RWSA Endorses Agricultural History Society’s statement on COVID-19 and Police Violence

The Rural Women’s Studies Association (RWSA) endorses the following statement from the Agricultural History Society (AHS). For decades the AHS and RWSA have sustained members seeking to increase understanding of historic failing. In addition, the RWSA calls attention to the particularly heavy toll that COVID-19 is exacting on rural women of color as frontline workers. We recognize that women of color have disproportionately filled the ranks of those rural women who earn a living as agricultural laborers and as meat and poultry plant workers. Recent statistics from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, for instance, show that 42% of U.S. frontline meat packing workers are female in a total workforce that is 44.4% Latinx, 25.2% Black, and 10% Asian/Asian Pacific Islander. The agricultural field and factory laborers who supply our food chain perform low-paying, dangerous work and are subject to chemical contamination, workplace injuries, and now exposure to COVID-19. It is with these facts in mind that the RWSA endorses the AHS statement.


3 June 2020

 The Agricultural History Society shares the weight and anguish that our entire community is carrying. The novel coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 Americans, and about 400,000 people worldwide. As scholars, public historians, and librarians, we hail from, live among, or write about rural and agricultural people. We are particularly attuned to the disproportionate toll this pandemic has taken on the lives of rural essential workers around the world. They are the workers who grow and gather the world’s harvest. They raise, feed, and slaughter the meat some of us eat. They do the dirtiest, most dangerous jobs in poultry and pork processing plants. In the United States, they were forced to continue working under an executive order. They work in the warehouses and drive the trucks that stock our stores. They are African descended, white, Latinx, Native American, immigrant, straight and queer. They do essential work yet, too often, lack a living wage, access to nutritious food, health care, transportation, and quality education. Magnifying the racism and inequality of the United States, African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinx people are disproportionately represented among those who have died. 

Against the backdrop of this global pandemic, we have been moved to anger and despair over the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police and, in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, lawless vigilantes. We mourn the loss of Arbery, Taylor, and Floyd. The police kill African Americans like these latest victims at a rate more than double that of white Americans. They kill Latinx Americans at a rate nearly double that of white Americans. People tend to view brutality and murder at the hands of the police and vigilantes as urban phenomena. Agricultural historians know, however, that these acts of violence and inhumanity have deep and enduring roots in the countryside, including victims of lynching and other forms of violence in sundown towns, both in the American South and North. Racist violence has deep roots as a tool to profit from the agricultural labor of rural people. 

Members of the Agricultural History Society reaffirm our commitment to using our work to help improve the lives of the farmers and agricultural workers risking their lives to feed us. We also affirm our support for protesters around the country and throughout the world who are raising their voices for humanity and transformative change. In the tradition of rural people, they are fighting for human rights and, like George Floyd, simply striving to breathe.

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