Last year, following the presidential election, I wrote a column suggesting that people who identify as White consider working in their own families and communities to address the racism and bigotry that helped to put Donald Trump in office. I asked what if the well-intentioned White allies who have moved to urban centers to “help” communities of color had instead remained in their own communities—however racially regressive and intolerable—and worked to make them better at engaging in race relations.
I later discussed two communities doing this kind of work. In Maine, a Truth & Reconciliation Commission investigated how generations of Native children had been taken from their homes, against the wishes of their families, and placed in foster care with White families. From that process came the organization Maine Wabanaki REACH, a cross-cultural group that worked to implement suggestions that came out of the commission to help heal that community. And the Truth-Telling Project, founded in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police-killing of Michael Brown, is not only working within its community to address police violence enacted on the mostly Black community, but also with White communities in other states. The TTP is helping them with their approach to truth-telling in their local areas, and unlearning racism.
My thinking is this: Our best hope for changing deep-rooted attitudes that perpetuate racism and White supremacy is for people from similar backgrounds to work together toward that end. Conversations between people with shared life experiences could perhaps more effectively change minds and, ultimately, behaviors. This is a strategy of Redneck Revolt.
The self-described anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-fascist group was founded in the summer of 2016 to challenge working-class White people to stand against White supremacy.
In an open letter called “To Other Working Americans,” Redneck Revolt put out a call for its fellow working-class rural White people to “reject the idea of whiteness.” That is, they wrote, “to reject the idea that our allegiance is somehow determined by what skin we have, even when our real living situations are so different.”
“Race affects us all differently, but what unites us is our shared struggle to survive.”
Media and some progressives want to lay blame for the Trump presidency at the feet of working-class White people, yet it is this demographic that makes up Redneck Revolt. The organization recruits working-class and poor Whites in rural areas—the target of far-right and White nationalist groups.
This is intentional.
They are rural White people challenging other rural White people to connect to their local communities so that they can build the kind of relationships that defend each other against the divisions caused by right-wing politics. They do this by sharing the history of struggle experienced by all working-class Americans and immigrants: people of color, White people, and LGBTQ communities.
“Race affects us all differently,” co-founder Tyler said in a Redneck Revolt podcast, “but what unites us is our shared struggle to survive—the working-class folks, poor folks.
“And there are people who systematically benefit from our struggle.”
To be clear, that’s the wealthy.
With about 40 chapters nationwide, Redneck Revolt members can be found “counter recruiting” at gun shows, country music concerts, and White nationalist/Ku Klux Klan demonstrations around the country.
This is what it looks like when White folks exercise self-determination in their own communities.
Modeled after the Rainbow Coalition, the group builds alliances with non-White organizations. It’s not uncommon to see them show up at a Black Lives Matter protest in support of that movement’s efforts.
Redneck Revolt’s immediate work is organizing White working-class people to attend to the needs of their local communities. This includes food programs, community gardens, clothing programs, and needle exchanges (in addition to their armed self-defense programs, which comes from the organization’s roots in the John Brown Gun Club). All this organizing is done as a coalition with organizations of color.
This is what it looks like when White folks exercise self-determination in their own communities—naming for themselves who are their allies, what is their real enemy, what needs to be done to heal and build community on all sides of the color line.
Getting more serious about that sort of work is Scalawag Magazine, which on Nov. 2 announced an in-depth reporting initiative on how Southerners are challenging White supremacy. In a recent New York Times article, Alysia Nicole Harris, the editor of Scalawag, said: “Ultimately, we believe that the South is going to be the voice that emerges to lead this conversation about trauma and healing, because here is where the trauma was the thickest.”
This is hopeful news. For decades, Whites have worked alongside communities of color for civil rights. It is reassuring to know there are White allies bold enough to hold their own people accountable to disrupt racism and White supremacy.
Zenobia Jeffries Warfield is the former executive editor at YES!, where she directed editorial coverage for YES! Magazine, YES! Media’s editorial partnerships, and served as chair of the YES! Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. A Detroit native, Zenobia is an award-winning journalist who joined YES! in 2016 to build and grow YES!’s racial justice beat, and continues to write columns on racial justice. In addition to writing and editing, she has produced, directed, and edited a variety of short documentaries spotlighting community movements to international democracy. Zenobia earned a BA in Mass Communication from Rochester College in Rochester, Michigan, and an MA in Communication with an emphasis in media studies from Wayne State University in Detroit. Zenobia has also taught the college course “The Effects of Media on Social Justice,” as an adjunct professor in Detroit. Zenobia is a member of NABJ, SABJ, SPJ, and the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. She lives in Seattle, and speaks English and AAVE.