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Confronting White Supremacy in Indigenous Spaces

“What was the most impactful experience you’ve had over the past few weeks?” asked Karlos, our host at Fourth World, a farm in Mancos, Colorado working to reindigenize landscape and farm sustainably. I raised my hand eagerly. “Well, a few days ago in La Madera, New Mexico, we slaughtered a sheep! It was my first time and was very meaningful.” I said. Karlos took a second to think about the words I had chosen. “You know, when you say words like ‘slaughter’, you are speaking the language of the oppressor. You are perpetuating white supremacy. Here, we use the word harvest.” I thanked him for his knowledge, and my mind started racing. What other words that I used on a daily basis were upheld by white supremacy? How often did I use the language of the oppressor?

The truth is, probably every day. White supremacy is all around us–in the words we choose to speak, in the food we choose to buy, in the businesses we choose to support. We took a day trip to Mesa Verde National Park, where we observed structures and buildings embedded in the cliffs built by the Ancestral Pueblo people. The narrative was that instead of Pueblo people being brilliant, they were lucky. I often read the informational plaques, and was disappointed here. I was confronted with language like “Their economy was much more complex than you may think!,” and “1200 years ago, they all moved away.” Geared with the information I’ve gained on this trip, I spotted the white supremacy in this language right away. We, as white people, are constantly pushing the agenda that Westernized culture is superior to any and every other culture. This informational plaque was undermining the same structures they were showcasing. Kind of like saying, ‘hey, can you believe a people so below us could do something so great?’ Once you start to spot the language, you don’t stop. And that’s because racism is embedded in the English language.

Here at Fourth World Farms, we are learning how capitalism and colonization have worked hand in hand to abuse the food industry and the people who are buying from it. And what goes hand in hand with those two phenomena? White supremacy. Millions of Americans, including myself, are buying food products that only exist because of exploited labor. Buying something as simple as an apple or a steak at the grocery store could mean the practice of unfair wages and living conditions for migrant workers picking that fruit, or the mass-killing of animals in feedlots. We are making decisions every day that affect so many more people and things than just ourselves. It can be overwhelming trying to confront white supremacy, because it is everywhere, but it all starts with the simple questions: where is my food coming from? What words have I incorporated in my vocabulary? What people and companies am I choosing to support? And, just as easy as it is to support exploitative labor and industries, it is as easy not to. So, I am not asking you to radically change your way of life, I am simply asking you to think about one thing: what choices have you made today? Do you feel good about them?