by Anna Kate McWhorter, Staff Writer
Disclaimer: I cannot take full responsibility for this piece. Most of these words are not mine; I am merely the one that pieced them together. In recent weeks, I have been struggling to find the right response to the media frenzy surrounding Kim Davis (a county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite the Supreme Court ruling and orders from officials on various levels of government). As a native Kentuckian, it was hard for me to see this one repeated narrative of what a Kentucky woman is broadcasted across the country. So I’ve decided to tell a different story. I reached out to my network of Kentucky women and asked what identifying as a Kentuckian meant for them. The beauty and vast number of the responses I received are such that I could never fully do them justice, but I’ve attempted to connect and share those stories here…
A Kentucky woman is not one thing; she’s everything.
To be a Kentucky woman is to be from a liminal space. It is to have your identity stretched on a daily basis. A Kentucky woman is proud, but also honest in her awareness of the dichotomy in which she finds herself. She is called a Yankee one day, and a Southerner the next.
To be a Kentucky woman is to be considered a force to be reckoned with. It means to embody determination and strength along with hospitality and kindness. A Kentucky woman is passionate, inquisitive, and never shies away from a day of hard work. It is to find a deep resonation with the Native American meanings for “Kentucky” we were taught growing up: “dark and bloody ground,” “land of tomorrow.” Being a Kentuckian means to meet people from other places at summer camp as a child and try to convince them that yes, you do in fact wear shoes—even though you know in your heart that you’d rather be barefoot anyhow.
Kentucky is a coal company office across the street from an environmental justice non-profit organization. It is a place of both Pride festivals and Confederate flag parades on trucks. This place is a dinner of soup beans and cornbread, but it is also handmade tortillas, maafe, or a Papa John’s pizza. Kentucky is Deng Manyoun, the 35-year-old Sudanese “Lost Boy” who was killed earlier this year in Louisville; Kentucky is Officer Nathan Blanford, who shot him.
Kentucky is a heaven of a place. It is both rural and urban; we are both mountain people and city folk. It is red as well as blue, and not always in the places outsiders might expect. The Bluegrass State is river valleys and city sidewalks; wildflowers, salamanders, and winding mountain roads while simultaneously a grid of one-way downtown streets, the hum of rush hour traffic, and bars open until four in the morning.
A Kentucky woman is the immigrant mother, working long hours at the hospital. She is the college student who spends every minute of her spare time going door to door in historically disenfranchised neighborhoods to register people to vote. She is sewing up a hole in her son’s pants on a front porch; she is speaking into a microphone at a City Council meeting.
A Kentucky woman is the protester in the crowd outside of Planned Parenthood as well as the woman walking through them to get in. She is the Rowan County clerk who denied marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but she is also the woman who bravely walked into that office, hand-in-hand with a loving partner, knowing that she would be turned away. She is welcoming even when she may not feel welcome herself. She is the one who flies a Pride flag on her front porch, just to have it torn away by a stranger only hours later. To be a Kentucky woman who takes pride in her dark skin is to live in danger, because there is another Kentucky woman down the street who put out a Confederate flag the week you moved into the neighborhood.
“We’ll make you a casserole, but we’ll kill you.”