Friday, March 10, 2017


Hillbillies are a much maligned group.  Calling someone a hillbilly was an insult.  Like other groups they are not monolithic, but do share some common characteristics.  J.D. Vance has in some ways escaped the trap, but in a type of memoir he captures a portrait of hillbillies.

As a youngster his family moved from Kentucky to Ohio and he spent part of his life going back and forth partly due to the migration of hillbillies north, but more tied to his family changes.  His mother offered a number of husbands and boyfriends and although J.D. got along with most of them, he knew not to get too attached.  His grandmother and his sister were his salvation.

Fighting was very common.  The author's Grandmother advised him on fighting and took pride not only for winning, but for standing up.  His mother got into fighting with her husbands and boyfriends and eventually became addicted to drugs.  J.D. went from one family setting to another.

His mother once asked for his urine so she could pass a drug test.  He self righteously rejected her and afterward confessed he thought there might be a trace of marijuana in his urine.  Drugs and alcohol were a part of the culture.  Religion is intense for some, but lackadaisical for others.   The author had experience with a group that was more upset about social concerns than doing anything neighborly or unselfish.  A lack of impulse control was common and reinforcing.

Joined the Marines and after boot camp had a new perspective on life.  One change was his attitude towards food which he then saw as important for a better life.  With a little more focus he went to Ohio State and then to Yale Law School.  At Yale he became more conscious of class distinctions. Met his wife Usha who helped give him a wider perspective.  Being a university student led to being introspective.   One his professors was Amy Chua who advised and encourged him.  Read more about her writing at

J.D. talked of people on welfare mocking those who worked and barely scraped by.  This attitude the author feels is a major factor why Appalachia switched to Republicans.   As industry moved out many were reluctant to move and found themselves with houses not worth what was owed on them.  For those not on welfare saw those that were as dragging them down.  I read elsewhere the J.D. considers himself a Republican, but did not vote for Donald Trump.

The book is very gritty and he recounts that his mother felt hurt by parts of it and a sister disputed his sequence of events.  Consider it a close up look at a group that has a lot of influence, but has been basically misunderstood.

Nancy Isenberg in "White Trash" provided some insight to the Appalachian whites,

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