If West Virginia is the Mountain State, the people who live there are Mountain People, right? You can call them Mountaineers, but they’re not all straw-hat-wearing, banjo-picking, overall-wearing yokels. The state has a proud history of immigration, diversity, fighting for what they believe in, arts, culture, and the outdoors, and the idea that all West Virginians are backward and live in a holler is like any stereotype—wrong and backward itself.
Jokes abound about West Virginians getting married even if they are cousins; we don’t need to tell any of them here. But in reality, marrying your first cousin is illegal in West Virginia, while it’s legal in states like California, New York, and Massachusetts, to name a few.
The early-2000s show on MTV was billed as The Jersey Shore meets Jackass. The reality TV show would depict the wild n’ wonderful ways of West Virginians. West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin III hated the idea of the show, saying that it only portrayed negative stereotypes. Yes, West Virginians like to have fun, are close to their friends and family, and get creative to have fun, but building a pool out of a truck bed isn’t something everyone does every day. The show ended after the accidental death of star Shain Gandee.
While many people use the word redneck as a derogatory term for uneducated people from the Southern states, West Virginians take special pride in the name. During the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, workers rose up against oppressive coal-mine operators in a desire to unionize and get better working conditions. They wore red bandanas around their necks—a look some West Virginia teachers sported in their recent strike.
Western Virginia and West Virginia are two different places, two different states. During the Civil War, the then-western counties of Virginia split off from the state, not agreeing with their politics and desire to join the Confederacy. It was a hard-won fight, and West Virginians are proud of their independence and have a whole day to celebrate it. In short, don’t confuse the two.
An offshoot of the uncultured, backwoods people stereotype is the idea that there’s no arts and culture scene in the state, which couldn’t be further from the truth. While yes, West Virginians are proud of their local music heritage (which includes banjos), there are also thriving music scenes in Charleston and Morgantown that don’t involve banjos; many cities have First Friday art walks and gallery open houses. Also, writers and artists find great inspiration in the state.
Banjos! Hillbillies! People in Canoes! The 1972 film Deliverance was full of gross stereotypes, and when people think about West Virginia, they tend to think of those stereotypes, and thus, think of the movie (or even hum the theme song). But this movie took place in Georgia, so be careful not to confuse your states.
West Virginia’s unique geography leaves many people confused about where the state actually falls in our psycho-geography. First, it is the only state entirely within Appalachia, so yes, you can call it Appalachian. However, it’s not really the South since the northern panhandle sticks up between Ohio and Pennsylvania and is north of the Mason-Dixon line, and they left Virginia to not be a part of the Confederacy. But it’s not really part of the Midwest either and doesn’t fall into ideas about Midwest culture. West Virginia is just too special to be put into any of those categories.