:: Some of my Experience as Site Background ::
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. Although I dipped into the electronic world occasionally, my time was spent learning how to survive: 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 people: 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.
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.) Still, I write #proudlyNOTawhitesupremacist in correspondence and professional documents to deflect this small group’s hijacking of my whiteness for their political agenda. It’s small, I know. But, the white supremacist message is so powerfully harmful to people of color, in part, because it invokes ALL white peoples’ openly available whiteness when 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 safe white person.)
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.
Perhaps white supremacists exist here in Southern Josephine county, but not in any actual way. Just in talk.
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. However, after a day and a half of armaggedon-level noise from the fully tricked out tree crew working on my property in May 2017, the occasional gunfire I hear now (mostly across the valley) sounds pretty inconsequential.
I have seen guns here, mostly on hips and at the gun show I attended. I have never seen anyone use a gun here. 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.
Still, literally from day one, everyone told me I should buy a gun to protect myself (and not from wildlife). They had reasons, experiences, knew someone. I could feel they were all aggressively afraid, and I was, frankly, a little pissed at their insistence I needed a gun. Still, personal conditions worsened for me here and my being a little pissed grew into rage and my fears grew sharper, activating older fears. I didn’t see anything around me (or hear anything from people I talked to) that contradicted all the interpersonally shared knowledge about danger and guns. My brief revisit to Facebook connected me to people beyond my immediate context, which saved me. It also supercharged my rage and fear.
I don’t indulge the rage anymore—it hurts my body and solves nothing. After a visit home, my fear is also gone. There is simply no actual reason to fear guns here. It’s all talk.
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 women-authored research, no articles, no opinion pieces written about this area’s conservative political culture. Not surprisingly, there is also 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.)
Militia here exist in the silence that the fear of them creates.