Sen. Allen’s “real” Virginia.

Breaks Interstate Park
Breaks Interstate Park. By Jimmy Emerson. Used under the Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license.

Breaks, Virginia is not a town that many people have heard of. Even within Virginia it’s fair to say that it’s largely unknown. It’s home to Breaks Interstate Park, which promotes itself as “the Grand Canyon of the south.” It’s the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi, and straddles the Kentucky/Virginia border. It only costs a buck to enter the park, and they offer a campground, picnic shelters, a swimming pool and even broadband in their lodge.

Breaks' LocationIt’s tempting to say that you can’t go a whole lot farther west in Virginia, but that’s not true — Virginia stretches almost another hundred miles west, farther than West Virginia, Columbus, Detroit, and the entirety of Lake Erie, clear to Cumberland Gap, just north of Knoxville. It’s 300 miles from Northern Virginia, as the crow flies, and about the same distance to Richmond. Breaks is pretty far removed from the bulk of Virginia.

Sen. George Allen gave a speech in Breaks recently. A crowd of some dozens of people attended a picnic there while Allen manned the microphone. His remarks have been widely criticized, based on his singling out of the non-white member of the crowd in order to humiliate him. But there’s a part of his comments that day that I find particularly troubling.

We’re going to places all over Virginia, and he’s having it on film…. Welcome to America, and welcome to the real world of Virginia.

“The real world of Virginia”?

Allen is, of course, drawing a contrast to the other parts of Virginia that he’d visited, where S.R. Siddarth — the singled-out crowd member that Allen was addressing — had previously videotaped him. He believes that Breaks, VA is “the real world of Virginia.”

Now, I’ll agree that Breaks is probably a heck of a lot nicer than many parts of Virginia, at least to my taste. If I had to choose between spending the remainder of my days there in Dickenson County or in Loudoun County, I wouldn’t think twice. But real? To say that Breaks is more real necessarily means that other parts of the state are not real.

What criteria are he using to judge Breaks to be more real? Well, demographically, Dickenson County is unusual. It has a population of 16,243, a 1% decline from 2000. There was a 7% population decline from 1990-2000. This trend is the opposite of most of Virginia. It is 99% white, making it the single most white locality in all of Virginia. Less than 100 residents are black. One-fifth of one percent of the population (or 20 people) were foreign born, compared to 8.1% of Virginia residents on the whole. Just 1.5% of the population speaks a language other than English at home, which is significantly lower than the statewide rate of 11.1%. The high school graduation rate is 58.9%, quite a bit less than Virginia’s 81.5% rate. A mere 6.7% of Dickenson residents have a bachelor’s degree, far less than the 29.5% state average. The per capita income is just over half of the state’s. There are so few women- and minority-owned firms that the Census Bureau doesn’t bother to keep track.

It’s easy to see what makes Dickenson so much different than the rest of the state. It’s poorer, whiter, less educated, and has virtually no influences from other cultures. How remarkable that Sen. Allen would see this as rendering Breaks more “real.”

Using loosened criteria that approximately describe Dickenson’s more unusual characteristics, I identified every municipality in Virginia that’s at least 90% white, has a population that’s no more than 1% foreign-born, and has no more than 3% of the population that speaks a language other than English at home.

Virginia Map

Not a lot of Virginia qualifies. No cities made the cut. The resultant counties are: Alleghany, Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Craig, Dickenson, Giles, Highland, Lee, Pittsylvania, Pulaski, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise, and Wythe. Those comprise 20% of Virginia’s area, with a total of just over 8,300 square miles, and just over 6% of the state’s population, at 491,000 people.

Sen. Allen believes that 94% of Virginia’s population is un-real, or fake. I see on the map that I, a resident of Albemarle County, have failed to make the cut. I am false. (Perhaps that’s why he’s never responded to my letters.) As it turns out, nearly everybody I know is not real. I don’t know more than a dozen people who Sen. Allen believes are real.

Find yourself on the map. Are you real?

I’m going to have to take a trip to Breaks Interstate Park. It’s clearly a beautiful place, located in the most spectacular part of Virginia. And if I’m lucky, a little bit of it will rub off on me, making me a little bit more real.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

38 replies on “Sen. Allen’s “real” Virginia.”

  1. My sister lives in Clinchfield in Dickinson County. She’s writing her PhD on Appalachian music there. When she first moved there people said “Yew aint from round here.” When she said she was from Virginia they perked up but when she specified Charlottesville – they said that didn’t count. To McClure, Charlottesville might as well be Philadelphia. I wonder how much stock Allen has in the coal mining industry. Those counties you highlighted make their living almost 100% off of coal mining.

  2. I’ve certainly seen the same attitude with regards to the split between Northern Virginia and the rest of the state. I’m not a particular fan of upstate, and I’ve said more than once — only half kidding — that Northern Virginia just isn’t like the rest of Virginia, and is more of D.C. than it’s of Virginia. Likewise, I know many folks from upstate believe that the rest of the state doesn’t qualify as Virginia, to their understanding of it.

    Thing is, none of us are the U.S. Senator representing Virginia, and it’s really being said to rile up folks for giggles. That’s also a division that is commonly understood. Sen. Allen’s division — and the one that your sister has encountered — is totally alien to me.

  3. Uh. It’s the first time I’ve written about the topic. If you can find where any other bloggers have covered the topic of what constitutes “real” Virginia, I certainly welcome links. I’m yet to see discussion of it.

  4. Seriously, there will always be regional differences, both real and perceived. The difference is that while we can all find at least two commonalities (Virginian and American) that we should be putting to work for us, instead we are allowing it to move us farther apart. ‘Allowing’ in the sense of not working hard enough.

  5. The minute a Senator wins an election he becomes a representative of a state–not just of those who cast a vote for him or for those who gave large chunks of money to his political campaign.

    Part of the reason why this is going to continue to be a story is because, in Allen’s case, this “us” versus “them” approach isn’t just rhetoric. Allen’s record as a legislator stinks too.

  6. I’m surprised Grayson County didn’t make the cut. And many of the others in Southwest, and up the WV border. Are they part of the Hispanic immigration?

  7. Grayson has a 1.2% foreign born population, placing them just above the 1% threshold. Bath is 4.3% foreign born, and 4.6% of its residents speak a language other than English.

    I’m glad you asked, though. I went through the criteria for those border states and discovered that three of them should have been included: Craig, Alleghany, and Highland. (My initial criteria — set at just 2x the Dickenson threshold, rather than 3x — were too stringent, and I loosened them and had to revise. Looks like I forgot to redo that area.) Figuring somebody would find that I’d missed something, I saved the original Photoshop file. The population on these counties is very low, of course, so this doesn’t change the figures much — the area goes from 7.1k square miles to 8.3k, and the population from 467k to 491k. I’ve corrected the figures and the map in the blog entry.

    I’m glad you asked about that!

  8. I think Waldo’s brought an original take to this in the way he breaks George Allen down. Now I know which constituents Senator Allen responds to when they contact his office. I know I’m not real either in the world of Senator Allen.

    Also, Waldo mentioned near the top before he got into his main point that Senator Allen focused on S.R. Siddarth in order to humiliate him. Friends, that horse can never be beaten to death. A United States Senator who’s own trackers actually engaged in some pretty offensive behavior (which I witnessed from about 15 feet away) went out of his way to humiliate a young campaign aide. Mr. Siddarth went up to Senator Allen before the event and introduced himself. I’m not aware of one of Senator Allen’s trackers having done that. I think that Senator Allen’s mean spirited behavior is just as problematic as his various prejudices.

    One other thing I noticed about this. I’m sure others have commented, but I want to as well. Siddarth is an everyman minority. Senator Allen was not targeting him because his family is from India. I hope all minorities in our great state have taken note. We should all want a better human being representing us in the United States Senate.

  9. You know what I like about this post? It’s not mud-slinging. It’s not name-calling. It’s not shooting from the hip.

    Waldo has taken Senator Allen’s statement and done roll-up-your-sleeves analysis and research to help us understand exactly what the Senator is saying. He’s neither creating heroes nor bogeymen, but he’s not letting George Allen get away with anything, either. First class work.

  10. Waldo,
    Bravo! Well done!

    More well written, amusing and factual investigative reporting-
    The Post or the Times should be calling you soon.

  11. Excellent how you decided what kind of outcome you desired, and then proceeded to set up the rules to achieve it.

    Well done.

    The best part is how you claim that your definition of “real” must be Allen’s definition. That was a great example of the level of your intellectual (dis)honesty.

    Keep up the good work.

  12. Oh and Harry –

    well, nevermind. Your post clearly indicates that you’re too stupid to understand what I’d like to explain to you.

  13. Well I’m “real” here in Pulaski County and we don’t care for Allen either. Our “real” county has 10 out of 10 local elected offices held by Democrats (Comm Atty, Sheriff, Clerk, Treasurer, Commissioner of Revenue and 5 Board of Supervisors) If only all of Virginia could be so “real!”

  14. Excellent how you decided what kind of outcome you desired, and then proceeded to set up the rules to achieve it.

    Could you suggest better criteria? I’ve outlined them quite specifically here, in the interest of full disclosure, in hopes that others (like yourself) who are unhappy with them might be able to provide an alternate approach.

    Your post clearly indicates that you’re too stupid to understand what I’d like to explain to you.

    You’re being rude, Sam. Please stop.

  15. Sam,

    I no i kent rede reel gud, but mebbe if you splain it to me with littel werds i ken unnerstand.

  16. The Galax area has experienced an influx of immigrants (relatively speaking), so it’s not surprising about Grayson County. I’m a little surprised by Pittsylvania County.

  17. I think with a little digging you would learn that the non-natives in Bath County are almost exclusively workers at The Homestead Resort. They are here on guest worker or other temporary visas and must return home after a period of time.

    I am a native of the region you describe and I now live in the Golden Crescent. The non-white population of my county was well under 1% yet I have witnessed more racism in my new hometown than I did growing up in God’s Country.

  18. Sam,

    What do you think that Allen meant by ‘the real Virginia?’ If you believe that it differs from what Waldo has put forth, could you please clear it up for us with specifics? Because without question, George Allen is saying that there are some voters in Virginia who are ‘real Virginians’ and some who are not. I just want to know whether I am what the Virginia Republican party considers a ‘real Virginian.’ Please tell us who the VA GOP thinks should be specifically excluded from representation in the Senate.

  19. Interesting post, Waldo. What I’m curious about is how much political sway that 6% of Virginia has over the rest of the state. Is the state gerrymandered in such a way as to give that tiny minority an unusually large slice of the political pie? I have difficulty believing that Allen would give them preferential treatment otherwise, racist or not.

  20. Get ready for the Allen Swift-Boat onslaught to begin. Word on the street is that Allen’s new net-roots guy is lining up the conservative leaning blogs in VA to begin some major attacks on Webb. Of course, they want it to appear that the attacks are ‘independent’, although the Allen camp will be calling the shots and sending the ‘suggested content’ to the blog owners. Let the fun begin…

  21. Waldo I’m surprised at you.

    This attack on a portion of our state is uncalled for, and beneath you.

    In a weak attempt to attack George Allen you have managed to offend those of us who either live in SWVA or have strong ties to the area. This area compares very similar to Piney River, Wintergreen, and Nelleysford right there in your back yard.

    Stop for a moment and think again about what you have written.

  22. This attack on a portion of our state is uncalled for, and beneath you.

    Attack? How would you construe this as an attack? Waldo provided demographic details in an effort to see just what distinguishes Breaks from the rest of Viriginia. What makes it more “real”?

    When it came to offering opinion, Waldo seemed to be complimentary towards the area:

    I’ll agree that Breaks is probably a heck of a lot nicer than many parts of Virginia, at least to my taste. If I had to choose between spending the remainder of my days there in Dickenson County or in Loudoun County, I wouldn’t think twice. And,

    It’s clearly a beautiful place, located in the most spectacular part of Virginia.

    I’m trying to figure out what you’d interpret as an “attack”. Surely, there’s nothing wrong with most people from the area speaking English, for example, is there? No insult – it’s just the way it is. Pointing out measurable demographic distinctions can only be an attack in the eye of a beholder who feels self-conscious about those differences.

  23. I was born and raised in SWVA, you know the place….where the tax pennies trickle down after the tax dollars have been spent in the northern, eastern and to a lesser extent central VA regions.

    There is nothing offensive about your post on this topic other than the fact it rings a little too true for the Felix camp.

    After close to 8 years of one “All Hat No Cattle” George, lets not make the same mistake again….

  24. Let’s face it: for INE, Dotson, and the rest, this is game face season. They are seeing 2005 happen all over again: a race that should be a walk turning into a real fight, all on the backs of their own incompetance. And worse, this against a guy who isn’t even a seasoned or practiced politician who’s learning all this stuff as he goes along.

    Did your post attack SWVA? Not in the least. But INE is desperate.

  25. I’m a SWVA native, and I construing this post as a general attack on SWVA is a huge stretch as Tim says. Pointing out that the area is almost entirely white is a simple demographic truth and not an implication of racism. The population of SWVA is what it is because SWVA didn’t have the plantations and large cities and the corresponding slave populations of eastern Virginia. The area has few immigrants relative to the rest of Virginia because of the unfortunate economic stagnation of recent decades.

  26. Posting at 4:47am INE? Dear Lord man, adopt a hobby. Perhaps you already have and most of us do not appreciate the time it takes to hang a 4′ X 5′ true and level!

  27. Alton,

    Your inference of rampant racism out there offends me. (I don’t speak for “many of us” – just myself.)

  28. Waldo, your implications of rampant racism out here offends many of us.

    Alton, I just don’t know what to tell you. It’s not stated, it’s not implied, and the idea never crossed my mind. I understand that perhaps others have said such things about SWVA, and so you’re feeling sensitive about it, but you’re taking it out on the wrong guy.

  29. Waldo,
    If you state that there was no implications of racism intended, I accept that, and apologize for the accusation. I thought I knew you better than this post indicated you to be, and am glad to know that I had judged you correctly initially.

    You have to look at things from a “white, Republican from SWVA” point of view. Your party consistantly proclaims us to be be blatant racists, and quite frankly, it’s getting old. The subject of race has nothing to do with the phrase “the real Virginia” and I suspect you know that. I also suspect that you know that Allen was referring to rural Virginia in general, rather than Breaks, on the Dickenson/Buchanan border, in particular. But that would not have led to such a post, now would it?

    I have no idea why there are so few “non-whites” in SWVA. It’s a subject my stepson and I discussed frequently, since he lived the first 10 years of his life in Florida. I do know that only 20 miles or so away from where we lived, Keystone,WV was 98% black. Why do you suppose that is? But other than idle speculation and back porch discussions it made no more difference to Jake and I than it did to those residents of Keystone.

  30. Sorry INE, left out the words ‘picture frame’. While I have you, if George were exactly as he is now…only a Democrat…would you cross the party line to support him? If not, why?

  31. I alo thought he was contrasting “Real, Rural” Virginia with “Inside-the-Beltway, Fake” Virginia.

    Which takes away the racial dimension. (Although “macaca,” of course, puts that dimension right back in).

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