Bender: What we see in the mirror isn't reality
"I began pondering perceptions about North Dakota after bumping into one of the closet liberals in the area. ... Curious, I reached out on Facebook for perceptions about North Dakota from outsiders, emigres, and citizens — 300 comments in hours, 77% negative, 13% positive, and 10% neutral, one of them being 'They eat lutefisk,' which really could fit any category."
As a matter of perception, some states have millstones around their necks. In South Dakota, politicians from the late congressman Bill Janklow to impeached Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, both notorious speeders, got mulligans when it came to vehicular manslaughter. Then, there's Stepford Gov. Kristi Noem, who might slap electronic ankle bracelets on pregnant women to keep them from crossing state lines.
But if South Dakota has a millstone around its neck, North Dakota might have Stonehenge after decades of extremist legislation and oil country politics as suspect as O.J. Simpson. True, our politicians don't mow down pedestrians, but they do hose them down in subfreezing temperatures for protesting pipelines. And heaven help you if you try to do a Muslim prayer at the Capitol. The good news is, most outsiders think we have Mount Rushmore. Legendary.
I began pondering perceptions about North Dakota after bumping into one of the closet liberals in the area. She surreptitiously flashed the pro-choice button she got at rally and keeps pinned to her purse — and judicially removes before going into stores. She'd been recruiting another professional woman, but when she mentioned North Dakota, the phone went silent. “When people think about us,” my friend said, “they think about the Red River Women's Clinic being forced to move to Minnesota.” Bring your own burkha.
Curious, I reached out on Facebook for perceptions about North Dakota from outsiders, emigres, and citizens — 300 comments in hours, 77% negative, 13% positive, and 10% neutral, one of them being “They eat lutefisk,” which really could fit any category.
Among the pros, scenery, wildlife, work ethic, agricultural leadership, cheap speeding tickets, NDSU football, and adequate medical care for frostbite. Some were downright patriotic in their love for the state. One said, “I now live in New York, but when people ask me what it's like, I say God's country, and would move back in a heartbeat if I could get my kids and grandkids to come too.”
Now, the negatives. “The image to many of its minority residents (like myself, an LGBTQ female) has changed in a dark way based on consistent anti-everything, repressive legislation from a one-party legislature. North Dakota's projecting a very conservative, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-women, 1950's gun culture. I fear the days ahead.”
“Old white men in polyester plaid suits and a comb-over holding a shotgun and a Bible.”
“North Dakota has a real problem with hate radio.”
“The extremely religious and oil control the state and the politicians.”
“Hicks. Backwards. Racists. Ignorant. Guns. Xenophobes. Trans and homophobic.”
“Low wages, don't care about workers.”
“Too conservative for young people, too backwards for major corporations.”
“My college-educated children have left and it’s unlikely that they will ever move back.”
“In Wyoming, they tell North Dakota jokes.”
“North Dakota — not as nice as it used to be.”
Ultimately, their perception's their reality. We need professionals and industrial diversification to flourish, but anti-woman legislation's alienated half the population. That and bigotry, real and perceived, along with climatological challenges, make it a tough sell.
We can't change the weather, but we could evolve. We could live up to being who we imagine ourselves to be. But we won't.
I love this place, but I'm profoundly disappointed in it.
The comments should be required reading in Bismarck. Check my Facebook page.
Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column for Forum News Service. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of this publication, nor Forum Communications ownership.