Stereotypes of Rural America ++


When asked about all things ‘American’ while living abroad, my standard answer was (and is) that the land area is too vast and Americans far too diverse to generalize about the country or its people.

The same can be said when comparing various regions of the country — the ‘highly educated’ Northeast, the ‘blue collar’ Midwest, the ‘Left Coast’ and so on.

I remember the shock on the faces of my wealthy Bangkok students when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and unleashed a fire storm of international media images showing the city’s desperately poor residents attempting to survive the government aid vacuum which followed the 2005 storm’s devastation.

“We had no idea there were SO MANY poor people in the USA,” they said in unison, as if they all had rehearsed the line.

In response, I repeated my standard answer above, while cautioning them to be aware of the stereotypes that existed within and about Thailand as well.

Indeed, I lost count of the number of times American acquaintances and relatives asked me about Thailand’s sex industry during the three years I lived and taught in central Bangkok.

Mind you, this was back in the day when the TV soap “Friends” was being used in many English classes as a teaching tool, so international students can be forgiven for believing that a waitress in New York can really afford to live in a spacious loft in Brooklyn with a killer view of the Manhattan skyline.

Stereotypes often die a slow death, and more often than not, are simply replaced by another, equally unfair visual label.

In truth, we’re all continually entertaining thoughts — whether consciously or unconsciously — that help determine our world view.

We all construct the reality in which we live to some degree, and unfortunately, cultural stereotypes still persist.

Despite our collective belief that we humans exist outside the laws of nature, all humans are subject to habitual thinking which leads to specific actions and a predictable outcome. 

Call it our little comfort zone.

Along with all the other discomforts that the years 2017–2020 bestowed upon us, it seems we’ve harvested a bumper crop of distrust, fear, ambiguity and hatred.

I’d venture a guess, and say this is karma in action.

So Back to Stereotypes

Consider the following…

The aim of my previous post, Hillbilly Archaeology, was certainly not to perpetuate stereotypes of the folks who live in the rural USA in general, nor the region known as Appalachia in particular.

After all, I’m a product of this very region.

While I haven’t been blessed with skills that would make me rich or famous (#2 would be a curse), I don’t seem to fit into any of the cultural boxes that people from other regions may have of Appalachian folks.

Surely, this is a testament to the fact that this region of green hills and deep valleys is no longer the backwater it was once presumed to be.

Despite the red/blue political divide, rapid demographic changes are taking place across the South, especially in the metropolitan areas.

Georgia’s blue turn in last year’s election (isn’t it nice to think of that time in past tense!) may be the most obvious evidence of these changes.

Rural vs Urban Lifestyles

My short answer is that lifestyles are similar but world view may be very different when comparing rural populations with urban ones.

For that matter, belief systems can change dramatically based on the zip codes within a given metropolitan area.

During the 16 years I lived in Seattle, I was often shocked by the fact that voting patterns changed dramatically once the city limits were crossed, as if there were magical dividing lines between world views.

Based on my own observations (and I dare you to say you know anyone who’s moved as much as I have, sad lot that I am) of American lifestyles — things like shopping at big box stores or online rather than at a locally-owned small business — have become more homogenous country-wide over the past few decades.

Aside from a few major cities, the majority of Americans still drive their personal vehicles everywhere they go. This is certainly true in rural areas of the country where there are no other options and in most sprawling metro areas as well.

The depth of the love and desire to possess cars, trucks, RVs, motorcycles and basically anything invented that has a noisy, fossil-fuel burning engine seems to be similar from sea to shining sea.Β 

Without the financial means to buy a car and pay for expensive comprehensive insurance, one’s choices are limited.

It seems that the days when it was acceptable to ask a neighbor for a ride or to pick up something at the store for us may be over.

Such common courtesies are still readily offered by neighbors in both urban and rural parts of the developing world, even if the helpful neighbor will be doing their (and your) shopping on foot.

Heck, in much of the USA, I’d think carefully before approaching anyone’s door to even ask such a favor.

It seems fair to suggest that rural residents shop at Walmart more often than at Target and tend to drive pickup trucks rather than SUVs, but their aims to satiate their thirst for shopping are both satisfied in similar fashion.

And, me, me me, mine, mine, mine appears to have become a national mantra, repeated as each credit card number is carefully typed into the purchase agreement on Amazon or a similar shopping site.

And GUNS. Well, this discussion MUST include those cursed killing machines since they are, as a dear local lady recently told me, “Loved more than the Lord.”

I thought hers to be a fair estimation of local beliefs, even as mass shootings continue unabated across the country.

Who am I to argue? After all, I’ve been insulated within a variety of developing world cultures for the past 18 years, cultures where owning a fire arm of any sort was rare.

And guess what? All those societies felt much safer, even with all the insecurity that comes with being a foreigner, wandering dark streets while alone, lost and without being able to speak the language.

I must admit that I find myself paying much closer attention to store layouts and exit routes since returning to the USA in March.

For some odd reason, I don’t feel safer seeing a firearm protruding from the waistband of the man in front of me at the supermarket checkout, the same gun that was in his toddler’s face while his back was turned and he stretched to place his items on the conveyer belt.

I’m also being vigilant when I hear repeating gun shots as I take my daily walks here along country roads.

Those rapid repeats, which I visualize ripping through a paper target and burrowing deep into the side of a sturdy tree, seem oddly incongruous while I gaze across van Gogh-esque fields of yellow canola and listen to the sweet songs of the birds flying overhead.

Hopefully, I won’t be mistaken for a deer.

Even though I’ve learned that awareness of one’s surroundings is an important aspect of travel in general, I was rarely worried about being shot in the streets during my recent 3-year stay in Colombia.

While the vast majority of Colombian citizens give thanks daily that the violence of the past is mostly history, it seems that many Americans are far too willing to accept violence as merely another lifestyle factor.Β 

Those killed become mere statistics, and their lives seen as being less important than satisfying individual wants and desires.

Fear, A Powerful and Lucrative Emotion

So, at this point in this rambling post — let’s call it an exhalation which I fully blame on reverse culture shock and my ongoing attempts to adapt to daily life back in rural NC– I’m asking myself to what degree fear is responsible for many of America’s current ills.

Some of the gun rights/fake news/Covid-19 is a hoax crowd would say that I’m living in fear because I wear a mask in public and eschew owning a firearm.

I, on the other hand, would say they’re the ones with fear issues. What other reason could there be for an average citizen to think it’s necessary to possess an arsenal of weapons, some of which are military grade?

And, maybe that’s our biggest problem right now in the USA: We’re all living in fear.

For some it’s a fear of being gunned down at work or in the milk aisle of the local supermarket or of getting sick and dying from Covid-19.

For others it’s a paranoid fear that something is being taken away from them, whether it’s their ‘liberty’ or taxes from their hard-earned wages.

And, make no mistake, fear can drive markets. From stocks to pharmaceuticals to cloud computing to gun sales, there’s money to be made off fear and the misfortune of others.

Final Words

You may be thinking, please stop with the negativity. I get that. I too have tried to curtail my daily dose of national and world affairs.

Certainly, at a time when the disparities between the richer (mainly Western) countries and much of the developing world (particularly places like Brazil and India) seem to be at their most exaggerated, many of us have a lot to be grateful for.

If you’re reading this, it means you’ve survived the coronavirus pandemic so far, and some of us have even been fortunate enough to be vaccinated.

And, last, but certainly not least, we must give praise to the tremendous levels of personal sacrifice and caring that have been exhibited by those in the healthcare profession as well as many other essential workers over the past year.

Still, I can’t stop asking myself the all important questions: Where are we now as a society and where do we hope to be in five or ten years?

Feel free to express your thoughts in the comments. Just be aware that I may be too filled with fear to reply.

peace~henry

Categories: Culture, PoliticsTags: , , , ,

28 comments

  1. Guns in the USA will never go away. America’s love affair with guns is a sickness to a large extent. And the sickness plays out every day.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Neil,

      That is the truth of the matter and it’s pathetically sad. In addition to guns, there appears to also be an epidemic of untreated mental illness in the USA. It’s ridiculous that gun-toting Americans think they have so much more freedom than citizens of other countries. The Swiss and Canadians also like owning guns but they don’t often blow their fellow citizens into tiny bits. Enjoy this week’s sunsets!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I share many of your observations about perceptions of the US, comparative safety between the US and other countries, and the loss of community here in the US. As you suggest, it’s all interconnected — the big box stores and the guns and the fears. We can do better and maybe we will. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Lots of aspects of our lives like where we shop, how we shop with card or not, school attendance, dining out,…, had been slowly changing over time. That creep of change is a lot like how plates in the crust of the earth are always moving toward or against other plates. Now and then, we get a big sudden lurch in movement…an earthquake. We are in an earthquake in societies called COVID. It isn’t over and there will be permanent changes. We’ll resume the slow creep one day. Another quake will come.

    I agree with Yeah, Another Blogger. Guns are here to stay. There are too many and access is too easy. In my travels to other countries, safety from guns has never been an issue I worried about. But here…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. So true about fear. Frighten people and they are ripe for manipulation. You can get them to believe that what is in fact bad for them, good for them. Own a gun for your protection. Eventually everyone owns a gun and that’s when inevitably killings start happening. Then more fear and higher gun sales. Is it all about money, then?
    Yes, Henry, vigilance and refusal to own one. That’s what I would do too.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Marios,

      Remaining nimble and being able to quickly dive under furniture, cars etc seems like good advice at this point.

      Seriously though, I think it’s about many things–money being one of them. Republican get lots of campaign contributions from the gun lobby as well as the votes of all the gun nuts. These same politicians are also closely linked to police departments around the country who offer their union support and then the police departments are given access to military-grade weapons and equipment. So, in reality it’s a sort of vicious circle that feeds itself. If the military ever decided to join those ranks, well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be a bloodless coup like the one I experienced in 2007 in Thailand. Take good care!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Living so close to the US I thought I knew it quite well, but this past year has shown me that I don’t know it at all. I didn’t realize there was such a divide.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Maggie and Richard,

      I’m sure it feels like you’re living too close for comfort at times. The divide in the USA has become a yawning canyon and I don’t foresee anything that will change it, but I always try to remain hopeful. Enjoy the new week!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. You got to get yourself a good hobby, something to take your mind off the sinking feeling – thats how I see it. America does appear to be spiralling towards some kind of manic hell – perhaps the rest of the world will follow? I don’t know, probably best to just work on some personal hobby, I think the happiest people probably just try not to overthink.

    So – about that Bangkok sex scene you mentioned . . . ?? πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    • πŸ™‚ No worries, Ogden, I have a lot of hobbies plus I do some online teaching. Yeah, I agree. I think that staying busy, especially with creative pursuits (as you well know), is the key to overall well-being. Hope your week goes well!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Guns are here to stay. The NRA has a lot of money any can buy anyone they want to buy, who will keep them in place. I’ve never lived in a different country and I’ve never lived in a rural area, I’ve lived in Chicago my entire life…and my life has been pretty long. I’ve never even thought about being shot, or looked for exits in any store I’ve been in. For women the fear of men attacking them, is the only fear many of have ever known and there are more rapes and beatings then there ever will be gun shots. Women are in danger wherever they go, and especially at night. So my world is far different than yours. That kind of violence is always there, in elevators, parking lots…everywhere. As for community…the kids I grew up with had a community and our parents recognized some of the parents, but the only sense of community was with us as children. We were a neighborhood, recognized by the park in our area. Each neighborhood was different for sure. I think people believe stereotypes because they have no first hand experience with most things and stereotypes fill in the blanks, for a lot of them. They see things in film, read about things in books and then those things become real. My cousin’s cousin’s went with us to Garfield Park and they were terrified of the neighborhood. They have lived in the “country” beyond the suburbs but were afraid of the city. They thought they heard gunshots. I thought they were crazy. It’s all what you’re used to. My cousin and I take the train, the el, whatever and they wee terrified to be in a car. I don’t think anyone understands anyone else. Our experiences are too different. Our POV is personal. Rural areas are awful to me. Too much open space and silence. I wold die in a matter of days if I had to live in a rural area. Other people feel the same way about the city that I love. You can’t figure it out because it doesn’t make sense. People who kill others in mass shootings don’t even know the people they’re killing. How can you understand that? How can we ever stop it? I think, like Alice in Wonderland, we have fallen down the rabbit hole. Hopefully, when, and if, we get out, the world will make more sense and the republicans will have moved to mars…and taken trump with them. LOLOLOL It is what it is. We can do what we can, but we’re too big and too diverse to ever be understood.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Gigi,

      Thanks for sharing those great points, especially reminding us that women in most cultures are seen as prey and often live in constant fear. Men can be such pathetic creatures, but many of us do try to be supportive. My role models growing up were my amazing grandmother and mother.

      I appreciate hearing the perspective of someone who’s lived a more stable existence than mine. I’ve lived in and experienced so many different environments and I suppose I thought that by doing so I would understand myself and my place in the world more, and maybe it has helped to some extent. But I also think there’s a lot to be said for living in a stimulating but stable environment like yours for much of one’s life. Without the stability to use as a sort of touch stone, it can be easy to get lost.

      You’re right, humans are far too complex for us to ever fully understand the motivations of others. Have a great week!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. That was a long post and covered a lot of ground. First, I hree up in rural North Georgia in the mountains. But I have lived in Metro Atlanta since hugh school, in DeKalb County. Rural people are independent, self sufficient and want little government or interference from outside. They see coties sd dangerous evil places to be avoided when possible, full of odoppe who want to live on government handouts. They live in a hunting culture where guns are used gir hunting, and they lije them fir personal protection they provide. They don’t like being viewed as backward and ridiculed.

    I don’t see much change in ten years but I fo in fifty years. Our civilization very eell may collapse by then. If we continue ti use fossil fuels worldwide, and it appears we eill, the world will be greatly uninhabitable. If we stop using fossil fuels we will not have tge steel, plastic and other things webeed to survive. Increas use if renewables will buy us sime time but will only delay what will happen when fossil fuels run out. Unless there are new discoveries that will find something to replace fossil fuels. Otherwyse it will he vack to farming , herding and hunter gathering, much like before coal, oil and natural fas was discovered and changed things.
    Have a good week. Weather us gine today here. Bright, sunny and warm. A very good day.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post once again, Henry! In the video the Deliverance song was perfect. You can almost hear the pigs squealing in the background! πŸ˜ƒ
    We are on the same page with you, especially about guns. We are heading to Austin in a few weeks to see family and we will have to keep our guard up for all the crazies! It’s tremendously safer here in Colombia than in the US. Proper education with mandatory civics classes might help future generations in the US. The problem is the political machine is broken. We are just watching the demise of the US. Sad to say. Keep your head down and always face the exits!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi John and Susan,

      Yes, the only appropriate song for the 2nd part of the video was “Dueling Banjos” which, by the way, was originally written by Arthur Smith, a North Carolinian.

      Regarding the gun nuts, for many years now I’ve found myself naturally going into ‘US mode’ once I’m welcomed ‘home’ by US immigration. That means that my senses are on high alert anytime I’m in a public place. While I was always alert to the possibility of robbery while traveling alone in much of the developing world, I rarely felt vulnerable to being shot with a military grade weapon. To think that this is a regular occurrence in one of the world’s richest and (supposedly) most advanced countries should produce deep feelings of shame among US citizens. I know it does for me.

      Enjoy your wonderful bird sanctuary!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. After living overseas for so many years, you’re able to see the USA with new eyes. And that’s a good thing. I’ve observed our relationships with each other deteriorate over the years since we moved here. We have to continue working to find common ground on dealing with the existential threats we face as a nation and as a species here on Planet Earth.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Rosaliene,

      Thanks as always for your keen observations. Over the past 5 years, I’ve been able to return to the USA to visit family and friends for longer periods which has given me more time to observe a similar deterioration (that you speak of) in relationships. And, it must be said that the last US administration did everything within its power to further inflame the relationship between dissenting groups. Now, the US has groups that have coalesced — anti-vaxxers, gun nuts, evangelicals — around issues in order to have a greater influence on lawmakers.

      Even though rational arguments and common sense seem to be undervalued these days, we still must counter the arguments of those groups with the statistics available while continuing to push for more federal research into gun deaths and mass shootings.

      Of course, such arguments for common sense will go a lot farther when I visit my friends in Seattle than in an occasional encounter with one of the neighbors here in rural NC.

      Hope your writing is going well this week!

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I have missed leaving replies to your posts. I enjoy the interaction. I think you are on point. The biggest issue here (and maybe around the world) is Fear. Fear of the other, fear of losing power, etc. And politicians play to that. If we could see each other really see each other, if we could open up a bit, maybe we wouldn’t be so manipulable. I enjoy your posts because you seem to often try to bring people together, to teach them about other histories, other places, other people and other cultures. I appreciate that immensely.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi PPJ,

      Thanks so much! One of my aims is to try to share my experiences of people and places around the world with those who haven’t been lucky enough to have such experiences themselves. I just think there’s so much we all can learn from each other, regardless of gender, color of skin, nationality, religion, socio-economic circumstances etc etc. We could start by opening ourselves to the life-long learning process with a focus on cultivating self-awareness. I think it’s important to be able to look at ourselves objectively before we can grow and become more loving and accepting human beings. I’m also trying to regain my battered sense of humor which is an absolute necessity in 2021. Have a great week!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I was struck with your comments on vehicles. After living in Santiago, Chile for a year without a car twenty years ago (and not missing one), we wanted to move somewhere we could walk most places. We chose to live within 4 blocks of a grocery store here in Madison. Unfortunately, public transit is not great here; infrequent buses. We bought an electric car which is great for trips across town. But, the US is missing a lot of infrastructure, like trains, that could reduce our dependence on cars. Thanks for your thoughts on the US of A, Henry.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. A brilliant piece. As always, my brother. Cheers and warmest wishes from the Southern Tip of the African Continent πŸ‘πŸΎ

    Liked by 1 person

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