I grew up in rural Wisconsin in the 1970’s and 80’s in an all white town, except that it wasn’t, all white that is.
I don’t know exactly when I realized that little bit of information. I just know that even today I hear about rural communities being “all white” and I wonder. I know that was the story of the area that I grew up. That’s how we, at least we who identified as white, spoke. “Those people” whoever “those people” were lived somewhere else, maybe in Chicago or Milwaukee or up north on the reservations, but certainly not in our area.
While I was busy living in that White Town fantasy world, some of my friends were living the reality of being bi-racial, Latino, or Asian in a community that didn’t, and probably still doesn’t really recognize them for who they are. Instead, it asks that they pretend to be White or better yet, just be invisible or don’t be.
Well, these days I hang my hat in west central Minnesota. I’m still in a small town and I work with small towns around the state. Our rural communities are changing. The White population is slowly shrinking and the population of people of Color is growing. It’s going to continue that way into the foreseeable future. It wasn’t ok for us to expect people of Color to pretend to be White or to try to be invisible or to just not be thirty years ago. It’s absolutely unacceptable today.
Do we want rural communities to survive? If we do, then we need to take a look at ourselves and ask some questions.
- Am I seeing everyone who lives here for who they are or am I asking them to reflect me?
- What am I doing to honor the experience and gifts that People of Color bring to the table?
- How am I perpetuating racist systems and how am I tearing them down in my every day?
- Who do I welcome and how?
- What do I want my community to look like in twenty years? What will it take to get there?
I am sure there are many more questions to consider, but these give us a starting point. The key thing is that the fantasy White Town has always been a nightmare for some and is becoming a nightmare for all. If we want the nightmare to end, we need to look racism in the eye and tell it no more.