass who fully subscribe to the "Atlas Shrugged" philosophy touted in the City Journal article. The Times is now upset that the photos used by the City Journal were from their archives and were used without permission by Husock. The Times also reports that an anonymous employee of Community Action possibly helped Husock by giving him some (as it turns out, false) figures about local poverty rates and percentages of residents on public-assistance. Finally, the subject of the article, Mrs. Alice Ely-Chapman (whose work in our community, as I said in my May 31 op-ed piece, is "beyond reproach" is NOT amused by the Husock article ... The mystery remains - WHO decided that Marietta should be the subject of a crummy polemical treatise on alleged "makers vs. takers"? Did no one learn anything from the Mitt Romney "47%" debacle in 2012?

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