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Driving in Texas is a way of life more so than a means of transportation. Massive parking garages are attached to every high-rise building. Drivers avoid the rush-hour-infected roads of 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. like the plague. Cruising down the 26-lane stretch of Interstate 10 in Houston at midnight is a rite of passage.
Driving through Texas also comes with an interesting bonus: a front-row seat to America’s political spectrum.
In big cities, Beto and Biden bumper stickers on Subarus drive alongside Blue Lives Matter ones on Ford F-150s. Rural areas just outside the city are dotted with flags boasting the bold letters “TRUMP WON,” while urban areas display rainbow ones to show their support of the BGLTQ community. Colorful murals that celebrate ethnic diversity and the stories of immigrants decorate the sides of buildings in El Paso. Over 180 Confederate statues and other symbols dot the Texas landscape.
I have always known the South is not a political monolith, even though different parts of it definitely skew certain ways. But I did not ascribe the same level of nuance to the North. I, like many northerners inversely assume about the South, believed that New England was as seamlessly deep blue as the electoral college map suggests.
I was driving through South Easton, just outside of Boston, in the fall of 2020. My parents and I were staying in a friend’s house before moving me into my freshman dorm room. And that’s when I saw it: a little brick-and-mortar corner store with a bright blue and white “TRUMP 2024” flag waving on its facade.
It seemed so out of place, so disjointed with my naive perception of what Massachusetts looked like. Much of what I thought I had left behind in Texas had followed me here. Many little examples like that have punctuated my time in this city — seeing the infamous pro-Trump caravan parade through Boston in the fall of 2020; learning that Governor Charlie Baker is a Republican. The more and more I live in Boston, the more I see that being a “blue” state does not mean your people are politically homogeneous anymore than being a “red” state does.
This is not a new revelation. Five minutes studying the New York Times Electoral College map, with its muted shades of blue directly adjacent to soft red counties, points you to the same conclusion. But, in a society that places more emphasis on a 280-character tweet or a 15-second TikTok than the people directly impacted by certain issues, we have become conditioned to simplify. Simplification in politics comes in the form of treating entire groups of people or geographical areas as homogenous.
When the South is painted as a political monolith, many classify it as a place beyond help. Writing the South off as a dystopia when certain laws are passed, such as Senate Bill 8 in Texas, does a tremendous disservice to all the activists working behind the scenes. It writes off activists living in proximity to the communities they are trying to help, not comfortably removed in the fancy office of a New York City think tank. Those activists have not given up on their communities, and they are the ones actually doing the work. Lend your energy in support of them instead of painting a place you do not live in as unsalvageable or a fool’s paradise.
When the North is painted as a blue monolith, people in the South grow even more jaded towards its “sheep-like behavior” (you don’t know what’s in the vaccine!), which then causes the North to see the South as ignorant (just get the vaccine!), which further pushes the two regions apart.
When politics (and oftentimes morality) are simplified into two broad categorizations, the contoured stories and beliefs of everyday people get lost in a machine more interested in cranking out colorful infographics than listening to impacted communities. Individual stories and experiences are what ultimately matter, not catchy political soundbites.
The South and the North are not politically homogeneous, which means that individual stories need to be valued more than group-based political identities, identities many Americans regard as fundamental truths. But in that conclusion comes the question: if each person holds beliefs worthy of acknowledgment, does this mean that no one can ever say a political opinion is wrong?
Not necessarily so. I believe political truth is not found within the stereotype-driven and politically motivated categorizations that ground the biases of Americans, but in engaging with impacted communities and letting their experiences challenge and change your own social and political predispositions. Forego the algorithm-induced echo chambers and participate in discussions that force you to listen and only listen. Striving for truth means being in company with those who are proximate, armed with a mind poised towards understanding and not prejudice, saviorism, or pride. You should enjoy being proven wrong — it means you’ve knocked off a false truth.
The South or North are not political monoliths. To find political truth, we need to stop treating them as such.
Ellie H. Ashby ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.
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