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.