March 24, 2008

It's Insidious

The term "racial discrimination" is defined as distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life. It's an issue that I've noticed coming up more recently in different circles. Some more well known with Barrack Obama's speech "A More Perfect Union" and the ensuing media response. Or, before that, with local people of colour groups, activist circles and such around these parts. It's an issue I've been putting in retrospective of my own privilege and what racism means to indigenous, and really what my idea for a response to what racism is.

I myself identify as indigenous of Skwxuw7mesh and Kwakwaka'wakw of the Namgis' heritage. I'm also part Sechelt, English and French. But I wasn't raised by British or French people, I wasn't raised in Britain or France, I don't live in British or French community (although Vancouver is a Euro-Canadian colonizer place). I grew up with Skwxwu7mesh and Kwakwaka'wakw family, friends, and nations. That's who identify with. I'm also unusual for indigenous or Indians in my eye colour. Both my parents have hazel eyes, as does my older sister. I rarely get assumed for being "First Nations" or "Aboriginal". I've been called exotic and ethnicity guesses ranging from European to Asian (?). I could go intro a tirade about all my "blood quantum" origins or this person marrying this race and whatnot, but bottom line, I'm 1/4th white, and 3/4th indigenous.

This has afforded me a lot of privilege. Privilege I obviously never really understood till later in life and really appreciated my circumstance. I have friends who are similarly light skinned and wished they were darker, and I'll admit I went through the same envy. I can proudly say I never in my life felt ashamed of my skin/heritage though. (I think the racist priest and nuns who ran the residential schools would be saddened to know this...haha). But in searching decolonization and how this can be personalized, brought me to searching for identity.

A common theme among current indigenous trends ranging from post-residential school cultural revival to contemporary trends of cultural resurgence and revitalization. (Although I will say it needs to move from revitalization to regeneration...but that's not another blog.) This thing of indigenous identity is a strong thing for our people because of so many paths that bring us to the reality of our existance. The tactics, the war, the extermination, the genocide, the eraser of pasts, and now the continual assimilation. I thought quite profoundly that aside from all things, indigenous or aboriginals across Canada can really identify that "culture" is a strong theme among all our identities. Something I don't think can be said for a large group like us. I think the thing of identities of migrants, white-settler youth, and other sub-categorize of society are true and reasonable, but all indigenous, that is natives with a connection, surround this thing of culture. Because it rings so strongly. So when searching for my identity I came to understand my privilege that I grew up with around racism.

About my skin colour, I know I'll never truly understand the struggle of my darker skinned brothers and sisters. To be truly hated by an individual simply because of their skin colour, or prejudice of origin coming from their skin colour. Most never guess I'm native unless I either proudly say it or context provides it (like me carrying my drum or something similar). For racist employers, I would probably get a job because of the racial ambiguity of my ethnicity where I can pass for anything else. Or have to deal with racial profiling on indigenous folk. My promise and commitment is to use my privilege by sacrifice. Not to go around this world with a gift I'm afforded while my brothers and sisters are served unjustice at the hands of bad people.

I also came to understand how race does not determine nor justify ones identity with their own individual or collective identity. I may be light skinned, but I worked hard to learn what little I know of my language and people histories. Something very few others have also done. And that these things, not my blood quantum or eye pigment, determined my connection to the land, to the ancestors, to the stories and places these come from, my people, my relatives and everything that binds us together as a people. It's simply not how it is. I have cousins who on the off-set look as white as Jimmy Buffet. Yet they are simply some of the most "indigenous" people I know.

Historically, my people decided who was apart of the people, not on their blood quantum but who they identities with, and who identified with them. As a patrilineal culture, a common custom was the bride moving to the grooms village. Although there were instances of men moving into the wifes village, except it was considered "un-manly". The main point was the children were raised with their fathers people, and that's who they identities with. Of course, they visited and knew their relatives from their mothers people, depending on distance and frequency of visits, their identities with who they grew up with, not 1/4th this, 1/4th this, 1/16 that. But the colonial project wanted and wants our demise so blood quantum nations were created to divide and conquer indigenous people.

I have also thought where my experience of racism has gone through my life, directly. It's a strange thing, racism, because intelligent, educated, individuals can fall victim to it. It pervades society and becomes the culture. So it then takes someone to identify and/or call it. This has been done with many movements, groups, and people. And even doing that action can be unconscious, just like how racism itself can be unconscious. I thought back to my own time in high school, and being obsessed about education, or that is, the passing on of and acquiring of, knowledge. There was something insidious about the education curriculum that taught racism as historical truth, but never approached the current level of injustice and harm being done. On occasion, the teacher would graze by in over-passing talk from something in the news, or current events, but not teaching racism and discrimination for liberatory education for our society. To progress and create a better place to live. The other pervasive aspects of continual racism is the high school society. I never thought about it now, but the self-deprecation by some native students, and subvert undertones of white acceptance by White students. I can't help but wonder if the white kids would be as acceptable to the natives if they had decolonized more or had been decolonizing. But instead many chose white values and culture instead of their own. It was then, when one assimilated themselves, they became acceptable to others, to the whites. It wasn't overt or conscious on anyones part, but still exists.

What's insidious about racism is that it is unconscious. Even among these very bright and enlightened individuals.

by Rivers on Monday, March 24, 2008 |


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