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December 17, 2018 9:25 AM   Subscribe

"I walk into your bathroom and sitting in front of the toilet is a shelf full of pastel-coloured crystals. I don’t know the names of them but I know crystals form as magma cools, slowly. Somehow these rocks have a special meaning to you, and I guess a lot of other people, but I assume they’re just decoration. I remember how mad this white girl got once when I touched her piece of amethyst; in her defence, I didn’t ask permission. I wondered whose grandma you asked permission from to get sanskrit tattooed on the back of your neck. It’s not until I turn around to flush the toilet that I see the braid of sweetgrass laying on the toilet tank. I can tell by the uniform cut and neat string holding the braid together that this is store-bought. A note beside the braid reads: “light me up after you take a dump.” I start laughing because if this scene isn’t an allegory for colonization, I don’t know what is.

i wonder if you know that
this braid is kokum’s hair
i wonder if you know
what it feels like
to run through a field
of sweetgrass.
when i moved to the city kokum gave me a braid.
it sits in my room, by my bed, holding me.

It’s easy to laugh at all these moniyawak thinkin’ they’re something spiritual: always on a quest to find themselves by sifting through piles of colonial souvenirs. To the left is a stick of Nag Champa incense burning on your desk, next to a selection of books about yoga. On your windowsill, there are three veladoras de Virgen de Guadalupe. Your blonde hair is tied up messily in a bun with one piece rolled into a white version of a dreadlock, the frizzy and frayed tip decorated proudly with carved wooden beads. Above your bed a dream catcher hangs. It’s not a surprising scene for anyone who has lived under colonization—to see things from my people spread carelessly throughout your white, witchy, queer house."
posted by stoneweaver (58 comments total) 121 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is good.
You tell me that you’re a firekeeper now and I have to look intently at the ground to keep from laughing. You say that you’re going to get your indigenous name soon. I ask you which nation from this land is gifting you a name? And you say the name of some guy with a name like white wolf big bear from montana is giving you a name. You met him on the warrior trail, you say. You say that for $200 white wolf big bear will take you to a sweat, and for an extra $100 you’ll get a name. On your bag, there’s a patch that says “remember Oka.”

we remember the struggles of the ones
who came before us
their fights are passed down
in our blood.

I finish my beer and order another. I ask if you’d like one and you say that you’re on a cleanse before your $300 ceremony. You tell me, in between drags of an american spirit, that you’ve never felt more pure, that next month you’re gonna go foraging for medicines. You’re going to make tinctures, salves, smudge. You ask me if I wanna come. My mouth says, “yeah, sure, let me check my schedule.” But my brain is saying, “Who are you to take from this land? Who am I to take from this land? My schedule is now full.”
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:37 AM on December 17, 2018 [20 favorites]


To be paired with Audre Lorde's The Uses of Anger.
Anger is an appropriate reaction to racist attitudes, as is fury when the actions arising from those attitudes do not change. To those women here who fear the anger of women of color more than their own unscrutinized racist attitudes, I ask: Is our anger more threatening than the woman-hatred that tinges all the aspects of our lives?

It is not the anger of other women that will destroy us, but our refusals to stand still, to listen to its rhythms, to learn within it, to move beyond the manner of presentation to the substance, to tap that anger as an important source of empowerment.

I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts. Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one's own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it becomes no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:39 AM on December 17, 2018 [37 favorites]


The moniyawak wasn't being intentionally cruel, they were just doing what they do, oblivious to the suffering of their guest of honor.
posted by otherchaz at 9:53 AM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


Well, no, you don't have to be intentionally cruel if you walk through the world with the assumption that everything is for you and about you. The cruelty will usually take care of itself.
posted by schadenfrau at 9:56 AM on December 17, 2018 [88 favorites]


I saw once: "You pick your enemies. Your allies you are stuck with." Really rings true in this piece.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:58 AM on December 17, 2018 [24 favorites]


Not to abuse the edit window: unintentional cruelty seems to be one of the most common effects of blithely thinking you don't have the ability to hurt people, either because of your identity or your politics or because you think you've made all the "right" choices. It's so, so tiring, and it often hits when you've just relaxed your guard the tiniest bit, possibly without realizing it.

I think sometimes that's why it can be more hurtful. That sense of something that's supposed to be safe, that advertises itself as safe, and yet is not. Like added gaslighting.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:01 AM on December 17, 2018 [27 favorites]


This essay is such a good example of where white allies need to shut our mouths and just listen. So much appropriation going on with good intention and not enough awareness!
posted by leslies at 10:07 AM on December 17, 2018 [8 favorites]


The next time I do I see she has an article published in an activist newspaper. In her bio, she says she is “Métis” from “Northern Alberta.” I start laughing—I can guarantee you she has never walked on northern alberta snow. Next to her birth name is the name she paid for.

That's beyond cultural appropriation. That's misrepresentation, lies, and theft - although really it's nothing new; that's all whites have given to Natives for hundreds of years.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:11 AM on December 17, 2018 [32 favorites]


Thanks for posting.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:20 AM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


Oof that was brutal but so accurate.
posted by Ashwagandha at 10:22 AM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


So much appropriation going on with good intention and not enough awareness!

I think this is a thing that happens often and everywhere and is indeed something terrible, but I don't think it covers what's described in the article, which is...

I do not think I would describe this woman as "well-intentioned."

although really it's nothing new; that's all whites have given to Natives for hundreds of years

the impression I was left with was that of a next-generation colonizer, one that has adapted to the criticisms of previous generations but nonetheless pushes forward, devouring everything in their path, taking what they want and erasing what they don't.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:30 AM on December 17, 2018 [18 favorites]


I finish my beer and order another. I ask if you’d like one and you say that you’re on a cleanse before your $300 ceremony. You tell me, in between drags of an american spirit, that you’ve never felt more pure, that next month you’re gonna go foraging for medicines.
As the joke goes: someone call 911, there's just been a murder.

This whole essay was pretty great!
posted by Drastic at 10:30 AM on December 17, 2018 [4 favorites]


The other day I learned what Indigenous people had as the name for Mt. Rainier before my people took that name from their mouths and really it's just time to give it all back. The history of conquest is brutal and how we so casually as white folks walk in what we think are the faint echoes of history are in actuality loud clanging klaxons and we have allowed our upbringing to desensitize our cultural perceptivity to a dullness. In our casual dullness we perpetuate that conflict and continue to steal.

I don't have any answers, maybe us white folks need to pull the cotton from our ears and become more sensitive. And also maybe continually send large and anonymous duffel bags stuffed full of cash to all Nonwhite people on a regular basis.
posted by nikaspark at 10:39 AM on December 17, 2018 [11 favorites]


I'm conflicted, because on one hand, intent does not matter, should not matter, only the effect of one's actions on others matters; unintentional offense is still offense and should be avoided.

On the other hand, in seeking to modify someone's actions, their intent does matter. Someone who does something boneheaded and culturally insensitive without ill intent probably is open to correction in a way that someone who does it in order to make plain their proudly-held racism isn't.

Can't fault someone for being angry, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:40 AM on December 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


On the other hand, in seeking to modify someone's actions, their intent does matter. Someone who does something boneheaded and culturally insensitive without ill intent probably is open to correction in a way that someone who does it in order to make plain their proudly-held racism isn't.

I get this but I also think 1) it's exhausting to need to figure out the exact right words and tone to explain to someone that they've done something boneheaded and insensitive without them getting defensive and 2) I think often people DO get really defensive, because they think "I'm not a racist, therefore nothing I do is racist, so if you say I'm doing something 'insensitive' you are calling me a racist, which I'm not". It doesn't matter if the initial hurt was caused unintentionally if the person gets defensive or angry when called on it and white people (such as myself) have a long history of doing exactly that.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:49 AM on December 17, 2018 [44 favorites]


The subject of this piece has deliberately surrounded herself with indigenous people and and indigenous activism. She knows what she's doing, she knows she's doing harm, and she doesn't care.
posted by libraritarian at 10:51 AM on December 17, 2018 [21 favorites]


The white woman in the article is playacting as native, and that playacting is what drives her activism, I think. So I guess my question is whether her activism is even a net positive for anybody/anyplace, or if it's a net negative -- not least because it's such an insidious method of erasure?

Thank you for posting the article, it really makes me think more about the "ally" dynamic.

By the way, this is kind of off the wall, but the teen drama Riverdale had an interesting subplot about a character taking up the mantel for a native tribe and getting put in his place -- but then still participating in activism with the tribe afterward. It was interesting because it did present the character as approprative but basically came down on the side of supporting the character's participation in the tribe and its activism (as long as he wasn't leading). Whereas I think this article makes a pretty good case that even participating as an "ally" just adds to erasure/distortion and is actively harmful?
posted by rue72 at 10:52 AM on December 17, 2018 [8 favorites]


without ill intent probably is open to correction in a way

Do you really think that New Age white girl described in the article is going to be open to any correction?

Because I've never had that experience. It's always met with defensiveness, excuses, claims of honoring Natives, and "respect".

But if you really respected and honored my culture, you'd appreciate it from a distance and not try to take it for yourself.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:53 AM on December 17, 2018 [34 favorites]


Thank you for posting this.
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 10:58 AM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


If there's one thing white people cannot abide it's someone telling them something is not for them. They just cannot deal. Even if it's oppression, they think, "I should have that!" because God forbid there's something white people don't claim as their own. See: Rachel Dolezal. And this chick.

Native cultures are not for white people. What white people think about them or find in them or whatever is nice for them but irrelevant.
posted by emjaybee at 10:58 AM on December 17, 2018 [49 favorites]


"I saw once: "You pick your enemies. Your allies you are stuck with." Really rings true in this piece."

We have never gotten to pick our enemies. That is such a monumental piece of privilege that it's hard for me to even begin to wrap my head around it. Further, this piece does not describe an ally. It describes someone who can't figure out how to be their own authentic self and tries to buy their way into a new identity so that they'll be more valid and real. It describes how we get displaced from our own narratives by white people who pick and choose the parts of us that seem Real. Dyed hair and paid for names and some white "shaman" who will take them to wildcraft (steal) Medicine.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:03 AM on December 17, 2018 [20 favorites]


Decades ago I was at a well known pueblo and a white woman asked--practically demanded--to learn the name of fry bread in the vendor's language. The vendor replied, "no" and on a further request replied, firmly and matter of factly, "it would not mean anything to you."

Indeed.

Much later I learned that fry bread is a legacy of the trail of tears.
posted by sjswitzer at 11:11 AM on December 17, 2018 [40 favorites]


This is slightly adjacent to the article (because I'm a person of color but an east asian-american person of color, so my experiences are very different from indigenous folks).

I see this somewhat often -- this meaning "colonization in the name of allyship" from "well-meaning" white folks.

The specific intention underlying this phenomenon is these folks' desire to "not be seen as a racist, or an oppressor". By allying themselves with a cause, and by adopting & being more adjacent to PoC, that they become "less white" and thus "less racist".

It's a subtle off-shot of garden-variety-colonization -- that is aided by white folks' desire to be "good" and "not racist". "allyship colonization", say.

But white people are racist. You, who are reading this are racist. I'm racist. poc folks are racist.

I mean, how could anyone not be racist? Considering what the world is like, considering what kind of social context you were born and grew up in, the media you watched, the books you read, the kinds of people who represent you politically? We all have structural oppression running in our default social programming. Nobody escapes it. People of color notice and understand it better. But nobody escapes it.

I think there are only two kinds of people in the world:
1) people who are racist but don't know how they are,
and
2) people who are racist and are trying to figure out how they are and to counter it.

Amongst the former, there are also "people who are racist, don't know how they are, and are trying to "earn" some sort of Not-A-Racist-Badge by being an ally."

There's no such badge, will never be, nobody has those badges, nobody can hand out that badge. There's no escaping racism.

And perhaps this is another distinction between poc and white folks: Many white folks, when presented with racism, which is something within us that all humans have been carrying it around, are surprised by it, consider it to be a 'new' burden, to drop, to solve, because it is "new" to them.

It seems to me that white folks ask: 'How do we get rid of this weight?' And the "well-meaning" White answers seem to be: learn more about other cultures, date people of color, enjoy different food, learn a language, become an ally, be open to diversity.

To me it is freeing to say: "Please do all of the above, but do so know that nothing will absolve you or us from being a racist. You and I will always be racist, and the best that we all can do is to understand and work through it and understand the impacts of our actions, to invent new practices and programming for ourselves to counterbalance our old social programming. To seek absolution is escape and deny history.
posted by suedehead at 11:18 AM on December 17, 2018 [80 favorites]



To me it is freeing to say: "Please do all of the above, but do so know that nothing will absolve you or us from being a racist. You and I will always be racist, and the best that we all can do is to understand and work through it and understand the impacts of our actions, to invent new practices and programming for ourselves to counterbalance our old social programming.


It might be freeing to you but to me it makes it all seem incredibly pointless. I mean, of course I'm going to try, because I like to think I'm not an asshole, but the thought that I'm always going to be a racist and nothing I do will make me any better - doesn't that mean I'm already defeated before I even start? So why try?
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 12:26 PM on December 17, 2018 [4 favorites]


Further, this piece does not describe an ally. It describes someone who can't figure out how to be their own authentic self and tries to buy their way into a new identity so that they'll be more valid and real. It describes how we get displaced from our own narratives by white people who pick and choose the parts of us that seem Real. Dyed hair and paid for names and some white "shaman" who will take them to wildcraft (steal) Medicine.

Yeah but how much of being an ally is inherently going to be appropriative? Because I think how the white woman appropriated was not just in wearing redface, it was also in co-opting and whitewashing a political movement and native identity in "mainstream" society -- which was accomplished more by her incessant presence/involvement on the (as the writer puts it) "front lines" (as defined by that "mainstream," natch) than by any other choices she made. Her presence was making it possible -- probable -- that everything re native [identity/culture/concerns/etc] in the "mainstream" was going to devolve into white people just talking at each other about a mythical/whitewashed version of native [identity/culture/concerns/etc]. Like when pictures of the white woman in the cop car were published and her article about being an activist was published and she got a big head and swanned around talking about activism and haranguing the writer -- that was appropriation that occurred outside of the white woman's internal state with its mishmash of identity issues and intentions, it was something that occurred in and by the larger [white supremacist] world as she got her signal boosted as representative of the protest/movement/native life more generally to that larger world (and believed her own hype, too).

The writer did talk about how she felt about this white woman having naive and racist ideas within herself and the confined quarters of her life (the witchy white house) but then also how she felt as that the white woman's ideas became the ones being signal-boosted and as the white woman came to represent the native [everything] she was co-opting, within the media and activist space and also within that woman's own mind (which is why she felt like haranguing the writer, I think). It wasn't the native man getting put in the cop car who got his picture taken, it wasn't Kokum, the local's president, who was published as an activist on the "front lines," etc.

I think atomizing the problem down to a woman who is trying to find her identity and so is obnoxiously/ineptly co-opting someone else's doesn't fully address white supremacy's coup de grace in the article, which was that the co-opted and falsified/whitewashed "identity" then becomes the one that gets signal boosted and the one that becomes representative in society at large. And yeah the white woman wasn't helping that by going all in on the redface and doubling down on herself as an expert (laughable) but her very presence in those spaces was probably enough on its own, since as a white person, she was going to get centered in all the "mainstream society" narratives regardless.

And my apologies for centering whiteness AGAIN in this comment and probably in my reading of the article. Just trying to explain why I do think that it had interesting things to say about allyship and the possible impossibility of white allies being involved not whitewashing and/or white-centering. Also caveat emptor, I'm white, and appropriation is not something I understand that well.
posted by rue72 at 12:42 PM on December 17, 2018 [6 favorites]


We all have structural oppression running in our default social programming. Nobody escapes it.

I think I saw an AskMe ages ago where one of the answers was from a biracial woman who had always thought her lack of attraction to black men had to do with her father. It was just about her relationship with her father, nothing else. And then one day she realized that was not true, or might not be the whole story, and so she sought out media that featured black men in romantic roles and deliberately retrained her brain to react differently to black men. And it worked. It took only a few weeks.

We're social animals, and we absorb cultural messages like sponges.

So why try?

Because it's not about you and your attainment of some theoretical state of perfection, and because it matters if you hurt people. You can always find a way to do less harm, and you can always find a way to love others better than you have before. It's not really something you try at until you give up or are "successful" so much as it is a practice that you incorporate into your life.
posted by schadenfrau at 12:46 PM on December 17, 2018 [49 favorites]


“I don’t need permission to take what the earth has provided for free.”

This is why the glaciers are melting. Because the oceans and skies don't "belong" to anyone, and so nobody needs permission to use them.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:46 PM on December 17, 2018 [7 favorites]


but the thought that I'm always going to be a racist and nothing I do will make me any better - doesn't that mean I'm already defeated before I even start? So why try?

I don't know how to eloquently reply to this but it brought to mind the whole insult thrown at environmentalists that "if you really want to reduce your impact/save the environment then you need to go kill yourself!"

I mean, that's the trivial solution. That's 0 = 0. That's the null set. It's valid but it's not workable. We, as allies (real ones, not ones from the OP's post), as environmentalists, as social justice seekers, as flawed humans who know we are flawed have to know that's not a valid answer even if it's logically sound. The same goes for the fact that we all haven't thrown away our computers, phones, cars, flush toilets and devoted ourselves to the poor a la Mother Teresa or Gandhi or Jainism or whatever.

We're allowed to be flawed. Everyone is. But knowing you are flawed is the first step on the road to anything.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:49 PM on December 17, 2018 [24 favorites]


but the thought that I'm always going to be a racist and nothing I do will make me any better - doesn't that mean I'm already defeated before I even start? So why try?

I don't think racism is a binary quantity; it's not just "racists" and "non-racists" like the elect and the damned or something. Down that road lies futility and madness. You can commit to being a better person, starting off from wherever you happen to be.

That's how I try to operate, anyway. I lay no claim to being ideal in any dimension, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:03 PM on December 17, 2018 [10 favorites]


but the thought that I'm always going to be a racist and nothing I do will make me any better - doesn't that mean I'm already defeated before I even start? So why try?

I mean, I think this is a language problem. The statement about racism should be read more like:

"Everyone who grows up in white supremacist capitalist patriarchy will be socialized to be racist. You can either be someone who enjoys being racist, someone who doesn't care but just does whatever, someone who only engages with anti-racism to the extent that it benefits them/makes them look good or someone who sincerely tries to modulate how they were socialized".

In this context "will always be racist" doesn't mean "will always basically be the KKK", it means "will never not have grown up learning racist lessons in a racist society". In a way it's more like being a person with a quick temper - you will probably always have to pay attention so that you're not blowing up at people, but there is a difference between "I don't care, if I yell that's what I do" and "I pay attention to how I act, and if I lose my temper I apologize".

I do think that it would be great to have some better language around some of this stuff.

Also, I think that in some ways we look at interiority too much. Like, with the exception of some extraordinary people, everyone has mixed motives. People simultaneously want to be fair, not to hurt others, to be "one of the good guys" and to not feel guilty about unfair advantages. People both want their cause to succeed for its own sake and want to be praised for or at least feel good about working on it.

Almost nobody is truly sitting there feeling "I know I will always be a miserable bad person who is selfish and rotten and bigoted, but what's important is the CAUSE!!!!" How could you possibly separate your desire to forward good causes from a desire to be a better person? Isn't the desire to be a better person the desire to do better things?

And I mean, I think that's okay. We have multiple motives. We're generous and selfish, base and noble. The point is to try to be as self-aware as possible so that your anxieties/guilt/personal stuff doesn't govern what you choose to do.
posted by Frowner at 1:24 PM on December 17, 2018 [57 favorites]


Ta-Nehisi Coates and Rev. Barber are good sources for discussing how dealing with racism is going to be a long, multi-generational project.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:24 PM on December 17, 2018 [6 favorites]


This was really powerful, thank you for posting it.

It’s easy to laugh at all these moniyawak thinkin’ they’re something spiritual: always on a quest to find themselves by sifting through piles of colonial souvenirs. To the left is a stick of Nag Champa incense burning on your desk, next to a selection of books about yoga. On your windowsill, there are three veladoras de Virgen de Guadalupe.

It’s not a surprising scene for anyone who has lived under colonization—to see things from my people spread carelessly throughout your white, witchy, queer house.


Yep.
posted by stellaluna at 1:29 PM on December 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


but the thought that I'm always going to be a racist and nothing I do will make me any better - doesn't that mean I'm already defeated before I even start? So why try?

I think this also doesn't recognize or give enough weight to the systemic, institutional aspect of racism (and sexism, homophobia, ableism etc etc.). One can recognize one's personal unconscious bias and do things to counteract that, like schadenfrau's example, becoming familiar with the ways bias shows up in language, or even just becoming more familiar with your own degree of bias (the Harvard Implicit Bias tests for example). I do believe individuals can learn to act and speak with less bias. Can you get rid of it entirely? Maybe if you got *a lot* of therapy/coaching and then lived in a society free of racism so that culture did not reinforce it. But we have other, non-racist cognitive biases that are just part of being human. So I don't think bias is something that you eliminate, it's something that you reduce by learning to use your brain to align your words and actions to your values.

But that's all the individual, and that's not the only place racism lives. Racism (etc.) is also contained in the way things happen in institutions and can be reduced there. Changing biased policies/rules/programs. Removing incentives that encourage biased behaviors or rewards. Writing down criteria/standards that can be applied to everyone in the same way (vs. "going with one's gut" or requiring that people of color overprove their competency as compared to white people.) Using tools to make sure that your letters of recommendation don't use biased language. One can use their privilege to raise the voices of colleagues or friends that are part of groups with less power. There are things that you can do that make a difference on an institutional level that have a larger effect.

I'm white. Being an ally is something that I struggle with a lot. I was in a racial justice training, and one of the facilitators said that he hated the rise of the word "woke" because "wokeness" is not an end state, a binary. He calls himself "waking" because it's an ongoing process, and one I'm certainly in the middle of. Do I still struggle with white fragility? Hell yeah. In conversations about this, I still have defensive mental reactions with my lizard brain but I have learned not to give voice to them. I'm more understanding and literate than I used to be but I still have growing to do.
posted by emkelley at 1:32 PM on December 17, 2018 [15 favorites]


Yeah but how much of being an ally is inherently going to be appropriative?
I firmly believe that thinking of one's self as an ally is itself highly problematic and gets in the way of actually working against racism.

When a white person speaks up about racism in a room full of other white people, they're not being appropriative. They are using their privilege to make sure the things that need to be said and heard are said and heard.

When a white person says "hey you're color-celebrating and it's kind of gross" to a fellow white person who is doing what the white woman in this piece was doing, that is working against racism ("being an ally") in a way that is not appropriative. Robin Diangelo has a good section on color-celebrating in her book White Fragility.

There are lots of ways to push back - especially at institutional, systemic levels - that involve no self-applied "ally" label or appropriation. No cookies, either. One of the grossest and weirdest parts about color-celebrating is the implicit message that you're supposed to fawn over, thank, and give cookies to someone for doing it.

This piece was wonderful; thank you for posting it.
posted by sockermom at 2:04 PM on December 17, 2018 [9 favorites]


fry bread is a legacy of the trail of tears.

Note: while some people use the term "trail of tears" to mean the entirety of forced removal, it usually relates specifically to the removal of the Five Civilized Tribes from the southeastern US; additionally it whitewashes the other death marches that occurred, for instance the Navajo Long Walk (which was the genesis of fry bread) and the Trail of Death.

Tears are far more suited to the noble savage than death, right?
posted by elsietheeel at 2:42 PM on December 17, 2018 [11 favorites]


The word ally appears 46 times in this thread and not a single time in the linked article.

This article that is about what it's like to be Cree-Metis and the interior life of a someone who isn't white, and what it's like to move through the world has an entire discussion about white people. As though this is about allies.

It seems as though people have taken their discomfort and tried to talk about how not to be the white woman. And shoved the experience of the Indigenous writer to the edges and peripheries. Again.

Y'all are the ones who brought the concept of ally here, as though this article has anything to say about it. As though it gives any direction at all. As though the unnamed white woman is actually the protagonist here.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:43 PM on December 17, 2018 [40 favorites]


but the thought that I'm always going to be a racist and nothing I do will make me any better - doesn't that mean I'm already defeated before I even start? So why try?

Hah, that logic is a bit like the various flavors of Christianity - human nature is sinful, they've defined sin as offenses against God by harming others and going against biblical law, and the whole point of being a Christian is to work towards improving ones relationship with God by "not" sinning and asking for forgiveness when one does, inevitably, sin. It forces an approach from humility - that no one person can delude themselves into thinking they are "sinless" and can thus have the moral high ground over others who are "sinners". It also creates hope: yes you have sinned, but at the same time you're not a basket case either - all have failed to meet the bar. And I have much more hope for someone who acknowledges where they have failed and strives to do better, rather than people who have deluded themselves into thinking what they're doing is already "perfect" - they aren't racist, they don't sin, if there's any conflict, it's obviously the people around them who are the problem and must be fixed.

Might be bad form to bring my own country into this (Malaysia) to emphasize this point (and rant) but we're often held up as some kind of multicultural ideal, one of the few countries in the world with such ethnic "diversity" and harmony yet I would argue we would also be one of the most transparently racist countries in the world. We literally had over 50,000 people protest in the capital against the government for considering signing the ICERD (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) which is a UN Convention signed / recognized by virtually all the countries in the world, because as the majority ethnic group they want to continue receiving exclusive benefits that are denied to minorities, and you know what, the system is broken enough that many people think they might have a point. Your race factors into almost every part of life. Your race is encoded into your national ID card and determines where you go to school, what exams you take, what discounts and financial benefits you are eligible for. Everyone who grew up in that system, majority or minority, it's a fact, you have come out and entered adulthood as a racist, because the first thing you do when you meet someone is judge them by their race, because that's the whole system. By law. In the constitution. And without the ability to prosecute "racism" you literally have jobs and rentals which advertise for applicants of a specific race. And that's when it's overt, out in the open, as government policy and law, but I'd argue the effects of this are just strong when it's hidden and implicit in the system, and people in countries like the US / Australia / Canada are deluding themselves if they think the way their societal system works isn't racist too, it's just more insidious. At least in Malaysia everyone knows where they stand, and there aren't more privileged persons standing over you saying "see, we have laws against discrimination, if you're poor it's your own fault, it can't be racism, we abolished that years ago".
posted by xdvesper at 2:48 PM on December 17, 2018 [10 favorites]


The author's interrogation of how the "you" in the essay fetished "the land" reminded me of this (also Canadian/Indigenous authored) essay's discussion of settler innocence in Territorial Acknowledgement and the Metaphorization of Decolonization
Out of the university arena we might also ask what good is it for a petty bourgeois yoga studio, a long critiqued Mecca of white cultural appropriation and the emptying-out of the ancient spiritual traditions of the peoples of South Asia, to place an acknowledgement on their website that their capitalist private enterprise is situated on stolen Indigenous land? It is difficult for me to look at these sorts of institutional practices and not see bulwarks of capitalism, settler colonialism, antiblackness, and cultural imperialism. I look at them as they acknowledge the territory and I see a movement towards what Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang deftly labelled “settler innocence.”

At the individual level, the practice of territorial acknowledgment, at least in my experience, is also quite often coupled with the practice (also a move to settler innocence) which I have chosen to describe as “white confessionalism.”
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:55 PM on December 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


This article that is about what it's like to be Cree-Metis and the interior life of a someone who isn't white, and what it's like to move through the world has an entire discussion about white people.

I must have read a different article, because the one I read was 90 percent about what the white woman was doing. I read a story titled Saw Your Instagram: Dream catchers, incense, crystals—an Indigenous story about your witchy souvenirs (emphasis added). Yes, the discussion is another one about How Not To Be That White Woman, because the story is mostly about That White Woman.

A story that doesn't actually contain the word "Cree", if we're going to be comparing what is and isn't on the page.
posted by Etrigan at 2:59 PM on December 17, 2018 [8 favorites]


but the thought that I'm always going to be a racist and nothing I do will make me any better - doesn't that mean I'm already defeated before I even start? So why try?

If the coveted "Not A Racist" badge turns out to not exist,
and nobody "knows that you're Not A Racist", because that's not possible,
then you don't gain from your actions.
What's left after that is the impact of your actions, how you treat others, how you push towards personal AND systematic racial justice.


Put another way, being seen as Not-A-Racist benefits the white folks who attempt to claim it.
Acting to understand and alter one's actions benefits society, especially people of color.
posted by suedehead at 3:04 PM on December 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


That was really powerful writing. It made me feel like I had done some funky mind-meld with the author because the emotions were so vivid to me. I'm definitely on Team Not About the White Woman.
posted by Ruki at 3:11 PM on December 17, 2018 [6 favorites]


I must have read a different article, because the one I read was 90 percent about what the white woman was doing.

It is maybe 40% description of the white woman's actions and 60% interior monologue of the author who is, yes, processing and reacting to the white woman's actions, but that is clearly not about the white woman. Describing that interior monologue as mostly "about the white woman" is, well, pretty much the problem of whiteness in a nutshell.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:17 PM on December 17, 2018 [9 favorites]


I mean, honestly, we did read different articles Etrigan. We brought our own eyes and filters to everything we read, as did everyone else. And I read an article about what it's like to be around That White Woman and the things we do to survive it. You read an article about that white woman. I am coming in here asserting that my reading is "right", which is its own hubris. I think there is a communication gap about story telling structure and which parts contain information and what's said explicitly and who the teller is.
posted by stoneweaver at 3:17 PM on December 17, 2018 [17 favorites]


additionally it whitewashes the other death marches that occurred, for instance the Navajo Long Walk (which was the genesis of fry bread) and the Trail of Death.

Sorry, yes, that was a different a different forced removal among many. I personally illustrate how little of the true history "we" have internalised.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:24 PM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


This thread is probably over, so I'm daring to post my feeling and not have to use "anonymous."

The white people who do this kind of tone-deaf thing using other peoples' images are doing it because they have no spiritual base of their own. There is no culture about whom they can say "these are my people." Most of them don't even understand that within the cultural symbols there are cultural obligations. The world is just full of a lot of empty stuff.

Just asking for a smidge of empathy.
posted by kestralwing at 4:15 PM on December 17, 2018 [8 favorites]


There is no culture about whom they can say "these are my people."

There isn’t? As a white woman with a European background, I have a hard time wrapping my head around this. The whole world of (Western) culture (TV, books, food, whatever) is made for ‘my people’. If you crave old tradition, go to any Christian church in your neighborhood. That’s the culture of your ancestors. Of course, you have to deal with this culture being tainted by violence, psychopathology, gratuitious cruelty, ugly history etc. And some people would rather take a shortcut around that and grab something ‘pure’ from someone else. Hard to empathize with that tbh.
posted by The Toad at 4:33 PM on December 17, 2018 [16 favorites]


but the thought that I'm always going to be a racist and nothing I do will make me any better - doesn't that mean I'm already defeated before I even start? So why try?

Because this is not about you, really. The true goal is equity, not that any single one of us personally becomes less racist. That's a part of the struggle but it's not the end of it.
posted by emeiji at 4:44 PM on December 17, 2018 [10 favorites]


it is incredible to me that white culturally xtian people claim to have no spiritual base or cultural symbols of their own, particularly at this time of year, when the radio stations and houses and shopping malls are flipping well plastered with the things.
posted by bagel at 4:49 PM on December 17, 2018 [21 favorites]


I was in a grad program where we were talking about cultural awareness, and we had a "cultural potluck" and all these white Midwestern girls (the cohort was 95% and 90% white) were like, "I don't have any cultural foods." And I (also a white Midwestern girl, but moderately more self-aware) was all "if you don't think green bean casserole is cultural, then you're not paying attention at all."

But part of the insidiousness of white supremacy is the invisibility of white culture to white people.
posted by DebetEsse at 5:16 PM on December 17, 2018 [43 favorites]


I think the piece is designed, as a matter of craft, in such a way to invite the reader into the interiority of the writer and share her gaze, looking outward and regarding this white woman -- "you", which, yes, that is also on purpose. The details we learn about the narrator are personal, specific, dealing with the intimate details of her life; the details we learn about "you," the white woman, are mostly what she looks like, sounds like, acts like. We learn nothing about her specific interior life, so we're left to discuss it here.

To me it seems that the discussion has mirrored the structure of the piece. But that doesn't mean it's not a problem. I wouldn't have identified these characteristics as determining that the piece is "about" the white woman, "you,"; it's about the experience of disgust and anger and helplessness that she feels about that white woman, "you." People -- including me -- experienced and expressed those feelings because it is an effective piece of writing.

But it is not "about," or solely "about," what you, or you as invited into the head of the writer, feel about that white woman. There's another step in that mental chain. It's about what it feels like to have to feel that, all the time, and how the reader is implicated in that. The decision to address the white woman directly as "you" is another pretty clear invitation.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:05 PM on December 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


Just to pick up on the Malaysia tangent, it's pertinent but not entirely applicable. That angst is comparable to other postcolonial societies and their affirmative actions (closest would be South Africa and Brazil), wherein trying to correct for past systemic racial injustice (and in that time period framed entirely in socioeconomic terms) on a native population marginalised administratively so that other minority immigrant groups get a bit more access, the current society perpetuates some other parts of it, and most directly due to inheriting and exercising the same colonialist and classify prejudices and that's mainly because the reins were passed from one centre-right administration to another. So that's my piece on that. Certainly though we're an acutely consciously racist society in the sense unlike Americans no Malaysian would deny race isn't important in their thinking.

*That part is actually interesting regarding indigenous politics. I have no idea the extent of coalition-building with North American groups tho, but in Malaysia alone you can have two sets of indigenous groups that has been impacted by how Europeans wanted to administrate them: in peninsula they were treated as fauna and it's the Malays who get the native treatment, while in Borneo the indigenous groups didn't have the same history of domestic competition and marginalisation so they got the native role meaning that once we hit collective independence, they get access to political and economic power, despite both groups, socioeconomically, are absolutely still discriminated against at national (and regional, if we count Singapore) level. Yet very obviously it's Bornean indigenous ppl who have been able to do effective politics to the extent of being some key international players in indigenous political coalition-building.

(I'll park my thoughts on what happened with ICERD elsewhere.)
posted by cendawanita at 8:11 PM on December 17, 2018 [7 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. Folks if your impulse is that our focus should be on [paraphrasing] "don't be hard on the white lady", please reflect on how that's going to come across to others in the thread, given the article and the conversation that's already happened here, not to mention the rest of the real-world context. Don't be that person.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:16 PM on December 17, 2018 [8 favorites]


(I regret every single evidence above that showed English is my second language, and the edit window is too short)
posted by cendawanita at 8:23 PM on December 17, 2018


The part I liked most was the question the white woman kept asking her - what are you doing for the land, and the essentially silent reply the writer was giving, surviving. Getting her student loans sorted out because she didn't have the money to pay for time off to do indulgent expensive luxuries, her things were handmade by necessity as well as choice, and she needed to walk home, to bum a cigarette, to pay her own beers only, to make sure she didn't get in trouble with the law, to survive.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:33 PM on December 17, 2018 [16 favorites]


it's about the experience of disgust and anger and helplessness that she feels about that white woman

Basically. I read this as another kind of minority (Asian-Am) and thought, my relationship with cultural appropriation is really different from the writer's. It is really valuable to see other perspectives on the same issue. So that's what I got from it.
posted by airmail at 11:31 PM on December 17, 2018 [7 favorites]


On reread of the rest of your comment, schadenfrau:

I'm not white, but also fall on the "settler" side, so that's further food for thought for me.
posted by airmail at 11:55 PM on December 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


a next-generation colonizer, one that has adapted to the criticisms of previous generations but nonetheless pushes forward, devouring everything in their path, taking what they want and erasing what they don't

It's like the Borg, you have to keep randomizing your phaser frequency before their shields adapt.
posted by hyperbolic at 7:31 AM on December 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


I was and am deeply impacted by the article and am feeling very overwhelmed by my white patriarchy upbringing right now and I'm only pulling it together enough to post that I really, really appreciate all you MeFi'er's for your empathy, caring and willingness to be real and authentic and vulnerable in an Internet full of bat-shit-crazy.

You're the best.
posted by drinkmaildave at 5:49 PM on December 21, 2018 [6 favorites]


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