Posts Tagged ‘native american’

derailment [n]: a defensive argument, statement, or question that dismisses or seeks to undermine anti-racist arguments in an effort to preserve privilege or the status quo

As a Southern woman, I am familiar with the painful heritage of my homeland. One of the most grievous seasons in our terrible history was when the Cherokee nation was forced by the U.S. government to surrender its lands and march westward.  This horrific expulsion is remembered as The Trail of Tears.

Because the Cherokee nation was one of the last Indian nations compelled to leave their homes, for many years the Cherokee flourished, amassing property and wealth, in some ways assimilating (ex: slave ownership) and in some ways resisting assimilation into the white culture of the day (leveraging their political connections to retain possession of property and sovereignty rights).

Because  interracial marriage was not wholly uncommon between whites and Cherokees, many Southerners can trace their ancestry back to the Cherokee nation.  Still many others cannot, but hypothesize and even believe that there are Indians in their family.  And that’s where we come to today’s derailment:  “But, I’m 1/48th Cherokee.”

I’ve had many conversations on race where a person’s self-examination was averted by the defense that somehow, they, too, were part of a marginalized group.  This derailment can be used for a number of reasons, but I usually hear it used with the following meanings:

  1. I’m not really white, I just look it. By being one of the “club,” a white person can deny responsibility to change their own attitude or challenge the attitudes of others.  As Paul Kivel points out:

    When the subject is racism nobody wants to be white, because being white has been
    labeled “bad” and brings up feelings of guilt, shame, complicity and hopelessness.

  2. I’m unique and interesting because of the mysterious and cool Indians in my family. White Americans often have an exoticised view of Native Americans (read: Daniel Day-Lewis), and claiming your great-grandma was a Cherokee princess (as if there were such a thing) might make you seem more interesting than telling people you’re just from Georgia.
  3. I’m allowed to use certain pejorative terms because I, too, am a person of color. Again, because one is in the “club,” one is free to insult any other person of color, particularly one’s “own” race (a misapprehension Kate explained in her derailment a couple weeks ago).

Now, you may be one of those Americans with honest-to-goodness Native American relatives.  God bless you.  And God bless those of us who can’t find any Indians in our immediate ancestry.  Empathizing with the struggles of others and combating injustice doesn’t mean we have to feign our genealogy, in fact, doing so is an insult to those we’re claiming as our relatives.  While healthy pride in one’s [confirmed] heritage is appropriate, there is nothing romantic about being a part of an oppressed group.

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About a year ago, my husband and I were out with a white acquaintance and somewhere in our extensive conversation about real estate, the man made a racial joke.  There was that inevitable uncomfortable moment where neither my husband nor I were laughing, so the man quickly covered his tracks by saying, “well, I can say that because my wife is black.”

derailment (n): a defensive argument, statement, or question that dismisses or seeks to undermine anti-racist arguments in an effort to preserve privilege or the status quo

We’ve all either done this or heard this in discussions about race.  An errant comment is dismissed by a disclaimer: “I’m not a racist.  I have black/Asian/Latino friends/coworkers/or in this guy’s case, a spouse.”  Because we know or have affection for a person of color, somehow that makes it okay to make a racial slur. [This is the point where I would express a certain amount of ?!@#$%$^$??]

What struck me about the situation at the top of this post was that the man’s black wife was not present for our conversation.  I often wonder if our “black friends” were around, would we say the same things?  Perhaps.  But often, we have better judgment when we are among a more diverse group.  Even if we say such things in that context, do we ever really consider how that makes our “friends” feel?

Occasionally, I’ve seen conversations among a diverse group of colleagues or friends go like this:  a white person utters a regrettable remark and then asks the representative person of color if the comment offended him/her.  “You know I’m joking, right?” or “No offense, k?”  At which point the person of color is faced with these choices: 1) call even more attention to himself/herself by rebuking their colleague, 2) laugh and ignore it like it wasn’t a big deal, but it really might be a big deal or 3) laugh because they, too decide to embrace the stereotype in order to be accepted in the group.  In any of these options, the imposed-upon person is being asked to pardon the offender without any condemnation of the act itself.  Is this something we really want to do to “friends”?  Create awkward situations where they cannot voice the hurt we’ve caused them? Or worse, compel them to accept and adopt our prejudices in order to fit in?

The whole idea makes me question the nature of our friendships with people of color.  At least two of my grandmothers regularly referred to all black people as “colored” but had befriended their black neighbors or nurses.  At least one of them still used the n-word from time to time.  In their minds, these women were “exceptions” to the “rules” they had accepted about black folks.  Even while my white grandmothers accepted these women into their lives and homes, the invisible social dynamics of our country, reinforced by the language and behavior of my grandmas, kept them from ever really knowing and loving one another as friends.  They were still unflinchingly attached to a system of prejudice that made egalitarian friendship impossible.  With this attitude, were my grandmas truly acting as friends to their black “friends”?

In a more contemporary example, I’ve heard younger relations make racial slurs against black folks, Native American folks, and Latino folks all with the disclaimer that they have friends of those races.  Again, those “friends” are never around when those things are said because all of us know that those hurtful words would never be spoken in their presence.  If it would hurt our friends to say these things in front of them, do we not think it would be as injurious if not more so to say these things when they aren’t around and evoke their names and friendships in defense of our bad behavior?

In my experience, when I become friends with a person different from me, I become more defensive of them or their cause, whatever that might be.  Having friends of color makes me more sensitive to the things that threaten and injure them, not less. Having Republican friends makes me more likely to stop one of my liberal friends from ranting about the collective idiocy of conservatives.  Having a cousin with intellectual and physical disabilities makes me more likely to call someone out for making offensive comments about “short buses”, etc.  I would think that if we really care about our friends of color, we’d be quick to correct false stereotypes.

If we were really a friend to those folks, we’d certainly not be perpetuating prejudice and using our friendships to prop up our wrongful behavior.  To those who say, “I’m not racist [despite the racist comment I just made], I have black friends,” I have to ask, which part then is the lie?  The comment you just made, or the affection you claim you have for your friends?  Let us not betray our friends of color by participating in conversations, ideas or ideologies that tear them down.

From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.   -James 3:10-12

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This week Sesame Street celebrates its 40th anniversary.  I think the appropriate gift for 40 years is rubies, but since wisdom is better, I thought I’d share a little Street smarts:

If you have a favorite memory or clip from the show, feel free to post it in the comments.

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At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this…. The first way that the church can repent, the first way that it can move out into the arena of social reform is to remove the yoke of segregation from its own body. –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ve been wanting to post this for a while, and linking to Professor Rah’s blog made me remember it. A short interview with Soong-Chan Rah, in which he explains that the so-called “death of Christianity in America” is really a decline among white upper-and-middle class Evangelicals. Other churches are experiencing lively growth. What’s next for Evangelicalism?

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Don’t miss part 2 at The Ooze!

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On this October 30, 2004, we, the Faith Community of St. Augustine Catholic Church, dedicate this shrine consisting of grave crosses, chains and shackles to the memory of the nameless, faceless, turfless Africans who met an untimely death in Faubourg Treme. The Tomb of the Unknown Slave is commemorated here in this garden plot of St. Augustine Church, the only parish in the United States whose free people of color bought two outer rows of pews exclusively for slaves to use for worship. This St. Augustine/Treme shrine honors all slaves buried throughout the United States and those slaves in particular who lie beneath the ground of Treme in unmarked, unknown graves. There is no doubt that the campus of St. Augustine Church sits astride the blood, sweat, tears and some of the mortal remains of unknown slaves from Africa and local American Indian slaves who either met with fatal treachery, and were therefore buried quickly and secretly, or were buried hastily and at random because of yellow fever and other plagues. Even now, some Treme locals have childhood memories of salvage/restoration workers unearthing various human bones, sometimes in concentrated areas such as wells. In other words, The Tomb of the Unknown Slave is a constant reminder that we are walking on holy ground. Thus, we cannot consecrate this tomb, because it is already consecrated by many slaves’ inglorious deaths bereft of any acknowledgement, dignity or respect, but ultimately glorious by their blood, sweat, tears, faith, prayers and deep worship of our Creator.

Read more about the Tomb of the Unknown Slave.

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