by Kurt Seaberg
I just watched this incredible film the other night with my niece Anna. Achingly beautiful and profoundly sad at the same time, the most potent scenes of Sami Blood are like a haunting piece of music, with little or no dialogue. Yet they stick with me like a powerful dream. I’ve rarely experienced a movie that depicts the overt and subtle effects of racism, colonialism and internalized oppression in such a visceral manner.
What can you say about a system that compels one to reject their own heritage, their own language, their own family, their own identity? And yet the land itself seems to call her back.
My father, like the Sami girl in the film, was ripped from his idyllic childhood by unfortunate circumstances, a childhood where he spent his summers living in a tent. After his parents died he went to live with Swedish immigrants who “civilized” him, taught him to play the piano, enrolled him in art school. It wasn’t a boarding school but it had a similar mission.
He recalled that as a child he was “measured by doctors” who told him the shape of his head was “Lappish.” I don’t believe he felt shame. If anything it made him curious, fascinated by a unique culture he felt a personal link to. But like so many children of immigrants from Europe he was thrown into the great melting pot where the lucky ones become “white.”
And like so many Americans of his generation he bought into the racial theories–once considered “scientific”–that continue to divide human beings into categories of “superior” and “inferior.” Once these categories are regarded as “factual,” it’s only a small step before euthanasia becomes a political program deemed necessary to weed out “undesirables”–the impure, the unfit and the genetically weak–a program that promises to “improve” the human race: genetically modified, scrubbed of the past, torn from the earth, disconnected from nature, uniform, colorless, white…
One of the ironies of contemporary politics is the identification of poor whites with the Republican party, even more opposed to working class interests than the Democrat party. Taken to the extreme by the Tea Party, this cooptation takes energy which might challenge the capitalist class structure and redirects it against other poor and working class people who have different skin color.
Dave Strano has worked for years against this counter-productive racism, in Kansas and Missouri as part of the John Brown Gun Club distributing anti-racist literature at gun shows, and more recently in Colorado as Redneck Revolt. In an excellent interview, Strano points out how the left, even the radical community, often practices classism subtle and overt, leaving a large segment of potential allies as easy recruits for racist elements of the conservative movement. He describes organizing within this culture to restore traditional values of opposition to exploitation:
Today, the term redneck has taken on a demeaning connotation, primarily among upper class urban liberals who have gone out of their way to dehumanize white working class and poor people. Terms like “white trash” have come to signify the view among these same upper class liberals of poor and rural whites.
To us, the term redneck is a term that signifies a pride in our class as well as a pride in resistance to bosses, politicians, and all those that protect domination and tyranny.
We’re very upfront about our position of being not only opposed to white supremacy, but to the shared culture of whiteness being one that has only been defined by being an oppressor race. What unites white skinned people currently is a shared history of being the footsoldiers of oppression. We want to ensure that as many whites as possible reject this commonly understood idea of whiteness and instead join in a common struggle with workers of all skin colors in a struggle for total and real liberation.
The whole interview is an important privilege check for middle- and upper-class liberals and radicals alike, as we work to build as broad-based a culture of resistance as possible. Read the whole article: Rednecks With Guns and Other Anti-Racist Stories and Strategies
George Jackson, imprisoned for years and radicalized by the experience, clearly saw the need to develop a black culture of resistance to white supremacy. He wrote early on that “I know now that the most damaging thing a people in a colonial situation can do is to allow their children to attend any educational facility organized by the dominant enemy culture.” Yet he recognized the need to grapple with, compromise with, and ultimately leverage the systems and institutions over which we have little individual power. He wrote to his younger brother Jonathan, giving advice applicable to any young person passionately motivated to fight civilization or any of its many problems:
I hope you are involved in the academic program at your school, but knowing what I know about this country’s schooling methods, they are not really directing you to any specialized line of study. They have not tried to ascertain what fits your character and disposition and to direct you accordingly. So you must do this yourself. Decide now what you would like to specialize in, one thing that you will drive at. Do you get it? Decide now. There are several things that we as a group, a revolutionary group, need badly: chemists, electronic engineers, surgeons, etc. Choose one and give it special attention at a certain time each day. Establish a certain time to give over to your specialty and let [our father] know indirectly what you are doing. Then it only remains for you to get your A’s on the little simple unnecessary subjects that the school requires. This is no real problem. It can be accomplished with just a little attention and study. But you must now start on your specialty, the thing that you plan to carry through this war of life. You must specialize in something. Just let it be something that will help the war effort.
From Soledad Brother, page 195
What are your interests? What’s your calling? What are your skills? What specialty can you develop? Decide now, give it special attention, and let it be something in service of the earth and social justice.
Having been raised in a culture predicated on racism and vilification of the “other”, we have all internalized a racist perspective. Relationships across lines of difference often fall prey to power dynamics reinforced by this perspective. The proliferation of “good white people” has not made the situation any better. In fact, as argued in this blog post, they may have made it worse.
If you’re a POC [person of color], you probably know at least one of these Good White People! If you’re white and reading my blog, maybe you are one; a well intentioned whitey. You’re ‘on my side’, right? You figured out racism is ‘bad’ so now you’ve joined the fight against racism! Maybe you work in a social enterprise, for a charity, with refugees, or Indigenous people, or in the multi-cultural arts. You’re proud of yourself for your many years of human rights work. You’ve claimed your anti-racist identity, you have friends and maybe even lovers who are people of colour, so how could you possibly be racist?
How could you NOT be racist? We have been raised in a white supremacy and we have all internalised racism. We are all racist.
I don’t have the emotional or political energy for friends and acquaintances who express that they are hurt and offended that I’ve inferred that they are racist by critiquing their behaviour or by simply withdrawing from their company. I know that it hurts to feel admonished or abandoned, but this is not comparable or relevant to the hurt and betrayal I feel by people who have tried to contextualise the racist behaviours I experience in terms of the person who has enacted racism’s ignorance, insecurities, or good intentions (which are factors in their behaviour, but don’t alter my experience of their behaviour as racism). This justification de-validates my experience, and though I remind myself that friends are well intentioned in trying to comfort me by convincing me that I needn’t feel bad because nobody meant any harm, they are silencing me as a person of colour, re-centering the experience around whiteness, and being complicit in white supremacy. In contrast, I emphasise how empowering it has been to share experiences of racism and have my anger and sense of alienation validated by others. This has been infinitely more ‘comforting’ than the friends who have had a ‘Don’t worry about it’ attitude. That’s their privilege not to worry about something that permeates all aspects of my daily, lived experience.
Excerpted from an article at harshbrowns.wordpress.com