In modern-day America, there are few things that are as socially unacceptable and career-ending as making fun of someone based on their race or place of origin… that is unless of course your target happens to be from West Virginia, in which case, the very ones who seem most offended by similar jokes directed at other peoples are often the ringleaders in asking if someone has all their teeth or has sexual relations with their sister. Funny thing, that hypocrisy stuff.
I know this to be a fact because I am from West Virginia and I experience this reality on a near-daily basis.
“Okay, I just need you to write your place of birth right here,” said the woman hiring me for a job. Five seconds later: “Ha, you’re from West Virginia… you got all your teeth?”
Stopping for gas in a destitute southern city: Guy climbs out of a car that is literally bungee corded together and says to me, “I’m surprised they let you backwards hicks out…” as he points to the West Virginia license plate on my vehicle worth ten-times the amount of his (I say this not being prideful, but simply to point out the absurdity of the situation).
Or my personal favorite: a Georgia shopkeeper asked to see my drivers license and then proceeded to rehearse the same old worn out West Virginia jokes I’ve heard my entire life — and so has every other West Virginian — “What do you call a full set of teeth… why are one of your legs longer than the other… why do birds fly upside down over West Virginia…” and of course a few cousin comments. After his limited intellect finally reached the point where he was able to realize I was growing irritated, he attempted to rebound by saying something to the effect of, “Oh buddy, I’m just kidding with you. I’ve got family who live in Richmond, so I love West Virginia.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m one of the most fun-loving individuals you will ever meet and I’m always up for a good laugh; however, I just don’t think that making jokes about someone raping their sister is all that funny, or for that matter reflects well upon the intelligence level of the individual making said “joke.”
With all of this said, the next time you may be inclined to tell a West Virginia joke to some new fella you just met, here are a few questions you may want to ask yourself first:
- Is there a chance they’ve already heard this worn out joke a thousand times already?
Keep in mind that though this may be the first West Virginian you’ve seen in a while (since you probably don’t get out much) the West Virginian you have encountered obviously does get out, seeing that they’ve traveled to wherever you are, and whatever joke it is that you are about to tell, chances are they’ve heard it a dozen times before you and you’re probably not nearly as talented at telling it as the last person!
With this said, never forget, first impressions last a lifetime and you’re about to absolutely ruin your first impression.
2. Am I being a hypocrite?
If you’d never in a million years be willing to crack a Mexican joke or a Chinese joke or an African joke to someone you just met from one of those places, mocking their accent or how poor their homeplace is, why in the world is it suddenly okay for you to do so to someone who happens to hail from West Virginia?
3. Am I even familiar with West Virginia?
Born in the midst of the American Civil War, partly out of a desire to oppose the commonly accepted notion that it was perfectly alright for one human to own another, the State of West Virginia boasts a proud history that embodies so much of what is great about America.
Is it your policy to make fun of people who happen to be from the state that had more deaths per capita than any other state in the Union during the Vietnam War?
Is it your policy to make fun of people who happen to be from the same place as legendary folks such as Don Knotts, Homer Hickam, Chuck Yeager, Brad Paisley, Jessica Lynch, Jerry West, T.D. Jakes, John F. Nash, and John Henry?
Is it your policy to make fun of people who happen to be from the state that literally offered up the timber and energy that built much of the nation during the late 1800s and early 1900s?
Each time our nation’s citizens have been summoned to give testimony of their national loyalty, West Virginia parents have offered their children as a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom for a country of which half the population seems to have trouble even remembering the state exists and the other half begins a litany of worn out jokes at the very mention of this place.
The people of West Virginia have watched as Washington politicians destroyed everything they had worked to create for over a century and a half, yet still have the decency and love for country to line their bumpy streets with coal dust saturated American flags and teach their children to sing ‘God Bless America.’
I hope, for your sake, you heed my unsolicited advice the next time you meet someone from West Virginia and rather than telling some offensive joke about a full set of teeth, instead compliment them for being from such a wild and wonderful place. If you do this, you will leave them stunned (because they’re already bracing themselves for the typical blah blah blah).
After they get over being stunned that you actually had something nice to say about their home state, you will have found a loyal friend for life – and that my friend, is priceless.
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This article was featured in the 2017 print edition of Appalachian Magazine. Click here to purchase the print publication!