This week saw a soft blanket of winter engulf campus for the first time this semester. For some, the glistening snowfall like a million stars falling from the sky is a regular occurrence. For others, it’s a first-in-a-lifetime moment, or an opportunity for a moment of nostalgia. For Texans, it’s something else.
My mother was raised in Austin, and I’ve lived there since 2017. Even though I grew up in Minnesota, nothing could have prepared me for this past February when a blizzard cast its icy-white sights on Texas. Austin was hit with the most snow it’s gotten since 1949, temperatures reached the lowest for that time of year since 1899, and countless friends of mine lost power, water, and heat.
Even though I was lucky enough to keep power most of the time, my friends weren’t as lucky—one of them even had to come and live with my family for a week until her power came back on. I had to resort to shoveling snow into toilets for flushing and pots for drinking. In total, at least 210 people died in the state of Texas, and it took over two weeks for power to come back fully throughout the state.
One might think that the nation would be united in seeing this whole disaster for what it was: an unbelievably devastating breach of the state government’s responsibility to keep its people safe. However, that wasn’t the consensus on social media.
“Thoughts & Prayers for the snow in Texas right now,” one Twitter user wrote.“You’d think with so many lifted trucks in one state, everyone would be used to something white and 4 inches.”
Another user pointed out the hypocrisy of Texas leadership.
“Texas threatened to secede like 2 weeks ago, now they’re begging the government for help with 2 inches of snow,” another person tweeted. “These GOP snowflakes can’t handle real snowflakes.”
Yet another tweet expressed a lack of sympathy for the population of Texas.
“I don’t understand why Texans are complaining so much, just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and solve the snow problem yourself,” the user wrote.
Even people claiming to report the news on social media spouted similar commentary. Marcus DiPaola, a journalist who posts news on TikTok, concluded a video about the freeze by saying, “Enjoy your power blackouts, Texas. You voted for ’em.”
DiPaola is, undoubtedly, referring to the policies of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the independently operated and unregulated power grid of the Lone Star State. ERCOT was formed in 1970 in response to increased federal regulation and has hardly been updated since then. It’s unreliable, fragile, aging, and prone to brownouts in the summer, and, apparently, blackouts in the winter. It’s become a vehicle for bankrolling greenhouse gas companies, and, in general, is neglected and deregulated even more so than most of the state’s initiatives.
Herein lies a greater issue. Never mind that, in the 2020 election, over 5.2 million Texans (47% of the vote) chose Joe Biden to be their next president, or that Texas is the second most diverse state in the nation, or that our government regularly enacts unpopular and inequitable policies for the gain of some oil executives. All that most people see is a historically red state with an ineffective and hypocritical government, and so they equate the populace with the people at the top.
It’s part of a harmful pattern of people assuming that everybody in Southern, Republican states supports red policies and, by extension, deserves what happens when those policies falter or fail. It’s cruel. Anywhere from 210 to 1,188 people died, at least 28 of them in my home county. Countless more lost precious food in their fridges from the power outage, crops on their property from the freeze, cars on the icy roads, or infrastructure in or around their homes that they need to survive. However, because they live in a red state, they deserve all these tragedies because “they voted for ’em.”
A lot of good people, probably many of you reading this, were part of this population of Northerners who either said, felt, or agreed that, on some level, Texans deserved what was happening to them. It’s not okay, clearly, but it’s understandable. So much of the information on social and mainstream media paints a picture that states like Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, West Virginia, Mississippi, and other Southern states are monoliths made up entirely of gun-toting, truck-riding, MAGA-hat-sporting QAnon followers who think that the vaccine will give you 5G disease and make you speak Russian. Obviously, though, that’s not the case.
The South is rich with diversity, culture, and, yes, people who do not vote Republican. Trying to undo the harm done by decades and decades of stereotypes and misinformation is an uphill battle. I’ll even admit that, for the first few hours of snow, I called some of my fellow Texans wusses because they couldn’t handle some slush on the road. But, if we make the conscious choice to see Southerners for what they are—individual people who can be outspoken, overpowered, or outvoted—we can start to fight this harmful stigma and work together to help each other.
So no, Texans didn’t deserve the winter freeze, Louisiana didn’t deserve its COVID-19 outbreak, and the South does not deserve what happens to it. Not the Republican voters, not the Democratic voters, not the independents, not apolitical people, and certainly not the large number of residents who can’t vote. Regardless of the politics of the state, or even the individual, nobody deserves a disaster, and it’s time for the rest of the country to realize that.
So, as you’re out enjoying the snow, remember that just a few inches were enough to knock out the second-largest state in the nation, and be thankful that you live under a state government that, on some level, cares about you more than the Texan government would.
Sam Hilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.