“Like all people, we perceive the version of reality that our culture communicates. Like others having or living in more than one culture, we get multiple, often opposing messages. The coming together of two self-consistent but habitually incomparable frames of reference causes un choque, a cultural collision.” – Anzaldua (78)
Instead of holding class on Tuesday, February 12, the instructor of Willamette’s Religion in America class requested that the class attend the Joel Salatin lecture instead of going to Eaton for class as we usually do. Salatin, the United States’ premiere sustainable farmer and Willamette’s second highest paid speaker ever, began his presentation by saying that his presentation was more valuable and important than watching President Obama’s State of the Union address. He continued by calling latin names for things “squiggly words” and “mumbo jumbo” all while his faithful audience yelled “Amen” and “Preach!” from the stands. He reaches his followers through semi-funny anecdotes and a call to action regarding changing their entire lives to accommodate local farming and organic food consumption all with zero analysis of the fact that capital is required not only to start a farm, but also to maintain one. At the very end of his lecture, a man in the crowd asked “What about the people who cannot afford it? Those who are working three jobs and can literally only afford Wonder Bread?” Joel Salatin responded that if he could go into the house of someone who “claims” they cannot afford to garden and farm and they have a cell phone, a television, name brand clothing, etc., then they are not doing their job to support local farming. This idea was shocking enough on its own; however, Salatin continued his rant by concluding with this gem of a final line “Why worry about that one percent [of people living in poverty] when we can focus on what we’re doing?” to which the crowd stood and applauded.
The same person that posted “So apparently the term “Illegal Immigrant” is racist? Ha. And I am a racist for supporting strong border security? Hmmm. I guess that’s the type of crap you have to deal with going to a school like Willamette!” as a Facebook status after Willamette’s Border Fence Project in November of 2011, in the reflection discussion that we had about Salatin’s lecture, first told me that he thought it was “absolutely ridiculous” that I would claim that Salatin’s lecture was “threaded with racist and classist ideologies” (my words exactly) and proceeded to tell me that I can’t be serious. Another classmate, a woman of color, addressed the class saying that she believed that some people (as the class all directs their glances in my direction) are just “trying to twist [Salatin’s] words to make him sound like a terrible person when he’s not.” This is where Anzaldua’s quote about the different versions of reality that we experience based on our surroundings. Perhaps it is being an American Ethnic Studies major that has given me the tools necessary to not only see racism and classism in various spaces, but to also talk about it and confront it head on; maybe it is the fact that I have lived my entire life as a queer woman of color that has allowed me to view the world with a lens that makes me question Salatin’s claim that anyone and everyone can farm. However, I cannot seem to reconcile the giant divide that exists between me and the rest of the classmates that chose to respond to me in our discussion about Salatin’s lecture. The “cultural clash” as Anzaldua writes about was tense and painful enough that I was brought to tears by the same Border Fence protester as mentioned above. In trying to explain how racism and classism are relevant to Salatin’s lecture, I tried to reach the class through saying that farming requires a great amount of sacrifice, both monetarily and in terms of time. Further, claiming that “anyone” can farm by going to the nearest vacant lot and starting up a food share program completely ignores all of the people that are living in areas with no vacant lots or garden space as well as people that have been intentionally placed in areas with unarable soil. People continued to be non-receptive of what I was saying, so I elaborated by talking about food deserts, housing projects, and Native American reservations. There are high concentrations of people of color in all of these places, and saying that local farming isn’t attached to issues of race and class is absolutely preposterous.
Attending a school that continues to talk about caring about diversity, and being in a class that is marked as an American Ethnic Studies credit all seems like a fallacy when I can talk about something that is, with zero doubt in my mind, racist and then be told that I am twisting around words to make good people sound like bad people. I may not have the same wild tongue that Anzaldua speaks of in her book, but I have a very vocal, antiracist, feminist, anti-heterosexist tongue that has steadily been asked to step back, sit down, and “move on from social justice or whatever” (as another woman of color told me to do.) Allowing people to leave this class believing that they have taken an American Ethnic Studies course is disheartening; especially knowing that the last question asked to me by one of my peers was “why don’t people just move out of the projects? It’s not like anyone is holding them there at gunpoint.” If Willamette cares so much about diversity or about retaining students of color, it might be valuable to stop cutting out the tongues of everyone who tries to resist.