I used to avoid telling anyone about my background. I had culture shock after leaving my rural hometown for a private college on the East Coast; that shock manifested itself as a feeling that I didn’t belong.

I conquered that feeling for my parents, not for myself. I’d remember my father’s teary eyes when I got accepted to college, making me the first in our family to attend. I would recall my mother’s desperate voice on the phone with the school, pleading with them to award me financial aid. Eventually, my gratitude for my parents evolved into pride for my blue-collar roots.

I never planned to write about my rural Appalachian Ohio hometown, or about being the daughter of a factory worker. But it’s a story I have to tell. It is time that I speak up.

Since last week, it has felt like my family is in the crossfire of the gun control debate sparked by the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. My father has been an N.R.A. member for decades. Because of that membership, my family, by proxy, is accused of being complicit to mass murder. N.R.A. members like my father are being called “evil,” “scared, paranoid, radicalized,” and equated with the KKK. While some activists, and some pundits, have focused specifically on criticizing the N.R.A. leadership, those statements are at odds with the movement, #boycottNRA, which directly targets the organization’s members.

In polarizing times like these, it feels like I have two lives. First, there’s the life I created. I’m a journalist with a master’s degree from an Ivy League school. I have lived in major cities, including New York City and Washington, and I have traveled around the world. My former life is the one I made the choice to shed, but I carry it with me in my heart. I was a girl who grew up dreaming big in Fayetteville, a place where about 75 percent of the town voted for President Trump, and where more people are dying of drug overdoses per capita than nearly anywhere else in the state. Many of my 68 classmates didn’t go to college.

The 2016 election exposed an ugly rift in our society between the people of my present and those of my past. In my present, there are my neighbors, urbanites who tend to vote blue. Pollsters might assume I identify with this population because of geography and education. But not long ago, I would have been grouped with rural America’s voters, people like my parents and brother, who helped put President Trump in office.

I call the urban-rural divide an ugly rift because that’s what it became. It was simply a divide before the election. The divide was under layers and layers of more pressing societal issues. I noticed it, but only because it was personal to me; I’ve had one foot in the city and one in the country ever since I left home. When ballots were cast in November 2016, what was once a divide turned into a glaring ugly rift.

Because my parents chose to cast a vote for Donald Trump — a vote they believed was in their best interest — they were called, among a long list of other derogatory things, white supremacists and racists.

My parents didn’t notice as much as I did. I consume news constantly. Those words felt like they were everywhere. I suspect that many of my friends, acquaintances, and colleagues from this life, my current one, share the notion that my parents, and maybe myself by association, are indeed a combination of those dreadful adjectives so prevalent in our nation’s lexicon, especially after the election. I don’t plan on asking.

No matter where you stand, you are entitled to your opinions. As a journalist, I wholeheartedly believe in the dying principle of impartiality, so I’m not writing this to attack your opinions or share my own.

But I am writing this to warn that the ugly rift is widening. This is a plea to at least see humanity in the fellow Americans you think you’re at odds with. This is a plea to see humanity in my parents and in me.


I wasn’t raised by white supremacists or murderers. My parents were the type that taught me to believe I could do anything. Both my brother and I were urged to choose fulfilling careers, not necessarily lucrative ones. We were taken across the country to national parks and museums. When I was accepted to a program to study Islam, something I wanted to do for my future reporting career, my Catholic parents used the last of their savings to fund it. When they should have been enjoying retirement, my mom and dad took in three children, and a struggling family member, who needed a home.

Maybe these examples aren’t extraordinary, but that’s the point. My parents are just like a lot of parents. They wanted to give their children the tools to lead a better life than they had.

One of those tools, in my dad’s eyes, was teaching us about guns. Guns have been part of my life for as far back as I can remember. The same goes for fishing poles, camping tents, and hikes in the woods. He wanted us to share his love for the outdoors. More than that, he wanted us to be individualists. He taught us to survive and to be self-sufficient. When it came to guns, safety rules were repeated so often that I can still remember the tone and inflection my dad used when he said to treat them like they’re loaded at all times.

My father’s interest in guns began as a young man who saved up to buy 60 acres in the Maine wilderness where he could hunt, inspired by tales of Daniel Boone. When he had a family, guns morphed into a way to defend his wife and children in a town without a readily available police force. We always had an N.R.A. sticker on the back of our truck. I didn’t think much about it.

Twice a year, we went to Friendship, Indiana, home to the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association, a group that promotes early American guns. My father has also been member to that organization. I wrote about Friendship a few years ago in hopes of challenging stereotypes about gun enthusiasts. Like my father, many of the people who go there are also N.R.A. members.

Maybe it was the naïve nature of a young, idealistic journalist, but despite my best effort, that piece didn’t play a role in the country’s discourse on guns like I had hoped. But the reason I wrote it — to challenge stereotypes — is one of the reasons I got into journalism. In that respect, I have no shortage of story ideas having to do with other people.

But what I need to do, it seems, is write about myself. Ever since this rift in our society came to the forefront, I’ve been unable to tell this one story that is intrinsically part of my being. I never wanted to write about my own family or my own hometown. Despite the urging of a mentor of mine for years, I’ve resisted it. But as the ugly rift widens, I realize I have no choice but to try to summon the words, as my mentor once put it, to mediate between the two distant, warring sides.