I moved from northern Virginia to New York City for my second year of college last year. The northern part is crucial. My entire life, it was common for people in that area to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the state as to not be confused with the southern part of it. But despite that local distinction, I needed to further separate myself from the South. NYC to me was less of an escape to and more of an escape from. I wanted to shed the sweet suburban Virginia part of me and embrace the diversity and tolerance of the city, but upon actually living there, I found ignorance in my utopia and a newfound defense of my home.
Back in March, when the coronavirus (COVID-19) was becoming a more pertinent topic in the U.S., several videos of Asian people being harassed on the streets and on the subway were circling around the internet. It shocked me how such ignorance could exist in what I thought was supposed to be better than the country.
I had fallen into the trap of dividing the U.S. between the racist and backward rural South and the safe haven of metropolitan areas.
But even more concerning was when I had brought this up to a friend of mine who suggested that although racial tension was high here, they must be worse in Virginia. She said "Virginia" with a lighthearted scoff, which only troubled me more. To someone from the city, Virginia is Virginia regardless of its proximity to a metropolitan area and as with all Southern states, is populated by ignorant country people. To me, this idea is an unfair stereotype for those below the Mason-Dixon line and an irresponsible excuse for those above it.
Viewing red states as this monolith is incredibly harmful to the people living there. While some areas in the South are genuinely horrible for minorities, it is simply wrong to lump millions of people under the same stereotype. While many states in the South are predominantly white, there are still over 40 million people of color who call these states home, and to ignore this population is to ignore the activist work in the region.
This mentality also implies that racism is less prevalent in cities compared to rural areas, when that is simply not the case. In May 2020, Upper West Sider Amy Cooper was recorded threatening to call the police on a Black man in Central Park, even emphasizing his position as a Black man. She has all the traits adverse to the "typical" ignorant Southerner — she is well-educated, works and lives in a diverse metropolitan area, and even proclaims how she isn't racist, and yet her blatant racism came forward in this crucial moment.
Living in a city doesn't exempt anyone from racism just as living in a rural area doesn't make someone racist — discrimination isn't exclusive to the South.
But of course, my opinion is limited to my own experience. Many people do genuinely escape to cities from ignorant communities. However, not everyone has this option. Communities in the South should not be seen as lost causes. They are homes to people with the same propensity for good or bad as anyone regardless of where they live.