Corn Palace of Shame

Sometimes, I wish I could shut off the equity voices in my head.

What a grotesquely privileged thing to say, right? Absolutely. But I share these guilty feelings publicly so perhaps it will help other people know it’s okay if they feel that way sometimes. As a person with privilege, I believe we can be honest with ourselves and have those fleeting moments of wishing for a simpler time, of a more straightforward paradigm, so long as in the space outside of our brains we’re acting to ensure that they don’t guide the way we operate in our lives.

That’s a pretty heavy opening for a visit to a tourist trap. I begin my entry this way because my desire seemed simple enough on the outset. I wanted to see the Corn Palace. I have for a decade, ever since Toby and I crossed the country in two days, stopping briefly overnight in Mitchell, South Dakota. Stopping so briefly that we couldn’t even experience the legendary Corn Palace.

I wanted to see that Corn Palace. I knew it’d be ultimately disappointing, sure, and that our sojourn there would be quick, but I wanted the experience.

So my parents indulged me. (Let’s be real: Dad wanted to see it too) We parked and headed toward the corn-by-number design embedded in corn around what was essentially the area’s civic center. Each year, the theme changed, and the corn murals changed to reflect that year’s theme.

This year’s theme: American Pride.

The scenes: Cowboys. Injuns. Buffalo running across the plains. A wolf howling at the moon. That last one was actually my favorite.

And I get it, this is the Wild West. That traditional image supports the local economy. South Dakota is a red state, and I imagine conversations about equity and diversity must be challenging to enter into. But the capitalized AMERICAN PRIDE seemed, to me, to have undertones. WHITE pride. STRAIGHT pride. REGULAR good-ol-American patriotic pride raising its fist among a disturbing landscape of #blacklivesmatter and #distractinglysexy and #lovewins. It could have just been me reading waaaaay too far into things, a Seattleite stripped of opportunities to shift discourse in the past few weeks that I’ve been traveling.

I guess maybe I also feel weird because Toby’s introduced me to the US’s corn horrors, courtesy of Montesano, and I just wonder what natural local bounty would be displayed at the palace if farmers had their choice, or, dare I say, if Natives had their choice.

Anyway, visit the corn palace if you want, and let me know how it makes you feel.

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