Farmer’s Daughter in the Big City
It’s a strange phenomenon; despite working in the tech industry, without fail in every interview I have gone on the highlight has been discussion around the first job listed on my resume. “Field Inspector for Remington Seed Company – Holland, Iowa”. As we dive into a conversation regarding what that means (in case you wanted to know, it involves corn fields, lots of walking, lots of counting, lots of recording and some knowledge around corn growth and population), it inevitably leads to a conversation about my upbringing. I grew up on a farm about 10 miles from the closest town of Dike, Iowa, (population: ~1,200) in the Midwest; my dad is a corn and soybean farmer, as is my grandfather and a handful of relatives. From a young age, I spent my summers derouging or detasseling, walking beans, doing general farm chores. My siblings and I were always outside playing Pickle or 500, working on projects for the county fair, chasing feral farm cats with our dogs, participating in 4-H, and helping out with chores. (Oh, and like any good redneck, one of my front teeth is fake. Four wheeling accident.)
When the interviewer’s eyes light up then asks what that was like growing up in the rural Midwest, I don’t give them a laundry list of chores I did or stories that I know their bigger city upbringing will view as “hardships” in my life. I usually just state back, “You know, at a young age it was instilled in me – work hard.” It’s true. The people who interview me know that it’s truth as well; the knowledge that my upbringing was a farm in small town Iowa immediately imposes upon them that I have this sense of work ethic and no-nonsense attitude. I don’t have to explicitly state those things for them to know and believe it. Growing up I was surrounded by people who worked hard every single day. I remember during harvest my dad getting up before the sunrise and not getting back until well after it had set. I also can’t think of a single occasion where he complained about that or took a day off. My parents work harder than I ever have (or probably ever will) in my 50-60-hour work week in a STEM career. Whether living in what US News called the best city in the USA to live in (debatable IMHO) or a city so small the livestock outnumber the people, we hold this intrinsic belief in hard work and a general sense of admiration for those who do so.
“Welcome to Austin! Now get out.”
A part of living in “the best city in the US” (again…debatable) is how enlightened and tolerant everyone is, right? “Keep Austin Weird”. A cultural mecca deemed a friendly and more open place than that of the rural Midwest I grew up in. Watch any comedic news show interviewing Trump supports in the Midwest and you too can witness the, as many political polls classify, “less educated, white, conservative, Christians” spewing intolerance. Beyond the news interviews, TV shows, press conferences, I witness this first hand from those in the community I grew up in. I read posts from women I respect shaming the recent Women’s March, calling participants complainers and entitled millennials. After the video of ,now President, Trump not only confessing to but bragging about sexually assaulting a woman leaked, a Midwestern college friend, who is now a wife and mother to two boys, commented, “Well, if I condemned every man I know that talks like that I wouldn’t have any male friends!”. (Girl, if you’re reading this, you should probably stop talking to all those male friends….like yesterday.) There is no denying there is a large part of the conservative community who wear their intolerance like a badge of honor. How lucky I am to be out of there, right? (*gritting teeth emoji*)
Recent national, world and local events have led to a big slap in my face about the power of practicing what you preach when it comes to tolerance. I opened Facebook the other day…and heck, really any day…to see a shocking conversation occurring on a status regarding Christians and how intolerant they all are. After a white, Christian male had committed a truly saddening and deplorable act of violence against the LGBT community, the “educated, tolerant, liberal” community surrounding me spoke out. “F*ck you and your organized religion. I don’t want your Christianity.” My boyfriend, a Christian like myself, took an approach I see people use less and less – one to reach a middle ground of understanding. He calmly asked, “You don’t really mean to condemn a whole religion or all believers?” and spoke out that in fact a majority of Christians do not condone this violence and are morning the loss of life just as he is. The response I saw was heartbreaking. “No, f*ck all Christians.” (Bravo sir, you truly convinced me to see things your way that that riveting oral argument.)
More and more I see this. It goes beyond organized religion and becomes targeted at anyone that could have voted for Trump or identifies as a Republican. It has come to gross overgeneralizations of Republicans, Midwesterners, Christians, etc. Why do so many of us preach tolerance to the people we disagree with, but are whole heartily against attempting such tolerance ourselves? When did enlightenment become “screw you for not being accepting, now we’re all going to shame you and tell you to go to hell”? Are we not just as prejudiced as the prejudice we are seeking to distinguish? We’re surrounded in the irony of a community explaining how to accept all religious beliefs while at the same time condemning an entire religion whose core principles are not founded in the intolerance a majority would lead you to believe they practice.
Here’s your sign. (Now go over there, wave it around, and scream.)
Former United States Deputy Secretary of State, Tony Blinken said, “There is, after all, no more egregious form of discrimination than separating out the followers of one religion from another — whether in a village, on a bus, in a classroom — with the intent of murdering or enslaving the members of a particular group.” (If you want more context around what Blinken is discussing I strongly encourage you to research more on widespread religious freedom and condemnation issues in the US and worldwide. #stuffyoushouldknow) While that may be the easiest example to reach to, the conversation definitely doesn’t start or end at religion. I, as I expect you do as well, experience this; the community surrounding me now showing the same intolerance, albeit in different forms and on different beliefs, as the community I grew up in. Is intolerance unavoidable regardless of your political party or beliefs?
As a society, we should not tolerate intolerance. Easier said than done, right? Intolerance is usually a big “here’s your sign” moment (shout-out to all the Midwest kids who grew up having to listen to Bill Engvall comedy because their family liked it) but can be increasingly tricky to identify these days. There’s a new tolerance, one that is based on an unbiblical belief that truth is relative to the community in which a person participates. New tolerance is a stubborn ass too. From both sides. How quickly the tables seem to turn from applauding the Midwestern community for how it raised me to shunning them and categorizing them as “all the same”. Both sides do this, but I know there is a middle ground. Mostly because, well, I’m trying to stand there. What can we do to reach out and break down the gross, incorrect generalizations surrounding all of us? Does a moral truth exist as an objective reality in our society of new tolerance?
I find solace in the middle ground with people like Chadwick Moore. If you don’t know who he is, Moore is a gay Brooklyn-based journalist recently crucified by liberals for interviewing (note: not promoting or encouraging or endorsing, just interviewing) senior editor for Breitbart News & far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos for the LGBT publication ‘Out!’. Moore has a similar upbringing to mine; his father is also a Republican farmer from Iowa and he too left the Midwest for what some also hail as a cultural, open-minded mecca of America. Moore, however, is most recently recognized for writing in an op-ed for the New York Post explaining why although he had been a “lifelong liberal” the left’s current intolerance has pushed him to the right. In it he writes, “It can seem like liberals are actually against free speech if it fails to conform with the way they think. […] But as I met more Trump supporters with whom I was able to have engaging, civil discussions about issues that impact us all, I realized that I like these people — even if I have some issues with Trump himself.”
I don’t have answers and this post won’t end with a dramatic sentiment claiming one side of any conversation holds the moral compass/high-ground. Instead, I call us all to action, myself included, to act more like Moore has done. Let’s have engaging, civil discussions about issues and look beyond the resources at our disposal that simply confirm our current belief system. We don’t have to be best friends or pretend we value the same ideals. We don’t have to leave these conversations a completely changed person. But we all owe it to ourselves to let go of a little more hatred and welcoming tolerance and understanding back into our lives.
** NOTE: This post isn’t meant to shame either side; we all have flaws and everything we believe isn’t always right. (Myself included.) This post is not meant to be a political statement. For reference: I am a Christian, but also do not believe in the growing generalization made more and more popular by our current president that Muslims ‘hate America’ and are a terrorist organization veiled behind a religion. I identify as an independent who supports ideas from both parties. I applaud the efforts of everyone, regardless of religion, political party, race, who stands up for injustice, mourns those lost in the unspeakable amount of violence in our nation and worldwide, those who participate in nonviolent demonstrations for Black Lives Matter and gender inequality, and has open discussions with those who’s beliefs differ from their own. If you agree with what I have written here, disagree, or are somewhere in-between, I’d love to chat with you about this. Or if you just really don’t want to talk to me about it, I encourage you to disscuss this with someone else!