Free Speech or Public Safety: Confronting White Supremacy at a City Farmers' Market

Authors: Angela Babb*, Indiana University, Megan Betz, Indiana University, Isis Smith, Indiana University
Topics: Political Geography, Food Systems, Ethics and Justice
Keywords: white supremacy, free speech, public safety, neoliberal governmentally, farmers' market, USA
Session Type: Virtual Poster
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 51
Presentation File: Download



In 2019, a farmers’ market in Bloomington, Indiana became the center of a national conversation about the whiteness of local food when a vendor’s ties to white supremacist organizations became known. Anti-fascist activists protested, researched, and reported on the vendors’ dangerous behavior, demanding their removal from the city-managed market. However, as one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in the state, many spoke out to defend what they described as “their” market and a pillar of the community. As a result, activists – rather than white supremacy – became the target of public scrutiny. The community was divided, with the city and its supporters emphasizing the vendor’s Constitutional right to free speech and activists arguing white supremacists made a public space unsafe. The role of race in governing public space, local food, and the right to protest run through conversations and media coverage of the ongoing conflict, with white actors continually re-cited while BIPOC voices are largely ignored. Much has been written about the events at the market, yet there has been minimal critical examination of what such events say about the limits of public management in local food, the racialized deployment of “free speech,” or the right to public space. Drawing on discourse analysis and participant observation, we elucidate a midwestern community’s response to explicit white supremacist behavior in a prominent community space. This analysis reveals the ways in which neoliberal governmentality protects white supremacy, and the limitations of advancing food justice at a public farmers’ market.

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