Saturday, November 19, 2016

I've spent three days now responding to readers' many, many reactions to my TLS essay. On the one hand, I'm glad to know that the essay has gotten people to talk to each other and to share their own stories and struggles. On the other hand, I feel a certain despair, which I can't quite put into words. I know, now, that some progressives see me as an apologist or a sell-out. I know many people are judging my essay on the title alone (which, as I noted in yesterday's post, was not even my choice). I'm trying to stay patient and civil and honest. I'm trying to respond to all skeptics and to acknowledge my own weaknesses. But I'm weary. Doing this work makes me very, very uncomfortable. It also makes me feel pretty lonely. In the blare of a progressive Facebook feed, there aren't many other posts like mine. Lots of people want me to sign petitions against Trump's cabinet appointees and the electoral college. Lots of people share links about the Trump University lawsuit, Clinton's popular victory, and dire incidents of racism and xenophobia. All of this is vital and horrifying information. It is also repetitive information, cycled again and again among the same group of people.

Some of us are writers, and some of us are not. But if you are a writer, I urge you to consider how your specific situation and history might expand this conversation, open up these repetitions, clarify the complications. I know that individual perspectives are being lost and overlooked. I fear for those lost voices.


David (n of 49) said...

"That even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given them on earth...." - Hannah Arendt, in Men In Dark Times

Ray Fencl said...

The humanity of Trump voters - Your article touched a deep nerve with me. While from Evanston, IL, I have always been drawn to our rural areas for work, peace and to raise my family. My two daughters fondest memories are of living in rural areas. I once live if Knapp, WI and the population at that time was 68 people. The people were mostly and/or farmers in the rolling hills. They grew up with out houses, running but cold water. I was talking with the father of one of my close friends. My friend was born and raised in Knapp and I met him in Illinois, where he was teaching. His Dad told me about the depression and how it affected him. It didn't, he told me. The people up in Knapp were poor, but didn't know it. Their needs were basic, they had venison, fish and game fowl to eat along with the animals they raised. They were untouched by the depression - it was how they lived.

Amanda Bridgette said...

Ms. Potter,

I am responding to thank you for writing these observations and insights and being brave enough to tell an unheard story. As a native Appalachian, I am very familiar with these people you identify. They are my family, friends, and neighbors. For many years I have worked as a performing artist in the entertainment industry nationally and abroad and listened to my colleagues generalize these "white, religious, uneducated, racist". Being familiar with shame, as most Appalachians are, I generally chose to remain silent when these conversations arose. It took only a few years for many of my peers and colleagues to meet my parents and experience their genuine interest, simple humility, and eager care in order to realize their notion of these "conservative, country folk" was completely wrong.

Over the years, my parents' home in a picturesque valley in West Virginia has served as a retreat for many of these friends from all walks of life when the entertainment industry has beaten them down and repeatedly rejected them. My mother offers a free room for weeks, home cooks three square meals, has numerous rocking chairs on her front porch, and offers her genuine care and concern in order for these broken artists to heal and love themselves again.

Appalachians know shame as well as any other group. Our earliest ancestors were indentured servants to land owners, our grandfathers were coal miners: white, black, Eastern European, Latin all worked side by side and had the same status. Booker T. Washington and John Henry are not simply African-American heroes here. They are Appalachian heroes -- examples of brave, Appalachian men who beat all odds and rose above our shame. They are men to build legends on, and you can hear their stories being preserved by our storytellers all around West Virginia.

I am a performing artist, and I voted for Trump. Most of my family voted for Trump. And none of us voted for him because we hate different ethnicities, religions, or the LGBT community. Many individuals in each of the former groups are my friends and because I love them, my family loves them. That is the Appalachian way -- loyalty to your kin. We voted on economic issues, healthcare issues, tax reform issues, energy sources, and bearing arms. Individuals vote on issues that directly affect them. Country folk do not want to pay for public transportation because public transporation does not apply to winding county roads. City folks often oppose the right to bear arms because hunting game as a primary source of meat is not their top priority when considering gun ownership. I cannot expect another person to vote as I because their story is not mine, and their primary concerns are not the same as mine.

From your recent writing, I gather you are not a Trump supporter, giving me even more respect for you as a writer. Thank you for being able to write past your personal convictions and give voice to another way of thinking. In Appalachia differences are respected as long as each party shows a mutual respect for the opposing view. Ms. Potter, you have earned the respect of this Appalachian.

Dawn Potter said...

Amanda, your mention of single-issue voting rationales is important. Here in rural Maine, many people voted for Trump only because he said that he was against abortion. Many others voted only because of gun anxiety, which as you say in your comment is an enormous worry for a culture that subsistence-hunts. I do think, however, that there were also racial and cultural fears. My particular town is 98 percent white; residents don't have much experience with people unlike themselves; and while they may not see themselves as racially motivated, I think at the very least some of them fear the Other. Please remember, though, that I'm speaking of a very small slice of the electorate. Although the rural white working class has commonalities, different regions have considerable differences in demographics. The Appalachian/Rust Belt demographic is not as white as rural Maine is, so regional reactions to cultural and racially diversity (or the lack thereof) will not be identical. You're right in noting that I am not a Trump supporter, but your graciousness of response gives me great hope that voters with such different perspectives will be able to find a way to affirm one another's humanity even we disagree politically. We have yet to see what a Trump presidency will will be like, but we all will have to live with the results. Thank you so much for writing.

Dawn Potter said...

Ray, thanks for your response to the TLS essay. I spent all the summers of my childhood in the mountains of western Pennsylvania, on the West Virginia border. I think of those summers as a distillation of happiness. And yet even as a small child I perceived the poverty, violence, shame, and struggle of my relatives and their neighbors. The Appalachians are a conundrum but some of us cannot get them out of our blood.

Dawn Potter said...

. . . David: thank you. You are the most generous man.