Patricia Monture-Angus recounted a story in her book, “Thunder In My Soul: A Mohawk Woman Speaks” (pp.61-66) that I think about quite often. She was teaching a course on Aboriginal Title at the University of Saskatchewan and found that the atmosphere she was teaching in was very poisoned. The class of course challenged the notion that Crown sovereignty was valid, which is a challenge few settlers would be willing to entertain, so the reason for that atmosphere is obvious.
(Btw, if you are native and considering going into Law, you should really read this book. I agree with everything she had to say about the experience of being native in Law school, as well as with whether or not Aboriginal law can ever serve indigenous peoples.)
What stuck with me the most was not her description of the horrible experience she had teaching that class, though the details are unsurprising. What really gets me thinking sometimes, is this:
…I have tried to find ways to insulate myself from complaints. My teaching has become more conventional. I try to dress to look like a professor more than I did in my first year of teaching. This decision was my response to receiving a teaching evaluation that suggested I wore “too many beads and feathers to class.” Try as I may, I can never remember wearing feathers to class. (p.66)
Monture-Angus does an excellent job of analysing why so many of her non-native students were hostile towards her, but I was struck by the bizarre accusation above. In the mind of the person who wrote that, Monture-Angus was visually radical and threatening. So much so that the student actually imagined she wore certain things. And what exactly is it that would have been radical and threatening, had she actually dressed that way?
Looking too visually native, of course.
That sticks with me, because a black woman with an afro, a native woman with beads and feathers, any non-settler in anything remotely ‘ethnic’ is seen as making a statement. A statement that is taken to be inherently adversarial to settlers. It is seen as threatening. Strident. Political. To be yourself, to represent your ethnicity, to not do everything in your power to look like a settler…is a political act, apparently.
How can that be true? How can this be threatening, unless settlers understand that racism and colonialism continue to exist and are not actually justified?
I suggest that this knowledge, this knowledge that so many settlers pretend not to have, this knowledge that shit is not okay, is at the heart of the fear of visual cues of non-settler identity.
They will claim that they merely fear people who ‘always make it about race’. They will link afros with Black Power and call that racism. They will link the slightest hint of traditional indigenous garb with native militancy. They will link non-settler ethnicity with violence and hatred because they know that there is good fucking reason for such feelings to exist. And they expect to be treated the way they have, and continue, to treat others.
The fear that comes over settlers when they encounter non-settlers in the workplace, in schools, in positions of authority, is not primarily the fear of the other. I am firmly of the opinion that what they fear is themselves. Because nothing would be more horrible for a settler than to be treated like we are.
And that’s some real shit.
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- lakeinsurrection said: This post is excellent.
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- negresse-intensa said: cognitive dissonance for the win. i’ve long maintained that most people (oppressors to avoid responsibility/oppressed to survive) live w/ this affliction.
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