Unlearning What Spongebob Taught Me

Grace Joachim

Grace Joachim

MPH, Epidemiology Student

When I think back to my earliest memory related to Texas, I think of the classic episode of SpongeBob SquarePants titled “Texas.” While the plot details escape me now, I can still quote the scene where SpongeBob and Patrick call Texas stupid. It may be a funny episode to a kid, but it also plays on the stereotypes surrounding the state of Texas, and the people who live there.

A national poll in July of 2022 found that 31% of Americans have a negative view of Texas. However, a majority of respondents thought that Texas seemed like a good place to open a business (53%), start a family (52%), and go on vacation (56%). An equal percentage of respondents (38% each) thought that, compared to other states, Texas was heading in the right or wrong direction. Anecdotally, there are plenty of stereotypes associated with Texas – cowboy boots, country music, wide-open country, conservative politics, etc. But people are a lot more than stereotypes.

With a population of nearly 30 million people and about 268,000 square miles of land, it should be easy to understand that Texas is made up of a lot of different types of people. It has a 90% high school graduation rate, higher than the national average of 85.3%. The cost of living in Texas is also cheaper than the national average, one of the reasons Texas seems like an excellent place to open a business and raise a family for most Americans. 24.5% of Texans don’t have health insurance, and Texas has a higher incarceration rate than the national average.

 I don’t know that much about Texas. I’ve listed some statistics and read some articles, but I don’t think I’ll understand the state until I’m there. Until I can talk to people, see their important landmarks, eat the food, and be in Texas, my understanding of the state will remain relatively superficial. And even then, I’ll have an experience that’s just a week-long, and limited to one county. However, I can say that my perceptions of the state have already changed, and I am excited to learn more. Much like the rest of the country and the world, Texas is diverse, full of people with diverse opinions.

 I don’t know if it was that episode of SpongeBob, depictions of Texas in other media, my opinions on the people who run the state, or how the media tends to portray southern states in general that influenced me, sometimes unkind, thoughts about Texas. I do know, however, that a state is a lot more than the people in charge or what CNN says about them. I also know that, despite any differences, perceived or real, between myself and the people of Texas, I believe that all people have the right to be healthy and live in a safe world. I hope the work we will do in Texas can help contribute to that goal.