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Ending Racism, and Divisions among Native People

Last weekend we held our biannual Regional Ending Racism Workshops. Jan Yoshiwara1 led the Liberation for People of the Global Majority Workshop (ten Co-Counselors attended), and Albert Fields2 led the White People Ending Racism Workshop (of twenty-five Co-Counselors). Both were at the same camp.

This is the third time we have held these workshops. The first two times, I attended the People of the Global Majority Workshop. This time I thought about it differently. Encouraged by things Marcie Rendon3 and Barbara Boring4 have said, I looked at how I had been targeted by racism to some extent but how for generations genocide had been the primary oppression aimed at my family. I also wanted to work on how racism had affected me as a person who was raised believing I was white, and I wanted the other Natives raised white to have the same opportunity. And I thought that the people of the global majority needed space to work without the restimulation of white patterns that take up a lot of “airtime”5 —patterns we Native-raised-white people in our Region tend to have. Finally, I wanted all of us Indigenous Co-Counselors to meet together for a good chunk of time to contradict our assimilation into various racial identities. 

I wrote the following letter to clarify my thinking, to share it with the other Native-raised-white RCers, and to get feedback from Barbara Boring, Alison Ehara-Brown,6 and the three Natives raised Native who were coming to the workshops. Then Jan and Albert had the organizer send it out to all the people who were coming.

I think the experiment I suggested went well. It was specific to our Region—I knew all of us, our patterns and our clarity, and the range of “coming home work” (from lots to almost none) that both the Natives raised white and the Natives raised in other identities had done. I don’t think it would apply wholesale to other Regions or Areas.

All of us Indigenous people did meet together during the topic-group time on Saturday. Four of us were from the white workshop; and seven were from the people-of-the-global-majority workshop, three of whom identified as Native, two as primarily Asian or Pacific Islander, and two as African heritage. I said a few things about genocide, assimilation, and discharge, and we each had a four-minute turn. There was much laughter and many tears. We were noisy at times and quiet at times. All my fears that I would be wasting people’s time and would be miserably inarticulate were not realized.

I learned that Native people working separately in the two workshops, acknowledging the different effects that racism has had on us, was important. But I also learned that being together was important, too. If we don’t come together, we allow the genocide of assimilation, blood quantum, removal, and so on, to weaken and eventually end our existence as Native people.

It was important that an experienced leader, with strong relationships with the Natives raised Native, led the combined Native group. As the leadership of the Natives raised Native develops, it will be good for one of them to lead the group. 

Here’s my letter:

Racism is a pervasive oppression that harms absolutely everyone. It underpins injustice and the destruction of the environment. Our ever-more-rapidly-collapsing class societies use it to perpetuate themselves. I have been pondering how we can accelerate the ending of racism in our Region. The upcoming Regional Ending Racism Workshops are an opportunity to do this.

We were all innocent children who were hurt by racism. Children of the global majority were directly targeted by racism and saw it damage the people all around them. White children were made clueless and ignorant about racism and turned into perpetrators of it. We all need spaces where we can discharge our end of the distresses while not causing hurt and confusion to people who got the other end.

People of the global majority and Indigenous people targeted by racism need space away from white people to do this work. Discharging oppressor material7 (for example, toward other groups of the global majority) and hurts from white racism is easier when white allies are not in the room. Yes, we will want to meet together at some point—to learn from one another and do the work together—but for now we want to create the space for people of the global majority to discharge fully without the distraction of white people being present.

White people are, of course, completely good—that is not the issue. This issue is that people targeted by racism need the opportunity to work on racism without having to be careful around or “take care of” white people.

White people are devastated by being perpetrators of racism. Thus discharging their racist patterns goes better when it includes a big dose of discharging on being completely good. They need a place to work openly on being good without restimulating people targeted by racism. And they need to be able to work full-out on how they have been complicit in racism without reinforcing the racism that their beloved Co-Counselors of the global majority have to listen to, witness, and handle every day.

Some of us are Indigenous but grew up assuming, and/or with others assuming, that we were white. We could “pass” for white, and our families assimilated as a way to survive.

We can and often do play an important bridging role—of seeing things from many perspectives and seeing the humanness in people of all races. However, assimilation and “passing” are also a double-edged sword: they act as tools of genocide and at the same time manipulate us into the oppressor role.

For us, and for our Indigenous brothers and sisters who were targeted by racism, genocide is the key oppression. We need the space to work on genocide and internalized genocide consistently and persistently. But we also need to work on racism. This is key to liberating ourselves, all Native people, and all of humanity.

People will be attending the 2016 Ending Racism Workshops from Communities all across our Region. We have built considerable safety over many years, and now we will focus on getting bigger chances to discharge and clean up the distresses from racism. Because of the nature of the distresses, we will need to work in two groups—people of the global majority, led by Jan Yoshiwara; and white allies, led by Albert Fields.

Catholics, Jews, young adults, people with disabilities, LGBTQ8 folks, and so on, who are targeted by racism will be in the people-of-the-global-majority group. White members of these groups will meet in the white allies group.

Indigenous people who have been targeted by racism will meet in the people-of-the-global-majority group. Indigenous people who were raised white, or assumed to be white in the wide world, and were not targeted by racism will meet in the white allies group. The Natives targeted by racism and the Natives raised white will meet together for part of the workshop.

Will being in a white workshop make it difficult for Natives raised white to discharge on racism? Perhaps, so they will meet in a support group together.

Non-Native white people will likely feel pulled to bring up material about Natives when they are around the Natives raised white. They will instead need to work with each other on these distresses and “thoughts” about Native people.

We Natives raised white will need to commit to working on racism, and assisting our white brothers and sisters to do the same, rather than using the workshop primarily for working on genocide.

Will having Natives raised white in the white workshop make it more difficult for the non-Native white people to discharge on racism? Perhaps, but there will be ample opportunities, in support groups and sessions, for the non-Native white people to work with other people who do not have Native identity. And I believe we Natives raised white will have good attention for people working on racism that targets people of the global majority.

Why do I think that Natives targeted by racism and Natives raised white need to meet together as a group for part of the workshop, separate from the non-Native Co-Counselors? A specific oppression related to genocide can confuse everyone unless all the Native people meet together at least one time. One of the elements of genocide is to see Native people only through the lens of race, and we do not want to perpetuate that. It buys into9 a pervasive confusion caused by assimilation and annihilation. “Divide and conquer” has been a tool for eliminating tribal communities, and it persists today.

Being Native is not a racial identity. As Marcie Rendon, the International Liberation Reference Person for Native Americans, has said, “All of our children are our children,” and this includes our blonde, blue-eyed children. If they are our children, we claim them fully. They are Native, no matter how they look.

However, for hundreds of years it has been federal policy in the United States to see10 that fewer and fewer Natives exist. Methods employed have included war, disease, removal from homelands to reservations, systems of education designed to “save the man but kill the Indian,” shaming children for being Native, and creating “rolls” (as in “roll call”) of who is a tribal member and thus is eligible for treaty rights.

Treaty rights were made to be “inherited” in a way that was understood by Europeans. To have treaty rights, someone had to be a direct descendant by blood quantum (a racial construct). I’m not sure what the mechanism was (executive order, legislation by Congress), but the Feds11 racialized who was Indian and who was not. Then they turned the blood-quantum tallying over to the tribes, who had to decide on that basis who was eligible for tribal enrollment. No longer would the Indigenous value—each tribal member’s child is a child of the tribe—bring children into the center of the Nation.12 Yes, the tribes could decide who was a tribal member, but it had to be based on the racialized Euro-concept of blood quantum. This became another way to divide Native people from one another and to “get rid of” Indians.

Re-evaluation Counseling policy has been that all people with any Native “blood” are Native. An outline on page 59 of Heritage13 No. 4 describes the work of “coming home” to our Native selves. We get to discharge, re-evaluate, and decide who we are, claim our unique identity, and toss out any stereotyped or other determination of who we are. A significant and necessary piece of Native liberation is that no one outside of ourselves gets to say who we are.

Native liberation is also much bigger than identity. Identities are a construct and a tool of oppressive societies. We have a draft Native Liberation Policy, printed in Heritage No. 4, that provides an excellent and much bigger picture of what the liberation of Native people entails.

Through no fault of our own, we Natives raised white (like all white people) have been manipulated into the oppressor role with regard to racism. I want us to use this workshop for freeing ourselves from that. It will require that we not attend the people-of-the-global-majority workshop, because to work openly on our racism there would be to expect the people targeted by racism to handle our distresses rather than focusing on their own work.

We do not become non-Native by working on our white oppressor material. We do not become non-white by claiming our Native-ness. And we are all at different places as we do the work of “coming home” to our Native roots.

All the Indigenous Co-Counselors, from both workshops, will meet together on Saturday afternoon or evening. This will be an opportunity for us to discharge on assimilation—as all of us will be pulled toward assimilating in order to fit in to either workshop.

Does all this mean that at other workshops we Natives raised white will only meet with white people and not with Native people? Not at all. This workshop is about working on racism; other topics will require other thinking. Working on “coming home” is important to us, and we will continue to think freshly about what makes sense for our own re-emergence and for the liberation of each of our constituencies.

I’m so pleased that we are persisting in the elimination of racist distresses in our Region. The work being done on this, by people of the global majority as well as white allies, is vitally important. These workshops are meant to support that work and move it forward.

Shelley Macy

Regional Reference Person for Idaho, Montana, and Washington (outside of Clark, King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties), USA

Bellingham, Washington, USA

(Present Time 183, April 2016)


1 Jan Yoshiwara is the International Liberation Reference Person for People of Japanese Heritage and the Area Reference Person for the Olympia, Washington, USA, RC Community.
2 Albert Fields is the Area Reference Person for the Bellingham, Washington, USA, RC Community.
3 Marcie Rendon is the International Liberation Reference Person for Native Americans.
4 Barbara Boring is an RC leader in Seattle, Washington, USA, who leads workshops for Native people raised white.
5 “Airtime” means people’s attention.
6 Alison Ehara-Brown is an RC leader in Richmond, California, USA, and the editor of Heritage, the RC journal about Native liberation.
7 “Material” means distress.
8 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer
9 “Buys into” means accepts and cooperates with.
10 “See” means make certain.
11 “The Feds” means the federal officials.
12 The Nation means the tribal nation or group.
13 Heritage is the RC journal about Native liberation.


Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00