Urban and rural are interdependent


Last updated 3/5/2024 at 9:14am

On February 26, The New York Times published a column by Professor Paul Krugman titled “The Mystery of White Rural Rage.” While the professor’s opinion perpetuated stereotypes and tropes about many communities across America, I can imagine it may speak to people looking outside of their circle for someone to blame for policies they don’t care for, or the divides seen in our country.

With Prof. Krugman’s platform he has the opportunity; and as a professor, he has the obligation; to encourage others to think critically about the messages they receive about people and places they don’t know. His role should be to challenge readers and students to break down silos and ask questions beyond a book they have read. I would encourage others to read their news the same way — with a critical eye toward authenticity.

I urge people to think about the last time they had a substantive conversation with someone from a rural or remote community. A community beyond where they live, or the circle of people they spend time with. Not just stopping for gas and asking for directions; a real conversation about what life is like outside of the city – what issues communities are facing, what hopes they have for the future.

With my job I get the opportunity to work every day around challenges and inequities facing rural, remote, and Reservation communities. In a country where 97 percent of the land mass is considered rural – and 19% of the population – there are rich stories of the people who live there. There are complex histories that have led to challenges seen across America today.

Overall, rural people are expected to know and understand how to operate in urban settings; it’s where many larger services are located — things like hospitals and financial institutions. It’s where policy decisions are made. If they don’t understand them, they can be treated as inferior or “less-than.” Yet, the expectations are not the same the other direction; neighbors in metropolitan areas generally are not required to understand rural spaces.

It is imperative that those in urban power centers spend some time getting to know the people who grow the country’s food, provide its energy, and support the data systems that permeate American life. These services provided by rural spaces are critical to the daily lives and infrastructure of our urban and suburban neighbors, just like many of the things in urban spaces are critical to rural communities. The two are interdependent.

Prof. Krugman, from behind his desk, blames ‘white rural America’ for all this country’s problems. He fails to see the irony that from New York, he points to this ‘other America’ as vengeful, resentful, and hopeless – looking for someone to blame for their problems. America’s problems are rural and urban. Elevating blame and pointing fingers has gotten us nowhere and continues to increase divides.

So, what is there to do? Prof. Krugman mentions there is no solution to rural rage, best just walk away. I beg to differ. I encourage others to go and visit, get to know people with lives that are different from their own — in communities or places that are farther away from where they live. Grab lunch at a hometown diner and chat with the locals. They will share stories of hope and resilience, challenge, and opportunity — stories of humanity. The thoughts and insights heard may echo stories that the listener has in their own life. Rural communities and urban centers have more in common with one another than we think. The recognition of a common humanity, one based on interdependence, may lead to compassion, compromise, and opportunity to move forward more united.

The solution? It starts with a conversation.


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