West Virginia Law Review

Document Type



This Essay explores the two-sided challenge of geographic discrimination, where U.S. citizens receive disparate treatment from other citizens or the government solely because of where they live or self-identify as home, through the interdisciplinary concepts of space, place, and distance; and an original examination of discrimination against Appalachians. Such disparate treatment is unavoidable and even arguably politically correct. Where we call home matters in a number of legitimate ways to include our access to jobs and services, culture, educational opportunities, and other basic human capabilities. Although technology has increased individual mobility more than ever before, a majority of Americans nevertheless live in the same state where they were born. But even the most invidious geographic discrimination-locational prejudice-remains largely legal under U.S. law. As exemplified by sports rivalries and Appalachian stereotypes, Americans continue to make the stereotyping sampling error, sweeping categorical assumptions about people from a particular place that they probably would not make about race or gender. The "hillbilly" epithet long hurled at Appalachians is one of the oldest examples of locational prejudice in U.S history. Although Appalachians are often stereotyped as a marginalized poor White minority, in reality, if all the counties defined by federal statute as Appalachia became one state, that state would be the third largest state in the nation with about 17% nonwhite citizens. Appalachians, like other regional identities, possess considerable definitional problems. Most locational prejudice against Appalachians has probably occurred in places outside Appalachia. Generations of Appalachians have been forced to move to find jobs in the so-called Great Migration of the late 19th and 20th centuries. These self-declared urban Appalachians still consider Appalachia their home. Despite the U.S. District Court encompassing Cincinnati, Ohio, rejecting treating Appalachians as a protected class under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the City of Cincinnati passed a Human Rights Ordinance in 1992 that remains the only known U.S. law to proscribe Appalachian discrimination. What distinguishes Appalachian discrimination from other U.S. geographic discrimination, however, is the remarkable official recognition that Appalachia has historically suffered locational prejudice by the federal government and by the nine states within Appalachia. Such invidious locational prejudice-as distinguished from the unavoidable consequences of personal choice and regional planning-requires a remedy. How should U.S. law treat citizens who embody multiple, intersecting protected classes like race, gender, and sexual orientation? Geography has long provided a practical and principled panacea to the longstanding intersectionality or multidimensionality) problem. Focusing on home and practical geography may not only allow policy makers to reconcile competing individual identities and protected classes but also help eliminate pretextual discrimination while encouraging concrete compromise. U.S. law already distinguishes its equal protection jurisprudence geographically with its hierarchy of national, state, county, and municipal law. Basic human capabilities like having a place to live, a job to provide for your family, and a school to teach your children to contribute to U.S. society all require geographic place and space. Ultimately, freedom from discrimination means freedom to come home to where you are equally valued and possess equal opportunity.



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