Homesteading & Racism: A Letter to our Community
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Dear Homestead How-To Community & Book Club Members,
The world is in turmoil and we are writing to share with you how we see a connection between these struggles and the world of homesteading. We are also writing to invite you to be a part of the solution.
The world has been in turmoil for two reasons – the COVID-19 epidemic, and the recent (but in so many ways long-term) national turmoil centered on racism and the struggle for safety and equality among our communities of color. When the first issue arose – a pandemic – we homesteaders felt like we had some answers. After all, we were ahead of the curve. We’d been practicing self-sufficiency for quite some time and we knew we could help others when it came to staying home. We shared helpful articles on preparation, cooking from scratch, planning for long-term food needs, and making more of your own needs at home instead of going to the store.
But when George Floyd was murdered and the world began to, once again, struggle with the fact that racism has and continues to be so prevalent in our society, we homesteaders were more quiet. Ourselves included. While our personal convictions were clear to us, and we took steps in our personal lives to move toward anti-racism work, we weren’t sure how and where to bring this up in our blog. As a result, the blog got a little bit quiet this week. We didn’t want to be those ladies sharing our favorite banana bread recipe when so many people’s worlds were on fire, but we also know that silence is not the answer (for more on this, see this video on white silence on social media).
We began to ask, “what is the role of a homesteader in combating racism?” More specifically, we asked ourselves, “What is the role of homesteading authors and educators who value and encourage community among homesteaders, in combating racism?”
Notice, we didn’t ask: “Is there a role for homesteaders in the struggle against racism?” because, frankly, every individual, every business, and every community is impacted by racism and to state otherwise would be a flimsy excuse.
So we began to take action.
The first couple of steps we took were smaller and more personal. We followed the hashtags #blackhomesteaders and #farmingwhileblack on Instagram. From those feeds, we found and followed a number of homesteaders of color who are sharing amazing content and who were, quite frankly, missing from our feed that was dominated by white faces.
We looked over the books and magazines on our shelves and the websites we frequent and found very few people of color in the photos and by-lines of those publications. If books and articles are the “artifacts” of our field, then we are not doing well when it comes to a diversity of voices.
One of us wrote a letter to the blogging editor at Mother Earth News about diversity in the blogging team or in the authors who write for them and opened up a very productive dialogue on the topic (for the record, they were very responsive and shared some actions they are taking toward this end).
Then, we started looking for ways to further educate ourselves on the history and current status of people of color in America’s homesteading movement. After all, we know that farming and access to land are and always have been issues that are intimately tied to racial disparities.
Farming was a central setting in our country’s history of slavery. We haven’t just erased that connection. Likewise, the Homestead Act of the 1860’s was fraught with racial disparities.
And yet, the modern homesteading world is full of privileged white people (again, ourselves included) talking about our connections to the land and “getting back to our roots” while we (mostly) ignore the complicated history of those roots.
To start our education on race, racism, and the homesteading world, we ordered a copy of Farming while Black by Leah Penniman (more on that below). We also plan to read more about the Homesteading Act as well as the “Back to the Land” movement of the 1960s and 70s to better understand how power and privilege played into those historical moments.
We are sharing these action steps not to pat ourselves on the back, but to say out loud what we are doing as individuals and as authors in the homesteading world to be actively anti-racist, and to invite you to join us.
A recent article called, “Dear White People, This is What we Want from You” points out that it is not enough to express your sympathy to the struggles of people of color, or to share meaningless social media posts and opinions. We must take action. We are being asked to “read up on the history (we’ve) had the privilege to ignore,” to “listen to the black experiences (we’ve) chosen to forget,” and to acknowledge that we benefit from from a long history of racism and privilege. Most importantly, we are being asked to DO SOMETHING about it. We hear that.
It is not okay for us to sit back and say that homesteading and racism are separate issues (they are not) or that we are confident that we are not racist (the journey toward anti-racism is never complete). We need to take active steps toward recognizing, including, and honoring black voices in the homesteading realm while we acknowledge our own privilege.
The real purpose of this article is to invite other white homesteaders to join us – join us in taking active steps toward being anti-racist and struggling for justice. Join us in actively learning about the experiences we have not acknowledged. Join us in listening to the voices of people of color who are a part of this movement and deserve their rightful seat at the table.
Specifically, will you join us in reading Farming while Black and discussing it with your family, friends, and fellow homesteaders? And will you share your experience in those discussions through our Homesteaders’ Book Club?
We also welcome involvement from homesteaders of color who want to be a part of the conversation, though we don’t expect you to do the work for us. We invite you to challenge us, criticize us, encourage us, or simply be with us – whatever feels right for you. We also invite you to share your work with us so that we can share it, too. At Homestead How-To, we’ve just begun to accept guest articles and we’d love to hear from homesteaders from diverse backgrounds who want to write with us on any topic.
These ideas are just a small list of what we can do to be actively anti-racist in the homesteading world (and beyond). We look forward to hearing and acting upon other ideas (please share!). More diverse children’s books about farming? Ways to highlight the diversity of our homesteading community at events and fairs? Ways to support homesteaders of color in their business, publishing, and social justice pursuits?
Friends, Homestead How-To was created out a desire to foster community and collaborative learning among homesteaders. We can’t rightfully fulfill that mission if we do not commit to welcoming and learning from ALL voices who are a part of our movement, or want to be. Here and now, we are committing, as Homestead How-To’s founders, to be actively anti-racist and inclusive in our work, beginning with these important steps.
Won’t you join us?
Carrie Williams Howe & Libby McPhee
Founders, Homestead How-To