Yoopsplaining threatens shared state identity

Yoopsplaining+threatens+shared+state+identity

Tim Eggert

In my two years at NMU, I’ve heard a diversity of skepticism from students toward the weather. Some expressions are ironically cynical, like “if the sun never sets at the north pole, how come it never shines in Marquette?” whereas others are simply hilarious, like “the U.P. stands for ‘unending polarity.’’”

At the heart of both of these is a playful mockery of the weather, because sometimes the only way to deal with the harshly irregular conditions are to laugh them off. But, this year, I’ve noticed a shift in the expressions: light-hearted cynicism of the U.P.’s climate has turned into a deeper contempt toward the U.P. itself.

Lately, this has manifested as a kind of tribal identification along the lines of: “I go to NMU, but I’m definitely not a Yooper.” While any variation of this admittance does uphold some truth in that one may not be from the Upper Peninsula perse, it also functions as a divergence from the community that one is, in fact, a part of. In other words, by casting oneself as “not a Yooper,” one simultaneously rejects the Yooper identity and places their own—whatever that may be—above it, without just cause.

So what, or who, exactly is a “Yooper,” and who should be responsible for the definition?

If an NMU student were asked to define “Yooper,” chances are the stereotypical beer drinking, Green Bay Packer supporting, pasty eating, flannel wearing image would come to mind. However, according to the most updated edition of Merriam- Webster dictionary, the term “Yooper,” most often used as a nickname, means “a native or resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.”

The officially recognized term has no mention of any cultural signifiers, whether they be relative to the region or not. Instead, it depends only on the geographical significance, insofar as the term’s etymological roots are from the abbreviation: U.P.

Moreover, advocacy for recognition of the term, and its actual definition, were captained by, in the literal sense of the term, a Yooper: Steve Parks. According to MLive, Parks, a resident of Gladstone, campaigned for Merriam- Webster to accept the term for over 10 years. It first appeared in the dictionary in the 2014 edition.

Long before its dictionary definition, “Yooper” has been in and out of the mouths of Michiganders and non-state residents, carrying a melange of meanings, most of them featuring a cultural or identity stereotype of the residents of the Upper Peninsula.

Remarkably, the use of the term has been by those who don’t fit the definition: residents of the Lower Peninsula, or to borrow the colloquialism, “trolls.” The oppositional term to “Yooper,” “troll” refers to those who live “below” the Mackinac Bridge.

With the use of “Yooper” by “trolls,” and any other tribe for that matter, has also come a tendency to Yoopsplain: trolls patiently and condescendingly explain to those who are Yoopers what that term really means. In doing so, those who Yoopsplain delegitimize their own definitions of the term “Yooper,” and ultimately, cast a dismissive connotation to the term and those it intends to describe.

The irony of self-identifying non-Yoopers that Yoopsplain— whether they be trolls, Wisconsinites, Minnesotans or whomever—is that they are, by Parks’ definition, Yoopers.

Where the Yoopsplaining tribalists receive their inclination to separate from Yooper identity, I’m not sure. It seems like a play right out of the identity politics and political tribalism handbook, which have underpinned university culture for the last three decades, and in a broader sense, the United States since the days of FDR liberalism.

According to Kathyrn Remlinger, a professor at Grand Valley State University and author of “Yooper Talk: Dialect as Identity in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” the disdain comes from a lack of empathy: “we negatively stereotype a lot of people we don’t understand.”

To me, however, Yoopsplaining and regional identity politics are both negative side effects of state patriotism. Some maintain an allegiance to their state that, when challenged, react with radical hypersensitivity to echo national, political tribalism. This advances to an even deeper, darker layer of loyalty when inter-tribal, or in the case of Michigan, inter-peninsular, conflict arises.

The solution is to identify simply as a Michigander because it synthesizes statewide culture with geographical location, rather than targeting and threatening a specific region and people, like the U.P. and its Yoopers. In this way, we’re all Yoopers and we’re all trolls because we reside in the collective community: Michigan.

In their independence, resilience and amiability, NMU students are the most emblematic of Yoopers, because we are Yoopers. So, when the Alberta Clipper streaks across the Great Lakes region this weekend, and blankets the UP with a serving of late season snow, why not say, “Yes, I am a Yooper,” eh?