What We Talk About When We Talk About “Texas”

We live in Texas, a mammoth-sized state. Try to picture where a Texan might live. Are you thinking of us rolling along on the prairie grasslands? Or perching atop desert rock formations? Perhaps your wilder imaginations place us in mountain ranges with heavy snowfall? Or lush coniferous forests? Or battling hurricanes in the subtropics? We have ten climatic regions. Go ahead—imagine us anywhere.

Now try to guess how long you might drive to visit your cousins. They live in western part of the state, in El Paso. You live in the east, in Tyler. You could drive ten hours and still not crack the city limits. You could drive in opposite directions from each city, to the two coasts of the United States, and still not top that mileage.

Prefer the north to south route? You can drive out of the top of panhandle of Texas and hit the middle of North Dakota before you could match the mileage of driving south to Brownsville, TX.

Our largest county is larger than three small eastern seaboard states combined.

You get it—Texas is immense. But what we’d really like for you to imagine are the millions of people who live here—26 million more or less—then try to define us under one “Texan” stereotype.

Are we gun-toting maniacs? Are we waddling beer-gulpers wearing ten-gallon hats? Are we a nation of illegal immigrants infiltrating the U.S. infrastructure? Are we stupid? Do we all have the same drawl? Do we all fly the state flag from the beds of our pickups? Do we ride horses to the supermarket? Do we love the death penalty? Do we all vote for the most conservative candidates we can muster?

Sure, we gave you the first Tea Party representative. We also gave you the Bush family and LBJ. Yet, the Democratic Party dominated Texas politics for 120 years before illegal redistricting skewed our election results. We are not a red state. We are not a blue state. No color can define 26 million people.

We gave you so much for the arts. We gave you Wes Anderson, Carol Burnett, Tom Ford, Janis Joplin, Beyoncé, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gene Roddenberry, Joan Crawford, Cyd Charisse, and Alvin Ailey. We gave you the first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court. We are feminists, artists, geniuses, progressives.

We are all of your stereotypes, too.

We like for you to think you know us. We like to be as mythically impossible to fathom as our land allows us to be.

So when one zealot south of Waco takes on the American government, laying waste to his religious compound in the process, hold tight to your conclusion that we love our guns more than our children.

When international oil companies frack our farmlands to fuel your cars, planes, and busses, hold tight to those judgments about us deserving our floods and our earthquakes.

And when a McKinney pool party explodes into racial violence and the Internet overflows with screenshots of nonchalant white men pursuing rows of bound and silenced Black teens, hold tight to the fact that the land mass of our state can encompass Ferguson, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, and Baltimore all at once.

How different are we now?

We are the ones who call 911 on children.

We are the ones cuffing unarmed teens. We are the ones panicked for their safety.

We are the ones drawing guns. We are the ones in the backs of police vans.

We are the ones protecting the ones who protect and serve. We are the ones roaring for justice.

We are America, our arms open from coast to coast.

And you still can’t imagine the magnitude of it, can you?

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