Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Thing About Texas

Reader and (hopefully not former) fan of the blog Kristy commented on my Things That Annoy Me post--specifically, on point number four, which takes a rather blatant and perhaps unfair dig at her home state. Here's what she had to say (edited for length; her full comment appears on the post in question) and my response.

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you know, that backwards place where people hate Rent because it's just so gay and taunt black people with nooses

Even with your last-minute admission that you are sterotyping an entire state, I am disappointed and annoyed by this. I really expected better after reading other blogs of yours. I've always wondered why it is that NYC is so forcefully "anti-Texas." Yes, bad things do happen here, as they do everywhere. However, Texas is a much more complicated state than many give us credit for. Politically speaking, traditionally, in many, many states, the rural population does tend to be/vote more conservatively, and this trend is not isolated to the Bible Belt. However, the urban areas are much more diverse. You should take a look at the recent demographic changes happening in the urban areas, such as Dallas/Fort Worth. Our rural population is huge compared to our urban population - we are too big to be defined by one city, unlike other, smaller, and more vocal states. [...] Yes, ideally (for me) everyone in Texas would become liberal overnight. However, people seem to forget the significance of the Madisonian Dilemma, and the rights we all have to be fiscally or politically conservative OR liberal.

I've lived in Texas almost my entire life, and I've never even held a noose. The incident to which you're referring occurred in the small town of Paris, TX, population 26,000 out of 23,904,380 Texans (per the 2007 census estimate), and the majority of us are as outraged and disgusted as the rest of the nation. I'm also an ardent fan of Rent, and though your context makes it sound as if all Texans are incapable of tolerating homosexuals, the link you posted was to a story about the show being produced in high school. I don't think that a reluctance to portray heroine use, violent hate crimes, and blatant sexuality is appropriate for a production/audience of mostly 13 - 18 year olds. This statement is akin to a Texan saying that all New Yorkers are rude, that making eye-contact with anyone will result in being jumped by a street gang, that you have no manners or respect for anyone who disagrees with you...only without the implication of violent racial intolerance.

In any case, throwing stereotypes of this sort at any demographic - especially an entire state as huge as Texas - shows an immaturity I was not expecting from this blog. And the racial implications, insulting the cultural scene (which is undergoing massive growth and expansion especially here in D/FW), and calling us all 'backward' is not a way to bring this country together - or to cast a positive light on your blog.

Ya'll have a good day, now.
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Well, I think I've been schooled. The comment to which Kristy took offense was meant in a tongue-in-cheek way, because while the state surely has many more redeeming qualities than racist undertones, it does have a reputation--especially in the Northeast--as this giant conservative dude ranch where the cowboys hate gays and the spirit of the fifties--in all its sexist, racist glory--never quite left. Are these stereotypes untrue? Probably! And I shouldn't have made such a blanket statement about such a large place.

That said, Texas has given us George W. Bush and Halliburton: the worst president of recent memory and a corporate symbol of the corruption and cronyism that marked the Bush administration's worst tendencies. As a result, unfairly or not, we blue-state voters don't have the best views of Texas right now.

I know that there's a lot more to Texas than small-town racist incidents and a high school banning Rent. I'm aware that the state's liberal voice has recently grown louder; in fact, my wonderful Creative Writing teacher from last semester, Paul Lisicky, went to a large Prop 8 rally in Houston. The article to which Kristy linked about the shifting political demographics in Texas--SparkNotes version: it's getting less conservative--has opened my eyes to the degree to which Texas is shedding its neoconservative past and seemingly embracing if not a liberal future, then at least a more politically moderate one.

I know racism and classism and sexism exist in the city--believe me, I know--but I think that the socially regressive problems that occasionally plague the city are still a lot worse--at the very least, more obvious--in Texas. Maybe that's just a natural consequence of its size (of course there are going to be more crazies somewhere in that big ol' plot of land) but I do think that, stereotype or not, New York City and the surrounding tri-state area is more liberal than Texas. And I also think that the state (if its residents care) has a long way to go before it's considered favorably by its neighbors to the north.

Because that was my point. New Jersey is far more liberal than Texas, and I think that my closeted, nerdy childhood would have been a lot more traumatic had I grown up in many areas of the Lone Star State. Despite all that, however, Texan politicians seem to understand the needs of public schoolchildren much better than totally respectable lawmakers in Trenton.

Again, my comment was meant to seem tongue-in-cheek, and I don't have anything against the entire state of and everyone residing in Texas. It was playing off Northern notions of what Texas is and stands for, and was meant to be a lead-in to a compliment of the state's positive educational developments.

I stand by my snark, as always, but I think I went a little too far this time, and someone called me out on it. Thanks for that, Kristy, and keep on reading.

-Josh

3 comments:

Duncan said...

Please, as a fellow Texan I must point out that George W. Bush is more due to Connecticut than Texas. He's a carpetbagger, in the vernacular of the south.

Sloane said...

Hi Jess!
I agree that Texas is much less progressive than New York City, but I feel honor-bound to point out that we had our own noose-taunting incident just last year, at Columbia University Teacher's College no less. I forget the precise details, but basically a noose got hung outside a black teacher's door.
Tu me manques.

Jess and Josh said...

Very good point. I remember that. I've included it in the article.

It was so shocking because nobody expected that sort of thing to happen up here. Just goes to show how long we have to go before "racism" becomes an antiquated notion.

-Josh