Rethinking “rural”

What does it mean to decolonize land and one’s relationship to it? Being that so many communities of color have experienced land-based violence and environmental colonialism, what does healing from that violence look like?

Briana L. Urena-Ravelo
4 min readMay 8, 2017
Jarabacoa Strawberry field in Dominican Republic from Wiki Commons

A group I follow on Facebook posted this article about rural America being code for working-class country white (and why that’s wrong) and while it was good and addressed the points it wanted to make well, especially around policy, but it still left a lot out. It spoke only to the intersection of rural American and race within very current contexts and politics and in that it missed a chance to speak to the various and unique circumstances and relationships different communities of color have historically and now with rural land, white supremacy and colonialism.

It didn’t mention, for example, that this land in this hemisphere is Indigenous (American Indian, First Nations, Metis, Inuit), and Indigenous people mostly live in rural parts of North America. It mentions slavery and plantations and African Americans, but not more deeply about how it affected the African diaspora’s relationship to land they were kidnapped and forced to work or delve deep into white supremacy and the forced movement of the diaspora throughout history (immigration, migration, redline and gentrification patterns, etc).

Decolonizing land and our concepts and relationships to it is something I have been interested in. I grew up with a mother from the campo, who lived on a farm in part of a very largely rural country in the Caribbean. Her grandmother was a healer who knew the medicine of the land and often entrusted her with finding medicine to help in her work which was really important to their community. It is a country exploited by Western tourism, which is another form of land-based violence. I am not rural America, but I have deep roots and history with land I’d like to restore.

So the following are some disjointed thoughts and questions regarding this convo, none that I am claiming are necessarily original at all and if anything inspired by conversations I have had with friends about land, the environment, the countryside/rural America and beyond, and decolonizing it, and if anything rely on indigenous and afro-diasporic ancestral knowledge and experiences.

- All land is indigenous land, and so urban centers are indigenous spaces as well. The fact that all land is indigenous is minimized and urban centers are seen as non-Indigenous, non-rural land that thus does not deserve protecting and marginalized populations in those centers experience ecological/environmental violence because of this.

-Indigenous people were “rural” people before that term was even a concept as created by the West and have experienced land-based violence thru colonialism, displacement, breaking of treaties, forced isolation on poorly funded reserves and reservations, the violation of their indigenous habitats and land, lack of access to clean water, etc

-People of the African diaspora are also indigenous peoples who have experienced land-based violence and environmental racism (removed from our indigenous lands and forced to work colonized lands stolen from those indigenous to that land) and a continuation of that violence is being forced into urban centers, seen as non-rural, where they are further disconnected from land and experience ecological violence.

-Settler colonialism today is still largely about land exploitation. It is the way that rural communities of color are chiefly exploited abroad (ex : Kenyan farmland still in the hands of English/European control after being bought for cheap decades ago, forcing indigenous peoples away from their ancestral land, forced growing of cash crops like coffee and chocolate and tea for Western consumption that prevents indigenous people from growing their ancestral crops or living on their land, etc). The West benefits from the exploitation of global south rural communities and land.

-Land Conservation efforts are too often the story of: Land is taken from indigenous people, its original stewards and protectors, by white settlers, who tell the original inhabitants do not know how to properly use (AKA subjugate and exploit) the land and then subsequently fuck it up. Meanwhile, indigenous people and other communities of color are forced in slums and reserves/reservations on said land in the worst conditions where they experience the most environmental side affects of white people fucking it up. Lastly, white people claim they have to take it back again from colonized indigenous people because they “need to protect it”. They make lots of money in this whole process and maintain ownership of rural land.

-As mentioned a few times already, the state via policing has been the strong arm of ecological violence and environmental racism in many ways (ie overseers on plantations, militarized presence at Standing Rock, Indian Agents that would prevent Indigenous peoples of Canada who attempted to leave reserves without a pass up until the 1940s, indigenous labor exploitation on farms and in fields, use of prison labor on farms)

-POC “rural” people, here and abroad= global south conditions, not romanticized, seen as backwards and uncivilized. White “rural” people = good hardworking American that Republicans glorify and aim to protect while erasing rural POC here and globally

-Technology and modernity are not the opposite of nor do they need to come at the cost of the earth and her sovereignty and protection. There are many ways we do need to go back & reclaim ancestral connections to land and food and find healthier and liberated alternatives to what hurts and exploits her and ourselves, but the ways we have grown (modern medicine, biotech, agricultural advancements, yes I mean shots and GMOs) have been good for us too and need to be decolonized and liberated from white supremacy and corporate domination, not done away with.

Feel free to continue the conversation, add or correct my points, and lead me to some resources (papers, books, studies, activists, etc) that do work around this topic and its many deep intersections!



Briana L. Urena-Ravelo

Writer. Community organizer. Errant punk. Ne’er do well. Fire starter. Email: