Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hm. Turns out I'm NOT an Ameican citizen.

Jon Stewart has brought up his qualms with the McCain Campaign's excessive pandering to "small-town" America a few times. I hadn't really noticed it until he mentioned it a few nights ago and again last night (it was the main theme of his show last night). This issue grinds my gears.

Until I was 17, I lived in a small town in rural Pennsylvania. The population in 2000 was 3,512 (smaller than Wasilla!). When I was 16, I worked for a summer picking strawberries on a farm. My high school was surrounded by farmer's fields. My best friend grew up on a farm (and naturally, being best friends with her, so did I). My memories of childhood include playing in woods, barns, creeks, and cornfields (damn it's easy getting lost in that shit). My best friend's father was a truck driver. My own mother worked a series of factory jobs. I have seen cows and goats get castrated (and I have seen it go horribly, horribly wrong). I have taken my father's pick-up truck and ramped it over road-bumps and done donuts in fields (don't tell my dad, for the love of god). I was once asked to go line-dancing for a date (I declined, for the record). The Olive Garden is "fancy." I've shot a gun many times (I took the Boyfriend to the local armory the first time he visited home. The fine fellows at the armory hailed me as the best girlfriend ever).

So yes, I am from "Real America." I am from the "hard-working, very patriotic, very pro-America area of this great nation" (Thank you, Ms. Palin. How kind).

But in those 17 years, despite lovely scenery, fond childhood memories, and a healthy knowledge of farming, I have seen things that have deeply disturbed me. I have seen ignorance, racial intolerance, and deep-seated sexism. I have seen abusive parents, neglected children, and low education levels. I've seen teen pregnancies (a LOT of teen pregnancies. I've also seen one barely-a-teen pregnancy). I've seen violence and hatred towards gays, atheists, blacks, and women. And I've seen all of this condoned, if not actively encouraged, by authority figures (be those figures religious leaders, parents, or school personnel).

So I got the hell out of dodge and went to a university in a moderately-sized city (pop over 300,000). There I learned that more people existed than white, small-town people. That those who are not white, straight, christian males of comfortable means face a TON of discrimination that is often subtle and easily-ignored by the majority's eye. I learned to respect other people and their struggles, and I learned to be skeptical of many things and trusting of very, very few.

And then I moved to New York (pop: over 8 million). I learned that Harlem is a very friendly place, and everyone says "hello" to you on the sidewalk (contrary to popular myth, this is not something that happened often in my hometown). I learned that almost everyone holds the door open for everyone else. I found a city where people from VERY different backgrounds co-exist. Where over 170 languages are spoken, and no one tells anyone that "you gotta speak American in America." Where accents might be hard to understand, but everyone makes the damn effort, because how many fucking languages do you speak? Where gays, atheists, blacks, hispanics, women, the transgendered, the poor, and the just-plain-eccentric are not open-season for bigots. Diversity is king, here, and we are happy that way.

I'm not saying that intolerance or discrimination doesn't exist in NY. It exists everywhere, as it is a product of our society and culture. A product partially fed and fattened by people like John McCain, Rush Limbaugh, George W., Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, and the like.

But what I AM saying is that New York (and Chicago, and Boston, and San Francisco, and Dallas...) are REAL parts of America, too. And that we're often much nicer and more pleasant in terms of respecting our fellow human beings. And you can't disenfranchise us by saying that we're not. Many of us, like myself, came from what McCain is calling "real America" (which, by the way, I read as white, uneducated America), and we left because we didn't like that those places had no opportunities for us. We could not grow and thrive there either financially or intellectually, because those places are very limited in the experiences that they offer. We knew that there was more out there, and that the "more" is available where the population is larger and more diverse.

Places like my hometown are "real" America, too. But they aren't to be glorified. They aren't any better than New York. For the people who choose to live there, they offer something more than New York: families, jobs, lower costs of living, a different style of living. But they aren't some special piece of heaven, either. They have nasty sides, and if you've lived in a place like this, you know that the nasty parts are NOT few and far in between. Low levels of education and global awareness are not something to be celebrated. Ignorance isn't something to be celebrated. Associating an entire religion followed by 1-1.8 billion members with "terrorism" isn't something to be celebrated. Automatically associating brown people who have funny names with said religion and terrorism isn't something that's "folksy" or "charming", either.

McCain and Palin are insulting EVERYONE in America when they claim that people from small-towns are "real" and "patriotic" and "love their country the most." I'm real, too, and so is my vote. Patriotic shouldn't mean "unquestioning, die-hard fan of war and the current administration." To love one's country shouldn't mean "I have a yellow ribbon on the back of my truck." Loving one's country means questioning the government, questioning the status quo, and actually giving a shit about EVERYONE who lives here, including non-whites, immigrants, and people with diverse backgrounds. Loving one's country DOESN'T mean only loving the white parts, or the male parts, or the Christian parts, or the 4-person nuclear family parts.

To the people in small-town America: When McCain and Palin tell these things to you, they are diminishing and dismissing the problems that you face. They are ignoring your underfunded schools. They are dismissing the social ills that chill your community. They are underestimating the problems that you face in accessing good jobs and healthcare. They are making you into some sort of magical, mythical being: The strong farmer, the wise factory-worker. They are boxing you in and trying to woo you with vague rhetoric. They are trying to tell you that you love this country the most, so that you will be content and follow them wherever they go. But you have problems, don't you? And you shouldn't be content, should you?

There are 8 million people in New York, 3.8 million in Los Angeles, 3 million in Chicago, 1.2 million in Dallas, and 223,000 in New Orleans. Those people are real. Those votes are real. Attention must be paid.


Herding Cats said...

Amazing blog. I grew up in LA (and still reside here) and I always wonder about the magical small towns that McCain emphasizes. To say that people in small towns matter more or are more "American" than those of us in a large city is plain obnoxious. I could not have written a better piece on this issue. Thanks!

Lucy said...

Very well written and quite moving!

Sator Arepo said...

Very, very good post.

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