I was once told that as an older brother, it’s your job to make sure that you’re the only person who picks on your little brother.
In this piece, my hometown Gastonia is my little brother.
When you are from a smaller town near a big city, you grow up with an inferiority complex. You are used to being looked down upon, and expect that when you make the papers in the big city it is for all the wrong reasons.
I make no argument that Gastonia is perfect – far from it. Like most of America it can be a city of haves and have-nots with clearly defined parts of town defined by socioeconomic status. In Gastonia the sight of the Confederate flag can be common, and in the early ’90s, the city’s high murder rate earned it the nickname “Little Chicago.”
Gastonia also has negative connotations that are exaggerated beyond reality. According to the Reddit post that drove me to write this article, Gastonia leads the state in meth busts per year. When I did the research in the last reported year (2013) on the NC DOJ website, Gaston County did not lead the state, though it does have roughly four times more lab busts than Mecklenburg County.
When I tell people what my hometown is, I am often greeted with a raised eyebrow. People expect to hear a redneck accent, ill-fitting clothes, poor posture… a general resemblance of Uncle Eddy from Christmas Vacation.
Yes, these people do exist in Gastonia, but they also live in Charlotte, Raleigh, Asheville and the cities that you might consider culturally more evolved. If you do an honest assessment of the state of North Carolina you realize that this “Gastonia man” that you picture is probably one the larger demographics of the state.
With this mentality it is easy to look across the county line and view the next-largest city for all of its negatives. As I said, Gastonia doesn’t make the Charlotte news unless it is for something bad.
I also must mention in this defense of my hometown that I did live a fairly sheltered life growing up, but to me this might be one of the strongest pieces of evidence I can submit. I never felt unsafe or that I was lesser because I was from Gastonia. In fact, I looked down upon people from Charlotte because I thought they were snobs who were disconnected from the towns around them.**
Growing up, I wanted to leave Gastonia. Not because I felt it was horrible, but because I was a teenager and rebelled against what I knew. I thought Gastonia had nothing fun to do, that some of my classmates were rednecks, and that everything was better outside of the county (except Charlotte).
But now when I look back, I realize that the slow pace of life and the fact that I was forced to interact with people different from me created a good environment to raise a kid.
Yes, I make jokes about Gastonia, but I lived there long enough to earn the right to pick on my little brother. When you line up on the county line to crack easy jokes about redneck Gastonia, expect me to be standing there making jokes about how much we pay for apartments or mocking Charlotte’s attempts at good BBQ.
In closing, I ask the question: Why make the easy jokes about my little brother when we have so much hard work to do improving Charlotte?
Cover image via Facebook