Odd, WV

The Whittaker family, the most inbred family in America, shares some of their life online through Soft White Underbelly

Sara B

Photo byMark Laita

Mark Laita, the host of the Soft White Underbelly youtube channel, is one of the first to highlight the Whittaker family. Mark first came to know the Whittaker family in 2004 while working on his book ¨Created Equal¨.

A book that depicts America's diverse culture shedding light on notions of identity, class, and lifestyle in portraits, has stirred up much controversy.

However, the Whittakers have become a standout, and the comment section is filled with support and positivity, as well as people wanting to know more and to help them.

So how did Mark find them, and what has been the draw to this family living in Odd, West Virginia?

According to an interview Mark gave, he was driving around the ¨lower 48¨ with his assistant, looking for interesting people to photograph for the book, and they stopped at a truck stop; he saw a cop and asked if they got to talking and the cop said he knew a bunch of people and proceeded to take Mark around to photograph, unfortunately, they got rained out.

Mark's team went back to LA and told the cop he would be back in two weeks; the cop told him to bring his video camera because he would want to record the next family. However, Mark stated he was only a photographer, which was before smartphones; he went back with only a camera when the cop introduced him to the Whittakers.

When they first met the family, they were mourning one of the family members, but they permitted him to take a polaroid of the family, which he included in his book. After that, Mark states that he did visit them while in the area but off camera.

And then, in 2020, he decided to record one of his visits. After that, curiosity and fascination grew with this family, and they became known as the most famous inbred family in the United States.

According to the SWU youtube channel and the documentary, the parents were cousins; to be more specific, they were double first cousins. Their fathers on the mother and father's side were identical twins and had 15 children. The family also lives in poverty, so it is possible that malnutrition could play a part in some of the disabilities the children develop.

However, it is unclear whether or not the parents suffered from any disabilities, as many of them do not speak, and interviewing them has challenged Mark. It is why Mark never sat down and adequately interviewed them; he visited their house and asked them simple questions.

Of course, not all of them have been on camera, but the ones that have participated have stirred up a lot of questions and emotions from the viewers.

Photo byMark Laita

Betty, the caregiver of the group, promised her mother that she would take care of her siblings, and since she was 12 years old, Betty has been caring for them along with her brother Larry. Larry chose not to be on camera until the more recent episodes, but Larry and Betty keep things together for the family.

Kenneth, another brother in a more recent episode, has just moved next door to the family; he has a job and can help provide. He states that he is the only one who keeps his house clean, as the other place is messy and dirty.

The star of the show is Ray and the most interactive on camera. He cannot speak and makes a noise that is almost a bark to communicate. According to Betty, she can understand him, but it is a non-verbal form of communication.

However, he does understand what is told to him; the only issue is his speech. While Mark is talking to him, Ray responds appropriately by pointing his finger or walking to where Mark is speaking; it makes you wonder if he is aware that no one can understand him and has developed his communication.

In the past, he was much more aggressive, but now he is in his 60s, and it is apparent that he has calmed down and is always smiling or wanting to participate with the crew.

Lorainne is another nonverbal sister; occasionally, she will attempt to communicate, but she mostly sits and stares. When the crew was cooking breakfast in one episode, Lorraine tried to speak but was incoherent, and Mark stated it was the most she had ever said or attempted to say.

Lorraine does have a son, Timmy, who is also interactive with the crew and the youngest of the group at 42 or 43; he is the result of an assault on Lorraine. He is often seen writing in his notebook or coloring; when they took a trip to Walmart, he bought a bunch of coloring books, and it is said he graduated high school.

Timmy can speak, but his speech is not clear, and it is difficult to understand beyond the ¨Hi¨ or ¨Bye¨. When he is asked a question, though, he does respond appropriately, so he possibly, like Ray an expressive speech issue.

There have been comments about the family being exploited on SWU, and yes, this may be true, but Mark has also raised over 40K for the family and goes back to show how they use the money. They have put new siding on their house, put new flooring down, and bought some new furniture, as well as they appear much healthier than in previous episodes and are always smiling and happy to see Mark when he shows up.

For a few episodes, Ray complained of knee pain, and in the most recent, it appears that he was at a doctor's as he is no longer complaining. Like any other family across the world, the family does what they need to do to survive; they take care of each other, and lucky for them, Mark stumbled across them one day and developed a relationship.

As a result, they can now live a little bit better, where they do not have to worry about where their next meal will come from, as poverty in Appalachia is some of the worst in the world.

*Inspiration for this article came from Mark´s Youtube channel, Soft White Underbelly, and I have included links to all episodes, as well as here is the link to Mark´s interview. *

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I share legends, myths, and bizarre history, sometimes news. Living nomadically since 2018, currently in Colombia.

Pasadena, CA

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