On contempt for rural people

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I just read Notes from the Urban/Rural Divide: Pardon Me, Your Contempt is Showing by meloukhia.

I was raised in San Jose, California, so it might seem odd that this post hit home for me. But it does.

I grew up hearing from other people that the region of California my father is from wasn’t actually part of California. Because California is only the Bay Area and the Los Angeles area, apparently. The school actually called my parents once to express concern when I repeated to the whole class everything my dad had told me about how to kill chickens for food. (I was also the only kid who had chickens.) My dad is from a farm in the central valley, where his relatives originally came from Oklahoma and Arkansas. People from there were immediately hated even by the existing local residents of California. While prejudice towards “Okies” and “Arkies” in specific had waned where I lived, prejudice towards the general idea was definitely everywhere. People mocked the accents and speech patterns I heard from my relatives on both sides of the family, as another way of saying stupid without actually saying it. It’s still painful to think of how I tried to eliminate the traces of those speech patterns that showed up in my own speech (and sometimes even tried to “correct” my parents, which feels even worse), because I was so mortified by things like that. I actually had teachers tell me it “sounded uneducated” as well. It only got worse when I went to a school that was mostly for rich kids, because then it was both class and urban/rural stuff to contend with. (Because you can be raised in the city and yet still be influenced by the rural-based culture of your family. Which has always made me feel a weird sort of in-between status, regardless of whether I was living somewhere urban or rural at the time.)

Both my parents lived in rural areas or small towns growing up. They live in a rural area now, in the real north of California, not the Bay Area that everyone calls Northern California as if the state stops anywhere near that far south. (People have actually asked me why they’d want to live in the mountains “cut off from everything”.) I live in the largest city in Vermont (one of the most rural states in the country), which was still called a “small town” by CNN. (I’d actually be living in a rural area if I didn’t need the frequent medical care.) And meloukhia is right that rural Vermont was one of the areas most devastated by the hurricane, even declared a disaster area. Entire towns have been underwater. Even in Burlington, which got off light, everyone knows people from the more rural areas who lost a house or a workplace or a town. The idea that the hurricane didn’t really do much damage is… I was going to say ludicrous, but more like grossly offensive.

There’s a naked, ugly, almost angry contempt people in urban areas reserve for rural communities, and it’s a twisted, unpleasant thing. In the wake of the hurricane, some ‘progressives’ suddenly claimed to care about rural issues, taking care to excoriate each other for belittling Irene while there was serious damage in Vermont, but almost immediately afterwards, they returned to their ways, again ignoring rural areas and rural issues in favour of topics they found more interesting. They totally ignored the impact of the earthquake on rural communities, even though that information was made readily available; instead, both Andrea and I got hate mail for the piece that ran here.

I live at a strange straddle of the urban/rural divide, something I’ve discussed before. Most people who read me casually or only see a few pieces of mine assume I am a resident of the Bay Area, since they see I’m from Northern California and the Bay Area is the only thing there, right? So people feel very comfortable letting their contempt fly around me, assuming that I am one of them and will join them. And when I point out that no, their assumptions are actually wrong and I am living in a rural area, there’s not even a hint of embarrassment, just a little ‘well of course you’re different.’

I’m very glad that ou wrote that. Because it says things that have existed in my head since forever but haven’t been possible to say.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Physically and cognitively disabled. Anything you hear in the media or gossip is likely to be oversimplified at best and wildly inaccurate at worst, the only way to get to know me is to actually know me. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died a couple years ago and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

5 responses »

  1. I’m buggered if I know, I was born in a suburb, but my whole memory of early years is the country as we were a just few streets in the Country surrounded by fields and farms and all that smelly stuff. T’aint so now as the City has spread like melting butter. Definately a country kid though, I know where meat comes from.

  2. Whereas I was born in a redwood forest, but then moved to Campbell and then pretty quickly to San Jose. :-P (Actually a very strange part of San Jose where you could write either a San Jose or Campbell mailing address, but that’s complicated.) I actually moved back to another part of the redwood forest when I first moved out, but then my stamina got more and more shot and I couldn’t handle the steep hills, so I moved to one of those towns that’s half town and half farmland. And then here (which also has farmland, now that I remember, but is mostly city).

  3. I grew up in a forest quite some distance from the nearest town and/or city (it was a town thirty years ago, but is more of a city now). Even though a fair number of the other kids in my school (which was situated halfway between the forest and the city) were also from the forest, I still remember getting made fun of for living there. Now I’m living in a large city in Canada (I am American), because both myself and the husband must use public transit since we cannot drive due to vision. But I still feel like a forest kid, and I miss it so very much. Without being able to drive, though, the forests I love so much are inaccessible to us.

  4. I encountered a lot of contempt for rural people in, of all places, Georgia, when I was in school there.

    I grew up in Kansas City, where there wasn’t a lot of it, because the city has a huge amount of pride for its cattle industry heritage.

    Funnily enough, there is not that much of it in NYC, where I live now…at least not much among my own work/social circle…I can only guess because so many people here came from elsewhere, and the pressures of this city in particular can give you a huge amount of nostalgia for a slower, quieter life.

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