Saturday, February 27, 2016

I asked myself

a question that I had never asked myself before...at least not in the way it popped up inside me yesterday. I'm still grappling with all that was stirred up by that question.

A little context is called for so you can get some feel for the situation in which this question came up. Yesterday I attended an all day presentation/panel discussion that was titled "Decolonize the Movement". It was an educational event presented prior to the beginning of this year's Take Root conference here in Norman on the OU campus. The facilitators were Sandra Criswell and Ashley Nicole McCray.

Standing are Ms. Criswell and Ms. McCray.
If I heard correctly, Ms. Criswell noted that she is racialized as white/Filipina and Ms. McCray is identified in this story as Lakota/Absentee Shawnee. I'm specifying how they are raced because this is seriously important in regard to the experiences of lived lives. Racial identity is important to all of us in terms of our life experiences...whether we realize and/or acknowledge that or not. This is especially true here in the U.S....even though we often like to pretend it isn't. I'm racialized as white so many of my life experiences are much different than theirs.

The main presenters were Alecia Onzahwah-Saddler (Absentee Shawnee) and Tosawi Saddler (Chippewa) who are creators of an organization named Indigenize, Inc.

Alecia Onzahwah-Saddler
Their talk was about a little known (little known to those who aren't identified as Indigenous or Native American or Indian) U.S. government program (this program also took place in Canada) that was a deliberate and calculated effort to eradicate Native American cultures. This was done by forcibly removing Indian children from their parents and making them attend boarding schools, many of which were operated by various Christian religious organizations. The first "school" was established in 1860 and at their peak there were more than 450 in operation. This practice did not totally end in the U.S. until a law was passed in 1978 that "gave" the right to American Indians to protect and preserve their traditional religions and cultural practices. 

Just in case you might not comprehend the horror of this, the definition of genocide includes instances of forcibly transferring the children of one group to another group. Just so you know....just so you understand...up until 1978 here in the U.S....genocidal acts directed against Native Americans were legal and were ongoing.

In this post, I'm not going to delve into the atrocities and suffering and deaths that occurred in these "boarding schools" but I will tell you that I'm personally acquainted with one woman who was separated from her family and was sent to one of these schools. There she was beaten if she slipped and spoke any words in her Tribal language. There she was forcibly inculcated with the "Christian" religion and taught that Native Americans and their culture were inferior and she was taught to be ashamed of being Indian. All paid for by the taxpayers of the United States. I know this woman, I have known her for many years...I write this to stress that these awfuls are not "history"...this is not the distant past.

Ok...I'm going to stop writing about that now...not because it doesn't deserve much more...but because I want to offer the question that occurred to me. My stopping in no way suggests or implies or means that boarding school atrocities don't cry for much more attention and awareness. It just means I'm changing the focus right now.

While listening to the presenters and the facilitators and the attendees at this conference...it came to me. What if this had happened to me or what if this had happened to my mother or my father or my grandmother or my grandfather or or or.

What if this were the case and some white person (understand that all of the decisions made and all of the government departments that enacted these horrors were created and controlled by white men...and white women) came to me and asked that I "go vegan" because animals were suffering and dying? What if?

And...this white person asking me to "go vegan" was oblivious to the suffering and misery that had been inflicted on me or my family by white people. And this white person had never protested or objected to how me or my family had been treated by their white government.

And this white person had no understanding or empathy or sympathy or repulsion and upset at what my family or group or tribe had been through and thought all that horror was some distant and past thing...if they even thought about it at all. And...here they are...asking me to be concerned about and worry about and to not harm innocent animals. What would I think about them and what they were presenting to me? What would I think about their compassion and their caring? What would I think about their priorities? What would I think about their comprehension of my lived life?

What would I think about some white vegan who maybe belonged to a white dominated vegan group and that group's singular effort that even faintly hinted at cognizance of these horrors was some sort of brief statement on their website or facebook page like this one: "Postings using abusive language (speciesist, racist, sexist, etc) will be deleted...".

What would I think about this kind and concerned vegan who thought that "boarding schools" were just "history" and not important now even though the victims of such crimes were still living and suffering from what happened, much less the suffering of the families of such victims?

What would I think about any white person who had made no effort to educate themselves or to urge that their white government acknowledge its atrocities and wrongs?

I can't help but imagine...that in many respects...I would find their request to be insulting and absurd. I can't but imagine that in some way I would think they were deranged and out of touch with reality...with truth about who they are and what people with their skin privilege have done...and continue to do to people who aren't identified as white.

Wouldn't that be like some guy whose brother beat me up a week ago coming to me and asking me to not hurt animals? And the guy doing the asking doesn't mention his brother who beat me up or the beating I took and ignores my injuries but wants me to be concerned with and worried about animals. And if I want to know what about the brother who beat me up...the guy then says...well that's history or says, I'm just concerned about the animals, or he says...well that wasn't me that beat you up, I'm not responsible. What then? What would I think? Would I think that guy was compassionate and concerned and kind even though he made no offer to help me with my injuries or to ensure his brother didn't hurt me again? (note: what we white people have done...and continue to do...to people of color is much more atrocious and vicious and devastating than a beating...I'm only using a physical attack as an example)

I guess what I'm trying (badly, my apologies for my poor communication skills) to express here is that we white people who are vegan (or aren't vegan for that matter) are way too often ignorant and oblivious to the lived realities of people who are not white. And that maybe, just maybe, we white people need to work on becoming...well...less 'stupid'. I don't mean that derogatorily (although god knows we white people are certainly deserving of derogation) so much as I mean it in the sense of being stupefied...which, I'm sorry to say, is the "normal" state for the majority of white people here in the U.S...I include me.

If I want to effectively advocate for animals, I'm obligated to be aware of the human society I live in and cognizant and conscious of the lived lives of the humans in that society. If I want to object to and protest against harm to others...I am obligated to comprehend the harm and hurt that exists both historically and as it occurs in the present. And I'm obligated to resist and object to that harm and hurt and to interrupt it whenever I can. Otherwise...I'm risking being foolish...and maybe insulting...no matter how "well intentioned" I might be. Children are expected to be unknowing and oblivious...not grown-ups.

This post exemplifies my white stupification in that yesterday was the first time I ever asked myself the question I'm writing about here...at least in the way I asked it of myself and in the way it resonated all through me when it rose up in me. I'm embarrassed and appalled that I hadn't asked it of myself before now. The devastation against Native Americans and other people of color has been going on for centuries here...and I'm just now asking this question?

I'm struggling...and it is difficult...to decolonize my mind and viewpoint and yesterday just re-affirmed that I still have much work to do. My culture and my ancestors along with my own inattention and obliviousness has done a hell of a good job of making me into an oblivious and lamentable fool...thanks Mom and Dad...thanks Grandma and Grandpa! (sarcasm) And 'thanks' to me to for being flim flammed and fooled by all of the absurdities that pass for truths in my culture.

I do request that anyone not racialized as white who sees problems with this post...please let me know. I will listen. If you're raced as white and see problems...please let me know too...but...be aware...you might be suffering from white fragility...cuz we white folks are pretty illiterate when it comes to race.

The analogy I offer is only an analogy...a guess...a speculation. I have no way of actually knowing what it would feel like to have a member of a group that inflicted vicious and unwarrented harm to me or my family over generations ask me to offer compassion to another group all the while they are evincing little or no understanding of what their group has done to me and mine. They would have to tell what that was like...I can only guess...and my guess is that it would be bizarre and disorienting...and even scarey.


Note: I'm in no way diminishing or minimizing the suffering and misery of animals...I'm just focusing on a little bit different aspect of vegan advocacy. Nor am I in any way suggesting that oppressed groups of humans who aren't Native Americans don't suffer or hurt or experience harm...one of the really really hard things about trying to write about groups of humans who suffer because of white people is that there are so many of them and their suffering is so immense and on going and long standing that there is simply no way to even try to express it all in one place at one time. Or at least I'm incapable of doing it. My apologies for my deficiencies.

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