Joking about Red States is Far from Harmless

 November’s election undoubtedly caused anxiety across the nation. Millions of Americans apprehensively switched between news channels and reloaded internet tabs, watching as the election map was colored in state by state. As votes poured in, several states, such as Wisconsin and Michigan, dramatically gravitated from red to blue, while others, such as Florida and Texas, moved from blue into red. 

 Even after Joe Biden was declared the victor of the 2020 presidential election, the excitement and tension that was brought on by the showdowns in these key swing states remained at the forefront of many Democrats’ and progressives’ celebratory reactions. Social media exploded, with viral posts stating scathing remarks such as that Florida deserved to be flooded by hurricanes, or that Flint County, Michigan didn’t earn clean drinking water. All too quickly, the states and counties that had given their electoral votes to Trump were written off as worthless swaths of land filled with idiotic people. For many, it became easy to utilize their misfortunes as a punchline. 

 This behavior was played off as nothing more than harmless joking. In actuality, however, it is an enormous hindrance to the progressive movement as a whole. Writing off entire states and regions of the country as hopeless simply isolates the very people that progressives wish to convert. Additionally, it ignores the work of activists, especially BIPOC and queer activists, who have been tirelessly working to change and educate their communities for decades. While these activists are often celebrated when their states and counties do turn blue, as seen in the praise that befell Stacey Abrams and her peers in Georgia, their hard work is nearly completely ignored when their campaigns fall short of the mark. Moreover, the voting progress that is made in red states is often ignored as well. For example, Oklahoma was heavily criticized when each of its 77 counties voted for Donald Trump. And yet, the news that Oklahomans elected the first non-binary state legislator in the nation was hardly spread with the same enthusiasm. In order to truly facilitate progress within largely conservative states, we must actively celebrate their victories instead of disregarding them. 

 These “jokes” about red states also ignore the mass levels of gerrymandering and voter suppression that occur within them. Seven out of the ten most gerrymandered districts in America belong to North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Louisiana—all of which were criticized for their Republican votes in the election. Meanwhile, polling sites across many of these states were closed. In Texas, hundreds of polling sites were closed just ahead of the election. The majority of these closures occurred in areas with higher Black and Latino populations, thus making it unnecessarily difficult for these Texans to cast their votes. Across the nation, the combination of poll closures, long lines, and fears of COVID-19 made it unpredictability difficult for many to vote, especially for those in conservative states.

2020 United States presidential election in West Virginia - Wikipedia

 Aside from the ways in which voters in red states are inaccurately generalized, the conditions and history that have caused rural areas to vote for Republican candidates is often ignored. All 55 counties in West Virginia elected Donald Trump, making it one of only two states in the entire nation to vote completely red. For many, this result warranted ruthless jokes about the state. Users on social media shared posts that mocked its high poverty rate, comparing images of impoverished West Virginian towns with glittering pictures of liberal cities such as Los Angeles and New York. These jokes and comparisons, however, are some of the leading causes that West Virginians say cause them to vote Republican. 

 In the documentary “Hillbilly,” directed by Sally Rubin and Ashley York, several West Virginians discussed their views on politics. Many of them specifically stated they supported Donald Trump because he didn’t treat them with the same disdain that liberals did. One man, who had formerly been a Democrat, had changed parties solely to vote for Trump in the primaries. “No one really had our back before,” he said. 

 Indeed, in his 2016 campaign, Trump promised to work for the “forgotten man,” which is exactly how many West Virginians have come to view themselves. Trump pledged to save the coal industry—a major source of employment for many of the states citizens—and even donned a mining hat at a rally, showing a level of support that many West Virginians had never before seen from a politician. As compared to the Democrats, who were viewed as elitist and discriminatory towards rural Americans by many in the state, Trump seemed like the only reasonable choice. On the topic of former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, one West Virginian stated, “Hillary said we’re all deplorable. According to her, we’re all nothing but a bunch of backwoods people who are scum under her feet.” 

 Four years after Clinton’s “deplorable” statement, jokes about rural Trump supporters continue. Many of these jokes are deeply rooted in classism, and ignore the image they create in the perspective of these rural voters. In the eyes of the Americans living in states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Alabama, these “jokes” are simply methods for wealthy, urban Americans living in places like California and New York to assert their superiority over their poorer, rural counterparts. 

 As each year goes by, more and more members of Gen Z are becoming eligible to vote, and many more are becoming involved in political activism. It is up to our generation to change the progressive movement for the better. If we truly want to be intersectional, then we must focus on including all Americans in our activism, whether they currently agree with us or not. We need to assist and encourage activists working in red states. We need to celebrate the many victories occurring in conservative areas. We must assist rural Americans in their fight against poor

education, unemployment, and poverty. And, more than anything, we must be aware of the impact and nuance of our words, especially when regarding those different than us.

Alli Lowe

Alli Lowe is a rising junior from the San Francisco Bay Area. She is passionate about writing, politics, and making the world a better place.  Her writing has previously been published in Polyphony Lit, The Loud Journal, and Same Faces Collective. 

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