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Rural People of Color


If you only read the New York Times and listen to NPR, you would be sure that the only rural people in America are white. After all, hasn’t every rural white in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin been interviewed since November 8 about why they voted for Trump, why they would still vote for Trump, and why they will vote for Trump again even though they rely on Medicaid to stay alive. But–gasp!–it seems there are actually people of color in rural America. Who knew! And even more shocking, they are even more marginalized than rural whites!

The day after the November presidential election, Turner went with her mother to the store, and they both kept their heads down. “We just feel like we don’t belong here anymore,” she says.

Turner’s mom, who cleans houses in town for a living, went to work a couple of days after that, and her employer, an older white woman, brought up the results of the recent election. The two had talked politics before—Turner’s mom is a Democrat, and her employer is a Republican. “Well, you might as well come and live with me now,” the employer said. “You gonna be mine eventually.”

She called her daughter in tears. Turner immediately got in her car and picked her mother up to bring her home.

Last year before the election, a young woman Turner described as one of her best friends casually mentioned she hoped for a Trump victory so that he might “do away with some of these African American people.” She quickly clarified that she wasn’t referring to Turner’s “type,” but when Turner sharply asked her what she meant, she couldn’t answer. Another friend assured her that it would be okay if Trump won the election because she would convince her parents to purchase Turner’s family as their new slaves. In a place where a few large plantation-style houses remain scattered through the county, the “joke” feels a lot like a threat.

“I saw a lot of true colors from a lot of people since the election—down with African Americans, down with Hispanics, build the wall, even for the legal ones,” she says. “It really hurts.”

She works as a dispatcher for Kirkland’s, a home goods store, where she handles shipping coordination, but she’s hoping to move into a role that is more IT-focused. Even one of her coworkers—a manager—insisted on seeing a copy of her business degree for days, to the point that Turner finally gave in and brought it to her to examine. It’s hard to not hear echoes of birtherism claims that plagued Barack Obama throughout his presidency in actions like those.

“It gets me emotional sometimes,” she tells me. “I wake up, and I never know, am I gonna get called the ‘n word’ today? Am I gonna have to defend my education?”

The only solution here is for the Times to run another 12 stories on rural whites and their undying support for Trump.

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