An article titled ‘The White Ghetto’ by Kevin Williamson describes the current state of the Appalachian region. The text makes reference to the states of southern New York, Kentucky, and Mississippi as well as others, and focuses on overarching themes that affect the lives of people within these regions. The most prevalent elements include poverty, economic stagnation, classicism, social issues such as drug use, and the bleak future prospects of the region. The author illustrates the ways in which the current economic and social state had been achieved, and it was not through an explosive or sudden crisis but through tedious and ongoing shifts within employment markets.
Many areas within the aforementioned states are plagued with reliance on welfare, frequent drug use and illegal production, excessive alcohol consumption, the closing of businesses, and lack of substantial employment. The area has also depicted that individuals with employable skills or education either possess limited but privileged positions within the local economy or leave the towns completely. Local industries such as farming, mining, or timbering require a substantial effort but do not provide adequate salaries or other incentives in order for the local economy to compete with larger contenders. This causes many individuals and groups that remain within the region to turn to unemployment welfare or alternative and sometimes illegal means of financial gain. This is an issue that persists to the current day despite the implementation of both modern programs and the war on poverty past (Hall Blanco, 2021). Considering all this, Williamson’s thesis states that the poverty and poor social well-being of the Appalachian regions largely stem from the disappearance of local business and job opportunities as a result of industries gathering resources from other sources for lower prices.
Concepts that are important to this piece include poverty, drug and alcohol dependence, welfare, and the lack of opportunity for economic growth. Poverty is both the fuel and the result of the previously mentioned concepts, however, it is characterized by unique features due to its presence within locations that are less urban and populated. For instance, violent crime is exceptionally low as are most other types of offenses with the exception of welfare fraud and drug use and production. Poverty remains ingrained in the lack of working opportunities and adequate pay for the intensity of labor. Despite this, those with economically stable families, employable skills, and education find comfort within the regions often within governmental positions such as education or local administration. As such, poverty also poses the issue of classism with those that do not possess social connections or specialized skills often lacking any chance to find employment.
Both due to life dissatisfaction and lack of financial means, the widespread use of alcohol, drugs, and welfare fraud is prevalent and an ongoing issue. The author illustrates this by providing examples, often with visual metaphors and shocking imagery. Williamson uses the example of parents removing their children from literacy classes in order to remain on welfare, which displays the extreme economic desperation within the region. Similarly, the author points to an interview with a local that describes the production of drugs by describing rumors on “who’s growing weed, who’s not growing weed anymore, who’s cooking meth, whose meth lab got broken into, whose meth lab blew up” (Williamson, 2013). The repetitive narrative of the statement helps the reader visualize the mundaneness of what can be seen as dangerous and illegal behavior which has become normalized within a region deprived of other opportunities.
Though it may be difficult to narrow down the purpose of this text, it focuses on informing the reader while being persuasive in the severity of the issue. The text is structured in a way in which the issues of the Appalachian regions are introduced through segments with historical context, conversations with current locals, and the economic roots of the problems. The author uses recurring imagery such as ‘Wonder Bread’ and or Lyndon Johnson on the front porch of Tom Fletcher, a photographed scene made famous through Time magazine and the catalyst of the War on Poverty campaign. Wonder Bread is used within the opening and closing statements of the work, both times to communicate the hollowness, plainness, and commercialization of the region. The Lyndon Johnson photograph, heavily associated with the region and the potential prospect of a brighter future, are just a mirage and not a reflection of reality. The author uses evocative and clear language in order to persuade the reader with terminology such as ‘apocalyptic Christianity’ and ‘trainload of social problems.
With these distinct symbols and imagery of the lives in the Appalachian regions, Williamson is successful in informing the reader in the details of the problematic situation. Both the economic and social stagnation leave the audience with a sense of finality and the severity of the situation. This is emphasized in the closing paragraph of the text in which the author leaves the smaller towns and reaches more urban parts of the region, leaving most concerned questions unanswered. In a sense, the author’s inability to justify one or other solution is largely reflective of the current approach authorities have regarding the issue. Currently, they have yet to implement an effective strategy and the poverty-ridden regions of the white ghetto remain stagnant.
Hall Blanco, A. R. (2021). Nearly 60 years after the war on poverty, why is Appalachia still struggling? Bellarmine. Web.
Williamson, K. D. (2013). The white ghetto. National Review. Web.