Ben and Erin Napier say they have to 'work extra hard to combat the stereotypes' that small-town America is 'racist' and 'podunk'
Home Town stars Ben and Erin Napier are acknowledging the biggest misconceptions about living in a place like Laurel, Miss.
The HGTV duo — who opened the new Laurel Mercantile Co. in 2016 in an effort to create jobs, sell goods and rebuild the small town — have been followed by television cameras and crews for years documenting their journey. Even still, they explained in the new Townsizing podcast that people have a skewed view of what their town is really like.
"We actually do have the internet, you know, contrary to what you might believe about us right now. We have shoes and teeth in Mississippi and the internet," Erin joked. "I think one of the big misconceptions is that it’s podunk and it’s backwards. There are podunk and backwards people in every single square inch of this country. It’s not like a small-town problem."
Ben went on to note one of the more troubling perceptions of Southerners.
"Being from South Mississippi I think that the one that hits the hardest for us is that ,you know, we are 'racist' or 'prejudiced' or whatever. That is a pandemic that spans the globe," he said.
Erin acknowledged that changing these perceptions is a big mission of the series. "Small-town America has this really rich and flavorful story to tell and we have to work extra hard to combat the stereotypes that people have already placed on small-town America," she told Townsizing host Anne Helen Petersen.
It isn't the first time that the couple has addressed those perceptions, as Erin was asked about her seeming lack of support for the Black Lives Matter movement on social media in the summer of 2020. In response to a follower who had suggested Erin should be more outspoken with her platform, the HGTV star shared the efforts that she was actually making.
"I want you to know that my social media quiet is not a difference of opinion, it's just a difference of expression. I think taking a 'bigger' stand lies in the small opportunities we meet every day as we go to the post office or order food in a restaurant," she wrote, noting that she lives in a city that is 60% Black. "I believe social media posting under duress from the world is not the answer. It is artificial. It will not heal what's wrong."
Erin's screenshots of the conversation, which she posted to her Instagram page, showed her going on to say, "I think we all have so much more in common than the world wants us to believe." She echoed that sentiment in her podcast appearance. "We have more in common than we have differences," the couple said.
In fact, community and connection with others is what the two credit as the foundation of their work.
"We have a sign, a poster that we sell in our shop that says, 'No strangers, no secrets' because that’s the big thing that we hear a lot about small towns is like, 'Man, everybody knows your business.' But it’s also kind of like, if you ain’t doing something you’re not supposed to, who cares if they know your business 'cause they’re looking out for you," Ben said.
Erin added, "Find the richness in the friendships and doing things that really matter, like bringing a town back to life; it’s important work."
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