Kin Lane

Unpacking My Legacy Baggage Around Rural vs. Urban

I have been unpacking my rural vs urban reality for the last decade, but it is something that has picked up momentum after living in NYC, Seattle, and now Oakland. For me, this isn’t about one being better than the other, which is the way most people like to frame this conversation. It is about getting behind why I see things the way I do, and develop a better at understanding the programming that has formed my belief system. After years of programming from my elders, Hollywood, and white supremacy, I’m pretty skeptical that any of my beliefs about small towns and big cities are rooted in any facts or reality, and I am eager to upend my beliefs, allowing me to get at the heart of who I am, allowing me to see both rural and urban settings for what they are. Not just keep spewing the same narratives I have been saying for the last 40 years.

I grew up in rural Southern Oregon, literally right next to the California / Oregon border. I lived in a variety of one horse towns that barely possess a grocery store, bar, and Post Office. The primary town, which was almost always 30 minutes away was less than 2000 people, with the next biggest being around 20K, and always an hour away. I grew up in the dirt. Swimming in the rivers during summer, and playing in the forests that surrounded me. I love the woods, always have, and always will. However, since I first began leaving my rural settings in 1987, I have had an insatiable appetite for urban landscapes. Ever since then I have been at odds with myself, insisting that I perpetually push myself to exist in environments where I am uncomfortable, while simultaneously unpacking why they make me uncomfortable in the first place. Why does the City of Oakland seem intimidating? Why is New York City so loud? Why are cities so dirty? Why do we think small towns are better than bigger towns? Why is nature always better than a man-made reality? There are many questions I thought were long answered, which I’ve found out recently were actually just programmed for me, and I needed to work hard to unpack my legacy baggage around this rural vs. urban narrative stuck in my head.

Cities can be loud places, but so can rural places. They possess different types of sounds. In urban settings there are a lot more cars, buildings, people, and activity occurring. It is easy to lump all of this together into a single resistance to urban environments. Resulting in firm beliefs that one needs peace and quiet, isolation, and distance from all things city. After living in big cities much of the noise begins to fade into the background, with cars, buses, and trains just becoming a background hum. In this transition you also begin to notice how different people contribute to the chatter and buzz that is happening, and one revelation I’ve experienced while separating out all of these layers over the last couple of years is that I perceive people of color to be louder than white people. And that often times when people of color are being loud, there is some sort of hostility, conflict, and friction occurring. In NYC I’d listen to folks right out my window who I thought were fighting, then they would end their conversation with a hug, handshake, and happy send-off. It caused me to carefully critique my own response to these common curbside goings on, and how one thing was going on in my head, and an entirely separate things was occurring on the sidewalk below. It pushed me to think more about whether it was the city that was loud, or my programming and voices in my head that was loud. Setting into motion a change in how I see myself, and I see myself in the world.

After moving to Oakland this year I began challenging myself with every thought I’d have sitting and looking out the window, or while walking down the street. I would see three black boys sitting in and around their car talking. Immediately I’d question what they were doing, suspicious of their behavior. What bad things were they up to? Then upon closer scrutiny one was on their phone while the other two were talking about a game via a portable game console. They were three boys hanging out while parked next to the park across the street from my apartment. Anything suspicious was purely in my head. After many moments like this I began question how I see the City of Oakland. Surely there is crime and bad things happening in Oakland, but I am guessing 90% of it exists in my head. These fantasies are re-enforced moment after moment on the street as I drive, walk by, or just sit looking out my window, all cumulating into an overall belief of what Oakland is or isn’t–when in reality I haven’t even begun to get to know this amazing city. I realized that I have over 40 years of baggage that I needed to unpack about what Oakland is or isn’t, before I could ever get to know and experience this city for what it is. I have to move beyond my programmed belief that the forests of Oregon were “good”, and the dirty, brown, urban landscape of Oakland was “bad”. Why is this? Where did it come from? I know enough to know Oakland is an interesting place that I wanted to live, but I still couldn’t shake the underpinnings of the programming of my youth.

I recently watch a documentary about the Black Panthers on PBS, and I realized how this was one of many stories I was told about Oakland, which had fed into my view of Oakland, but more importantly was also assimilated into my overall beliefs about urban areas (where black people live). After watching the documentary I realized that the story I was told about the Black Panthers which was very much linked to Oakland was a lie. If this story, which had shaped my view of this urban landscape was a lie, then what other stories were out there that had shaped my views of Oakland, and were they truthful. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s where these types of stories were the background noise of my youth via the news and sitcoms, which were then re-enforced (or not) by the elders in the room with me. This programmed me. This is the programming I am having to undo in my 40s. It is programming I couldn’t see while I stayed within the same rural landscape of my youth. I couldn’t see this programming and understand its effect until I got out of the echo chamber, and began to see things from many different perspectives. In an information starved environment the lies I was being told about Oakland, the Black Panthers, and other goings on in the city became truths. Not just about Oakland, but about Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and any other urban landscape where brown people were a significant portion of the population. I was not equipped to unpack these lies and untruths, let alone separate each city, or understand why the elders in my life lived in small very white towns in the first place. It all just was. I didn’t see racism around me. I saw it in cities. In the woods and my rural town, I wasn’t impacted by racism. Until I began to question my reality, then I began to see it everywhere.

My challenge now is stay true to this course of unpacking my baggage. It is hard in a low emotional bandwidth COVID-19 reality to stay the course. I feel like I am already on thin ice, and challenging my reality can be debilitating on a day to day bases. I have to do it though. I have to improve upon myself. I know that much of the reason I suffer from anxiety and depression is due to my programming. It is ironic though, that I have way less anxiety in the city these days than I do in the country. After spending the summer in the woods of Oregon with the kid for Drone Recovery, I realized that small towns give me a LOT of anxiety, and that too much time spent in nature can leave me intellectually dull. I crave the intellectual stimulation that exists in cities, and while lakes, rivers, and forests are very beautiful for a couple of days, I thrive in the city because there are intellectual challenges there for me. I like the diverse food and people that exists in cities. I thrive on the forward motion that exists in an urban landscape, and I know enough now to understand that each city is different. They have their own personalities. They possess their own hidden treasures and interesting stories if you are willing to stay somewhere long enough. I don’t see this evolution as urban vs rural, or man-made vs. nature. There are definitely pros and cons to each landscape. This is about me understanding me. It is about me be able to view the world around me in a more honest way. It is about me understanding the racism that drove my elders into the rural places in Oregon. This isn’t about one place being good and the other place being bad. It is about me questioning the white supremacy I was raised in, and making the most of my time on this planet. It is about me finding my place in the city, while also spending time in nature when possible. And who knows what the future will hold. I am enjoying living in the Bay Area, but I work 100% remotely, so in the end I really can live anywhere, as long as my needs are met. I don’t know what the future will hold, but I know one thing, I am going to make sure I perpetually work to truly see the world as it is, not as others want me to see it.