Beginner's Heart

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Will Rogers via wikipedia

This is my favourite Okie, Will Rogers. A true Renaissance man, Will Rogers was more than 1/4 Cherokee, something a lot of anti-brown Okies conveniently forget. He was also a die-hard liberal, however gently clothed his principles were in wit & irony.

Rogers’ life contrasts sharply with that of today’s famous Okies — the infamous Snowball James Inhofe, who apparently thinks the existence of snow negates good science; the government-hater James Langford, who sees nothing wrong with undermining presidential authority. The former KKK leader and white nationalist David Duke.

These are not the Okies I know, folks.

But these are the Okies who make the media. Not the devout but tolerant Christian students I’ve met so many of while teaching at ‘that farm school,’ Oklahoma State. (And isn’t a school devoted to feeding us, to educating ALL OF US, a wonder?) Not the many philanthropists who’ve put their money into Oklahoma arts, humanities, sciences, and education.

via wikipedia

via wikipedia

You don’t hear much any more about the Oklahoma teachers who shielded children w/ their bodies in tornadoes. Or the neighbours who helped rebuild devastated housing. And about all you hear these days about our incredibly diverse citizenry (we have more indigenous — read Native — languages in Oklahoma than anywhere else). is what a pain they are to government: welfare and 2nd language learners. We have a large Việtnamese population, as well as a large Hmong group in state. There’s a high school in Tulsa w/ one of the most diverse student bodies in the country. Yep — in Oklahoma. Our Hispanic American demographics are increasing with every census, and we have historic black townships that date back to the Civil War.

In other words, there’s a LOT more to Okies than the current anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-brown, anti-education spiel emanating like a bad smell from Oklahoma City.

Caney River via wikipedia

Caney River
via wikipedia

There are the green hills of northeastern Oklahoma, where I’ve spent much of my adulthood, in the company of my beloved and his wonderful parents (both native Okies, and one part Native American, the other Land Rush 1st gen; typical Okies, in other words). There are the round hills of Quartz Mountain, and the wheat fields of the Panhandle. There’s more lakefront than in Minnesota, and vibrant downtown cultures in both towns & cities. You can’t — & shouldn’t — describe Oklahoma in just a few words.

And while I often (really often!) complain about the politics in Oklahoma (which are infused with a particularly ugly brand of Christianity, one that is far more comfortable w/ the Old Testament than the New), I know that there are many many Okies who care about the poor, care about education, and actually put their money & their hours where those beliefs are. Even though the ‘other’ Okies are quite happy ignoring the numerous times Jesus says to  help the poor, and do good, and love your neighbour. Instead? They’ve voted a death penalty that is a form of torture (you didn’t hear that? look it up, 43 minutes to die), and the most cuts to public schooling in the nation.

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All that is hard to love, for this Okie. It’s even harder to be identified with. So I think of one of my very favourite poets, the wonderfully appropriate (and so talented) Carter Revard, a poet with an Osage background, a Rhodes scholarship, and a Yale doctorate. I can’t think of anyone — not even Will Rogers — who better exemplifies how Okies resist easy labeling. Read Carter’s poem In Oklahoma, and you’ll see why this ‘flyover state’ defies stereotypes. At least, if you pay attention: “See friends, it’s not a flyover here. Come down from your planes and you’ll understand. Here.” Thanks, Carter — as usual, you said it better than anyone.

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