October 26, 2016

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy

You know how I love a good social commentary. I didn't have a minor in Sociology for nothing. This kind of book is perfect for me.

J.D. Vance grew up in Rust Belt Ohio. His grandparents moved there from Kentucky, square in the Appalachians. They were old hillbillies from way back. His Mamaw was usually armed and took no crap. His mother was an addict and went through husbands like Kleenex. He knew better than to get attached to one because he wouldn't stay long. There was lots of yelling and things breaking in his home. He only made it through high school by going to live with his Mamaw for a couple of years.

He chose to put off college and join the Marines. When he got out of the Marines, he went to Ohio State. He worked 2 or three jobs while he went to school so he could pay for it. He graduated Summa Cum Laude in less than 3 years. He figured out that because he was poor, it would cost less for him to go to Yale law school than to go to a less prestigious school. So off he went.

That's when he figured out that not everyone is like him. Not everyone grew up in chaos and violence. Not everyone spent every penny they had to get the most expensive toys for their kids for Christmas, and prayed the tax return would cover their largesse.

He learned all kinds of things about how the other half lives. Like, that one should wear a suit to an interview. And what all the silverware was for at a place setting. Those things that were second nature for the students around him who were raised learning it.

This is a fascinating discussion of the details of the class divide. Poor whites are more likely to be less positive in their expectations for their children and their children tend to not make as much money as their parents. Instead of feeling like hard work brings success, they feel that hard work may bring failure anyway, so why try?

I will probably have to read it again to grasp the true nature of the differences in the classes. I have spent time with those poor white hillbilly types, and I never really understood why they did the things they did. They wouldn't call the police when they had been victimized. They had no confidence that the police would help them. I was both fascinated and horrified by their logic.

8/10 bookmarks