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Are "Hillbilly" & "Redneck" Nation's Last Acceptable Stereotypes?

An online discussion among Appalachian academics sparked a debate about “whether bias in academe (and society) is too accepted when it is about the people of the region they study,” Scott Jaschik writes for Inside Higher Ed.

The discussion began with a report that a student had been walking around barefoot and a faculty member had called him a hillbilly. Others said that they’d heard similar comments, and that instructors who cautiously think about whether “their comments might offend members of many groups do not feel the same need to be sensitive to those from poor, largely white, rural communities in Appalachia,” Jaschik reports.

When the Academe Blog published the debate, it didn’t name the institution where the incident occurred, but Rosann Kent, director of Appalachian studies at the University of North Georgia, said she posted the question asking her colleagues what they would do about the other professor’s remark.

“Kent said what bothered her about the colleague’s comment was the quick assumption that this student must be from Appalachia and not just any student who was celebrating the end of the year and the arrival of warm weather by being slightly less dressed than normal,” Jaschik writes.

Kent asked an important question: Why is it acceptable to present mountain or hill-country whites in a different way? Although labels like “hillbilly” and “redneck” are demeaning, they’re still often used not just in society but in academe. Yes, Hollywood is known for perpetuating stereotypes, but Kent said professors should know to question them. She asked, “Why are we the last acceptable stereotype?” (Read more.)

The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

This story appeared as a special to KY Forward