Nov 30, 2013 - Challenging the Status Quo by Charles Bloomfield
In any struggle for equality there are those who fight to have the status quo maintained, the imbalance and the injustice continue; but, what is extremely painful and yet curious to see is that percentage of the discriminated/dehumanized group speak out in defense of those acts and those that aim to harm them. There are many terms used to describe the people in such groups, like Uncle Toms and Apples (red on the outside, white in the middle. Say this to Native person and expect to justifiably be dealt physical pain). This group of people muddies the waters when the larger group demands equality.
A relevant and current example of such people and the larger issue is of that football team’s name in Washington D.C. by Native peoples. There are endless threads here on FB and elsewhere where a person who claims to be Native states that they are not offended by the team’s name and us ‘other Indians’ just need to shut up about it (there’s plenty to be found as replies to my posts). I choose to say that in instances like this, that person should take off their colonized colored glasses and get real. Unfortunately, the person usually resorts to then question the other person’s Nativeness (or insert gender, race, sexuality), qualifications, education, life experiences and this turns into an even uglier mess. I wish I could leave you with a way to rebuff the words and actions of these Apples but I don’t, other than calling them out. I can only extend so much knowledge and kindness to such people before I run out of steam. I wish I could go ‘Slapping Medicine Man’ on them (look it up on YouTube, it’s fantastic).
Before your fingers hit those keys to tell me to “turn other cheek”, “violence solves nothing”, “be a bigger man” or something equally cliché that you like throw at people in similar frustrating situations stop, and really think- why are you trying to give me a lesson? Why, without actually being in the situation or even empathizing, would you believe that your lesson can somehow fix all that is wrong and unjust? I know why, but do you? This is a good time for you to check out the works of Peggy Macintosh, Tim Wise, Vine Deloria, Sherman Alexie, and Maya Angelou. What you’ll learn is that the lecture, or the somewhat wannabe caring words of advice you are used to giving are in fact long ingrained views on racial, gender, sexual privilege being expressed to maintain the inequalities of our society. When you read the works of the people I named, you’ll learn that the lesson or advice you usually give in situations like this are not ideas about equality at all. What you should do is go to those detractors and give them your sage words of advice, to explain to them that they are the ones who are in bed with the oppressors and that they should change.
Back to ‘Slapping Medicine Man’. I am not advocating murder or death. I’m saying that to get some people to reevaluate their thoughts and beliefs they need more than just a Shakabuku. Sometimes words are not enough and physical action must be undertaken (see March on Washington, sit-ins, Wounded Knee Uprising). Again it’s not about murder or even physical acts of violence; it’s about making a physical gesture of defiance. It’s about backing up your words with action. At some point one has to face the decision to act or to submit. Questions you should ask yourself are, “What am I willing to physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually stand for? And at what point do I engage? How bad does the situation need to be before I will act?” Asking these questions and knowing those answers for you is the bases of your character and spirit.
Some people don’t know the answers for themselves until they are pushed into extreme situations. Some think they know, but fail, when trying moment is thrust upon them. Some don’t even want to ask themselves the questions because they are scared of the answers. A great many movies, books, stories, songs, poems have been created wherein a character is faced with these questions and moments that require the answers. These are the stories we love to hear, watch, and know. Maybe you have thought of these questions and made stabs at what your responses would be, maybe you haven’t. I believe that if you truly want to know yourself you need to have answered these questions and taken action in moments of challenge.
To be able to live with yourself you need to have answered these questions. There are many stories of men, who when faced with moments of near certain physical death,could not physically respond and they,for the rest of their lives,could not live with peace within themselves. I cannot say I’d have done any different in their place, although I would like to think I’d do right- but I don’t know that I would in that given moment.
For those who could not act in the moment, you are no less of a person, placing yourself in such moments is an act of defiance. You are not a coward nor should you live with hate and strife with yourself. While we westerners like to pride ourselves on thinking we know what we’d do in those moments in reality, we don’t. To totally control one’s mind and body in those extreme moments is a minor miracle in itself. We are conditioned to take steps to preserve our lives in this situations, to override that is moving a mountain. What I am saying is, to know yourself you need to honestly answer those questions, decide when you’ll act and when you won’t, when facing the moment you’ll either act, not act but deeply want to, or you won’t act. All or none is “right” or “wrong” and you’ll have the rest of your life to question your decisions.
Charles Bloomfield (Pyramid Lake Paiute, Saanich and Lummi) is the owner of Mamook Tumtum, acontemporary Coast Salish Art & Design business. http://www.mamooktumtum.com/