Went home to the farm this past weekend. Not a farm I grew up on, but the farm that my Dad grew up on and has been in the family since roughly 1932, as best as anyone can remember. Located just a few miles outside of scenic Ogema, Minnesota (pop. 143), it's a great place to be. Spent much of my childhood there, as my recently-deceased uncle had taken over the farm after Grandpa died and Grandma was too old to tend to it. Always fills one with nostalgia sleeping in a bedroom on the upper floor which, when my father was growing up in the house, was where the chickens were raised. He and his two brothers slept in the living room because it was next only heated room in the house, the kitchen. But even more nostalgic was finding a box of photos in the attic we were cleaning out that were from 1932-1936, if the dates on them are to be believed. Photos of my gandparents form when they were my age, which is always a weird thing to see. In even happier news, I found my grandma's dulcimer that my uncle Paul had made for her when he was younger, so I look forward to learning the fine art of the dulcimer. Good eats, fun out in the fields, hard work, and all other sorts of things that are good for the soul. Always a rewarding trip up to the farm.
Even more interesting though (after all, I am a sociologist...in training) was when my cousin took me to a little small town social gathering of her friends. By a big bonfire in the woods underage kids took to drinking (I hope I'm not implicated in anything illegal by posting this...just making observations) and listening to hardcore rap music. Then, after a period, the music changed from hardcore rap to country music that was unabashedly racist. And I was struck by the contrast, until I realized the fact that it is not only possible that many (most?) of the kids there did not only not even know a black person, but had actually never seen one in person. This lead me to wonder what I would have turned out like had I grown up on the farm as well. Would I not be the radical anti-racist that I am now? I'd like to think that my parents would have raised me better than that, but we all know that parents tend not to have as much influence on people as their friends. Growing up in a place where black people (and all minorities except for Native Americans, due to a nearby reservation (though that's another subject entirely)) exist only in the abstract, what is there to counter racist claims? I guess what I'm wondering is, are these people to be rightly chastised for their racism, or pitied for the fact that they don't know any better? Other than simple human compassion (which they may or may not lack) what is to counter the racist stereotypes that one is presented with all day in nearly every form of media if not personal experience?
It also raises the interesting question of contemporary minstrelsy in popular music. I often go on long rants about how the music of folks like Li'l Jon and the comedy of people like Chris Rock have a negative effect on black folk, by continuing on the old stereotype that black folk are nothing but entertainment for white folk. But I always meet resistance with this type of argument form most liberal and conservative white folk who ask me what harm there is in people making money by having fun and doing what they like, etc. Well, there's your answer. the harm comes in the fact that we're raising a generation of racist small-town kids because the only black people they know of are horrible stereotypes. Obviously, it's not that simple, but something to consider.