In southern Missouri, social media campaign proclaims racist stereotype to be #NotMyOzarks | KCUR 89.3

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Rachel Luster was not happy when news began to appear in her social media feeds that the Ku Klux Klan wanted to train “the first recruits… into a mighty army” in her part of the Ozarks.

The Klan has reportedly scheduled a five-day training camp for the end of July near Harrison, Arkansas. Even though it’s a few hours south of where Luster runs the Oregon County Artisans and Food Producers Co-op in Alton, Missouri, it was still too close to home.

“Our region is cataloged as being stupid, backward, anything that comes with the stereotype of the mountain dweller,” Luster explains. It had only been a few months since the KKK embarrassed the Ozarks with their “It’s not racist to love your people” billboards, which garnered national attention on CNN.

Credit from the Not My Ozarks Facebook page

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This Facebook image was accompanied by the message “We are beautiful. We are diverse. We are love! #NotmyOzarks #NotmyRural #LoveNotHate #BlackLivesMatter ‘

“Their message is that they protect the sanctity of white Christian families, which really bothered me because I have a white Christian family. It’s so contrary to my understanding of what our religion is meant to be, ”Luster says. “It really upset me. It really touched me in all the weak points of my place.

Luster is a violinist and folklorist by training, with deep roots in the region. The Oregon County Food and Artisans Co-Op that she runs is a multi-purpose operation where local producers sell their food, entrepreneurs incubate their businesses, artists show their work, members attend workshops to learn various skills, and people can browse books from a room library, take yoga classes, and play music. In a town of 800 inhabitants, 124 of them are members of a cooperative.

Luster doesn’t think of herself as an activist, but she knew something had to be done. So she started with the simplest thing possible, which was a social media campaign.

Luster started a #Not My Ozarks Facebook page and encouraged people to submit photos of Ozark residents holding signs rejecting stereotypes and promoting racial tolerance. People submitted photos and over 5,000 people liked the page in the month it was posted. Several hundred people also follow Twitter and Instagram feeds of the same name.

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Credit from the Not My Ozarks Facebook page

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“I wish more people in this region would say the same,” wrote a Facebook commenter in response to this photo.

“I live in a community that is 90 percent white, but I don’t feel any sort of overt racism here,” Luster says. “But I also feel like people don’t talk about these issues because it’s very easy to say, ‘We don’t have this issue here because we’re all white. “”

But during a time of nationwide protests, Luster says, it’s time for people of all stripes to speak out about the issues.

“Just because we’re all white doesn’t mean it’s not our problem,” she says.

Conversations about white privilege are especially complicated in a place like the Ozarks, she notes.

“In my riding, 52% of the population receives government assistance and 30% live below the poverty line,” says Luster.

It’s easier to have these conversations online, in part because it’s convenient to link to educational resources, Luster says. However, the in-person conversations Luster now hears are more important than stacking easy likes.

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Credit from the Not My Ozarks Facebook page

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This Facebook photo was captioned: “3 generations 4 peace! “

“People know me and know that I started this page, so some really interesting things have happened,” Luster says.

One day at the co-op, she says, “Four women were sitting here having lunch and they struck up a conversation about race, racism and sexism. They didn’t know each other, but they were talking about it. I went to Walmart one day, and a couple stopped me and wanted to talk about structural racism. It’s really cool. That works.”

She also chatted with members of other organizations across the Ozarks.

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Credit From Bryan Moats Twitter feed

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This photo was retweeted by @NotMyOzarks.

“There are now a handful of pages besides Not My Ozarks,” she notes. There is the other Arkansas, the other Mississippi, the other Tennessee. “We are thinking about how we could come together as rural or southerners at the national level and possibly work to have policy discussions,” she said.

But first, she plans to start a social justice Bible study group. “We funded this in a participatory way,” she says, “and in about three days we raised money from the local people to buy all the books. “



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