A belated response to Philpott’s “racist roots”

“…whoever cannot tell himself the truth about his past is trapped in it, is immobilized in the prison of his undiscovered self. This is also true of nations.” – James Baldwin

The response below is a response to an article last November in Mother Jones by Tom Philpott. Click this hyper link, The racist roots of Joel Salatin’s agrarian dream , to read the article.

I met the author Tom Philpott at a Food Tank event. He was the moderator on a panel that my friend Nicolette Hahn Niman was one of the participants. I’ve read a lot of his writings to try to understand his politics better ever since that event. Some of his thoughts I agree with, and some I don’t but I do appreciate his perspective. So from what I’ve read. Philpott’s politics are the antithesis of Salatin’s Libertarianism. From what I can tell, Philpott is more in the Sander’s school of a more expansive government with a lot of programs and regulatory oversight. Whereas, as noted in his books, Joel wants everything resolved through an already overburdened court system.

Yes, I’ve also met Joel a couple times, and read one of his books. I don’t really follow him closely because he’s more of a preacher and entertainer with his style of communication. Being more science and research oriented, I get more value out of farmers like Gabe Brown, John Kempf, etc and soil scientists like Dr. Christine Jones and Nicole Masters.

Regardless, there were two parts to Philpott’s article: Politics and racism. On the political end, Philpott reduces the discussion down to a dialectic of being communal or being autonomous. To me this is a false dichotomy because there are more than two different types of business models with plenty of hybrid variations that may be autonomous in some facets and communal in other ways, for example, with processing and aggregation. So I don’t fully agree or disagree with Newman or Salatin’s critique of Newman’s business acumen and model. Different circumstances require different solutions.

Now some of those circumstances may be the result of structural racism. But structural racism is not the same thing as blatant racism (though structural racism is largely the end result of blatant racism). I grew up in very integrated communities with very close friends in a lot of different racial communities. Despite this, at different points in my life, unconsciously I’ve made insensitive and or ignorant comments that could be construed as racist. I’ve also prejudged people or too broadly applied stereotypes not only to people of color but to people in rural communities. Some of the most structurally racist and biased people I’ve met are urban liberals, who are overly paternalistic towards communities of color, and too quick to use stereotypes when they form judgments about people who live in rural communities.

So there’s plenty of misunderstandings, prejudgment based on stereotypes, etc to go around. Most of this ignorance is the result of everyone living in their own bubbles where there’s little interaction and engagement between different types of people. Urban and rural people don’t interact, many white people don’t interact with communities of color, etc. The more people engage one another, the more they see that many stereotypes and prejudgments don’t apply to many people in different categories.

Now I don’t offer this to excuse some of the blatantly ignorant comments Salatin made toward Newman. But Salatin’s comments echo a lot of rural white beliefs that are derived from the media and also often promulgated by the likes of black American opportunists like Candice Owens and Coleman Hughes. Salatin doesn’t have enough real life interactions with black Americans to even comprehend how ignorant his comments were and still are . So he doesn’t realize that his comments don’t apply to many black Americans. All Salatin appears to know are stereotypes.

Another problem too with racism is education. We’re taught a glorified, romanticized history rather than an honest one. We can’t undo the past, but we can learn from it and make America truly great if we honestly recognize our country’s weaknesses along with our country’s strengths. This is the same with individual psychology. You need to honestly reflect upon your problems if you want to address and correct those problems. A country’s psyche isn’t much different.

Unfortunately though, there’s also a lot of virtue signaling, especially by those newly awoke, that is determined to cancel anyone who isn’t “woke” currently or in the past. When judging past historical figures, like Jefferson for example, much of the context of his times is not taken into account when measuring him against today’s cultural standards. So yes, he wasn’t perfect, but he was a reflection of his times not our time.

Though if we’re going to judge people, without accounting for the historical context, what about the First Nation Cherokee people? When Cherokee were still on their native land in Georgia, partly in an effort to assimilate with the dominate culture, many members of that nation kept black slaves. Many Cherokee women also married white men, and even a few Cherokee men married white women. Plus the Cherokee wrote their own constitution that paralleled the US Constitution. Yet despite all these efforts to be accepted, Cherokee were swindled out of their land and forced on the Trails of Tears to their new reservation by Andrew Jackson, a man that many Cherokee (including Chief John Ross) had fought beside in wars against other First Nations. So should we cancel all past members of this First Nation because their ancestors owned black slaves? No, of course not, the historical context was a lot more complex, and a lot different than the current cultural context. So again, in regards to history, we have to put everything into its proper place and time.

Anyway, in conclusion, what I’ve really enjoyed about meeting people through the regenerative Ag community is that this community has exposed me to people who I’d otherwise never interact. Through those interactions, I’ve developed a greater understanding of where other people- unlike myself- are coming from. Joel, for example, comes from a place very different then myself. Thus I think it makes more sense to continue to network to build bridges based on common aspirations to overcome past prejudices and differences rather than build walls that only further divide people because of their differences. Walls only reinforce misconceptions. We need to find common ground rather than cancel everyone that doesn’t share our exact political or social point of view.

Climbing down from my soap box now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s