Four years ago, I was living in Seattle, in the heart of hipster haven, high atop Capitol Hill. I danced in the streets with my neighbors and hugged strangers and reveled in the joyous celebration of living in one of the cities which made up what the news media at the time lovingly referred to as the "Urban Archipelago" - the parts of the country which had voted, overwhelmingly, for Barack Obama.
I should say right now this post isn't going to be a partisan rant. I'm framing my point here. Stay with me. (Or go read something else.)
Anyway, back then, I shook my head at the southern states and the states in the middle of the country as they determinedly turned red, one at a time, on election night. Holding on to antebellum ideals, I thought. All those poor, sad, ignorant southern souls who were too busy shining their guns to care that a new day was dawning in progressive America. Blah blah blah.
But now I live in a Carolina. Granted, it's the more progressive of the two - there are parts of this Carolina which fought with the Union in the Civil War. The town I live in has worked hard to earn the moniker "Cesspool of Sin," which was thrust at Asheville in the throes of a marriage equality debate over there in Raleigh earlier this year. When I drive outside of town, I see rebel flags everywhere. Hell the other day I saw a bumper sticker that showed a rebel flag and then said something like "If you're offended by this, it's because of your own ignorance."
Interesting point there. I'm just gonna let that go.
The other day, news broke that Texas had filed a petition to secede from the US. I ignored it. Certainly it's not the first time. Then someone tweeted that there were more than a dozen states petitioning for secession, and North Carolina was among them. I clicked on the link, because if I'm going to be forced to live abroad, it will be either in a beautiful tropical paradise, or a place where people speak a foreign language and make exceptional pastries. I have no interest in living in a "foreign" land without even leaving my house.
The site to which the link sent me was housed on the White House domain - a page called We The People, which allows anyone to start a petition about anything. If you want the administration to even think about responding to your petition, you have to get 25,000 signatures. Basically, it's a way for us average citizens to feel like the government is listening to us, and a way for the government to placate people who are frustrated about something.
North Carolina had more than 12,000 signatures when I looked. Many of them were from people who live in other states. I rolled my eyes and went back to looking at Facebook. Of course, Facebook had a slew of people freaking the fuck out about Texas wanting to secede. So I did the math (or, as President Clinton would have it, the arithmetic) and posted my results as my status. The amount of people petitioning for Texas's secession amounted to less than one-quarter of one percent of the entire population of Texas. Why give those people attention? Why not pay attention to the more-than-99-percent of Texans not signing the petition? (My brother-outlaw suggested the secession approval is more like 20-30%, which still...that's 70% disapproval, which is significant.)
Then someone pasted a diatribe they'd seen somewhere else on Facebook. It was, essentially, a letter to the southern and middle states, from the Urban Archipelago. Or, in this case, the person who wrote this was calling their part of the country "The Enlightened States of America."
Well come on now. That's just silly.
Since moving to the South, I've spent a lot of time studying the efforts of the Highlander Folk School, granted, so my idea that southern and poor people are just as good as you is largely fueled by the work I've been doing the past two years. But I think it's important to recognize when people are having a worldview problem.
The "red states", such as they are, are hardly wastelands of Neanderthalic ignorance. First of all, contemporary anthropologists have every reason to believe that Neanderthal was a hominid species who actually bred with Homo sapiens, and was every bit as intelligent as we are. They were even crafty and artistic too...So the use of the word "Neanderthal" to write off a population of people is at least very condescending and, at most, quite ignorant in itself.
My main objection to this rant was that it presumed that the northern and western (i.e. "blue" states) were more intelligent, cultured, and overall important than the rest of us. Oh, and their weather is better. (The rant accused the red states of having all the tornadoes and most of the hurricanes. Um, talk to Brooklyn.) I would counter that by saying the blue states have the bulk of the volcanoes and earthquakes and mudslides and wildfires, while the red states have most of the sunshine and all the nice beaches (where you can actually swim in the water without a coat on). BOOM! Take that blue states.
Seriously, though. What's the point of this polarization? Why does someone in a blue state feel inclined to write a rant that seeks to diminish the import of half the country? Isn't that quite like some ignoramus right-winger equating women on birth control with "sluts"? Isn't that like a Texan calling the president a Muslim elitist socialist? It's just as absurd and, to me, displays an utter desire to bully the hell out of anyone who's different from you, because they come from somewhere else and see the world in a different way.
Why do we all feel such a compelling desire to school each other on how ignorant and stupid and backwards everyone other than us is? Just cut it out already. And if you won't take it from me, take it from our president: "The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into red states and blue states - red states for Republicans, and blue states for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and have gay friends in the red states."
So, now that my point is framed and I have, it turns out, delved deeply into a political message, I'm gonna bring it back to the music. Harp on us red staters all you want (on Election night I was in a room full of freakishly progressive people, here in this red state full of Neanderthals), but you can't deny the extraordinary influence of our music.
So now, without further ado, I give you ten artists from red states who have changed the face of American creative expression.
1. Woody Guthrie (Oklahoma)
2. Townes Van Zandt (Texas)
3. Steve Earle (Texas)
4. Hank Williams, Sr. (Alabama)
5. Doc Watson (North Carolina)
6. Louis Armstrong (Louisiana)
7. James Brown (Georgia)
8. Elizabeth Cotten (North Carolina)
9. Leadbelly (Louisiana)
10. The Indigo Girls (Georgia)
In other words, get over it already. Nobody's more important than anyone else. No state is categorically better than any other state. If you can think of 100 things about anyone to complain about, chances are they'd have just as many complaints about you. So check yourself, people, and let's get back to the stuff we agree on. Seriously.
For starters, Appalachia and Texas* make the best music. Period.
(*I'm kidding. Mostly.)