Well, yee haw and hot dang.

Hillbilly Days began Thursday in Pikeville, Kentucky, and continues through Saturday.

"Hillbilly" is a term (usually derogatory) for people who live in rural, mountainous areas in the United States, primarily Appalachia.

And the fact we are identified as hillbillies is a primary reason this region is kept down.

It might be claimed that Appalachian folk are the last people who can be made fun of in public.

According to the Hillbilly Days website, it was founded in 1977 by a group of Shriners as a way to raise money for the Shriners Hospital.

"Two shriners from the Hillbilly Clan Outhouse No. 2, Howard "Dirty Ear" Stratton and "Shady" Grady Kinney, decided to start the festival in 1976 after visiting a festival in Portsmouth, Ohio. They got a group of shriners together and they began the festival in 1977," the website says.

I thought long and hard before writing this column. After all, the Shriners do wondrous things through their children's hospitals that dot the American landscape and even in Mexico.

But the question remains: Do all their good works allow them to get by with negatively stereotyping an entire region - a stereotype that has dragged us down for more than 100 years?

First and foremost the name - hillbilly. For the most part it is derogatory and always has been. This is the first time I can remember using the word in a column. In fact, I recently refused to read the best-selling book "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir" because of the name.

Look at it this way: Suppose a good-works group decided to choose one of the numerous derogatory names pinned on African-Americans, add "Days" to it and sponsor a festival that included watermelon eating, tap dancing and blackface singing and comedy.

A protest would go up from millions of black folks, and rightfully so. In fact, it borders on hate speech.

What about Hillbilly Days? The folks of Appalachia, and specifically Pikeville, embrace it.

What about the festival itself? WSAZ meteorologist Tony Cavalier, a native of Philadelphia, loves it, especially the "hillbilly parade" of old jalopies, people dressed in stupid stereotyped clothes and acting the way most people expect "hillbillies" to act.

In fact, he visits the festival yearly and gives us a glimpse of the festival's parade. Look for him to visit the festival again this year.

Cavalier has been promoting Hillbilly Days for two months on his weather segments and says it isn't spring in his mind until the weekend of Hillbilly Days.

Happy spring, Tony.

Not everything in the festival is raw and wrong. The food and carnival are both fine. So is the country music. But the parade? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

And what about the new "pig drop"? A pigpen is laid out with squares, and the squares are sold for $25 each. A pig is loosed in the pen and the square on which it defecates is declared the "winner" and, the website says, the owner of the square has to clean it up.

Yee haw.

I don't expect the festival to change after 40-plus years. All I ask is for the Shriners to think about what they are doing to this star-crossed region.

Dave Peyton is on Facebook. His email address is davepeyton@comcast.net.

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