Tag Archives: identity

“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.
Continue reading

Quoted: Jaswinder Bolina on Poetry, and Writing Through Identity

Carrier Wave, Jaswinder Bolina

[Back then, I was] only a year or so into an MFA. I stop by the office of a friend, an older white poet in my department. Publication to me feels impossible then, and the friend means to be encouraging when he says, “With a name like Jaswinder Bolina, you could publish plenty of poems right now if you wrote about the first-generation, minority stuff. What I admire is that you don’t write that kind of poetry.” He’s right. I don’t write “that kind” of poetry. To him, this is upstanding, correct, what a poet ought to do. It’s indicative of a vigor exceeding that of other minority poets come calling. It turns out I’m a hard worker too. I should be offended—if not for myself, then on behalf of writers who do take on the difficult subject of minority experience in their poetry—but I understand that my friend means no ill by it. To his mind, embracing my difference would open editorial inboxes, but knowing that I tend to eschew/exclude/deny “that kind” of subject in my poetry, he adds, “This’ll make it harder for you.” When, only a few months later, my father—who’s never read my poems, whose fine but mostly functional knowledge of English makes the diction and syntax of my work difficult to follow, who doesn’t know anything of the themes or subjects of my poetry—tells me to use another name, he’s encouraging also. He means: Let them think you’re a white guy. This will make it easier for you. [...]

To the poet, though, the first question isn’t one of class or color. The first question is a question of language. Poetry—as Stéphane Mallarmé famously tells the painter and hapless would-be poet Edgar Degas—is made of words, not ideas. However, to the poet of color or the female poet, to the gay or transgendered writer in America, and even to the white male writer born outside of socioeconomic privilege, a difficult question arises: “Whose language is it?” Where the history of academic and cultural institutions is so dominated by white men of means, “high” language necessarily comes to mean the language of whiteness and a largely wealthy, heteronormative maleness at that. The minority poet seeking entry into the academy and its canon finds that her language is deracialized/sexualized/gendered/classed at the outset. In trafficking in “high” English, writers other than educated, straight, white, male ones of privilege choose to become versed in a language that doesn’t intrinsically or historically coincide with perceptions of their identities. It’s true that minority poets are permitted to bring alternative vernaculars into our work. Poets from William Wordsworth in the preface to Lyrical Ballads to Frank O’Hara in his “Personism: a manifesto” demand as much by insisting that poetry incorporate language nearer to conversational speech than anything overly elevated. Such calls for expansions of literary language in conjunction with continuing experiments by recent generations of American poets are transforming the canon for sure, but this leaves me and perhaps others like me in a slightly awkward position. I don’t possess a vernacular English that’s significantly different from that of plain old Midwestern English. As such, it seems I’m able to write from a perspective that doesn’t address certain realities about myself, and this makes me queasy as anything. The voice in my head is annoyed with the voice in my writing. The voice in my head says I’m disregarding difference, and this feels like a denial of self, of reality, of a basic truth.

It isn’t exactly intentional. It’s a product of being privileged. In the 46 years since my father left Punjab, the 40 or so years since my mother left also, my parents clambered the socioeconomic ladder with a fair amount of middle-class success. We’re not exactly wealthy, but I do wind up in prep school instead of the public high school, which only isolates me further from those with a shared racial identity. Later I attend university, where I’m permitted by my parents’ successes to study the subjects I want to study rather than those that might guarantee future wealth. I don’t need to become a doctor or a lawyer to support the clan. I get to major in philosophy and later attend graduate school in creative writing. Through all of this, though I experience occasional instances of bigotry while walking down streets or in bars, and though I study in programs where I’m often one of only two or three students of color, my racial identity is generally overlooked or disregarded by those around me. I’ve become so adept in the language and culture of the academy that on more than one occasion when I bring up the fact of my race, colleagues reply with some variation of “I don’t think of you as a minority.” Or, as a cousin who’s known me since infancy jokes, “You’re not a minority. You’re just a white guy with a tan.” What she means is that my assimilation is complete. But she can’t be correct. Race is simply too essential to the American experience to ever be entirely overlooked. As such, I can’t actually write like a white guy any more than I can revise my skin color. This, however, doesn’t change the fact that if a reader were to encounter much of my work not knowing my name or having seen a photograph of me, she might not be faulted for incorrectly assigning the poems a white racial identity. This is a product of my language, which is a product of my education, which is a product of the socioeconomic privilege afforded by my parents’ successes. The product of all those factors together is that the writing—this essay included—can’t seem to help sounding white.

— Excerpted from “Writing Like a White Guy,” by Jaswinder Bolina, originally published at The Poetry Foundation

Baratunde Thurston on Donald Trump, Obama’s Birth Certificate, and the Degradation of Americans

By Andrea (AJ) Plaid

With all of the jokes about “Birthers” and Donald Trump’s toupee as well as the leftysphere excoriating the mainstream media for not taking Trump to task for his antics, Jack and Jill Politics’ Baratunde Thurston breaks down what we lost due to Trump’s BS.

Transcript after the jump.

Continue reading

Coloring Whiteness: POC Community Building and Mistaken Racial Identity

by Former Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Nina Garcia

I can count the days following Fashion Week on two hands, the same abacus I could use to count the women of color featured on its runways. Despite constant cries from communities of color, models, the press, and even many designers to increase diversity on the catwalk, progress is slower than the careful steps taken in a pair of Alexander McQueen heels. The fashion world is working at a snail’s pace to color its image, and even then, only by way of appeasement, tiny bits to the masses so that they are temporarily satisfied. But among those scraps, people become desperate, sometimes seeing glimmers that hope that are far from it, and yearning for some acknowledgment from those who have little connection to their plight despite presumed allegiance.

To cite a specific example, one need look no further than the coverage of one of the most poignant protests of fashion’s alienation and exclusion of black fashion editors (and, not-so-tangentially, models and designers) on the opening day of Fashion Week. One of the participants noted that the only prominent woman of color in the business and publishing side of the fashion industry was Marie Claire Fashion Director and Project Runway judge Nina Garcia (pictured, at top).

I stopped reading for a moment. Since when is Nina Garcia a woman of color? Continue reading

Quoted: Anna on Mixed Race and Filipina Identity/Lulu on Shared Struggles

Lulu Carpenter

It seems we don’t talk a lot about it, but to be sure, there are distinct pains, complexities and privileges associated with mixed heritage people. And I’m realizing that these distinctions can be quite fruitful to discussions of race and gender. For I realized that mixed heritage families are a perfect example of “families on the fault lines.” In other words, mixed families undergo a unique experience that may reflect and deify notions of privilege and hierarchy. At the same time, they hold vast potential to resist narratives of the normalized body.

In my case, I’ve experienced both privilege and oppression with my identity and family background. For instance, while folks in the Filipino community might easily classify me as one of them, this isn’t the case for those outside this community. Filipinos are so underrepresented in the media and other forms of public representation that people don’t seem to understand what it means to be a dark-skinned Asian. They seem to only think of East Asia when they hear “Asian” (as if the region of Southeast Asia doesn’t exist!). I’ve gotten Latino, Chinese, Indian–you name it. (And to be fair, I’ve inherited some of my father’s bi-racial characteristics which further confounds people.) There’s a sort of erasure and concomitant exotification that occurs just by virtue of being Filipino or any other underrepresented ethnic group.

On the other hand, there is a distancing from this Otherness that happens through my last name. I’m clearly not white, but my name–Anna Sterling–sure does sound white. It never fails as a conversation starter; by rote I explain that my paternal grandfather was an American soldier stationed in the Philippines during WWII. My father was bi-racial, hence the last name. I know for a fact that this last name has conferred privileges onto me throughout time–everywhere from fitting in with my white suburban friends a little bit more than those with more traditional names like Magpantay or Danganan to perhaps having eyes linger on my resume in job searches a few seconds longer. Continue reading

Black AND Asian (and Jewish?)

by Guest Contributor CVT, originally published at Choptensils


I meant to write this post a long time ago – kept saying that I would – but it just didn’t happen, finally fell on the back-burner. Recently, however, I read another post (here) that addressed this topic, but in a manner that felt – to me – to retain the very same “Us vs. Them” theme that’s gotten us here in the first place. The angle taken, the examples given, some of the comments, etc. allow for a dangerous misunderstanding to continue (not the author’s intention, but nonetheless . . .). So I felt it’s time. Let’s do this.

A while back, I was talking to a friend of mine (a black female, which is relevant) – we’ll call her “W.” She’s telling me about this guy she ran into at some store; this Vietnamese guy (“or Chinese or Korean or something”) comes over and starts chatting her up, hitting on her, trying to get her number and all that. She’s not feeling it. She gets irritated on a number of levels. But her primary annoyance is that she feels like he’s just messing with her, so she ends up telling him “give me a break, you don’t date black women,” and (tamely) telling him about how racist Asian guys are.

She finishes her story, looks at me, and, laughing, says “can you believe that?”

I give a one-word response. “Yes.”

But my mind was reeling – because there was so much going on in this one interaction (sort of two interactions, including the re-telling) that just sum up the state of oppression-related affairs in the U.S. First, there’s a (black) woman getting hit on by some random guy, which always carries a tinge of objectification, dominance, etc. In this case, it’s an Asian guy – so we’re bringing together two notoriously “undesirable” race/gender combinations in this country. Then there’s her confusion over the exact ethnicity of this Asian dude. Then there’s her belief (based on real past experience) that he’s not really interested in dating her; that he’s more or less mocking her, because – as an Asian man – he’s probably crazy-racist against black people. And, finally, the beauty of it all – she’s casually relating this story to me, her friend – an Asian (okay, mixed-Asian) male.

And it all made perfect sense to me. Because, you see, I happen to be a sort of connoisseur of the black-Asian interracial experience, and everything that happened in that story follows the confusing, tense narrative of a relationship that has been being shaped for the last couple-hundred (maybe far more) years. It’s a long story – with a lot of loops and twists – but it’s one worth reading, so I hope y’all follow me to the end.

Prologue – “Setting it Straight” (aka “Prepare to Have Your Mind Blown”)

We “all know” that there’s this big rivalry between Asian and black folks. The “opposites” of the PoC spectrum, there just is no bridging the divide. I’ve heard it a million times (from both sides).

And so the look of shock on the faces of this one particular group of Asian folks I was with shouldn’t have surprised me when I asked what should have been a stupid question: “You all realize that there are black Asian people, right?”
Continue reading