When I was little, I climbed New York trees. Growing up, I had a New York dog and a New York cat as pets. I had a New York family. In the summer, I went to the New York beach with my New York friends and ate New York hot dogs. I got a New York education (I have a High School Diploma, Bachelor’s Degree, and Master’s degree from New York schools). I even went to a New York church.
What I am saying to you is that I was born and raised in New York—the liberal utopia of the United States.
But where we grow as children is not always where we live as adults. For the last two years, I have been living in Forrest County, Mississippi. Let me be clear: I don’t just reside here. I live here. I have a Mississippi dog and a Mississippi cat. I go to Mississippi beaches. I eat Mississippi hot dogs. From time to time, I even climb (and fall out of) Mississippi trees, and I teach at a Mississippi school.
Each semester, when my students inevitably discover my New York roots, I am greeted with a rapid succession of self-deprecating remarks. The most popular response is characterized by a look of utter horror and a shocked exclamation: “Are you crazy? Why would you ever leave New York for Mississippi? This place is backwards!”
And this response isn’t exclusive to students. It seems that a lot of Mississippians feel obligated to take a preemptive strike against their own state. This fact is depressing and troubling, but it isn’t terribly surprising. After all, people are just restating the “facts” that they have been spoon fed their entire lives: New York is a secular, pro-gay, pro-choice, anti-gun, liberal, loving paradise; while Mississippi is the fundamentalist, anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-poor, anti-woman, hateful heart of the Bible Belt.
It is an erroneous and sad little binary that we have all bought into.