Monday, March 27, 2017

Several slices of rural America are largely ignored

Last year's election sparked newfound fascination in America's rural citizens, the sort of attention that was long overdue. But the spotlight on rural America is only focusing on a slice of non-city folks — those who are white, Mara Tieken writes for The Washington Post. Almost one-fifth of rural residents, nearly 10.3 million people, are people of color.

"Some stories are clear about their scope: Their authors have intentionally chosen a particular geographic and racial population to explore and explain," Teiken writes. "Others are less obvious in their focus, though details — region of the country or photographs — soon make explicit what is merely implied or assumed. Either way, though, a particular racial narrative is being told."
A woman and her young son in Porterville, Calif. (Washington Post photo)
Of the 10 million people of color who live in rural America, "about 40 percent are African American, 35 percent are nonwhite Hispanic, and the remaining 25 percent are Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander or multiracial," Tieken writes. "And this rural America is expected to grow in the coming decades, as rural areas see a rapid increase in Latino immigration."

Rural Americans of color are found from coast to coast, but "they tend to live in different places from rural whites: across the Mississippi Delta and the Deep South; throughout the Rio Grande Valley; on reservations and native lands in the Southwest, Great Plains and Northwest," Tieken writes.

They also have a different history from rural white America: "a history of forced migration, enslavement and conquest. This rural America receives even lower pay and fewer protections for its labor than does rural white America. And, as my own research shows, this rural America attends very different schools than rural white America, schools that receive far less funding and other resources." Tieken writes. "It also appears that these rural Americans vote for different candidates than rural whites. A look at county-level voting and demographic data suggests that this rural America voted for Hillary Clinton."

Tieken warns that defining rural white America as rural America perpetuates an "incomplete and simplistic story" about the many people who live in these areas and what they want and need. She notes, "Ironically, this story — so often told by liberals trying to explain the recent rise in undisguised nativism and xenophobia — serves to re-privilege whiteness. Whiteness is assumed; other races are shoved even further to the margins."

"Interest in rural America is welcome," Tieken writes. "But we need to make sure it is complete and inclusive — and genuine."

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