Growing up in the rural West, I can’t tell you how many times I heard jokes about Californians, “city folks,” and “back East,” as though people who lived in Cali or east of the Mississippi River were basically clueless idiots.
Then I moved east. Not all the way to the coast, but far enough to learn that people “across the river” were pretty much just like people on the other side.
I also learned that for every joke about city slickers, there is an equal and
opposite joke about country bumpkins.
Urban people use terms like “folksy,” “innocent,” and “quaint” to describe people in the country, which, let’s be honest, are just a hop, skip, and a jump away from “ignorant hillbilly.”
This language is at best condescending, and at worst, entirely dismissive of people different from ourselves.
Suddenly, we find ourselves trapped in a shame cycle, launching insults back and forth instead of moving towards a solution to the ever-growing multi-faceted crisis our nation and the world is facing.
Of course, we can’t even agree on the most pressing issue.
Is it the environment? Is it abortion? Gun control? LGTBQ rights? Government corruption? Immigration?
I would argue that, although important, none of these are the most pivotal issue facing our country and the world right now.
Our biggest struggle – the issue we must resolve before we can get to the business of solving everything else – is our inability to accept the humanity of people different from ourselves.
If we can’t climb outside of our comfort zone long enough to approach our differences with kindness and respect, we aren’t going to solve everything else.
Why would anyone have a constructive conversation with someone who just called them an idiot? That’s the point I’d set some healthy boundaries and walk away.
People in rural America want urban folks to take them seriously, but they slap bumper stickers on their cars that say, “Take your big city attitude back to the s*#@hole you came from.”
Really? Is that how you want your kids to grow up, talking like that? Afraid to venture out into the world because everywhere except what is familiar is a s*#@hole?
Honestly, if you want to be heard, if you don’t want outside environmental groups taking over your farm and ranch land, if you want legislation passed that protects the interests of agriculture, you need to behave with more dignity.
Every time I hear someone use the term libtard, I just shake my head. If you’re a 2nd grade playground bully, this is hilarious. It mixes the word liberal with the word retard. Get it?
It’s hard to read that word, right?
Many of these people wouldn’t make fun of someone with developmental disabilities. Maybe they even have a child of their own with special needs. Yet they find it perfectly acceptable to use this word to address those they disagree with.
People say things like this, then expect to be taken seriously on their views of the economy and morality. Even if you laugh at these types of “jokes,” you are chipping away at your credibility.
Before the city folks start feeling too self-righteous…
…let me remind you that you’re no better. Y’all are just lobbing toxic, juvenile misnomers back and forth like you’re at Wimbledon.
If urbanites want farmers and ranchers to sit down at the table and discuss real change, if you want conservative Christians to hear you out, you’ve got to stop acting like you have all the answers.
Because – news flash – you don’t.
Simply being born in New York City or New Jersey or Chicago or San Francisco or Denver or or Atlanta or Seattle doesn’t automatically make you intellectually superior.
You may have a lovely rooftop organic herb and heirloom tomato garden, but if you want to feed the world you’re going to have to make friends with some country folks.
Nobody has all the answers.
We’re all here trying to figure life out. We can do it together, or we can destroy ourselves.
Media plays a big part in reinforcing these stereotypes.
I could write an entire book about the effects of conservative talk radio and Fox News on the political landscape of rural America.
Again, you urbanites, check that self-righteousness at the door. You’re the ones getting most of your news from late-night comedy shows and pop culture.
When rural people are depicted as dirty, toothless protesters in a Taylor Swift music video, it reinforces stereotypes that are counter to her apparent goal of inclusion.
After the Parkland shooting, when millions of students walked out of school in support of gun control all over the nation, Comedy Central went to Montana’s capital city of Helena to cover the counter-protest.
Those interviewed included a guy who wanted a tank, and a lady who thought the solution to gun violence in schools was to implement cage fighting.
It made for a funny story, but it was far from the whole story. What Comedy
Central didn’t show was the hundreds of students at nearby Capital High,
standing in shirtsleeves in the snow, who walked out of school in solidarity
with the Parkland students.
While the nation laughed at Montana, Montanans were having real discussions for practical compromise. These same students helped draft legislation that was later introduced on the floor of the Montana House.
The bill sought to criminalize leaving a gun accessible to a child. After impassioned but civilized debate, the bill passed the House, but failed in the Senate.
Montana is a predominantly white, gun-loving state. There’s no debating that. But Montanans are a lot better at listening to each other than many of their urban counterparts.
So it is for so many rural counties and states across our great nation.
Country folks often disagree with the political signs their neighbors put in their yards. They disagree about matters of church and state. But most (I said most) are able to get along, share a joke, a drink, even a hug.
You aren’t anonymous in the country. Everyone knows everyone. So people have no choice but to figure it out and get along.
We don’t have to like each other, we just have to live peacefully next door to
each other. That is kind of the point of America.
We can learn from each other
While urban folks are shooting at each other and rioting, country folks are taking casseroles to their gay neighbor who just had surgery. They may not understand the way he lives, but the man’s got to eat.
And while country folks are rolling their eyes at modern art and adult ballet dancers, urbanites are learning a second (or third) language and earning stamps on their passport.
Nobody fits neatly into a single category.
City folks aren’t all communist lesbians, rich socialites, gangsters, and people who want to turn entire rural states into wildlife refuges.
And rural folks aren’t all MAGA hat wearing, gun toting, confederate flag waving fundamentalists.
But some of us are these things, and you know what… it’s still a free country.
People crave community.
Recently a New York City politician told non-native New Yorkers to “Go back to Iowa… You go back to Ohio.”
That’s exactly what we don’t need. We need more inclusion, not less. How
can we ever hope to learn from each other when we are slamming our doors in the face of those who reach out?
When the urban community rejects country folks, many rural people are driven into the arms of the very people urbanites despise, if not due to shared values, then for companionship.
And how can the rural community hope to have their voices heard in the cities when they refuse to go there, and they close their doors (and hearts) to those who come to them?
It’s the age-old city mouse/country mouse story.
It seems that both sides are determined to focus on our differences rather than our shared humanity, but it’s time we grew up and moved past this.
The truth is, we need each other. We need centers of industry and commerce, manufacturing and business, and diverse urban interface.
We also need food. And fresh air. And a diverse ecosystem. These are things that can’t exist without rural communities.
While so many in the media and elsewhere seem determined to expand the urban/rural divide, what should be the goal for all of us is mutual respect and appreciation for the unique contribution we offer the world.
This is Part 2 in a continuing series on narrowing the urban/rural divide. Part 1, Does UC Berkeley really hate rural America? can be found here.
Published January 27, 2020