Some of my Experience as Site Background [written in March 2018]
On October 24, 2016, I moved from Richmond, California and took possession of my new home and research site in Kerby, Oregon. Kerby is in Southern Josephine County and is 2 miles outside of Cave Junction, in Southwest Oregon.
I was unplugged from October 2016 to June 2017—no internet access at home, like most of my neighbors. Although I dipped into the electronic world occasionally while away from the property, my time was spent learning how to survive in this cultural context: making a safe, comfortable place to live for my two feline companions and me, exploring the outdoors, and taking care of tasks in conversation with this new community: at the health clinic, the grocery store, the post office, the vet, mechanic, pharmacy, hardware store, with contractors, tree guys, etc.
This is a little background about the proposed Rural Portal research site [now archived].
White Supremacists. Actual white supremacists—people working toward a white ethnostate with the logical conclusion of genocide—are only a small fraction of white people, even here in deep-red Josephine county. (There is a large number of white enablers of and sympathizers with the white supremacist movement, however.)
I began writing #proudlyNOTawhitesupremacist in correspondence and professional documents to deflect this small group’s hijacking of my whiteness for their political agenda. (I also affixed signs to my vehicle. For about a week.) It’s a small gesture, I know. But, the white supremacist message is so powerful, in part, because it invokes ALL white peoples’ openly available whiteness if white people don’t signal otherwise.
In my current context, signaling that I’m NOT a white supremacist feels like my responsibility to people of color. (Kind of like a pink triangle signals a safe space, #proudlyNOTawhitesupremacist signals a woke white person.) It also tends to make enablers and sympathizers uncomfortable.
My experiences with people of color here have been extremely limited and incredibly complicated. The overwhelming sea of whiteness–of white people—that people of color endure here has never been so immediate in my experience. I know how hard it is to figure out who to trust in this area just based on my experiences with many local “professionals.” I also know how debilitating—how much suffering—the general lack of trust creates here. I can only try to imagine what it feels like to be swallowed in white people, having to be so careful (or withdraw entirely) to feel safe and trusted, to embody a full range of expression, to have any chance at a lasting sense of well-being, to have the choice to feel fully human.
Guns. When I moved here, gunfire sounded to me like violent crime. Even when I knew it wasn’t a crime, my body knew it was loud and violent and it responded accordingly. Mostly, the gunfire I hear is inconsequential, across the valley. Occasionally, I hear high-powered, rapid-fire weapons and small explosives, across the street from the property and while hiking on trails.
I have never actually seen anyone use a gun here. I’ve seen guns on hips and at the gun show I attended. I have never been in any danger from someone with a gun. I have never seen anyone in danger from someone with a gun here. (Police from out of the area shot a kid at the Dairy Queen in town a few months ago—a kid not from here.) Guns and ammunition are often luxuries in this area, luxuries most can’t afford. This specific rural area’s crime statistics–I read them before deciding to buy property here–support the claim that guns pose very little danger to humans in the southern part of this county. (The high-powered, rapid fire weapons and small explosives seem to be an exception to those statistics.)
Still, everyone told me to buy a gun, literally from day one in town. They asked about the gun in the same tone they used when they asked about the wood burning stove.They advocated for gun ownership to use for protection. Shit was going to go down in this country. Race war shit. Immersed in this culture, I see nothing around me (or hear anything from other people) that contradicts the interpersonal churn about danger and the need for a gun. The churn is everywhere, like air, and everyone breathes this invisible stuff in. It is a center, around which everything revolves. Like whiteness.
Militia. I researched the area before deciding to make an offer on the property that wouldn’t stop calling to me. I read lots of research, articles, and opinion pieces about this county’s politics and its conservative culture. I became well acquainted with the history and players in the local patriot movement and militia. That work focuses almost entirely on the northern part of the county and its nearby populated areas. The Rural Portal site is located in the distinct southern part of the county, an area profoundly affected by its county neighbors in the north.
(A note: The authors of the research, articles, and opinion pieces I read are overwhelmingly white men. Those authors’ subjects are also all white and male: militia members, patriot candidates, and vocal conservative voters. I found no work devoted to understanding how women and girls here adapt to a masculinist culture, how they adjust their relational communication patterns to accommodate the rules and norms in the southern part of this county. No focus on how that accommodation limits who these women and girls can be and how they can express themselves in this culture.)