Hey, I’m from Ohio

By Guest Contributor

This op-ed was written in response to Ryan Kim’s winning TEDx talkat the Nov. 8 student speaker competition. Kim will speak at this Saturday’s TEDx event.

Ryan, I’m glad that you had an amazing summer experience — traveling the country by rail. There is so much to learn in this nation and I sincerely thank you for sharing that experience.

The three vignettes in your talk are cute and interesting but your conclusion is troublesome. You mention that people “treat huge swaths of our country, like the Midwest, like the Deep South, as fly-by zones or forgettable remnants of the past.”

What people? Not the people where I’m from. I grew up in one of those “fly-by zones” — the Midwest — and my family has lived in the Deep South since before the War Between the States. We don’t live in a “forgettable remnant of the past;” it’s my childhood and my family, my heritage and hopefully my future. I don’t need to be reminded that there are real people and real culture in these areas. Not to mention that there were even real people and culture in these areas for thousands of years before colonization. The fact that these reminders are necessary is incredibly offensive and a manifestation of “coastist” elitism.

The whole concept of a “fly-by zone” is funny because of how recently in human history we mastered flight, which nobody believed was possible. That is, until Susan Wright encouraged her sons in Ohio. Without the Midwest, you would not be able to fly over these cultural backwaters.

So who is your audience? It doesn’t seem to be anyone from these “fly-by zones.” This phrase reeks of and fundamentally appeals to a view of coastal cultural domination. Just because my state only makes it to the foreground here every four years on the first Tuesday in November, does not mean you should just fly over Ohio.

Ryan, ultimately this really isn’t about you at all. It’s about why that coastist view of the rest of the country resonated so strongly with the judges here. I’m disappointed when such coastism that bites at everyone from the South and Midwest is so celebrated.

For the curious reader, I leave you with a brief list of culturally significant people you may have heard of (or should look up) who called these “fly-by zones” home: Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, Toni Morrison, Patricia Polacco, R.L. Stein, Grace Lee Boggs, Ulysses S. Grant, Malcolm X.

Ryan, I’m glad that you are trying to challenge this regionalism and urge people to “pause and consider the magic you can find in our own backyard.” But, I urge you to refine your conclusion. Yeah, there are real people in the Midwest and Deep South. But some of us don’t need to be told that.


Barrett Smith ’13 (Ohio)

Message Endorsed by Midwestern SCUM (Stopping Coastist Undercurrent at Middlebury): Jay Saper ’13 (Michigan), Hannah Rae Murphy ’14 (Michigan), Jessica Munyon ’13.5 (Iowa), Mara Moettus ’15.5 (Minnesota), Leah Pickett ’13 (Kansas).