While Oklahoma pride is something I’ve been taught ever since I learned to speak, I’ve always known that Oklahoma’s reputation beyond our borders hasn’t been the greatest.
This could be largely due to the fact that the primary times our lovely state makes national news is when one of our sports teams does well or some sort of disaster hits. These disasters vary, from the common spring occurrence of tornadoes, the new development of large earthquakes, or the other disaster that’s wreaking havoc in Oklahoma: our state government. Whether it be U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s snowball argument on the Senate floor or a proposed ban of AP U.S. History owing to its “lack of patriotism,” Oklahoma has had its fair share of ridiculous representation.
But it wasn’t until the past year that I learned the reality of Oklahoma’s less-than-glowing reputation. I arrived at Hamilton College, a liberal arts school in Central New York, proudly wearing a Thunder shirt and enthusiastically informing all that I was from the great state of Oklahoma.
I literally wore my state on my sleeve. I knew there would be few people from my home at Hamilton, but I had no idea just how few.
Becoming the ‘token Oklahoman’
Introduction after introduction ensued, making it apparent that being from Oklahoma had some sort of stigma attached to it. In the land of progressive college students, being associated with an überconservative state can often lead to some poor first impressions.
Being the token Oklahoman, people asked me how many guns I owned, or if I liked Donald Trump, to which my response always contained an explanation of how “Oklahoma actually has a lot of progressive and thoughtful constituents” or how “I’m actually a registered Democrat” or even how I actually “don’t hunt for my food or ride a horse to school.”
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The Oklahoma stigma seemed to follow me throughout the year. But I learned to embrace it, constantly talking about how much I loved being from the Sooner State. Seeing as I was the only Okie at Hamilton, I saw it as a civic duty to endorse my state and disprove the fallacy that Oklahoma was only filled with “narrow minded, minority-hatin’, gun-totin’ conservatives.” But it was an uphill battle.
Anytime Oklahoma made the national news, my friends would send me numerous links to the articles, varying from our reckless lethal injections to a police officer who sexually assaulted countless women he was supposed to protect to an oil retrieval technique that may or may not be associated with huge environmental issues.
These news stories even came up in my classes, and I listened to my professors discuss the horrendous nature of proposed bills in the Oklahoma Legislature — bills addressing a confusing sodomy law or a ban on Sharia Law in judicial decisions. Even guest speakers, most often highly educated professors from esteemed colleges, mentioned our great state’s inability to recognize the effects of climate change. It became clear to me: The messages Oklahoma often sends to the U.S. at large are of hatred and ignorance.
Discovering the truth
I wanted people to see what I saw in Oklahoma — the beautiful sunsets, the friendly people and the loyal community. But over time, I learned to see what others saw. I watched from afar, realizing how ineffective and absurd our state Legislature can be while seeing Oklahoma education systems crumble from budget cuts. I helplessly read news articles about how my “beloved state” proposed bills to restrict my basic rights to control my own body. Who am I to tell people how great my state is when I can’t even believe it myself?
I’d love to tell people that all the stereotypes of Oklahoma are false. I’d love to say that the state’s only making positive strides. I’d love to go back to the time I was filled to the brim with “Oklahoma pride.” But it seems that every step we take forward, we take another back.
Oklahoma is my home, and I’ll always love it, but I urge people to take a step back and see how we appear to the rest of the country.
We are a state full of wonderful people that happened to elect representatives that make many embarrassing legislative decisions. The importance of the upcoming election is not to be overlooked, as it will be a crucial moment in Oklahoma politics.
Our state can make progress in the right direction, both helping our national reputation and creating a better Oklahoma.
(Correction: This post has been updated to correct a reference to how many people from Oklahoma attend Hamilton College.)