Farming While Black: The Anatomy of Privilege

Chris Newman
Jan 11, 2018 · 8 min read

Note: this article has the title “Farming While Black” because it’s part of a series about perspectives of people of color in the food and agriculture business. This particular story, however, is told from my point of view as an enrolled member of the Choptico Band of Piscataway Indians — the indigenous people of southern and central Maryland.

As it often does, it started with a bumper sticker.

JM Stock Provisions — a butcher outfit with a location in Charlottesville — didn’t mean any harm when they posted this:

For indigenous people in America, the West wasn’t won, in case that’s a thing that actually needs to be said for anyone. The West is a story of dispossession, murder, genocide, and forced assimilation. It’s the Trail of Tears, Bad Axe, Battle Creek, Wounded Knee, Sand Creek, Round Valley, and Washita. It’s the headstones at Carlisle. It’s forced marches, the extermination of the buffalo, the eradication of a way of life at gunpoint. It’s men dancing Southern Straight in memory of the feathers that were taken from their ancestors. It’s bounties and Red Skins. And, lest we forget, it isn’t over.

With that said, I’m a reasonable guy. I understand this isn’t the reality White people deal with every day, which is why I didn’t respond with immediate outrage. There are legions of decent White folks navigating a new (to them) world where a failure to consider the perspectives of other people has real consequences. This landscape of self-regulated privilege is new and complex; honest mistakes are inevitable. I originally commented on the post with a raised-eyebrow emoji, but removed it a minute later because I though even that wasn’t fair.

“These are decent guys trying to make a living, and they just made a mistake,” I told myself. “Don’t put them on blast. Let’s just work this out quietly, as gentlemen.”

So I wrote the guys at JM Stock a quick private message:

I honestly thought this would be the end of it.

These good, supposedly woke and understanding guys, would realize they had a cultural blindspot and just say “shit man, my bad — didn’t think about it that way” and maybe edit the post to add some context. I didn’t feel the need to get angry, or demand anything specific, or anything at all.

“These are decent guys with good hearts. I just need to show them the blind spot. They’ll know what to do.”

It’s what I told myself. It’s what I tell myself a lot; it’s why I’m not a violent man. Sometimes I believe it. I believed it this time.

You know where this is going.

Sometimes it takes awhile for a business to respond to social media, so it didn’t concern me when I woke up the next morning and didn’t see anything new on the post or in my inbox. I went about my business. Hell, between two small kids and moving the farm, I almost forgot about it.

A customer messages me on Instagram about a pork shoulder. I respond, and my feed comes up. There’s a new post from JM Stock Provisions; something about a beef sale. I check the old post, check my inbox; nothing.

“It’s fine,” I tell myself. “Sometimes I post first and check messages last…”

At this point I had to stop deluding myself. Any business that makes substantial use of social media checks PMs all the time. It’s been more than 24 hours, and they’ve posted something new. They’ve seen the message. A reasonably woke individual would’ve responded immediately with at least a “sorry bruh, we’ll handle it.” What’s that take… 6 seconds?

“They’re ignoring it, or they’re going to justify it. Godfuckingdammit, really y’all?”

At first I assumed they were ignoring it and waiting for it to go away; Public Relations 101. But I still didn’t want to torch anyone. I wanted to give them some room to address the issue themselves with some measure of grace. So up this post went:

This post includes an image of soldiers tossing the bodies of Lakota men, women, and children into a mass grave after the Wounded Knee massacre — a common occurrence in the “winning” of the West. I still wasn’t mad, nor was I taking this personally. I didn’t call the boys out by name — though now it’d be clear to some who it was. I didn’t troll their social media. I called out the problem without being gentle, but I was still pulling punches.

My hope? Maybe the boys saw my message, but were embarrassed and hoping it’d just go away. With this post, a couple of their customers would connect the dots, ask “WTF,” and the boys would finally add some context to this post so the whole thing could die and we could all go back to selling meat.

It’s what I told myself. It’s what I tell myself a lot; it’s why I’m not a violent man. Sometimes I believe it. I believed it this time.

You know where this is going.

Shortly after my post went up, I got a PM via Instagram. I knew who it was. I assumed it’d be the simple “our bad, yo” response any decent person would send… but I knew there was an outside chance that they’d dig their heels in and crank the privilege up to 11. I wasn’t in a place, mentally, to deal with that possibility. So instead I cooked up a ribeye, fried an onion in beef tallow, made some chayote guacamole, and ate a big assed shell-less taco while watching reruns of Game of Thrones from the season where the writing was still decent.

I woke up in the morning freezing my ass off and still not ready to deal with it. I tossed some logs in the woodstove, threw on a t-shirt, and stepped out into the cold for a hard four-mile run. I got home and vomited twice; still not ready to deal with it. One set of 50 pushups after another. Still not ready. Fuck it, burpees; 40 of them! Vomited again. Body full of absolutely all the endorphins. My stomach hurts and I’m cold and starving, but I’m in an incredibly good mood.

“Noooow I’m ready. And I kinda feel like Superman! I’m probably being silly anyway, they’re good guys for Christ’s sake! Let’s open this message and see what they have to sa — OH GET FUCKED!!!!”

When I first started writing this post, I got it into my head to dissect it line by line — hence the title, “Anatomy of Privilege.” But I’m not going to do that now because just… look at it. Inhale with your eyes this steaming turd shat from an asshole powered by relentless, unapologetic, incandescent privilege.

No, screw it, let’s break it down anyway:

  • All those words, and the only wrong this dude acknowledges is his beef being called high-end, which is an absolutely, positively accurate categorization.
  • He refers to the routine massacre of indigenous men, women, and children as a gray area in American history and lumps it in with the ‘anything’ people can be offended about — like Beyonce’s haircut or a lack of gluten-free options in an Italian restaurant.
  • He starts off by saying that being woke yesterday is a down payment on being a dick in the future
  • I’m supposed to be impressed that he spent 24 whole entire hours having to think about racism because of an absurdly polite message I sent. Yesterday afternoon I’m the only colored guy in the local supermarket, trying to buy Northern Neck ginger ale while some meathead with an open carry pistol keeps making sidelong glances at me. That’s my reality, but yeah, tell me about your struggle, B.

It gets better. This story is literally developing while I’m writing. JM Stock decided to remove the post. Lord Jesus, how easy could this have been?

They realized at long last that they were in error, said they didn’t mean to cause any offense, and apologized. Not to me (the actual Indian involved) or the Indian public, of course, but privately to the mostly White women who decided that #TimesUp for this shit, too, and were threatening to hit them in the wallet:

Sent to me by a friend of mine, who completes me, and correctly asked, “Did you get one of these? Or just us nice white ladies?”

Let’s just say this out loud: JM Stock Provisions riffed on indigenous genocide, got called out for it by an Indian, insulted the Indian, and then apologized to White women. I can’t make this shit up.

It would’ve been in my economic interests to shut the Hell up about any of this, as I explained in the first installment of this series. I invited a punch in the wallet by making that IG post, and am inviting a bigger punch by writing any of this. JM Stock Provisions is well-liked, well-connected, and well-represented in Charlottesville, and they have a lot of friends who could easily kick a big damn hole in my sales, partnerships, operations — all of it.

I don’t buy the sincerity of that apology for a minute; as of this moment they haven’t said squat to me. So they’re probably still quite mad at me (though I’m sure they’d argue they don’t think about me at all which, given the circumstances… no shit), and could really fuck me up if they felt like it.

And I don’t care.

Because ultimately, I put my faith in people who can look at themselves critically without taking it personally. I trust in those White women in yoga pants (some of whom I’ve had words with before) to examine their privilege and bias and prejudice — just as I kept a sticky note scribbled with “ladies hack” attached to my computer to examine mine when, as a software engineering manager in a former life, the resumes of female engineers and business analysts came across my desk.

My wife and I have faith that with every customer or partner or whomever that we drive away by calling out this kind of senseless intransigence, they’ll be replaced by kinder people, and more of them. It’s what gives me hope in the world. Those people, like most of you reading this, are why I don’t fear for my daughters’ futures, even when I talk too much.

So with that I’ll bury my axe by the war post and be cheerful, and happy, until next time. To the families, individuals, chefs, suppliers, etc. that support JM Stock; PLEASE DO NOT BOYCOTT THEM; I have no intention of taking away another person’s living — especially someone that, barring this incident, is doing good work and trying to do the right thing. Everyone makes mistakes, some of them bigger than others, and there is no higher expression of love than forgiveness. But next time you’re there… do let ’em know you know.

Chris Newman is the founder of Sylvanaqua Farms.

Sylvanaqua Farms

Democracy in Food & Agriculture

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