Identity Politics for A Memoir on A Broken Culture

There are few times that peoples can so cleanly be compared. Every culture is unique and each has its own nuances. However, in the case of the working-class poor white and the working-class poor black communities in America, those similarities are close enough to consider them apples of a different cultivar.

The Hillbilly Elegyis a memoir written by J. D Vance, a young up and coming lawyer and CNN correspondent in 2016. You know what happened in 2016? That’s right, say it with me: America’s political sphere turned upside down and the world needed explanations. Enter this book. His memoir skyrocketed on Amazon’s Most read book in 2016 and 2017.

However, I don’t think it was Vance’s expectation to explain his people’s antics, (imagine someone expecting one voice to speak for all black people? ugh.) but that what his book unintentionally did. From the Washington Post to The New York Times to CNN, all that was spoken about was how his people’s disease forced them to vote for Donald Trump. It didn’t help that Vance is a conservative white male, nevermind being married to a southeastern Asian, and relishing in the diversity that exists in the US Marine Corps in his youth.

His work became a treatise on middle American identity politics instead of a expose on the lack of socioeconomic mobility due to poverty, culturally imposed expectations, and childhood trauma. I don’t like the condescending tone of many articles on his work: his description of hillbillies has been described as “a civilized reference guide for an uncivilized election” (New York Times.)

“How much should he hold his hillbilly kin responsible for their own misfortunes?” (New Yorker.) A lot. *Just as a black youth that made it out of the projects or into America on the backs of their parents can.* (Sarcastic.) And this is where I find the biggest similarity between JD Vance and any prolific black writer. As a mouthpiece for the liberal left, he speaks harsher truths that they wish to say freely without the sympathy or compassion that he has for his own community. Just as I’ve seen black conservatives (not all, but too many) be dashed out into the public light only to say “Yeah, as a black person I approve of this message”, Vance rarely gets the opportunity to talk about how to save his people, just that his people are the makers of their own misfortune.

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