Posts filed under ‘Race/Ethnicity’
May is Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month- wow- that is a lot of different cultures to pack into one month! But still, it seems a good time as any to learn about various APIA perspectives on feminism and social justice.
Last year, as a representative of the Bisexual Organizing Project, I went a SOY event- that stands for Shades of Yellow, which is a Hmong GLBTQ organization here in St. Paul. (Its the first and only such organization!) They are a very friendly and close-knit group and I was impressed to see the progress they had made in building connections and understanding in Hmong and other Asian communities in the area, and raising awareness of queer HAPI (Hmong Asian Pacific Islander) people in the GLBTQ communities. They are also part of the Queer Southeast Asian Network- a coalition of organizations from around the country. St. Paul has the largest Hmong population in the country, as well as many Vietnamese, Koreans, Cambodians and Laotians. Chinese, Japanese and Indian-Americans in the Twin Cities tend to be more concentrated in the suburbs. Minnesota is also called the “Land of a Gazillion Adoptees” (a play on Land of 10,000 Lakes) the link is to a multimedia project/activist org by and for adoptees (many of whom are Korean, Vietnamese or Chinese adopted by white parents)
Growing up in St Paul (well at least during my teen years) surrounded by this wide variety of Asian cultures became my “normal”. Hearing other whites reduce my neighbors/friends/classmates all to “Chinese people” or “Orientals” seemed bizarrely ignorant. (Even “Chinese culture” is really made up of many different cultures!) I’m old enough to remember Warner Bro.s cartoons that had racist carciatures of Blacks, American Indians and Asians, and while later the minstrelsy Black characters were removed, the Asian and American Indians remained. Why? That made no sense! I didn’t learn there was such thing as an Asian-American civil rights movement- or Asian involvement in Black civil rights and Black Power, until quite recently!
Big List o’ Asian-American Blogs
(This post is from last year, thought I’d release it into the wild!)
Alright, a little thing during my issue with Hopkins University happened and while I was basically going through one of the worst experiences of my life, being illegally fired from my job but before being raided as repercussion for talking about it, a post had happened across my personal FB timeline about Blackthorn Hoodoo Blend teas, […]
They tell me, if I work in solidarity with people of color, and try to educate myself to unlearn the racism I have been taught, that I must be motivated by white guilt.
They tell me if I criticize what other white people say, that I must hate myself- my skin, my “culture”, “heritage”, “people”. They don’t specify what they mean by those things. Apparently I share their culture, am one of their people, just based on my skin color…
They tell me that immigrants are coming to destroy “our” way of life, religion, culture, take “our” jobs. They forget all the same things were said about their ancestors.
They tell me Black, brown, Asian people are more homophobic and sexist- it’s just “their culture” what do you expect. While most of the laws made to oppress queer people and women are made by white (purportedly straight) men. Clearly we need to invade those other countries so we can civilize them and bring them feminism, or atheism, or capitalism or Christianity. Because that would be progress.
They ask why study other languages, because English is clearly the best one, immigrants all need to learn English. They forget how long their German or other ancestors kept speaking their languages. They forget some of my ancestors stopped speaking their native language, being force-taught “superior English” before even coming to this country.
They tell me that “white genocide” is apparently a problem I should be worried about, forgetting that some of my ancestors survived genocide- whether they were considered “white” or not at the time.
They worry about me riding the bus and walking in certain neighborhoods, in spite of the fact that a white cis (non-trans) woman is less likely to be attacked than a woman or man of color.
They want to keep out Syrian and other Muslim refugees to protect white women like me. That’s why the Klan was formed, why countless Black men were hung. To protect white women. I am more likely to be abused or attacked by white men- simply due to who is in my social circle, and who I tend to date. If that happens, though I suppose their concern for me will disappear, how was I dressed, did I have a proper escort.
I am also told that I need protection from the trans women who need to use the bathroom. In spite of the fact that I’ve experienced far more bullying from other white cis girls, because I wasn’t feminine enough, my teenage autistic awkwardness sticking out. I learned that there were many ways to be a woman from trans women, from women of color, from non-binary and genderqueer folks. The same people making these bathroom laws also oppose anti-bullying laws. Who are they actually protecting?
Diaspora is a Greek word meaning to scatter, usually referring to ethnic groups which have been scattered forcibly by expulsion, persecution, genocide and other not-fun thing humans do to each other. The most famous example which often gets the capital D is the Jewish Diaspora, the Irish and African diasporae are other well-known examples. A diasporan religion is one that is practiced around the world far from its origin- Judaism, once again, as well as African and Afro-Caribbean, Chinese folk religion, Shinto and Hinduism. How does the concept of diasporan religion work differently for broken traditions such as European polytheisms in the Americas, Australia et al.? It is tricky to call them “broken” per se, as there are folk customs of honoring land spirits, saint cults with possible pre-Christian roots and magical practices that have been carried across the oceans. Typically these have survived more strongly in rural areas, the Ozarks, Appalachia, Nova Scotia and Deitsch areas being good examples.
This is one of the difficulties of the Irish diaspora in the United States- a mostly rural people became one of the most urban. People even identify their origins by what city they are from- as I sometimes explain to folks that my father is “Philly Irish” (Philadelphia) rather than St. Paul Irish. Then of course we discuss what counties we know our ancestors came from. According to Wikipedia- in depth research I know- Philadelphia has the second largest Irish-American population, Boston being the first.
Like Sarenth discusses here (Broken Lines), there was very little in the way of ethnic cultural traditions that were passed down to me. Then again, I realize there was in way- this would make my father cringe but we are pretty culturally Anglo. It just tends to not be recognized as “ethnic” as its the Wonderbread of American culture (and German culture to some degree, just spell it Wunderbrod) And on the other side, various forms of resistance to dominant Anglo-American culture, including the assertion of Irish identity, trappings of hippie-dom and such. Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that I often find British Druids easier to get along with, while the few Irish-in Ireland people I encounter online seem a bit hostile to American Irish polytheists/pagans/New Agers being concerned that we don’t care about the living culture, only the old stones of the past, think Ireland is stuck in an endless time loop of the Quiet Man, and we made their lives suck by funding the Irish Republican Army. And using their culture to promote white supremacy. I understand and empathize with many of these concerns, except maybe the IRA one. WTF? Interesting essay about Irish assimilation here. I guess my dad’s take on Irish identity was the opposite of Sean Hannity & Bill O’Reilly- he saw supporting the Civil Rights movement as a moral duty- both as American citizens and in memory of the challenges our ancestors faced. It’s very interesting to compare the similarities and differences of these three diasporae, adding more in of course- I highly recommend Ronald Takaki’s book A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, as well as PBS’ 3 documentaries- the Irish in America, Africans in America, and the Jews in America. There is also now one on Italians but I have not seen it yet, so I can’t vouch for its quality either way.
There’s been yet another dust-up on Pagan Patheos about cultural appropriation- I’m not bothering to post links, you can find them yourself, and I found both of them had a mix of things I agreed with & disagreed with.
So, I’m re-posting links to some older posts I’ve written on the subject. My views may not be exactly the same as the various times these were written, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s very difficult to have all around hard and fast rules about what’s OK and what’s not OK- many folks on Tumblr use the concept of “closed” and “open” cultures, and while it’s good that gets the concept across that some things are off limits, I think it’s also an oversimplification. Many people think Shinto and Hinduism are “closed” but I know non-Japanese and non-South Asian-descended people who practice those religions in fairly traditional ways. Other traditions that are seen as “open” like revived/reconstructed European traditions still have etiquette and taboos, so it’s not like Woo! anything goes!
Cultural Appropriation Has Lost Its Meaning– the Blargh! Everyone’s talking past each other! post
All Wrong: Religion, Culture, Country– the whatever, I don’t care anymore, everything White Americans Do is Wrong post
Educate Yourself! Attempt at figuring out some guidelines for approaching other cultures respectfully
There are various ways people have tried to divide North America based on cultural settlement, economic activity, etc. Though really, the biggest division tends to be between the urban and rural areas! But if you’re curious here are some books, they are in reverse chronological order. I have only read the 9 Nations one. I think what is a lot more useful, would be to research the history and culture of the particular area you live in. (Above link compares these various books)
American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard (2011) This sounds like it oversimplifies and leaves out a lot about later immigration.
American Colonies: the Settling of North America by Alan Taylor (2001) This one covers all the European colonial powers, so- Dutch, British, French, Spanish. Might be of interest.
Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer (1989) This one really goes into cultural differences between early British settlements, and is definitely on my to-read list!
The Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garreau (1981) I think this has similar problems to the Eleven Nations book
Immigration & Assimilation from European Ethnic to “Whiteness”
How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev (this one I have actually read- very good, though depressing!)
Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post-Civil Rights America by Matthew Frye Jacobson
Special Sorrows: the Diasporic Imaginations of Irish, Polish & Jewish Immigrants in the United States by Matthew Frye Jacobson
Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants & the Alchemy of Race by Matthew Frye Jacobson
Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White by David Roediger
**Good White People: the Problem with Middle Class White Anti-Racism by Shannon Sullivan (this sounds very good!)
After reading reviews I would NOT recommend these-
Are Italians White? How Race is Made in America- the reviewer notes that the authors only compare Italian-Americans with African-Americans, not with Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Latinos or other groups that might have more similarities. It does not take into consideration discrimination that did take place against Italians, and especially Sicilians.
How Jews Became White Folks by Karen Brodkin- apparently the problem with this one is that it does not discuss the background of anti-Semitism in Europe much, and is better at discussing gender issues than racial issues. There are plenty of other books about Jewish American identity & assimilation, so I would look elsewhere.
Please share if you have any opinions on these books or additional ones that may be of interest. There is most certainly *much more* out there to read about various cultural influences in the U.S. and Canada- I am sorting through stuff about European immigration due to my own interests and focus, so this is not to exclude anyone else!
I have started reading “A Different Mirror- A History of Multicultural America” by Ronald Takaki which is quite good so far.
Warning- For anyone who reads this, and decides I am “anti-white people”, “racist against white people”, “anti-American” etc. and feels the need to trumpet this, your comments will be deleted.
First off- who is Rachel Dolezal? She was until recently the president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP- the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She is also a professor of Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University. For ten years she has been presenting herself as a light-skinned African-American woman, but recently both her parents came forward to the press and said essentially- Ahem, we’re her birth parents, and this is our ancestry, and African it ain’t (well other than the all humans eventually come from Africa part) To be clear I think Ms. Dolezal was wrong to misrepresent herself to Black communities, and the way she treated her family members (both her parents & brothers) makes me a little sad inside. I suppose some people would say, hey screw identities/labels, and race, she can be whoever she wants to be, and what matters is the activist & academic work she’s done.
I’m not going to spend too much time self-righteously condemning her, because I think this is a time for anti-racist & social justice-y white folks to reflect. Because while Ms. Dolezal may have creating her identity, we created the culture that made her possible. The culture of All Identities Are Valid, Create Your Own Reality, and Everything is a Subjective Social Construction. Granted, I still do affirm that many categories like race and gender are social constructions, but I do not deny biological differences in human beings such as variation in skin color and anatomy. But the facts of biology and the meanings and stories that humans assign to these variations over the course of history are two different things. The social consequences of being assigned a “race” at birth are very real, even if the divisions between the races are often arbitrary. Based on the “one-drop rule” of American culture that goes back to slavery, even 1 distant ancestor of African origins could give Rachel Dolezal the social license to identify as Black, while the same amount of Latino, Asian or Native American heritage would likely still mean she was white. I am not sure who or what is the deciding factor in why this “rule” is still used, and certainly it’s much less of a factor in determining people’s identities.
Now, I’ve spent a lot of time in mostly white activist-y groups (or non-activist groups with a progressive slant, like the Pagan subcultures) Whenever race is discussed, there is always a mixture of white guilt, ritual confessions of racial “sins” both individual and collective (especially directed awkwardly towards any person of color who happens to be present!) and earnest attempts at white ally “guidelines” or rules. I’ve heard people apologize for growing up in all-white towns in Iowa that left them “culturally illiterate”. I’ve witnessed much hang-wringing and self-flagellation about the lack of diversity in both membership in leadership of various organizations. I’ve also wondered about what types of diversity are we talking about- and not talking about? Would I get more “diversity points” as a woman of color than I do currently as a white bisexual Pagan woman with invisible disabilities? I “know better” though, than to bring these things up.
I’ve voluntarily attended multiple workshops and panel presentations about white privilege and allyship, and speeches by David Roediger and Tim Wise, both authors/leaders/activists in whiteness studies and white “allyship”. I’ve read many books on racial issues. And I still don’t really know How to Be a Good White Person. Mostly I just try to be a good person in general, and try to stop worrying so much about saying and do the Wrong Thing. Mostly I try to make an effort to listen to people from different backgrounds from myself, and do what I can to help their voices be included. I think American culture has plenty of ways to encourage people of color to become neurotic self-doubters and self-haters on the basis of their skin color and ethnic culture, but for white folks signing up for these neuroses is largely voluntary. So any whining we do is understandably, not going garner much sympathy. And it’s not really helping anyone, including ourselves. Guilt eats away at your stomach, not at injustice. We also aren’t sure what we’re supposed to be culturally. Rachel is “part Czech, German, Swiss and possibly Native American”. Did her parents talk about any of that when she was growing up, and learning to admire the cultures of their friends and neighbors? Beyond a few family recipes, I suspect not, like in many “white” families. It doesn’t matter where we come from, we’re all Americans now. Except, I forgot to tell you honey, but no, you can’t be Black. Or Indian. Or Asian. But I don’t know what to tell you to be instead. Just be a “regular” American!
So no, I’m not surprised at all at by Rachel Dolezal. I can see why she did what she did, even if it was dishonest and an “easy way out” of the endless unspoken “Well, WTF am I supposed do?” questions that lurk in white “allies” minds.