Updated: May 11, 2020
NOTICE: Bearcat wants you readers to make special note of her decision to not capitalize state affiliated nouns (or other oppressive nouns) as they do not deserve the respect or focus that capitalization provides. The GroundUp is all about that 😉!
Within our social justice circles there has always been varying degrees of liberalism and radicalism. The same goes for the political support or resistance to a diversity of anti-state tactics and strategies for overcoming internalized and lateral violence (and all the other dynamics we struggle to navigate while doing the work we do). I’m often criticized by people who disagree with my approach to resistance work and I get accused of being divisive, hateful and negative— a lot. Admittedly, I am a little rough around the edges. I don’t play to niceness politics so I anticipate a certain amount of backlash and exclusion. Standing firm and taking on the political realities that are unpleasant to address but allow us to build a solid offense and defense against oppression is often misunderstood and seen as “mean.” Most often, this view is provided by individuals who center their own experience above the goal at hand.
I believe activism must be rooted in social justice. As with any form of corrective action, acknowledging the wrongs done by violators and validating the damages caused to the victim is a necessary part of the reconciliation process. This is not always a nice, comfortable exchange. Oftentimes, offenders are not actually seeking reconciliation. Privilege tells them that they can bypass acknowledging the damage they did and instead jump straight to the forgiveness part — but that is not how it works. Logically, these people know this. What the offender really wants is for the victim to put on a happy face and quietly assume all burdens. What they want is compliance. What they’re really seeking is submission.
And that is not justice. I won’t accommodate such a demand. I don’t have to comply and I won’t be courteous in my non-compliance either. Demanding that someone react politely to victimization is a violation of their humanity and dignity. When a person is harmed or treated unfairly, it’s OK for them to be angry.
Bypassing, minimizing and denying reality are all aspects of forgiveness culture that encourage victims to remain docile while being oppressed and forgiveness culture also encourages oppressed people to engage patiently with their oppressors – or else. Usually, these tactics are motivated by privilege, rooted in supremacy and executed by non-minority people. Since they have not done the internal work that can help transform them through racist ideology, these people typically cannot engage well in heavy conversations regarding systemic oppression. Often, they’ll demand your emotional labor for free and only make efforts toward invalidating your concerns. They will dismiss allegations of racism and attempt to be dominant. Also, as the beneficiaries of white supremacy, white people have the ability to weaponize the system against you. A lot of the time, all of this is just more trouble than it’s worth to POCs because we know that we’re not afforded the same privileges that white people are.
Recently, I’ve experienced a more troublesome dynamic – “white fragility” displayed by POC activists. In Indigenous activism there has always been varying forms of spiritual bypassing; meaning, Natives insisting on peace before justice. On the frontlines, we call them “Prayer Bears” because they insist on passivity and peace in spaces where, traditionally speaking, warriors take part in warrior work. Since spirituality is central to our identity and Indigeneity, it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between the respectful cultural space we give to each other and spiritual bypassing as an oppressive tactic. And it’s one thing to use a praxis of peace on the frontlines where non-violence may serve an actual purpose but it’s a much bigger concern when it is used as the only solution in life. Laterally oppressing other Natives through classic displays of white fragility to culture shame their radicalism is a conscious tactic and since it serves a purpose of control, the act itself is a manifestation of white supremacy. But since people generally don’t support something unless they benefit from it in some way – why are these people doing this?
Earlier this week I made a Facebook post that reads:
“Dog the Bounty Hunter AND his wife Beth were both appropriating Indigenous culture and squatting on Indigenous lands. They made money off our relatives hardships and y’all are honoring her memory? Nah. Not me. I’ll pass on this one, thanks.”
Here are some of the comments I received. Please note that only one respondent is a white woman involved in activism circles, the rest are Indigenous/POC:
“We’re all in need of much healing and we are all connected, forgiveness is key.”
“People of all kinds are affected by the same issues in all our communities.”
“Does it make you feel good to talk that way? What you’re doing is way worse than what you accuse them of.”
“I don’t think I could ever hate on a dead person…I don’t understand those of you who lack the compassion to pray for their hatefulness.”
At first, I did feel kind of ashamed because of the feedback I received but I also wondered why this post in particular had received such a strong response. Why try to push forgiveness when I clearly wasn’t seeking to reconcile? Why minimize real issues in order to dismiss my statement? And why was my overall message shifted to center the humanity of a white woman? I’m no talent scout but I’ve watched enough TV to know that Beth the Bounty Hunter was no Elizabeth Taylor so I don’t think these comments were the result of a triggered fan base. Although, while my post was somewhat controversial considering she just recently passed, I do recall making similar statements when she was alive and people also had a problem with my comments. But if it wasn’t ok THEN, and it’s not ok NOW, WHEN is it ok for me to speak? When is it appropriate for me, an Indigenous woman, to address systemic harms inflicted upon Indigenous communities?
According to the colonizers, disrupting the narrative is never appropriate. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee, and clearly communicated that it was to protest police brutality against black men, colonizers still interpreted it as an unnecessary threat to the state (as a bigoted attack on america) and capitalism and punished him. When communities across the country joined in with the chants of “Black Lives Matter,” all colonizers heard was “THEY WANT WHITE LIVES TO NOT MATTER MORE!” In reality, neither of these movements posed a threat to anything other than the systematic injustices they were addressing — and that was exactly the problem for many people.
Colonizers will argue their right to celebrate columbus day, fight to keep statues of confederate soldiers and defend the sanctity of a flag with their life – not because they actually give a fuck about symbolic representation or have any real attachment to any of it but because they refuse to be challenged. What they’re really doing is exerting existing privilege, defending past privilege, and fighting for future privilege. Any attempt to disrupt their narrative is a threat to the status quo.
It’s not enough to be inclusive, non-violent or morally righteous in america. Anything less than pro-white supremacy is considered inherently divisive, hateful and unnecessarily aggressive, which is an attack on the basic foundation of america.
Whether it be through spiritual bypassing or explicit racism, all of this oppression serves to remind POC of the danger that lurks in “otherness.”Am I too comfortable calling out instances of systemic racism? Or are others just more comfortable remaining complicit to the violence?
The lines between values like nationalism and patriotism have become blurred and you no longer need to be white to be a colonizer. As america’s definition of whiteness has become more political and less physical, many brown people are using colonial complicities as access points to whiteness. Individualism, certain types of prejudice, patriarchy and capitalism are also ideologies of colonial construct that can be performed by non-white people to access benefits of whiteness.
For example, in New Mexico, I frequently see brown individuals acting as if they are white. They are openly prejudice towards minority or other disadvantaged populations, they vote as if they benefit from capitalism and they generally adopt neoconservative viewpoints. They perform this whiteness in social spaces and receive pats on the back and likes from their white buddies (though they’re still seen as POC by the state). A cop wouldn’t hesitate to shoot them just as a cop wouldn’t hesitate to shoot my anti-colonial anarchist ass because no matter how they perform, they still are POC and they don’t have the safety of white skin.
The more one aligns and intertwines themselves in colonial ideologies, the further they move from their cultural identity, which means they are closer to the political whiteness that offers ease but not protection. And as a result of this identity loss, POC are not only behaving more like colonizers – they are actually becoming colonizers. To be clear, POC spaces are being infiltrated by colonizers and many times those colonizers are US. Toxic ideologies that support white supremacy, albeit in a veiled way, exist in our POC social justice networks. And it is a threat to revolutionary organizing and mobilization.
I’m not sure how to resolve this issue in the context of social justice and organizing just yet. But I’m asking you to consider the full implications of insisting on “peace, love & light” when we are barred from them in a material way. There may be danger in “otherness” but there is also no safety within white supremacy for any of us. It might not be the most scenic route but we’re already strapped in for the ride.
So, I ask again:
When is it ok for me to share my thoughts about things that matter to me? When is it appropriate for me, an Indigenous woman, to address the systemic harms being inflicted upon Indigenous communities?
The answer to that is NEVER.
It’s never going to be the appropriate time but that just might mean it’s the most necessary time. And if we keep asking for permission, we’re just gonna continue engaging in a submissive role while reinforcing these colonizer’s dominant role. But we shouldn’t be playing a role in white supremacy at all!
I may not have all the answers right now, and I may not be the most graceful in my approach, but I am going to continue along my path of resistance. And I’ll just have to get comfortable being called divisive, hateful and negative because I’m NOT GOING TO STOP challenging systemic inequities. I’m going to keep disrupting the narrative unapologetically. I’m going to keep doing the necessary work to bring about justice and move us closer to liberation. And until Beth the Bounty Hunter rises from the grave and submits herself to the Indigenous people of the Hawaiian Kingdom to be held accountable for her transgressions – I’m gonna keep calling her predatory behavior exactly what it is. And I’m not going to feel ashamed about doing it. If she wanted to be remembered kindly, she should have acted accordingly! And that goes for anybody committing injustices or being complicit to colonial violence. I am not an apologist. I am a Protector.
I hope you step into your role and do the same.
Mask up, act up.