Kin Lane

On Being Left Behind in Small Rural Communities

In a moment where I am hearing repeated stories about how awful conservatives are being in small towns when it comes to coughing, spitting, laughing, and harassing people for wearing masks I am remind of the “left behind” narrative that so many conservatives use around election time. I remember several people I know criticizing me around the 2016 election, stating I was being insensitive to those who are “left behind” in rural areas by the constant march of the economy and culture. That somehow we have an obligation to these folks to make sure they aren’t forgotten and lost in the shuffle. Then I am also reminded of what finally drove me out of the small town I grew up in, and repeatedly reminded of why it is I do not go back.

I began looking outside of the boundaries of my hometown in rural Oregon because the school didn’t have everything I needed to learn, and the library didn’t have the resources I needed to keep my brain occupied. I ended up leaving my home town because of repeated harassment by the local class of good ol boys throwing bottles at me when I walked along the highway, or pushed me down and threatened to kick my ass for wearing sandals when I was in the grocery store parking lot. The repeated harassment about me being a homosexual, communist, or other incarnation on a regular basis ended up being the catalyst for me leaving to California to seek out other people who just maybe were a little more like me. I am guessing these are the same amazing people who we are finding harassing people for caring about other human beings by wearing a mask.

I am guessing all the folks who told me I should care more about the people left behind in these communities aren’t doing much when it comes to acknowledging that the people left behind are actively running people off. I am guess they aren’t standing up to these people in the grocery store when they go back home to visit relatives. I am also confident there are no conversation back home about what ran Kin off, and what we could’ve done differently to ensure smart people like Kin stick around. They all just think I’m an elite snob who is too good for everyone back home. There is absolutely zero awareness that defunding schools and libraries, while ensuring the police are well funded keeps people like me away. There is almost no reflection about what small communities are doing to keep people of color away, let alone running off intellectual, queer, and other diverse types of people away-—there is only this focus on the poor individuals who for some reason can’t keep up with the rest of the world, and us insensitive folks who leave them behind.

Moving forward I am going to tell more stories about how diverse communities in the cities are more welcoming to those who are different. Counteracting the stories that the white folk in these communities, and their relatives tell about how perfect life is in small towns. I am going to tell the horrific drug stories I’ve witnessed, and the harassment of people of color, queer, and other people just trying to make their way. I am going to work to show how big white men with guns in small towns are way more terrifying that black men in cities. I am going to showcase the opportunities that exist within larger communities, and how there are more people like you to make friends with and build community. I want to show how you can garden in the city, just like you can in the country. I want to show that you are actually more environmentally friendly when you live communally in bigger buildings than each individual having 5 acres in the woods. I want to actively counteract the white narrative that has dominated the landscape for the last 100+ years, all in support of the white supremacy.

I’ve only recently realized how the fairy tales of the country that I was told growing up were all wrapped in white supremacy. The narrative that we were better off living in the country, growing food in our garden, was in fact because we were white and superior. The reason the city was bad was because they were primarily brown people. You can in fact do all the same things you do in the country in the city, and people do. You just have access to more diverse resources in the city, and most importantly you have access to diverse voices and opinions. People pushing back on the world moving forward while advocating for those left behind in rural communities is just more of the same defense of the white narrative that we’ve been seeing for generations. These people talk nothing of how the people they are advocating for in rural communities have worked overtime to make people like me feel unwelcome, something even harsher when you aren’t white and male like I am. The being left behind narrative is fabricated to help continue to support white supremacy in small rural communities, and if you are wielding it as part of your narrative then you are part of perpetuating this legacy.

We need to tell more stories to the children about how cities can be loving places of inclusiveness. That we can make community anywhere, and it isn’t something small towns have a monopoly over. We need to highlight the reasons why so many people are being left behind in rural communities, and it isn’t because their “way of life” is disappearing. It is because their “way of life” was not inclusive to a whole group of our society. It is because they didn’t choose to fund education and libraries. It is because the youth felt unwelcome. It is because we invested in city councils who would invite big businesses into town over supporting local merchants, only to have them pack up shop and leave once the tax breaks are gone. We need to tell more stories of how when society does collapse that it is a hell of a lot more scary to be stuck in a small town with a bunch of white supremacists with assault rifles than it is to be stuck with a bunch of queer, latino, black, asian, and diverse bunch of folks gardening and taking care of each other in an urban landscape. It is time that we dismantle the white supremacist narrative that small town rural life is superior, and that working together as a collective is a much better way to address the never ending march forward of this planet we all live on together.