Earlier last week, I made a series of tweets about white nationalism in Appalachia. It’s been almost a month since white nationalists rallied in Pikeville, Kentucky and while media coverage of the event was significant it was also understandably superficial given the frequency with which such things are now happening. Take a look at the coverage of the event, and you’ll find many individuals in the region asking, with pain, “Why are people like this targeting us?” To be sure, one answer lies in our current political moment and the region’s demographics, but there’s another answer to be found in how Appalachia fits into the white nationalist worldview. The tweets I made briefly explain this, using both recent and older examples of white nationalist ideology. The very short version is that, for some white nationalists, Appalachia is a source, or should be a source, of uncontaminated white heritage. In order to forward that belief, white nationalists often cite an exaggeration of the cultural and genetic dominance of the Scots-Irish in Appalachia. The quote I used to begin my series of tweets, for example, shows a white nationalist group proclaiming “Appalachia is White, Scots-Irish and proud, don’t run from your heritage, celebrate it!” last month. If you feel up to it, take a stroll through the online world of white nationalists and you’ll find plenty of distillations of this particular brand of ethno-nationalism.
To my surprise, the West Virginia Public Radio show Front Porch used my tweets, or more correctly, truncated versions of my tweets in their own discussion of white nationalism. In abbreviating my remarks, co-host Laurie Lin removed the white nationalist quotes that I supplied and did not make any attempt to reference or summarize them in her own comments. The reason that this was likely so became clear when she commented, “…I hate to be that person who says this is what got you Trump, but this is the kind of thing that gets you Trump, when liberals say ‘you guys shouldn’t celebrate your ethnicity because it’s somehow helping…you’re not white nationalists but you’re aiding and abetting white nationalists. I don’t think anyone says that Appalachia is only Scots-Irish…” To be clear, Laurie Lin claimed that no one says such things about ethnicity in Appalachia while quoting a tweet I made that contained verifiable evidence of white nationalists saying that exact thing. My remarks, therefore, were presented as untrue and vague despite the fact that Laurie Lin had to be staring directly at their proof in order to read my work on air. She then exploited the ambiguity that she created in order to make a tired, stale point about political correctness gone mad. The program ends its segment with a discussion of the multi-racial and multi-ethnic dimensions of Appalachia, as if I did not make precisely the same point in my remarks, and indeed, the entire body of my recent work.
As an individual who often writes about race, I am no stranger to the point-scoring against imaginary liberals that Lin attempts. But the Front Porch crew would do well to consider why they need it to be true that a fact-checked discussion of white nationalism is somehow more responsible for our current political moment than, say, individuals who actually voted for Trump or the white nationalists quoted that called my comments into being. They would also do well to consider why their co-host deemed the words of white nationalists explaining their decision to rally irrelevant to a segment about white nationalism that no one forced them to do.
In my forthcoming book, I have a longer discussion of how individuals in Appalachia negotiate their relationships with “outsiders.” This is an appropriate framework when citing economic conditions but falls short in acknowledging our complicity in toxic attitudes about race, gender, sexuality, and religion that are found here. To be clear, that complicity doesn’t look like ordinary white individuals taking an interest in their heritage, but it does include examples similar to the Front Porch’s discussion of the white nationalist rally in Kentucky, in which they locate imaginary liberals like me and Black organizations long disbanded as bad actors while intentionally omitting a bit of disturbing ideology conveniently supplied for context.
To be transparent, I expressed my concerns to the show’s producer about their manipulated use of my remarks and I was offered a chance to appear on the show to “continue to conversation.” Strangely, I do not feel inclined to engage in conversation with individuals who insinuated that I was to blame for Trump’s victory on the basis of views I did not express and a political alignment I do not hold. For everyone else, I am quite easy to contact and am always happy to discuss these subjects, because they are important to me and, in my view, are important to the health of the region as well.