Tag Archives: identity

On National Tragedy And Personal Identity: Reflections On The Shootings In Wisconsin

by Guest Contributor Amit S. Bagga

As a preface, I encourage you to read this edited excerpt from Harsha Walia’s response to this incident on the Racialicious blog:

“To my Sikh sisters and brothers: this incident is yet another reminder of what it means for us to be racialized as Others and as eternal
Outsiders…We cannot see and name ourselves as ‘accidental’ victims of Islamophobia, which suggests that somehow Muslims are
more “appropriate” targets of racism…Striving to be more desirable within an oppressive system–that is built on our social discipline and compels our obedience–will never set us free. What will set us free is our collective liberation and thriving as the proud brown people we were meant to be.”

I am a Sikh. Or at least half. With his hair shorn. Yeah, it’s kinda nebulous. This has been my refrain for as long as I can remember. I’ve been as attached to “my” Sikh identity as strongly as a stray hair hanging out from the back of a poorly-tied turban (though not my father’s, let me assure you. No stray hairs there).

South Asian social mores would dictate that a child (a son, no less) born to a Sikh father would undoubtedly raised a Sikh. He would don a little bun wound into tightly-wrapped cloth (joora) atop his head, murmuring Guru Granth Sahib verses alongside a set of twangy, off-key pajis and, at least in the US, being shipped off to various camps to memorize, recite, and maybe–just maybe–internalize something. Well, that was not the case with me. In fact, for a variety of reasons, some intentional, most not, the development of my identity as a Sikh was not quite “marginalized,” but certainly somewhat subverted, and I was reared a good Hindu boy by a mother suspended somewhere between Punjabi goddess worship and post-colonial, urban, middle-class Brahminism.

The world in the 1980s. The Golden Temple incident; Indira Gandhi has been assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards; Hindus and Sikhs are busy killing each other in the streets of Delhi; we live in a Bronx neighborhood where outsiders, despite this being New York City, are not particularly well-liked. So, the decision is made: he will not wear a joora and, as such, the Sikh bit a fell to the side. Though the decisions may not have been conscious, Punjabi was eschewed in favor of Hindi, and Guru Nanak eschewed in favor of Durga. To be fair, I learned how to recite many verses and went to the gurdwara and sat through langar, as well as the many in-home readings of the holy book, that both sides of my family, despite one being Hindu, decided to keep–but it wasn’t quite the same. At the end of the day, the Sikh-est thing about me was my middle name–and, well, the manifestation of that which pulses in all Sikh blood–the ability to two-step to a little bhangra. Continue reading

On the Olympics & Being Indigenous

by Guest Contributor Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, originally published at Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

I’m not going to lie. I’m not a big fan of the Olympics and in fact every four years I think I hate them more, for all of the obvious reasons. Vancouver 2012 I disliked the most because when watching the opening ceremonies with my then eight year old insomniac, in what must have been the middle of the night, he looked at me and said “When is Team Anishinaabeg going to be entering the stadium? Probably before Team Haudenosaunee, right, because Anishinaabeg begins with A?” As all Native parents know, the colonialism talk makes the sex talk look a lot like a platter of cupcakes with a chaser of ice cream cones.

This year, I’ve been lucky and I’ve mostly been able to ignore the whole conspicuous spectacle, except that during the opening ceremonies I had to unfollow Billy Bragg on Twitter because he was so enamored with Danny Boyle’s lefty take on the ceremony, that he failed to notice Boyle skipping over the four hundred years of colonialism, genocide and occupation England’s heaped on Indigenous nations globally. And yes, this year my entire Olympic experience is mitigated through my Twitter feed which is made up almost exclusively of Indigenous artists, academics and writers. Which means in addition to the Billy Bragg incident, the only Olympic related news I’ve heard is confined to the two racist athletes expelled from the games, the four Indigenous athletes from North America including Anishinaabekwe Mary Spence and today, Damien Hooper. Continue reading

The Struggles of Discussing Race In The Asian American Evangelical Church [Racialigious]

by Guest Contributor Paul Matsushima, originally published at Eesahmu

Courtesy: Christianity Daily

Recently, while attending one of the most ethnically diverse evangelical seminaries in the nation, I found myself in an environment where I had to defend the argument that race still matters. Don’t get me wrong; students and faculty alike openly discussed ethnic and societal culture; and, although all were unanimous that racial prejudice is wrong and diversity is good, when it came to America’s original (and continuing) sin of racism, there were choirs of crickets.

I, in partial reaction, left. After stepping back from my enmeshment in the evangelical world, I gained some clarity for why I felt so isolated. Personal reasons aside, my qualm with the (white) evangelical community was its hesitancy to analyze–much less struggle against–the historical and continuing racial bias in America. This “don’t go there” mentality is further compounded within evangelical churches that are predominantly Asian American. Here are my speculations why.

1. Unity in Christ, aka Colorblindness

Firstly, we who seek to discuss race in the Asian American church go head-to-head against the banner of colorblindness. Colorblindness, while it may value ethnic diversity, seeks to ignore one’s race in order to avoid giving differential treatment on account of it. In other words, it attempts to treat all people equally regardless of race.

This thinking is interwoven into the Christian doctrine of the primacy of one’s Christian identity. Common phrases such as “unity in Christ” or “children of God” shape American evangelicals to value their Christian identity over any other. Tim Tseng, in his article “The Young Adult Black Hole,” explores how Asian American young adults leave their immigrant-ethnic churches for white or multiethnic ones because the influence of colorblind thinking. The message of one’s Christian identity as most important, combined with assimilation into American culture as good and being too ethnic (i.e., too Asian) as bad, is thoroughly ground into these young people’s minds. The result: many Asian American evangelicals believe “the goal [of Christian identity formation] is to shed, not affirm their [racial] identities.”

In 2009, the Urbana Missions Conference hosted around 16,000 attendees, 30% of which were Asian American. I was shocked and disturbed when I, along with three other conferees were the only ones who attended the Asian American prayer workshop, a session devoted to exploring how racial identity shapes the way one prays. Asian Americans flocked to workshops on international and missionary issues in Asia, but when it came to the single workshop focused entirely on Asian American issues, their attendance was extremely minimal. Continue reading

Is “Queen Chief Warhorse” Native? And Who Gets To Decide?

by Guest Contributor Deb Reese, originally published at American Indians in Children’s Literature

Yesterday (May 2nd, 2012), Latoya Peterson of Racialicious published my post about “Queen Chief Warhorse” at her site. In it I questioned the use of “Queen.” Latoya also posted an essay by Gyasi Ross and one of her own. The three generated many comments. Some people question the import of federal recognition. Some people see the discussion as racist. This is my response to that conversation.

In Part One (below), I return to the remarks made by “Queen Chief Warhorse” that night in New Orleans. Here’s the video, and beneath it are her remarks, followed by my thoughts (then and now) about what she said. In Part Two, I address some of the Latoya’s questions.

PART ONE

Warhorse:

“All glory go to the Creator. It’s an honor to be here today, but I love the theme: America Healing. But first, let’s think about something. Where did America come from? Have it always been America? Or was it just created to be America? Who are the real Americans? America keep changing and changing and changing.”

Debbie’s response:
With her “let’s think about something,” she asked the audience to hit the pause button and be critical thinkers. That’s a good thing for any speaker to do.

I invite you (and her) to think critically about her question “Who are the real Americans?” It is factually incorrect for her to call the Indigenous peoples of this land Americans. When Europeans arrived here, they entered into diplomatic negotiations with leaders of Indigenous nations. The outcome of those negotiations were treaties, just like the treaties the US makes today with nations around the world. They didn’t make treaties with “First Americans.” They made treaties with hundreds of Indigenous nations. None of them were called “America” and their citizens didn’t call themselves “Americans.” (If you’re interested in treaties, you can read some of them online, but I urge you to get the two-volume set, Documents of American Indian Diplomacy, edited by Vine Deloria, Jr. and Raymond J. DeMallie. It is more comprehensive and it provides context for reading the treaties.)

We were, and are, sovereign nations. Categorizing us beneath the multicultural umbrella obscures our status as sovereign nations and leads people to think that we want to be Americans, just like everybody else. In some ways we do, and some ways we don’t. For the most part, that multicultural umbrella is about people of color. We (Indigenous peoples) might be people of color, but we are, first and foremost, citizens of sovereign nations. Some of us look the way people think Indians should look, but some of us don’t. Some of us look like we ought to be called “African American” instead, and some of us look White. What we look like doesn’t matter.

Some might think that the “we are not people of color” statement is racist, I hope you see it isn’t about race. It is about sovereignty. Continue reading

Lies, Damned Lies, and the Complicated Accounting of Identity [Counterpoint]

When I received Gyasi’s piece, I thought long and hard about how to respond.

His piece felt a bit like a slap – exactly how were we supposed to evaluate Queen Chief Warhorse’s credentials on the fly, especially after she had been vetted as a speaker by an organization intent on working locally with organizations that impact their communities? Why would we doubt her, just based on her face? I know it’s been quite a few years, but Racialicious started as a blog called Mixed Media Watch, which spent a lot of time exploring how phenotypes can be deceiving. It wasn’t so long ago that Addicted to Race boasted a “racial spy” section, which featured mixed race people recounting stories of receiving stereotypes intended for others. So we would never, ever question someone’s identity on phenotype alone. If we did that, we would have challenged Brandann for not looking properly Indian instead of just letting her tell her story.

However, Gyasi is correct – there are many, many people who have claimed to speak for Indian Country who have fabricated their identities, and we need to denounce those who would use an indigenous identity to seek profit for themselves. But are the answers so cut and dry to the point where they should be immediately obvious to all outside of the various nations? Over the years at Racialicious, we’ve come across many places in which someone’s heritage has been declared false. And each time, we try to figure out how to proceed. But the truth isn’t always easy to understand – and questions of identity are far more complicated than the Young Black Teenagers publicity stunt.

From Peggy Seltzer to Tinsel Corey, from Taylor Lautner to Cher, and from Princess Pale Moon to Andrea Smith, public proclamations of Native identity are often swiftly challenged and debated. So let’s examine the ones who made headlines, and then apply what we’ve learned to Queen Chief Warhorse. Continue reading

“Queen Chief Warhorse, Tchufuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe”

by Guest Contributor Deb Reese, originally published at American Indians In Children’s Literature

I registered for the Healing for Democracy conference yesterday, found a place to sit, and pulled out the conference program. Among the speakers for the Welcome was “Queen Chief Warhorse, Tchefuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe.”

“Queen” gave me pause right away and its use cast doubt on the rest of the information provided. “Tchefuncta” and “Chahta” are not nations or tribes I have heard of before, but there are over 500 federally recognized tribal nations and I don’t pretend to know about all–or even most–of them. Still, “Queen” made me uneasy.

That unease was confirmed when “Queen Chief Warhorse” took the stage and began delivering her remarks. She was wearing a necklace that was supposed to suggest Pueblo Indian or Navajo turquoise and silver. To most, it probably looked like the real thing. To me, it screamed imitation. I wondered where she got it.

Right away, she had most of the audience eating out of her hand. Working with the theme of “healing,” her opening remarks began with calling out the limits of a black/white paradigm. That was fine, but then–for me–her train went off a cliff.

She started using “we” in ways that demonstrate she doesn’t know much about tribal nations and our reservations. One statement after another was problematic. It was a “poor Indians” narrative, living on our “prison camp” and “the projects” reservations.

Her remarks were, in short, a mess for lot of reasons.

Her use of “we” was wrong. Using “we” as a keynote speaker to an audience who, I hazard to say, is fairly lacking in knowledge of American Indians, only added to the already-too-big body of misinformation about American Indians.

I did a quick bit of research and found photos of her in a Plains style headdress. Why was she wearing that?! When I have more time, I’ll do some research on her and the “Tchunfuncta Nation, Chahta Tribe.” Will I learn that the “Chahta Tribe” or the “Tchunfuncta Nation” are Plains people?

For now, I’ll say this:

Healing requires accurate information, not sensational remarks that generate a righteous anger and create or affirm a body of misinformation.

Quoted: Lucette Lagnado On Being An Egyptian Jew In 1960s America

Lucette Lagnado

I was a child of the ’60s. No, not those ’60s of peace, drugs, and rock and roll, but rather the period several years prior, when a secret agent named Emma Peel reigned supreme on TV’s The Avengers. [...]

When I caught my first episode in 1965, I assumed it was the black leather that gave Mrs. Peel her courage. At nine years old, I longed for a catsuit of my own. [...] Every week, I watched with a combination of fascination, intrigue, and utter longing, dreaming of growing up to be exactly like her.

It was madness, of course. No child on earth was a more unlikely Mrs. Peel.

At the time, my family was new to America. Even our black and white TV was a recent acquisition – the only vaguely valuable possession in that cramped apartment on 66th street in Bensonhurst, a working-class section of Brooklyn where our neighbors were either Italian Catholics or Jewish like us. But we were Egyptian Jews – Arab and Jewish both. When I was seven, my parents moved me and my three older siblings from Cairo, where we were born. In Egypt, we’d lived in a lovely apartment overlooking a main boulevard and I attended a private French lycée. Several times a week, my father would take me to a Swiss patisserie where we’d sit outdoors enjoying cakes and cold drinks.

But this comfortable way of life was rapidly deteriorating. For decades, Egyptian Jews had been embraced by both Muslims and Christians, managing to flourish in a society that was exceptionally tolerant. But the creation of Israel in 1948 marked the beginning of a Jewish exodus, which intensified after the Egyptian monarchy was overthrown in 1952 by an oppressive military dictatorship. Its leader, Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, had decided that Jews were no longer true Egyptians. The security that Jews, foreigners, and other minorities had enjoyed vanished; a Jewish community numbering 80,000 was chased out or pressured to leave.

By 1963, businesses had been confiscated, the once-renowned Jewish hospital had been taken over by the army, and a g general fear — of arrest, of some terrible repercussion for refusing to leave-was pervasive. Most of our friends and relatives had already fled, and my father finally agreed that we too should go.

We were a family of six with only $200 ~ and 26 suitcases. Our papers branded us co as “stateless”-people without a country. Our painful journey led us from Cairo to Paris and ultimately to New York, where we fetched up in a corner of Brooklyn.

Yet Americans had trouble processing us. How could I be both an Arab and a Jew? Had I lived in the Pyramids, they asked, or perhaps in a tent? I learned early on not to tell people I was Egyptian at all.

—”The Avenger” by Lucette Lagnado, part of her memoir The Arrogant Years, originally published in Elle Magazine

The Line Between Solidarity and Appropriation: Learning from Jewish Blackface in History [Essay]

by Guest Contributor Wendy Elisheva Somerson

“I remember your grandfather leaving the house in blackface to perform at the local Jewish community center,” my mom told me. “They just didn’t know what it meant back then,” she explained, “not until after WW II.” As an activist involved in contemporary solidarity work across racial lines, I was shocked to discover this racist history in my near past. As an Ashkenazi Jew* (of European descent) whose grandparents immigrated to the US around the turn of the century, I don’t always see myself implicated in the American legacy of slavery, but I was forced to reconcile the fond memories of my jovial grandfather with this haunting image of him performing racial minstrelsy. Trying to make sense of this image, I began researching the history of Jewish blackface between WWI and WWII and was surprised to discover a connection between my current activism and this history of blackface: When we are not rooted in our Jewish identities, we risk stereotyping, appropriating, and over-identifying with other cultures.

To understand the complicated history of alliance, disconnection, and overlap between Ashkenazi Jews and African Americans in between the world wars, I turned to Eric Goldstein’s The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity, which considers how Jews negotiated competing claims on their identities and Michael Rogin’s Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot, which looks more specifically at the role of blackface in Americanizing Jews. As European Jewish immigrants arrived in the US, their presence intersected with the dominant black/white system of racial relations in various ways. At different times, Jews and African Americans were linked tightly together in American consciousness as evidenced by the case of Leo Frank (1913-1915), which sets the stage for Jewish-Black relations in between the wars. A Jewish factory manager in Georgia, Frank was accused of raping and murdering a white girl who worked in his factory. Frank was found guilty (in spite of flimsy evidence) and sentenced to death, but the Governor commuted his sentence to life in prison. A journalist warned in a headline: “The next Jew who does what Frank did is going to get exactly the same thing we give to Negro rapists” (Goldstein 43). Frank was then kidnapped from prison and lynched by a white mob.
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