Love and Shame

Lots of people have written to tell me that they are very disappointed in me for making my Facebook status “Silas House has never before been ashamed to be a Kentuckian” last night, when election results were coming in. I meant for my status to be intentionally inflammatory and hyperbolic, to properly express my disbelief that someone I find to be a laughable candidate could be elected. Perhaps it was a poor choice of words because now that I look deep into myself, I realize that I am not ashamed to be a Kentuckian.

But in that moment I was, and I cannot deny that. I am not ashamed to be a Kentuckian, but I am embarrassed (and yes, ashamed) that we put someone like Rand Paul into office. I am embarrassed that my state will be represented by Paul for the next SIX years.

I’m embarrassed because of things he has said like this: "I don't think anyone’s going to be missing a hill or two around here,” about mountaintop removal, an issue that is absolutely dividing the Appalachian people and leading to widespread suffering on many fronts. That is simplifying an issue that is near and dear to my heart, as people I know and love are suffering because of MTR (because of loss of jobs, pollution, fear, etc.).

I’m embarrassed because of his close-minded views on equality and education and taxation and so many other things.

I’m embarrassed that a man voted to represent my state is so ignorant of the state’s rich history that he said in a national magazine he had no idea why Harlan County is so famous (it’s because of the bloody coal wars of the 1920s, when Appalachians actually stood up for what they believed in and fought back against big company greed) and went onto say that he did, however, know why Hazard is well-known: because “it’s famous for, like, 'The Dukes of Hazzard'.” That TV show was set in Georgia, not Kentucky and Hazard, Kentucky is a place of dignity and beauty that shouldn’t be reduced by him to being known only because of a television show.

I’m embarrassed because he said this in relation to the Civil Rights Act: "I mean, if you don't trace your ancestry to northern Europe and you're really hungry, if you ask nicely, maybe they'll let you come in. I mean, these are things we can solve without laws and stuff." We actually elected someone who said that. Disgusting. Obviously we couldn’t solve those things without laws, which is why the laws were passed.

I could go on. But I don’t want to talk about all the reasons I’m embarrassed by Rand Paul.

I want to let you know that I believe a person can sometimes be ashamed or embarrassed of a place and also love it without missing a beat. In fact, sometimes I love the place for the same reasons I get frustrated at it. Love is complex. So is shame.

So perhaps I wrote a facebook status in a moment of emotion. And while I might have a second thought about it, I will not apologize for it. Because in that moment, I felt it, I believed it, and that is my right.

Some of you have written to say that as an artist I should keep my political beliefs to myself, to not mix politics and entertainment, to keep my beliefs mysterious so they don’t interfere with my writing. Some of you have written to tell me I should keep my “mouth shut” because it’s none of my business (it is), that I should "shut the hell up" (I won't), that I’ve gotten above my raising (I haven’t), and because I’m wrong (that’s your opinion).

Just because I write fiction doesn’t mean that I don’t have a right to my own opinion, to my own truth.

Lots of you have told me that I shouldn’t have said I was ashamed because I am a “representative of Kentucky.” I am humbled and honored that you think as much, but I also have to point out that a representative of a particular place would be doing that place a disservice by romanticizing it, or by only illuminating what is positive about it. Everywhere I go, I try to tell people that Kentucky is a COMPLEX place. Because people have one of two stereotypes about this place: they think it’s either “beautiful and simple” or “stupid and simple.” The thing you might notice there is that unequivocally ignorant people think that Kentucky is simple, that things move slowly here, that we are not as complex as other people. The thing I zoom in on is their perception of us being stupid and simple and slow. Because we are not a simple people. We’re complex, and that’s what I want people to know. Still, it would be wrong of me to go around saying that everything is perfect in Kentucky, because it’s not. But I believe that no matter where I go people can feel the love I have for this place and its people in the way I talk about it, the way I write about it.

I have been a published writer for almost ten years. In that time I’ve been accused of perpetuating stereotypes and breaking stereotypes. All I’ve ever tried to do is tell the truth about the one little postage-stamp-sized patch of Kentucky land that I know and love, the same piece of land that sometimes perplexes and frustrates me.

Kentucky is beautiful and wonderful because of its diversity and complexity, not in spite of it, and that’s why I wish we had a senator who was celebrating that. Which reminds me, someone last night pointed out that almost half of all Kentuckians—about 45%--voted against Paul. Which means that we are not as single-minded as people might think.

That’s something to be proud of.


Rebecca said…
As someone who regularly pisses off people on my blog and with my status updates, I feel your pain. Then again, I have learned that I seem to make people mad even when I'm being subtle and talking about issues that AREN'T important. So you're never going to make everyone happy. Someone is always going to find a reason to be upset with you. The best that you can do is to speak the truth as you see it and know it and be true to yourself.

As I said on FB, there's not way that you could have gotten ahead of your raising and STILL be able to make good cornbread. The two just don't go hand-in-hand. :-)

Love to you, dearest.
Jennifer said…
I'm not from Kentucky, but in a confluence of luck, it seems that much of the writing and music that I'm falling in love with lately comes from there.

Because of your efforts, I've begun to educate myself about mountaintop mining, and though I'm not sure yet how to add my own voice, it remains on my radar. Anyone who loves the land (any land) or a place (anywhere) can't help but be shaken and outraged and saddened and moved by what's happening to your land.

It's not my place to say what Kentucky does or doesn't need, but it for sure deserves better leadership than Rand Paul. I suppose it's too much to hope that he's just a stone in the river that the water flows around, bound (in spite of him) to end up someplace better.
Jan Philpot said…
Silas...I agree with all you said and I too am in shock that Rand Paul was elected...but moreover, I believe in your right to have an opinion and to stand up and speak it. The day an author has to protect his/her own work by sidestepping political issues is the day we no longer have a democracy. SPEAK UP, Silas...whether the majority agrees, the minority agrees, the birds sing choruses or the coyotes howl. -Jan Philpot
Maria said…
We do have free speech in this country, which applies to artists.

I don't know what's more frustrating, that people vote against their own best interests or that they don't bother to vote. I really think our national politics and public policy would be more moderate if we had compulsory voting.
jconwayhinton said…
How many times I stared at the ground as a young boy, knowing I had done wrong, as my father said "I am ashamed of you,"? Probably hundreds, but not one time did I feel his love was diminished. I felt the same way you did after the election, but it was my love, trust and pride of Kentucky and who we truly are that made the shame and anger bubble up in me.

If Rand and Mitch for that matter were the only ambassadors of our hunting grounds, then shame should spread like the flu. We have voices like you and W. Berry representing our beauty,intellect, and spirit as well, which ARE the voices I want the world to hear.
Leleng said…
I join you in the embarrassment of the elected senators from Kentucky. Rand Paul is an embarrassment for all the reasons you detail and more. Mitch McConnell is for his lack of leadership. I'm working on a letter to him to complain that as a leader, it is a very poor example to publicly state that you plan on stopping all action for the next two years. Furthermore, I'm going to request that whenever he does vote "No," that he also issue a detailed statement as to why the legislation did not deserve to be passed. These statements can not be restricted to "because the President in in favor of it." Perhaps the 45% of us that voted against Paul can group together (and recruit others to join) and unseat McConnell when he's up for re-election... and then move on to do the same for Paul in 2016.
Glenda said…
Who better to speak up about your state? You have a following and can best inform them of the problems and the treasures you see in your beloved state. I applaud you.
Amy said…
I've been putting off writing the same thing on my blog. I'm an expatriated Kentuckian living in North Carolina and while I'm not literally ashamed to be from Kentucky I'm ashamed as hell we elected Rand Paul. By the way, I heard Lee Smith speak the other day and she something extremely true. There is no way to grow up, get educated, and not get above your raisin' it is the quintessential paradox of being an Appalachian writer and thinker. I think that's true. You are above you're raisin' you have to be. That doesn't mean you're better than the state you love. There is a big difference.
Anonymous said…
Thank you, Mr. House for the eloquent essay about the election. That was somehow comforting to me as I tried to get a grip on the fact that Kentuckians actually elected R.P. A friend wrote on FB that if he were elected she would, "cryandcryandcry...". And, that sums it up.

Would it be possible to submit your 'Love and Shame' to the Courier Journal?

Thank you for being the representative you are for Kentucky.
Amy said…


I wrote a similar piece on my blog. I link to your piece. Thought you might enjoy a fellow Kentuckian's support.

Amy (Honest Convo)
Anonymous said…
It's hard being a staunch pro-lifer. I would have voted for Ralph Nader twice in the '00s, but instead placed my votes with G.W. Nader is pro-choice. I will not under any circumstance vote for a pro-choice candidate. I would just as soon not vote. And so, come time for the primaries, I cast my ballot with Rand Paul. Then I learned a little more about the man. He didn't get my vote during the general election. I will say this, though. There are a few of us who vote on issues other than coal, and when a person feels strongly convicted about an issue, they will choose the what they find to be the lesser of two evils. I am not ashamed of voting for a pro-life candidate during the primaries.
Grandma's Place said…
Well Silas, only discovered your site a few months ago- and what a great site it is. Glad you take the time to share your thoughts and opinions with us all. We need more of that, not less. I'm a native Californian, and believe me, what goes on there goes on here too- except almost everyone is from somewhere else, so there are no references to "gettin'ahead of your raising".
Brenda said…
I agree with you, Silas. I voted against Rand Paul and I am sickened that he was voted in.

Now, my goal is to put Mitch McConnell OUT of office. He couldn't care less about the people of Kentucky.
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