Hello, reader. How are you? Did you ever hear the term white utopia? Have you ever lived in an attempted one?
My housemate mentioned this term to me, and it was terrible and distressing. I’m grateful for the helpful label, to sum up something I’ve been noticing here in Oregon.
the CSA potluck
We went to a potluck for our CSA. Are you familiar with CSAs? Let’s unpack the acronym, wrong answers only.
- Celebrate Salty Asparagus
- Cult Salad Association
- Curative Sundry Aspects
- Cute Scrumptious Avocados
- Collect Some Arugula
Okay, that was fun. Cult Salad Association is my fav.
The real answer is Community Supported Agriculture. That means there’s a farm, and they take your money upfront. Then you get a box of produce every week.
So you’re sustaining the farm, and you get delicious foods in a predictable way. It’s fun, and I’ve tried fresh veg that was new to me, that I might never have tried if not for the CSA.
drunk white guy
Then a drunk white guy was there. Yes, alcohol was flowing freely, at this picnic party for the CSA subscribers. The picnic seemed to exist to keep us looped in, feeling like we belonged.
The drunk white guy wanted to know about us, so I explained we live in a housing co-op, and that he had already met my spouse Ming.
“Oh yes, Ming. He has such a calming, zen-like presence,” the man said.
Many people notice Ming’s chill Asianness and ascribe zen to him, or Buddha nature.
“Yes, he is very centered, and also very tough. You don’t fuck with Ming,” I said.
The man was taken aback at my directness about Ming. I hadn’t planned to say something provocative, but that’s the truth that came out of my mouth.
“Ok, yes, you don’t fuck with Ming,” he repeated.
I can’t remember exactly what happened next, but the man was shocked by my language and criticized me.
“You misread the room,” he said.
“No, I don’t think I’ve misread the room,” I said. “I’m good with what I said.”
The man had been slightly invading my personal space, and I found him creepy. He moved on to bother some of our housemates–one smartly took a step back. Soon after, Ming and I left the picnic.
Of course we were not in a room at all–we were outdoors beside a barn. It was the end of the season, and the picnic area was decorated in a certain way that I liked on one hand, and hated on the other.
“How are you finding the picnic?” I asked my housemate-friend. That began our conversation about the scene.
I told my housemate-friend it looked like a photo shoot for a rich person’s fall-themed wedding, and she agreed. Bales of straw, pretty lights, and other markers of rustic farmness, without the realism of flies and piles of feathers after the struggle.
It’s a cute aesthetic and reminded me of a farm my family and I would stop at near Avila Beach for treats, years ago when my parents were alive. We liked to eat the elotes, but the elotes were called “roasted corn.” I liked to smell the blackened corn husks.
“You wanna stop at Avila Barn?” was a common question we would ask one another, when we went to the beach, or apple tasting at Gopher Glen. We’d feed the goats, and children posed for pictures with pumpkins.
Later they added an ice cream and candy building. They sold Christmas trees in season. There were emus, ostrich, pigs in the back part. Then my parents died. Not sure when Ming and I will return there.
So yes–nostalgia factor for this aesthetic. At the same time, I hated the picnic scene because it felt fake. Farms are often run on the backs of Mexican people, other Latinx people, Mexican-American people like my relatives on my mom’s side. The revelers at the picnic were homogeneous-seeming: almost entirely white and middle class.
I explained my tornness to my housemate, who told me something like “welcome to Oregon.” She explained how the scene is chilling because it’s not an accident, the exclusion of diversity. Oregon was created through racism–what I was seeing could be described as white utopia.
“Wow–that’s exactly what it is,” I said.
Wow, white utopia. I felt overwhelmed. Tears came to my eyes, and I felt my knees buckle like I would pass out. The aesthetic, the whole picnic, the drunk guy’s comment about Ming, and the drunk guy’s empowerment to tell me I had misread the room, when in fact he had misread me.
If this is my state now, how do I situate myself? Am I responsible? Can I mitigate any of the harm?
What do I do, if I’m benefiting from the racist project that is Oregon? I was like that mathematical meme lady, trying to calculate how to heal cultural trauma and find my role as a white-passing person, in 30 seconds.
what to do
All this was a few months ago. I still need to learn more about what happened in Oregon’s formation. I’d like to know how it compares to my homeland in California, which I comprehend so much better.
Doing mutual aid work like cooking Food Not Bombs and supporting Ming’s street medic-ing is a start, in making justice. Speaking up about what I experience in community is too. I’ve been to the natural history and cultural museum near the university, where I learned about local lesbian history.
I’ve read placards at rest stops and parks with a critical eye, as some are blatantly racist. I can learn from official mistakes, and investigate deeper–it’s a lot to do.
Also I need to learn about the butterflies here. Why is the growing season so short in this valley, and how does it compare to other Pacific Northwest biomes?
My investigation of nearby loquat trees was fruitful in the sense that I’m growing two baby loquat trees in the craft room. They seem a bit stalled out, but I have faith they might be invigorated in spring. The nature, the people, and our shared history matter to me.
questions for discussion
- What do you do when a drunk white guy starts talking to you at a party?
- Do you like CSAs?
- How do you handle racist microagressions against your spouse?
- Do you trust the food at a potluck?
- How do you resist racism in the region you live?
- How can white-passing people use our privilege skillfully?
- Have you learned anything that can help me in my journey of understanding white utopia and how to subvert it? Please share.
- Do you agree that Ming is chill but not to be fucked with?
- Is Oregon ok?