29 April 2013

Clueless White Girl Post

I recently started reading more feminism by First Nations women and black women. It's very different, and very educational. I'm intrigued. And a bit baffled at times about how to be a good ally.

Okay. I admit FULLY to my ignorance. From the start. That's why I'm writing. Because I want to be clued in. I'm not so clueless as to expect one person to speak for their whole race, but I figure the only way to get the perspective of native people is to ask them. But I know some white people are just that clueless, and asking questions often gets me accused of this. So I don't ask. And then I'm still clueless. :)

 Let me give you an example. I saw a tweet from a woman who was angry about a quote about her reserve. The person in the article (or documentary? I don't remember) talked of the mindblowing poverty there. The FN woman was very offended by this. Or possibly just pissed off at the cluelessness of the speaker. She regularly posts that she doesn't need saving. I guess some people think she does. I don't know. From my perspective, on my privileged white ass, the poverty on some reserves is mindblowing. The water is undrinkable. The houses aren't winterized, even if they have electricity. I don't know how to wrap my brain around that. That's not racism. That's utter incomprehension. I know how it got that way, but I don't know what, if anything, I should be doing about it. The lovely lady who tweeted about it was clear she didn't need saving. Okay. But the Idle No More folks seem to be screaming for help. So how can I help? I vote for the party most likely to be helpful. But what else? How can I be a good feminist socialist who is also sensitive to racism without being That Kind of Person? You know, the kind who wears dreamcatcher earrings...

Speaking of that, the idea of cultural appropriation is another thing I don't understand yet, but want to. What's the difference between appropriation and appreciation? I utterly adore the handcrafted beaded barrette that I bought from a FN artisan downtown. I love the handmade moccasins I got for Pop. Am I being culturally insensitive having my very white kids wear these things? Or am I contributing by buying local?

I studied FN languages in University (mostly Cree and Assiniboine Nakoda), and spent a fair amount of time with some FN people. I was pretty good friends with a Cree woman from Manitoba. (No this isn't a "but some of my best friends are native"). She helped me be less racist. I had a best friend in high school who was M├ętis, so I thought I already wasn't. Ha. I had a lot of ingrained racism that I wasn't aware of. Probably still do. I'm working at it though. Pauline was pretty no nonsense, and one hell of a joker. She utterly adored when I spoke to her with her accent (and showed me off to her friends. "Hey! This is the white girl I told you about who can talk like an Indian!"), but called me out on it fast if I said something idiotic. Which was often.

So, now I don't have Pauline to run shit past. And of course, she didn't speak for everyone. She was pretty clear that I shouldn't ever speak with my Cree voice unless she was there to tell everyone it was okay. And even then, I got a few looks. :D So... I don't know how to ask without risking offense. But I want to be more sensitive. Help?