To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Observercast

Redneckism Drives Away State’s Talented Millennials

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BY CHRISTIAAN MITCHELL

It can be hard to be an Oklahoman. This is especially true if, like me, you’re an Oklahoman who has spent much of the last decade out of state.

When you spend time living elsewhere, you develop a reaction where every time you see Oklahoma in the news your heart jumps into your throat. Invariably it’s some tale of destruction involving a tornado or, with disturbing frequency, an earthquake. Otherwise it’s a story about the latest hatefully regressive legislation wending its way from Bethany to a quiet death in some sub-committee. Or it’s Jim Inhofe …

There’s not much we can do about the tornadoes, but the rest of those problems appear to be the direct result of old-fashioned stubborn pride. Having been born and raised in Blackwell, and having spent the vast majority of my adult life in Norman and Stillwater, I know Oklahoman stubbornness as well as anyone.

A friend of mine used to tell a story about his grandfather, a crusty old Kay County farmer, who would sit on his front porch during tornado warnings and loudly declare, “I was here first and I ain’t movin’!”

Fortunately, to the best of my knowledge, the limits of Grandpa Ivan’s mettle were never tested on this count.
Truth be told, there is value in having people willing to stand by what they think is right, no matter how far it sets them apart from the main currents of thought, or what is considered “smart” by the rest of the world.

But when that becomes a habit, when you consistently, even compulsively, define yourself by how far you can stand apart from the mainstream, it ceases to be noble struggle and becomes self-destructive vanity.

Just recently, NewsOK.com ran a story about the damage that Oklahoma’s national reputation does to efforts to attract businesses. All the petroleum industry giveaways and high-income tax cuts in the world can’t draw businesses to the state if none of their employees are willing to live here. And that’s not to mention the droves of talented young Oklahomans driven away from home by our intensely ideological regressivism.

We Oklahomans have to come to terms with the fact that the world is changing. The next generation of people – that vast, amorphous group of us called “the Millennials” – are just now beginning to age into the levers of control.

We Millennials are rapidly becoming leaders in the economy, and we are increasingly disaffected with ideology- and tradition-driven politics.

Millennials are more socially progressive, cosmopolitan, and accepting of “alternative” lifestyles than any generation in recent history. We are also increasingly unwilling to stick around in jobs or communities where we don’t feel we can be happy.

Oklahoma’s single-minded devotion to resisting change is hollowing out our reserve of talented youth who are going to power tomorrow’s economic and social engines.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are pockets of Millennial-driven innovation here and there in Oklahoma. In a rare twist, Tulsa recently made the New York Times as a beacon of sophistication and modernity.

But if the tomorrow’s movers and shakers can’t find a way to make a life here at home, we’re going to keep losing them and we’re going to keep pushing ourselves deeper into fiscal and cultural crisis.

Any economic and social system built on exhaustible resources is eventually doomed to fail. No one knows for sure how much more oil and gas can be squeezed from the ground, but we can see with absolute certainty that the current generation of leaders will someday pass.

And insofar as that generation continues to build Oklahoma to suit their own narrow ideological ends, they are ill-preparing the state for the future.

Being unwilling to change unto the death has its place, but for those of us who actually want to live here, there needs to be drastic rethinking of our politics.

For all of our stubbornness, we Oklahomans are also a practical people. And there comes a time in every practical person’s life where she has to ask whether a fight over principal is worth the cost.

As a state, we really need to ask whether it’s worth saving an Oklahoma where none of our children want to live?

Bartlesville, OK resident Christiaan Mitchell is a lawyer who holds master’s degrees in philosophy and education. This essay first appeared in the April print edition of The Oklahoma Observer.

24 COMMENTS

  1. Being a narrow minded ideologue who is resistant to change is not “Redneckism”. Your use of that word for an eye-catching headline is wrong and out of place. I do, however, agree with the sentiment of the article–I just wish you would have defined the perpetrators more accurately. Call it “the good ol’ boy network” or just old, stubborn Conservatives who are aware of their own mortality and scared about these young whippersnappers coming up who are down with the blacks and the gays and the neutral internets…

    I hope you get my point.

  2. Great title. As a millennial myself, I can’t say I agree with anything you wrote, but that was a good title. While I’m sure the state will lose a few “enlightened individuals” I think we’ll make it through. Just like every other state loses a few people, even sunny California, with beaches, mountains, and a large liberal urban population.

    The vast majority of us (millennials) may not be as vocal (read: whiney) as our “enlightened” counterparts but perhaps we should speak up a little more often. They say the squeaky wheel gets greased.

    Perhaps, resisting the legislative overreaching radical left will come of as stuck in the past to some angsty progressive who has been groomed not to think through the embracing of every thing being pitched out of let’s think tank.

    I’m all for doing what’s smart, but who’s to say everyone else is right? I’m sure all you’re friends made it off the bridge just fine…

    I know this is not the right target audience for something like this. But, I figured incase anyone stumbled here and was about to lose hope in young okies, I’d post to let you know we’re not all of the liberal persuasion.

    Food for thought.

    • As a Millenial who doesn’t speak up much, I think it’s a shame when people latch onto things like “liberal,” “conservative,” “republican,” “democratic.” Parties are one of the more damaging things this country does. If I tell you I’m a liberal, you instantly think I’m stupid. If I tell a liberal I’m conservative, THEY think I’m stupid. How in the hell are we ever going to understand each other or negotiate? *shrug* We just keep acting like little children who make clubs at recess. I have never met a liberal or a conservative who subscribed to ALL of the ideologies or viewpoints of their chosen “side.”

      Whether you’re liberal or conservative, the truth is the truth is the truth is the truth. Oklahoma is swimming in bad decisions (fracking, anti-gay legislation, few benefits, high education costs, etc). I love my home state, but I’m ashamed of it. When I was a child, I thought adults were smarter and had it all together. I grew up increasingly jealous of other countries whose education, diets, medical care, laws, housing, etc were SCORES better. First world country my ass. I wanted to be proud, but I found I couldn’t. Now I want to try to help my fellow Millenials make it better. But we can’t do that as long as we’re putting idiotic labels on each other and saying “haha you’re wrong and I’m right neener neerner!” instead of actually using reason and logic.

  3. OKC is one of the 10 fastest growing metro areas in the country and one of the cities attracting the most millenials according to the latest census data. Oklahoma has weathered the Great Recession as well as any state in the country. I think you’re pushing a narrative in this article that doesn’t jibe with reality.

    Beyond that? Every liberal from fly-over country that moves to the coast becomes embarrassed by the news that comes from his/her home state. You think Kansans are proud of Brownback? How about the great press Indiana has made with religious freedom laws? These experiences are not Oklahoma specific at all.

    Millenials are not monolithic. They are diverse in viewpoint as any generation that has come before.

    • Dusty, attracting talent is not the same as retaining talent. In fact, attracting talent and then not retaining it, leading to further recruitment efforts, is a huge drain of money and progress. Transient talent doesn’t see a project through to completion. Happy, fulfilled, content talent stays to further progress over and over.

  4. This article is garbage. Just another pile of crap from another bleeding heart liberal. Just because all the liberals agree that doesn’t make you right. If you haven’t noticed most of the places liberals have begun to enforce their version of an economy have not done very well.

    California is the largest craphole of liberals in the world and they are not only broke but they don’t have any water because liberals were more concerned with letting it run into the ocean than conserving it.

    Millennials are idiots. All of them. Let’s get the next generation on the way already. Oh, and why don’t you stay wherever you moved, I’m sure they’re doing so much better than here.

    • John, using CA as an example of liberalism is misinformed. CA is heavily split w conservatism in SoCal and liberalism in NoCal. Guess where the population centers and power base is? MA is the default liberal state. Look at MA for an example of liberalism.

  5. I’m not a millennial, but I do identify with and understand everything in this article. I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma and left the state the very month I graduated from OU. I just can’t live in a place where people are more concerned with telling me how to live my own life than they are with what I can bring to the table personally and professionally to enhance the state in both culture and business. So so long, Oklahoma. You don’t deserve my talents, and you’ll take no more of my tax dollars to fund your backward-thinking policies.

  6. hmm…Must be working seeing how Oklahoma as a whole never dropped when half the nation did. Our people are nice and caring unlike majority of your lother states. Go to these other states that you think are so much better then here, you will realize very quickly that becoming more “modern” and accepting this crap you say is essential ruins people. There you are just another number where here you are a person, someone who matters. Our small business keep Oklahoma going. This article is bogus and untrue.

  7. Not much in the way of important info here.. sounds like a lot of plain old fashion whining.. the younger generations have been saying that they have all the answers forever but end up being the same as what they complain about in the end…nothing new under the son .. people saying others ideas are worthless..except their own… I hear the pain in your words.. you could always take your advice and leave..

  8. You have stated that a New York newspaper has established Tulsa as a “beacon of sophistication”. That did not instantly happen when we named a new generation millennials. You act as if it was not for your forward thinking Us Older folks would forget to breathe. The values that you see in this state disturb you and some of the values I see in this state disturb me, but they are the few. The other states look down on us Okies because we aren’t like “them”. We provide them with oil, natural gas, and wheat. We have a proud heritage in Oklahoma of providing for other states. What has New York provided for Oklahoma? How much should you care what other people think?

  9. If you can’t utilize the word ‘wend’ correctly in the first few sentences of an article that I speculate is about the difficulties of being a Redneck from OK. I can’t be bothered to read the rest. If you are a native Oklahoman, I suggest you take your bother and rage back with you and fix it. Don’t bother us.

  10. I am sorry that someone who does not live in the state has the assumption they are an authority on the people of Oklahoma. You are not exposed to the grit and humanity from Oklahoman after a tragedy. Time and time again helping each other. They are not judging who to help but making a difference. I am sorry no one is accommodating your worldy needs or catering to your sophisticated high brow intellect. Sorry you are not exposed to our universities and their standard of education. OU jumped on their frat scandal immediately, can you say that for some other scandals plaguing our higher education.

    The big point I would like to make is the racism police clashes. The looting and rioting from “protesters” in other areas of the country (progressive Baltimore). Destroying the neighbors’ liquor stores or wig shops are two vital components in protesting. Tulsa has recently placed in the limelight for the preventable murder of yet another African-American. But where is the riots and nd looting? Well I had the privilege to witness a peaceful protest outside the BOK, coming together to want justice and transperancy.

    You want change then put on your big girl/boy panties, role up your sleeves and help become the change. It doesn’t help to beat a dead horse, you are wasting energy and stop the other horses from dieing.

  11. Well if our morals and values change to everyone else’s, what sense would it make to have a State? Newflash for you Oklahoma is Ok. The oil price has dropped and caused some budgeting shortfalls in the State, but the prices will go back up. Most of the United States is in far worse condition. What is the employment rate in Oklahoma compared to the U.S. I love Oklahoma and if you don’t go somewhere you do.

  12. I find it funny that Liberals always conveniently forget that even in the last few presidential elections over 50% of the county votes for us horrible, evil Conservatives.

    You surround yourself with a nice little ‘progressive’ bubble of friends and never realize that plenty of us “Millennials” still believe in traditional values.

  13. As an older progressive, I just have to laugh. Since you seem ok in painting in broad categorical brushes – I will too. When your beloved Millenials actually start voting and quit navel gazing perhaps you can actually make some “enlightened” changes. Until that time, best you can probably hope for is a PBR hour at the local mega church while rocking out.

Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton became editor of The Observer in September 2006. Previously, he served nearly two decades as the Dallas Morning News’ Oklahoma Bureau chief. He also covered government and politics for the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, the Tulsa Tribune and the Oklahoma Journal.
Mark Krawczyk
Mark Krawczyk
March 9, 2023
Exceptional reporting about goings on in my home state as well as informative opinion pieces that makes people think about issues of the day...........get a SUBSCRIPTION FOLKS!!!!!!!
Brette Pruitt
Brette Pruitt
September 5, 2022
The Observer carries on the "give 'em hell" tradition of its founder, the late Frosty Troy. I read it from cover to cover. A progressive wouldn't be able to live in a red state without it.