Pike County, OH: As Black As We Wish To Be
October 7, 2013 11:19 AM   Subscribe

In this episode, Al Letson and guest producer Lu Olkowski visit a tiny town in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio where, for a century, residents have shared the common bond of identifying as African-American despite the fact that they look white. The middle segment of the episode, in which a daughter has split from her mother and sister and chosen to identify as white, has been re-edited and aired as a Radiolab short: Ally's Choice
posted by Going To Maine (14 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is there a link to a transcript that I am not seeing?
posted by sio42 at 11:47 AM on October 7, 2013


I browsed for a transcript but didn't see one. If anyone can turn one up, it would be an excellent addition to the post.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:53 AM on October 7, 2013


I loved this short, also. Should be required listening for everyone interested in how race and racism works these days.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:01 PM on October 7, 2013


I was sort of surprised, though I shouldn't have been, to end up peering at a bunch of these pictures and being like--yeah, they're pretty fair-skinned, but is that literally the only criteria for "looking black" now? From the lede, I was somehow expecting a bunch of ethnic Swedes or something.

I only listened to the Radiolab bit so far--Ally's got another think coming if she thinks that feeling in your gut gets better when you move off to where nobody knows. It always comes back sooner or later. My family passed--right up until I decided I couldn't anymore, and I had a very awkward and angry transition period, but I think the end result is a lot better than the alternative. But then, I spent the whole time wondering if anybody had ever told her that she was allowed to be black and white, both, that you can own all those pieces of your heritage at the same time. Life is pretty rough until you figure that part out.
posted by Sequence at 2:26 PM on October 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


This was interesting to listen to. I'm of mixed race and my experience is both one with a lot in common and a lot completely not in common.

I certainly spent a lot of my younger years trying to come up with an identity that worked for me.
posted by kalessin at 2:30 PM on October 7, 2013


But then, I spent the whole time wondering if anybody had ever told her that she was allowed to be black and white, both, that you can own all those pieces of your heritage at the same time. Life is pretty rough until you figure that part out.

The third segment talks to a guy from that community who is struggling with just that conclusion and who doesn't find it fulfilling. Speaking from my own experience as someone caught in between two worlds in an entirely different context, it can be hard to accept because while there are times where you feel accepted by both sides and proud of both heritages, there are also times where you feel like a fraud to both sides and accepted by no one. I don't necessarily think there's a single solution that's going to work for everyone.
posted by Copronymus at 3:43 PM on October 7, 2013


But then, I spent the whole time wondering if anybody had ever told her that she was allowed to be black and white, both, that you can own all those pieces of your heritage at the same time. Life is pretty rough until you figure that part out.

I think the issue is that other people don't get that message and don't let you own all pieces of your background.
posted by hoyland at 4:13 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


TIL that the Appalachians extend to Ohio.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:04 PM on October 7, 2013


Map of Appalachia, as defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission.
posted by dhartung at 12:57 AM on October 8, 2013


Wait--that map stops in New York? I realize that the official Appalachian region and the Appalachian Trail aren't the same thing, but still. (Although this map from Wikipedia makes the distinction between the "basin" and the northern Appalachians, so maybe that's the deal.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:00 AM on October 8, 2013


I realize that the official Appalachian region and the Appalachian Trail aren't the same thing, but still.

I think the distinction the article and many definitions of "Appalachia" make are cultural rather than the geological sense of an extended chain of related East Coast mountain ranges (reflected in the USGS map Halloween Jack linked, as well as the name of the Appalachian Trail.)
posted by aught at 11:38 AM on October 8, 2013


I didn't know that northeastern Mississippi was Appalachia
posted by knoyers at 1:14 PM on October 8, 2013


The Blue Ridge Mountains come all the way up to Southern Pennsylvania, and I assume a lot of what is considered a region these days was back from when maps and boundaries were not all that precise.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 3:49 PM on October 8, 2013


I didn't know that northeastern Mississippi was Appalachia

In fact, the name comes from the Native American tribe the Apalachee, who were found by the Spanish living near modern-day Tallahassee, Florida. Their territory extended northward, and the name was eventually applied to the mountains at the far end of it.

There is no authoritative definition for the region. The map I posted is the multi-state agency to which counties can choose to belong. But it shouldn't be surprising that it extends into Ohio, as the Ohio River has its source in the Appalachian Range -- technically, Pittsburgh, where the Allegheny and Monogahela merge -- and so the eastern part of the state is going to e within the mountains to some degree. Both sides of the river at any given point are at the same altitude, of course.

Here's a map showing four different definitions used by the US government at different times.
posted by dhartung at 4:37 AM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


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