My mom’s family always called me a city girl. Louisville, despite what many of my East Coast counterparts may think, is a city: the largest metropolis in the Commonwealth. As Louisville’s cool factor rises, there’s a tendency among its residents to separate the city from the state, to say “Oh, we’re not like the rest of them.” I, perhaps somewhat controversially, would like to put a stop to this.
Now Louisville is not alone here; this city-country divide exists in a lot of states. It’s certainly present here in the New York, where the rest of the state takes a very obvious back seat to “the greatest city on earth.” When you think of New York, you probably don’t think of the verdant area known as upstate: You think of the hustle and bustle of the sprawling metropolis known (exclusively to those who don’t live here) as the Big Apple. And personally, I think this is a travesty.
This blog is supposed to be about how the South is a diverse amalgam of people and places, a kaleidoscope of cultures that defies stereotype. And yet both New York and Louisville seem to fall into the very trap of generalization that we’re trying to destroy. They get caught up in the idea of seeming “cool” and in the process deny the great big beautiful state surrounding them. For New York, the division seems to come from the fact that there is just so much happening inside the city. It’s easy for the bulk of the state to get overshadowed when the cultural center of the country — and, New Yorkers would argue, the world — occupies a mere, but dense, 0.009% of its area.
In Kentucky, however, the impulse for separation seems to be more sinister, politically and culturally motivated young hip Louisvillians wanting to establish that the Ville is different from the rest of the state. They (and if we’re being honest, at times we’ve been included in this) are quick to qualify their Kentuckiness, assuring outside parties that the usual stereotypes that often apply to Kentuckians don’t apply here. “Yeah but that’s the rest of the state. We’re a very blue dot in a sea of red,” they say. Or, “We’re literally on the border between the South and the Midwest, so we’re not really Southern.” (Editor’s note: We vehemently disagree. Furthermore, Southerness is not a negative trait.) “Like, we wear shoes, and we don’t marry our cousins. And I can’t remember the last time I had fried chicken.”
And I suppose in some ways I don’t blame them. Kentucky can get a bad rep, and no one want’s to be known for incest, stupidity, and racism (just a few of the stereotypes we get harnessed with, the number of times I’ve been subjected to jokes about cousins…) We seem to be the go-to object of disdain whenever someone wants to lament the backwards, ignoramus state of middle America, with our hillbillies and blue people. But taking this separatist view is just putting the hate on our brothers and sisters: It doesn’t leave the family, only pushes the very stereotypes we don’t want to be associated with down harder onto the rest of the state. When you say “We’re not like that” it’s followed by an implied “But they are.” It generalizes the rest of the state the way Louisvillians do not want to be generalized themselves, and the misconceptions, rather than being dispelled, are merely displaced.
Maybe I can’t talk because I don’t even live their right now, and yes, Louisville has a far more liberal voting record than the rest of the state. Our school test scores are sometimes higher, our food and shopping scene skew more locavore than Cracker Barrel, and our arts scene draws comparisons to the bearded denizens of certain Northwest cities (and a certain New York borough), while the rest of the state gets consigned to the Americana aisle. But that doesn’t mean we should disown the rest of the state. Now I may have a unique perspective, having been raised by a woman who grew up in the rural areas of the state, in coal mining country, but made her home in the city. But to me, cutting the Ville off from the rest of the Bluegrass is like taking one slice and throwing out the rest of the pie. My mother taught me to love both my city and my state, showing me some of the wonderful things the non-urban parts of Kentucky had to share (Have you seen the Appalachian Mountains? That shit is gorgeous.) Even more important, she never forced her love of the commonwealth, warts and all, on me. Instead, she told me it was okay to be conflicted about the places that I came from and that the opinions of my friends and family members didn’t have to be my opinions. She let me come into my Kentucky love on my own, one Appalachian summer at a time.
No one loves everything about where they came from. Every family has a black sheep or five, and every state has its dark parts as well as ones that should be celebrated. I’m not advocating for blind, uncritical love here: Stereotypes come from somewhere, and loving your home doesn’t mean ignoring its problematic history or current issues. But rejecting the parts you don’t like, sticking them in a drawer and labelling them “Other,” doesn’t fix anything.
So take them out. Go see them. Learn about the problematic stuff and where it comes from. Grapple with it. Because whether you like it or not, it’s all part of home.