The Importance of White-Backed Protests and Activism in Rural Communities

Growing up in a rural farm town Southeast of Indianapolis felt like absolute torture as a teenager, but the reflections of early adulthood have managed to alter my opinion and make me eternally grateful for the lessons this upbringing taught me. As a queer kid and budding revolutionary, I was naturally outnumbered amongst the 579 other residents of this tiny town. Yet this week, I've begun to understand the acute change even the outnumbered residents of rural communities across the United States can make.

It's no secret that many of these rural communities are predominantly white. Many of them are sundown towns, or at least adjacent to one. Despite the progress we've made as a whole (though not enough), it is statistically far more likely that any hate crimes that occur in rural areas will go unreported and unprosecuted. As we've seen from the events of this past week, the nation-wide protests have put pressure on legislatures to pass laws like Breonna's Law, to prosecute the officers involved in George Floyd's murder, to re-open past cases that were previously overlooked. But many rural communities don't have this accountability, don't have bystanders willing to film police crimes, and have a smaller government system that is more likely to be corrupt and less likely to be willing to listen to complaints about officers even if their violence is documented. So, how do we change this?

This is where white allyship comes in. White residents of rural communities often have the option to easily seclude themselves from viewpoints and current events that they don't agree with, from the media they chose to consume to the people they interact with on a daily basis. Avoiding discomfort is a viable option when you live in an area that is at once relatively safe and inhabited by a majority of individuals matching your political views and opinions.

As a white ally, bringing attention to important issues, current events, and sensitive topics in your area is one path to higher change. Even as a single person, bringing uncomfortable topics to the forefront in your area forces the visibility of movements like Black Lives Matter, for instance, on those actively unaware, biased, or overall attempting to ignore change. Immediate change is not the goal here, but rather a shift in the cultural dynamic of your area. By being the white ally to speak on this, you are also metaphorically putting yourself between Black and POC residents and a potentially racist demographic.

Challenge your local legislature, even if you are the only one. Educate yourself on current issues, including the history of systemic racism in the United States. Attend local council/board meetings and speak on the issues you see in your community. Bring attention to discrimination as you see it, in school systems, local government offices, etc. Hold your local police departments accountable. They may be small, but rural communities are far more likely to rally around them in the event of police violence. Contact your local governments/police departments about things like de-escalation training. Protest for Black Lives Matter, even if its just you.

On the reverse side of this, ingrain yourself in your community. Your community is more likely to listen to you and take you seriously if they see you as part of their corner of the world. Volunteer in the school systems, the food pantries, the shelters. Start your own. Advocate for good just as much as you advocate for change. Use your whiteness as an asset to cut through the prejudice in rural communities.

Along with this, continue to use the same tactics that those in big cities use. If you see a cop pulling over a person of color, stop and witness. Hold small departments as accountable as you would hold large city departments. Just because they are people you know does not make them any more absolved!

Change happens as a collective. Engagement outside of major cities is just as important as within them, and where you live does not prohibit you from engaging in allyship. However, be sure to listen to Black voices and POC voices over your own as much as you can whenever possible; allyship is meant to uplift and pave a clear path, never to silence.