Whose streets, whose state? Territorializing whiteness in the Northwest

Authors: Robin Wright*, University of Minnesota - Minneapolis
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, Rural Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: territory, race, whiteness,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/8/2020
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 4:35 PM
Room: Governors Square 11, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


East of the Cascade mountains, Washingtonians seek to create a 51st state based in Christian conservative values, while west of the mountains the city of Portland, Oregon is the site of increasingly violent incursions by out-of-town right-wing activists. Though seemingly divergent, I argue in this paper that attempts to ‘move out’ to new territory and ‘move in’ to reclaim territory both function to reproduce whiteness as a racial identity, social status, and spatial location. Separatist groups in Oregon and Washington claim that governing liberal elites no longer represent their religious, cultural, or economic interests. Heterogenous groups cohering around 2nd amendment rights and natural resource management assert their claims to political and public space over and against the selfsame elites through open carry rallies, marches, tractor caravans, and staged street fights. These multi-directional efforts to re-make cityscapes and landscapes as white spaces are dependent on valorizing an imagined rural subject that is Christian, white, male, and employed in traditional agriculture, forestry, and construction industries. This white rural archetype circulates through these movements even as most activists live in suburban and exurban areas close to urban centers in both the western (more populous) and eastern (less populous) sides of the states. Drawing on six months of digital ethnography, participant observation, and interviews with right-wing activists in Oregon and Washington, I show how whiteness is relationally constructed through the struggle to re-politicize and re-territorialize whiteness as a rural identity while claiming rightful political authority over both urban and rural spaces.

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