Thursday, August 17, 2017

Understanding White Privilege

DISCLAIMER: I do not suffer from "white guilt." I do not write from a place of utter guilt for the way my black brothers have been treated throughout history. I only write to seek understanding for my white brothers. I seek to unearth a newfound empathy and to implore my white brothers to try, to the best of their ability, to look beyond their own experience and walk in another man's shoes, just until they get it.


It's a term that came into existence, as best as I can tell, in the 1960's during the American Civil Rights Movement, but only recently gained widespread acceptance. It's understood by most to be some unspoken right bestowed upon whites at birth that's never really spoken about in order to maintain the status quo (i.e. keep minorities in their place). Some sociologists call it a way for those in the privileged class to "mask racial inequality."

I'm of that privileged class, not because I earned a college degree or made X amount of dollars or reached some vaunted rung on the social ladder. I am privileged in society only because I was born to white parents.

Now for disclaimer number two: My own daughter, who is adopted, was not born into that class. She was born to an African-American mother and an Irish (white) father. She's been raised since birth in a white, middle class home. She has two cousins, also adopted into my family (my sister's kids), who are full-blooded African-American. I love these children dearly. So I do not write from a place of total ignorance, nor do I write from a place of non-bias. I would lay down my life for any one of them. And if ever faced with the threat of violence from a racist (of any sort, and we'll discuss that momentarily), I'd return violence with violence. I would defend them and their honor to my death.

Glad we have that out of the way.

Now, to the idea of racism. And this blog post was instigated by several recent conversations on social media sparked by the recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia. That hate crime, a terrorist attack by a homegrown terrorist--let's call a spade a spade, here--has rekindled the debate about racism in America. That crime, carried out by an unmasked, unashamed racist, is an example of racism out in the open--like the KKK unmasked. But it has brought to light the seedier, not-so-out-in-the-open racism of so many others, who don't even believe they are racist.

These people are the one's who might argue that there is no such thing as white privilege. Let me be clear, these people are in the majority! They need to be unmasked and re-educated. They are either willfully ignorant, as so many in white America are, or they are just plain ignorant. This blog post is meant to help them get a clue.

Like me, they, too, were born into a family of privilege just because their parents were both white.

Privilege, in this case, doesn't speak to your socio-economic status. It says nothing about your immigrant heritage or how your branch of the white global family came to this country. It says nothing of how your parents were raised, how much money they had, what community you were born into--gated country club or white ghetto, it makes no difference. Privilege, in the sense we are talking about, relates only to your skin tone, your ethnic heritage and nothing else. It's something that predates you by eons and even your earliest American ancestor.

ROOTS, the Anglo-Saxon mini-series...

We don't have to go back to the dawn of time or even the earliest civilizations. Let's just start at zero. The point in time where "Before Common Era/Christ" became "CE/AD." Yes, during the first years of our Lord, when the Roman Empire was in it's infancy. Think about the early spread of Christianity and how the Bible came into existence, into social pre-eminence as a foundational document for Western civilization. This happened when the Romans co-opted a cultic, Middle Eastern religion and made it, for lack of a better term, "worldwide." Yes, I mean Christianity. It began to morph from something peculiar to Middle Easterners, specifically Jews and a few converted Gentiles in that region, to a global, mostly white religion. The Bible and the Roman church's interpretation (or we should say canonization) of it became the basis for modern society in the West.

Yes, Christianity broke into a thousand subsets thanks to the Reformation, the Greeks, the Brits and a whole host of others. Prior to that, however, the Holy Roman Empire set the stage for our modern-day problem. Now whether your family was Jewish, Catholic or Protestant, they were somehow influenced by this empire which ruled all of Christendom for about 10 centuries (800-1806, roughly). Nearly every white person who came to America, whether religious or not, was influenced by the spread of Christianity throughout Europe. These were white rulers lording their "God-given superiority" in their white religion to subject the masses. (My interpretation of history, anyway).

That wasn't the beginning of white power, to be sure. I believe white privilege goes much further back to the beginning of recorded history, but I'm focusing on how it took root in Western civilization and was essential in the formation of our country.

Our forefathers, by-and-large, were white, European Christians, though some were merely deists who still believed in one Almighty. That's why we have all the symbols and slogans we do in America, like on the dollar bill. And it was under that guise, that we subjected all other races, in particular, those of African descent. (I'm going to throw in a quick reminder that this isn't a lesson in white guilt).

Our country perpetuated and profited from the African slave trade. In my opinion, we adulterated our religion in the name of Christ. And all along the way, we felt justified just because of our God-given whiteness. Sure, we wised up during the 1860's under the leadership of one of our greatest Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, and even fought a bloody war over it, but that didn't end white privilege.

This sense of superiority wasn't taught to us in school, nor were we inherently racist. We just benefited from the way the system had been rigged for all of history, certainly the history of Western civilization dating back to the Roman Empire. We are of the privileged white class for no other reason than we were born to white parents. Civilization was rigged to favor us over other races. Our society is rigged because we are of the majority and have been since this country was founded.


Does any of that make it right? No more than our denial of it makes it not true. White privilege exists. It's inherent in our country's makeup and in the empires from which we evolved--Roman and British, primarily.

I think it takes someone with real empathy to be able to step outside of themselves and "get it." Maybe you weren't raised by empathetic parents who instilled in you a sense of fairness and social justice. Maybe they were just products of their environment. My parents were children of the 60's. I think it shaped their perspective on the world. It certainly shaped their Christianity. Thereby, it shaped me.

I'm fortunate enough to come from a family that is now more racially diverse than any generation before me, on either side, though Mom's side did boast some Native American (trace amounts). That, as well as my upbringing, have given me that empathy, I believe, that many of my white brethren lack. It's as if they can't get past THEIR American experience to see that everyone else's America doesn't look just like theirs.

Take this white woman's testimony. I watched her 11-minute video tonight and was moved by her sudden realization and newfound empathy for her African-American sisters. Or read this Southern man's story of coming to terms with his privileged status. Should we all be granted an "Aha! moment" like that!

White privilege exists.

We can't continue in our ignorance as if it doesn't. We can't be part of the dulled masses who continues the campaign of denial out of pure ignorance. White people need to wake up. Others need to be convinced that their continued denial is likened to "flat Earthers" or those who deny climate change. Their denial isn't going to make it any less true. History says otherwise.

Should we feel guilty about it? I don't think that's a productive reaction, unless that guilt moves you to a place of positivity, empathy or social action. We just need to be aware. I hope that it would make us all a little more compassionate and empathetic. Not everyone's American experience mirrors our own. Day-to-day life in this country can vary wildly whether you were granted this "birthright" or were born into a minority family. Take time to consider their vantage point. Try to walk in their shoes an inch (it doesn't even take a mile). Empathy can tear down many of the barriers between us.

Now, more than ever, we need a little more empathy, compassion and understanding.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ezekiel Stanford Farmer (1843-1923)

Like many pioneering Indiana farm families, the Farmers came north for the promise of new, uncultivated lands in the emerging Indiana Territory. When Fleming Farmer, born 20 November 1807 in South Carolina, was just a small boy, his father Ezekiel moved the family to Indiana Territory. At that time, southern Indiana was a wilderness roamed by buffalo and Native Americans, where white settlers built log fortresses, called block houses, where they could seek refuge from attack. This was the wilderness where Ezekiel Farmer, grandfather of this subject, made his home in the woods between Princeton and Columbia City (later Oakland City). I don't know what brought them north other than the prospect of rich farmlands watered by the creeks that emptied into the nearby Patoka River. The precise date is unknown, but we can assume it was before Indiana's statehood in 1816. This was the area that would become Gibson County.

Elia Wilkinson Peattie, an American historian, wrote a bio of this subject in 1897. Her contemporary and Princeton newspaper man, Gil R. Stormont, mentions the family in his history of the county, published in 1914. Stormont mentions Fleming Farmer as an early settler of the area north of Francisco, IN, in the 1850's. Of course, Francisco was not yet platted, nor was Center Township, at that early date. Francisco became a town when the Eerie & Wabash Canal came through the center of Gibson County in the 1850's. Center Township would be carved out of eastern Patoka and western Columbia Townships in 1880. From U.S. Census records, we know that Fleming was counted among the male farmers of then Columbia Township in 1840. That area between what would become Francisco and the Patoka River, to the north, is where Fleming would marry and raise a family. The first Mrs. Fleming Farmer was my 5th Great Aunt Polly Stapleton (1810-1879), a native of Tennessee, who's father was engaged in the Battle of Tippecanoe and was also an early Gibson County settler from the south. Polly was born 7 May 1810 in Robertson County, TN, and brought to Indiana Territory in the first decade of the 19th century. Father Joshua Stapleton was also engaged as a private in the War of 1812 against the British. He began farming 160 acres 5 miles east of Princeton, according to Peattie. The families were located within 2 miles of each other, practically neighbors in wilderness times. Polly and Fleming were married 17 Dec 1832 in Gibson County. They had at least one son, and possibly a daughter, but their marriage did not last and she was not the mother of this subject. 

Fleming Farmer married a second time to Louvisa Woolsey-Clifford (1808-1879) of Edmonson County, KY, the daughter of William Hopkins Woolsey, of said county, and widow of AC Clifford, of Indiana. The Farmer-Clifford wedding occurred 1 May 1842 in nearby Pike County, IN (the county that borders Gibson to the northeast). To their union was born five children, including two sons. The youngest of their sons was the subject of this post, Ezekiel Stanford Farmer.

Born in central Gibson County 10 October 1843 and named for his paternal grandfather, young Ezekiel would join the Union Army before his 20's. As Peattie writes:
He had not yet attained his majority when responded to the President’s call for troops and joined the First Indiana Infantry under Colonel Baker. The regiment was attached to the command of General Steele and mustered in at Indianapolis. He first met the enemy at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and continued in active service in the southwest until honorably discharged at the close of the war at Duvall’s Bluff, Arkansas. He was four times wounded and still carries a rebel ball in his shoulder. Mr. Farmer arrived home July 4, 1865, and at once resumed agricultural pursuits, which he has since carried on in connection with stock dealing. For the past ten years he has been extensively engaged in shipping fat stock, and has made this a profitable source of income. He owns two farms near Francisco, aggregating three hundred and ninety-two acres, and a glance at these possessions will convince one of the industrious care of the owner. Mr. Farmer was married in August 1867 to Rosie B., daughter of William Stewart, of Fayette County, Indiana, and their home is blessed with the following children—Charles C., Fred S., Bertha C., William F., Oliver M. and Stewart. The family is one of prominence in the community, and the members of the household occupy a high position in social circles. (“History of Gibson County” as excerpted from a larger volume History of the United States, Indiana, and Gibson County, by Elia Wilkinson Peattie, 1897, Cook & McDowell Publications, pp. 120-21).

Ezekiel took to farming and stock raising in the same area of Gibson County where his father, Fleming, had established the family farm. We know from the 1881 Atlas of Gibson County, one of the first to layout the farms of newly created Center Township, that Ezekiel had two farms, one just west of Keg Creek near Patoka River northeast of Francisco. It sat right next to Thomas M. Harbison's farm. Ezekiel also had an 80-acre farm due north of Francisco in Section 18. On his farms he raised livestock and was a prominent Gibson County farmer, according to Peattie. She mentioned the "rebel ball" in his shoulder, well Ezekiel is listed on the Pensioners Roll for 1883, receiving $8/month for a gunshot wound to the shoulder (since September 1870). I also found mention that he served the town of Francisco as a medical doctor. His residence and office were on the east side of Main Cross Street behind the public school.

Ezekiel Stanford Farmer was united in marriage to Rousabell  Stewart (aka Rosa Bell, 1847-1902) on 14 August 1867 in Gibson County. She bore five sons--Charles, Fred, William, Oliver and Stewart--and one daughter, Bertha. The children were raised on the farm north of "Frisco." In 1888, just two years after the last child, Stewart, was born, Ezekiel was named Trustee of Center Township. He'd lose Rausabell in May 1902 to dysentery. She had been suffering from cancer and was buried in nearby Mead(e) Cemetery.

Two years later, he married the ex-wife of my 4th Great Uncle, Fannie King-Mills, who was also my 1st cousin (explained in notes below). Fannie married Ezekiel 9 June 1904 in Vanderburgh County, IN. Ezekiel was 61, Fannie was 45. The couple had no children together and the five children from her first marriage were all grown, the youngest being 20.

Ezekiel was a highly esteemed Mason and a staunch Republican. He died, aged 79, on 14 August 1923 (which would have been the day of his 56-year wedding anniversary to his first wife had she survived). He was laid to rest at Mead(e) Cemetery, located between his two farms in northeast Center Township. His widow, Fannie, filed for a widow's pension 23 August 1923. She died nine years later and was buried in Princeton's Odd Fellows Cemetery, the only Farmer to be buried there.

Upon Ezekiel's death, he split his vast acreage in Center Township between three surviving children--Bertha Taylor, Charles and Stewart Farmer--and three granddaughters (survivors of son Fred, who died in 1910), making allowance for his widow, Fannie, to remain on their 80-acre farm just north of Francisco.
Notes on my relation to second wife Frances Adelia "Fannie" King (1858-1932):
She was the daughter of my 4th Great Aunt and Uncle, Adelia (Mills) and Charles Daniel King, making her my first cousin, several times removed.