On privilege

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a field

If you are reading this, you’re probably privileged. You’re probably white. You’re probably living in rural America. 

How do I know that? Because we’re an agricultural newspaper and according to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, less than 4% of producers in the U.S. identified themselves as non-white. 

You’re probably privileged enough to, if you wanted to, tune out the protests that have been happening in urban areas throughout the country in the last week or so. Protests against what happened to George Floyd.

He was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25. A video shot by a bystander shows Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even as Floyd says a dozen times that he can’t breathe. Floyd wasn’t resisting arrest. He wasn’t armed. His hands were cuffed behind his back as Chauvin crushed the life out of him.

If only this was a one-time thing. Just one bad cop killing one black person. But it sure wasn’t. Floyd’s death was the latest in a long line of incidents of violence against people of color.

You’re probably privileged enough to not worry about what will happen if you encounter a police officer or get pulled over. You probably don’t have to worry that you might not make it home alive.

I know I don’t. I’m a white woman living in a small town in western Pennsylvania. The police chief of our town is a friend’s dad. We wave at each other as we pass by in town. I’ve never had issues with police.

Once, I got pulled over for rolling through a stop sign leaving a bar. I was taking my then-fiancé and brother home in my fiancé’s car after just learning to drive a stick shift. The cops let me go without a problem after I told them I was the designated driver and new to driving a manual. 

I spent much of this past weekend in a 22-acre pasture surrounded by nothing but sheep, tangled-up temporary fence and the sounds of a nearby highway. I didn’t have to deal with protesters chanting in the streets or rioters destroying property. 

All weekend I kept thinking about how lucky am I — no, how privileged am I — to have all these things. Safety. Security. Access to land. Access to clean water. To have the privilege to choose whether I wanted to see what was going on in the world outside my sheep pasture and let it affect my life. 

I kept trying to figure out how I can be a good ally to black, indigenous, people of color, considering all the above. Do I need to drive into the city, join a protest and put my body in front of others to use my whiteness to protect them? Or is there something I can do from where I am? What’s the best way for rural folks to stand up against racism?

I’m still trying to figure that out, without adding to the white noise, so to speak. This isn’t about me and my discomfort and my sadness. 

I think many of us need to start at the beginning, by acknowledging our privilege. 

White privilege doesn’t mean your life isn’t hard too. We all face hardships. Farming is tough. There are so many things out of your control. It’s heartbreaking. It can financially and emotionally ruin you. 

But our struggles aren’t based simply on the color of our skin. That’s our privilege. Until we recognize that, we remain part of the problem. We — out here in rural America — need to be part of the solution.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

13 COMMENTS

  1. I live in rural Pennsylvania also, in a small Amish Community. I had relocated here for peace and quiet, the simple life. I had a reality moment at a town parade, over a thousand people, and not one non-white person in attendance. Then I encountered the Trump supporters booth, covered with an American Flag blended with a Confederate flag. I felt all of a sudden like I surrounded by White Supremacists. I now fear my travel through my home known as Path Valley. The Trump signs that dot the lawns. I live among racists, ignorant beings that fear the unknown. Instead of peace, I find a sentencing.

  2. With such fear I think you need to move or else reach out and talk to these racist, ignorant people. Find out if the view you have of them is real. A sign in a yard is not the whole sum of a life. Why would you expect to see non-white people in a small town that probably has none ? When you lived in the city did you travel to local parades in small towns. Did you even care about small town events. Most urban people don’t. That is rural America in the north .
    I would have asked the Trump booth what is up with the Confederate flag ? Pennsylvania like Ohio gave many, many lives for the Union cause and that confederate flag is an insult to them .

  3. Thank you Farm and Dairy for publishing this article! It is very clear and easy to understand, and I think will help those willing to hear better understand their own feelings and beliefs regarding this whole issue. I have lived in both an inner-city neighborhood that was 45% minority, and now live in rural Eastern Ohio. I hope my current neighbor will give this article a fair reading and try to understand what the author is trying to communicate. Our country cannot survive and thrive if we continue to divide into ‘us’ and ‘them’. BTW, although it is currently inactive because of COVID-!9 concerns regarding public gatherings, there is a group in Canton, OH known as “Courageous Conversations on Race” which has been doing good work getting white folks and black folks together to discuss their experiences, helping to create a better understanding of where we are in this country on the various issues of race.

  4. There is no evidence that race was a factor in George Floyd’s death. Please, stop aggravating an already bad situation by fabricating facts not in evidence.

  5. This article was somewhat interesting about “white privilege”, but somewhat misleading in the context of problems within the black community. If you want to point a finger at police brutality” and less than 1% of officer involved shooting of black people in comparison to the total number of black people killed in the United States yearly as being the problem you are way off base. Maybe in some of these cities that are experiencing some of the worst rioting in the US, you should volunteer to go do a police ride along and see the problems that these officers deal with on a daily basis and gain a better understanding of racial problems in America. Maybe conduct more informed research of the underlying problems impacting this problem neighborhoods instead of simply labeling police as the sole cause of the problem. I don’t know of any police organization that has not been open to open form in discussion to deal with race problems within their communities. The problem with these open forums is that it becomes a finger-pointing session where only one side is allowed to do the finger-pointing and doesn’t want to take responsibility for how their actions or inactions are impacting their neighborhoods. Just remember racial injustice takes place on both sides of the fence..

  6. My father and his two brothers have years of their lives to WWII so we Americans could have our great nation. Their father was in WWI and his grandfathers were in the Civil War on the Northern side. That means they fought for the North. The ancestors who were not in that war were home guards and northern sympatizers. What land we have we have paid for through hard work and paid taxes for years. I worked hard to get an education for a decent job. On my first pay check I made a comment about the taxes taken out. My father replied to be thankful to live in America and have what you do. Am I privileged? I have worked all of my life and so has my family. Abuse and discrimination has happened to people of all races and even to white people. Rioting and tearing up our great country does not help the situation. Stand up and speak out by voting and being a part of your own community in a civilized way. Treat all people with basic human decency when you are at school, work or socializing. That is how we rural folks were raised. I am not privileged I just get up everyday go to work and treat those I encounter descent. I owe no apologies for being white.

  7. people look at the numbers, their are more white unarmed people killed by police every year by police than blacks. More police are killed every year and nobody covers this. The journalists don’t cover the truth about black on black murders every day in the cities because it’s not their agenda of destroying our nation. I live in a rural area and use to raise cattle and chose this life. I worked hard for years to have the things I have and it wasn’t my privilege to have it.

  8. What a sad state of affair WE find ourselves in. What is the definition of insanity??? Let’s take a step back so to speak and maybe bring out one time honored, time proven principle…The Golden Rule. Maybe a dose of the Biblical top ten with a focus on, Honor thy mother and father, for good measure! Back to basics would be a great platform for a true leader to stand firm on as long as they were willing to stand up and stand by their word and vision without being bought or persuaded by the irresponsible cesspool that is running/ruining our country. Taking the perspective that it’s “privileged” in some form or fashion only adds fuel to the “supposedly” unwanted separation that exists. Separation is not always a bad thing…we are all different. There’s no reason we couldn’t be different together while still passing on love and appreciation in those differences. But then again, it would do away with the mentality of, it’s not me, it’s them or them against me idiocy. It’s very disappointing to know that there are countless numbers of children and young people in our world that have the poor examples to model themselves after. The amount of stupidity and immaturity that is out of control is disheartening. I don’t believe a person, no matter the “color”, that has chosen what is RIGHT in this world, should lower their standards or change direction one way to the right or left, in an attempt to persuade the animal instinct and immaturity that is running rampant here lately. Wake up AMERICA!!! Bring back the love of God shed abroad in our hearts and stand tall as a man with a backbone like a saw log!!!

  9. I was born in a project. I was beat up, skinned bruised, kicked, punched…my dress was tore off of me by a gang of 40…..because of my skin color. I am white.
    Prejudice is in all colors, nationalities, genders, religions, stations in life..education. You can avoid the hate and embrace differences.
    I wonder if God would have made us all the same if we would have this cancer of hate?

  10. No human being should ever have to worry about being treated differently based solely on their skin color, let alone being brutally victimized. However, the article was filled with guilt about being white. God created you as white person and no one should ever feel guilty about the color that God chose for their skin. The bigger issue is how we treat other humans no matter the color of our or their skin. I will not tolerate being treated badly because I’m white and people of other races should certainly not have to either.
    I hope you decide to post the pictures of you at the riots ‘protecting others with your whiteness’.
    That seems egotistical and pompous in and of itself. You appear to have an overinflated view of your whiteness. Actually, it’s offensive.
    You seem to feel very guilty that you are white and live in rural America. You have chosen to live there.

  11. I was appalled by the choice of wording in this article. I have read it multiple times over the course of a couple of weeks. I thought perhaps I had missed something. I am still very irritated by the notion that the a farmer living in rural America should be considered privileged. To me a ‘privileged’ status is that given to one’s self by a preconceived notion of position. I do not prescribed to that school of thought. I am no better NOR worse than the next person. I am a senior aged, white, widowed female I absolutely do not harbor any fear of being pulled over by law enforcement officers. I strive to be a law abiding citizen, I have no criminal past and I respect those that have taken the oath to protect my safety. No fear of cops. I lived in Cleveland, albeit as a very young child, during the Hough Riots. Racial many say … I say hatred. Hate has no race. My ancestors were immigrants … some Italian, some German probably a few other nationalities. Look back in that history that so many are trying to obliterate, early Italian immigrants were treated every bit as badly as the early black population. Rachel dear, you are too young to know enough about life to be trying to sort out the good, the bad and the ugly. You have a zest for what you believe in but you have not been exposed to enough yet to make a sound stand on whether or not a culture of people is responsible for the plight of another culture of people. I for one have taken great offence to your attempt to do so. I am a school bus driver and I tell my students that intelligence and wisdom are not the same. Wisdom can only come with age.

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