Thursday, June 11, 2020

"Race is a pigment of the imagination"

[Youngmin took this picture of Ellie sniffing my wedding ducks on the beautiful bojagi she made to wrap and gift them.] I just heard that quote about race on episode #10 of an incredible podcast, All My Relations. Two Native women created an impeccably produced, insightful, and necessary space to talk about issues important to Native peoples. Early on, it made me question the colonial thinking of humans being more important than any other animals or organisms, which is only one of many backward colonial tenets. Matika Wilbur is an artist who has been traveling the world to photograph Native people because the images we have of them all exist in the historical past (she said, if you search online for "African American" you see a family of smiling black people, a family of smiling Asians for "Asian American," and so on. But a search for "Native American" only pulls up outdated and usually false images from early colonization). Adrienne Keene is a scholar and professor who runs the site Native Appropriations for years and says it is a place where she is "consenting to learn in public," which I found poetic and courageous. We worry so much about doing and saying (or not doing and not saying) the wrong thing when we could all consent to learn in public, correct our mistakes in public, and grow.
Their voices are strong and informed, willing to disagree without hostility or apology, and wise enough to bring many other Native voices to the table. I especially appreciate that their theme music includes their laughter. When I first started to listen to the Bruce Lee Podcast, I was surprised by all the laughter between two women who were friends and co-workers. Now I hear it as a gift, and hope we can get used to that sound because it is a healthy and real thing. I listen more regularly to They Call Us Bruce and in the latest episode learned about an excellent W. Kamau Bell article about how it's possible for him to hold many different "mads" in his head at once: mad at Chinese discrimination against blacks, while also mad at white discrimination against Chinese, and so on.
While my friendship structures during pandemic became very clear in terms of who I could count on to support me as we all limped through an experience that all of us had never had before, I feel bereft now. I knew that the choice to live in a white suburb in Northeast Ohio meant I would lose proximity to the closest city while gaining proximity to a future studio (whose roof is being replaced right now). It has been a painful transition because living amidst all white people feels unsafe and unnerving, and hammers home the fact that most of my friends here are white. While I would love to live in an enclave and see my face reflected in the streets amidst many other faces, I can't afford to do that and have the things I want (e.g., a papermaking studio). But I miss those communities, and understand why my other friends make the sacrifices to live in those places.
A friend on the west coast responded to my recent email by saying, "as white-lady-mcwhiterson, I have NO authority on anything here," which made me laugh as her self awareness was refreshing. The opposite is distressing, from random and frantic calls or emails from (white) people who never usually contact me, to statements like, "We can't get rid of the police, I want to be able to call them if my house gets robbed," without recognizing the privilege in saying that, as well as its racism. Years ago, I saw Ta-Nehisi Coates at an event for his Between the World and Me. Unsurprisingly yet still disappointingly, a white woman during the Q&A asked, "I read your book, but now what am I supposed to do?" His response: don't ask me. His example was to imagine a white person with their boot on a black person's neck, asking the black person, "What am I supposed to do??"

I certainly have my own work to do as a light-skinned POC who comes from cultures that actively engage in anti-blackness. I am doing it, and it is painful, but that's the process. Sitting with the pain and working through it without getting reactive is really important, even if it's lonely.

Back to listening to Matika and Adrienne!

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