We have to stop referring to rural, white America as “the REAL America.”
I live in New York City. As far as liberal bubbles go, it’s one of the bubbliest. I even work in a “blue” profession (advertising), where it’s common to openly discuss politics in our cubicle-free office, because we’re all reasonably confident that the vast majority of our peers think like we do. And in my blue bubble, since the election of Donald Trump as our next President, I’ve heard a lot of talk about the “real” America. Meaning: the geographical 95% of the country that isn’t a coastal urban metropolis.
We say things like, “We’re all so out of touch with the ‘real’ America that we never saw this coming.” We say things like, “Yeah, but what do ‘REAL’ Americans watch on TV?” We say things like, “Of course WE feel this way, but about the rest of the country–the ‘real’ America?”
This “real America” rhetoric has to stop. It’s counterproductive because it pits urban and rural lifestyles against one another. And, as a so-called “coastal elite,” it’s insulting. The implication is that the residents of the “real” America are hardworking, pull-themselves-up-by-their-bootstraps, salt-of-the-earth types. Which would make New Yorkers and Los Angelenos and Chicagoans–people like me–lazy Silver Spooners who are hopelessly out of touch with reality.
To refer to non-city-dwelling Americans as the “real” Americans is to discount the contributions of the over half of the population who live in or commute to big cities because that’s where the highest concentration of jobs are. I can assure you that the vast majority of New Yorkers are exceptionally hard-working; one look around a subway car at 8 AM, crammed with coffee-clutching commuters whose dark under-eye circles are almost as black as their overcoats, and the big city work ethic is apparent. Most of us weren’t born here; we came here precisely because we are able to work as hard as possible in this city. Our chosen home affords us opportunities to better ourselves. It doesn’t get more quintessentially American than that.
But to so many, we are not the “real” America. Are we not “real” Americans because we live in small apartments, not needlessly oversized McMansions? Are we not “real” Americans because our neighbors don’t always look like us or speak our native language? Are we not “real” Americans because we pay a premium for groceries, gas, rent, and transportation? Are we not “real” Americans because we choose to pay high city taxes in exchange for living near cultural epicenters? Are we not “real” Americans because we commute by bus, train, foot, or cab instead of by pickup truck or sedan? Are we not “real” Americans because our fast food comes through the window of a halal cart instead of a drive-thru?
My neighbors, into whose apartment I have a completely unobstructed view, are, like me, “real” Americans. They are a family of four; the father works outside the home, and as far as I can tell, the mother does nothing but fold interminable piles of child-sized laundry and put toys back in their bins. The parents’ first language is Spanish, but every morning, when I see their 6-year-old son in the hallway, waiting for the elevator, he smiles and greets me in English. Families like this: are these the “coastal elites” who are supposed to be so out of touch with the struggles of everyday Americans? I don’t buy it. I’d guess that their day to day lives bear an incredible similarity to those of families living in Oklahoma, Tennessee, or Indiana. Yes, my neighbors’ lives play out within the walls of an 800-square-foot apartment in Queens, but beyond that, there are more commonalities than differences.
City-dwelling Americans are every bit as authentically American as our suburban and rural counterparts. America is defined precisely by its diversity; we are 320 million urban, suburban, and rural human beings who share the same set of core values: freedom, justice, independence, hard work, and the pursuit of happiness. Each one of us has our own unique American experience, none more valuable than any other. Every American is a REAL American. Whether they live in a big city or small town; whether they’re immigrants or their family has been here for generations; whether they make six figures or minimum wage. It takes all 320 million of us to constitute America. We are ALL the real America. So let’s change the way we talk about it.