Roundup: The White Whale

The invisibility of white poverty • Taking FCC to task for rural call completion • Economic recovery means bypassing small towns, according to NBC pundit • Losing a potato-related tradition

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The Miami Herald’s Leonard Pitts Jr. visited Owsley County, Kentucky, and filed a piece on the invisibility of white poverty. Pitts found a county filled with a reporter-averse population, an understandable reaction after decades of being attacked and blamed for the region’s problems. But his reporting is both insightful and humane. He talks to folks who are struggling with drugs, poverty and the lack of jobs in the region but never slips into ridicule or condescension. Here's his take on some of the media stereotypes that swirl around poor, rural whites:

The thinking goes that the white South — and in particular, the poor white mountain South — is a land of primitives, a land of people who never quite evolved. “Our contemporary ancestors,” one author dubbed them. Another called them “yesterday’s people.”

Nor is the image of “yesterday’s people” solely yesterday’s concern. Consider the Hillbilly to English Translation Dictionary. Its cover depicts a woman with pigtails and a missing front tooth, clutching a scraggly bouquet. She is wearing a dingy white wedding dress. She is barefoot and pregnant. This was published in 2010.

There is no national advocacy group to defend the white poor against such libels as this, no analogue of the NAACP or the National Organization for Women to assert their dignity. You may malign them without a whisper of complaint.

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Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer pokes the Federal Communications Commission for what she says is its failure to make progress on rural call completion.

“Unfortunately, after sending the signal that fixing these problems would be a priority, the FCC neglected to take necessary administrative steps to move forward with plans to address this issue,” Fischer wrote in a column. The senator supported a bipartisan resolution asking the FCC to correct the problem with dropped and poor-quality calls to rural numbers.

It’s not good enough for a federal agency to pay lip service to a real and persistent problem, but then stop short of finding a solution. Too often federal officials are willing to talk about problems, but when it comes time for them to act, the government misses the mark — either by forcing unnecessarily burdensome regulations that fail to target real problems, or by simply not following through with the promises they’ve made.

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NBC’s Chuck Todd says the road to economic recovery is taking the interstate through major metropolitan centers and bypassing smaller, rural towns. That means trouble for Democrats in next month’s election, because President Obama’s message of recovery isn’t going to resonate with voters in states with larger-than-average rural population, Todd says.

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Farm consolidation and the increase in heavy machinery is a threatening a rite of autumn for teens and rural Maine. For years schools have shut for up to three weeks every fall so that students could help farmers haul in the potato crop before it freezes in the field. But the number of schools participating in the break are dwindling.

This year, only a handful of high schools have closed for the entire three-week harvest. And school boards are continually grappling with whether or not to continue the tradition as modern farming reduces the need for large numbers of laborers.

“All things change,” said Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board. “Will there be harvest recess 10 years from now in Aroostook County? I’d be surprised.”

 

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