Monday, February 9, 2009

The Ivory Tower Celebrates The Heritage of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous U.S. Women of Color--When Does That Happen?

Malkia Roberts (born 1923 ), "Spectrum" Acrylic on canvas 1972

From: Henkes, Robert. The Art of Black American Women - Works of Twenty - Four Artists of the Twentieth Century. McFarland & Company Inc. Publishers : Jefferson, North Carolina, 1993,147.

Admission Control, we have a problem. Several actually.

The stories and experiences of U.S. MiP (Men-in-Power*) are still normalised and centralised in the story of the United States. Within the still anglo- and phallo-centric "Ivory Tower" called the U.S. Academy, most "all the women are white [and] all the Blacks are men"**, when it comes to understanding and determining the parameters of human accomplishment, oppression, liberation, and, well, experience. Therefore it has been decided that there really ought to be a period in which American Indian, Asian American, Latin American, African American, Arab American, Jewish American, Two Spirit, and Lesbian women are remembered and celebrated.

After much deliberation back and forth as to whether this ought to become part of Black History Month (February) or Women's History Month (March), a panel of white, heterosexual, and male "multicultural and diversity experts" in the U.S. academic system has officially established that "BLACK WOMEN'S HISTORY and, oh, yeah, THE HISTORY & HERITAGE OF THOSE OTHER WOMEN" will be celebrated on February 29th.

The "very highly esteemed panel" (according to MiP Magazine) apparently saw no reason to "muddy the waters" dealing with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Jewish American History Month (both in May), Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15th-October 15th), LGBT History Month (October), Arab American History Month and Native American Heritage Month (both in November; for a presidential proclamation of criminal hypocrisy, click here). This is a joke--and not the very funny kind. I am attempting to locate this "joke" squarely in the hallowed hallways and classrooms of every U.S. white male supremacist Academic institution. (For a complete set of monthly celebrations and occasions, click here.)

*By "U.S. Men-in-Power", or U.S. MiPs, I am referring to those men with multiple forms of group or class visibility, status, entitlement, and privilege, whether economic, racial, ethnic, sexual, or due to age or level of disability.

**See But Some of Us Are Brave: All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith

Realising that "THOSE OTHER WOMEN" on the south side of North America are also invisibilised, marginalised, mass-murdered, and are stubbornly fighting and surviving systems of oppression which never intended for any of them to survive--to borrow from Audre Lorde, the following very partial reading list is offered. If anyone reading this knows of other books that belong on this list, please add them through the comments section.

In addition to But Some of Us Are Brave, see also:

Afrekete: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Writing, edited by Catherine E. McKinley and L. Joyce DeLaney

The Daughter's Return: African-American and Caribbean Women's Fictions [in Literature] of History, by Caroline Rody

Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism (Contemporary Indigenous Issues), by Devon Abbott Mihesuah

Native American Women's Studies: A Primer, by Stephanie A. Sellers

Two Spirit People: American Indian Lesbian Women and Gay Men, by Lester B Brown

Companeras: Latina Lesbians (an Anthology), edited by Juanita Ramos

500 Years of Chicana Women's History/ Anos de Historia de las Chicanans
by Elizabeth "Betita" Martinez

Latinas: Hispanic Women in the United States (Paperback)
by Hedda Garza

Asian American Women and Gender: A Reader (Asians in America: The Peoples of East, Southeast, and South Asia in American Life and Culture), by Franklin Ng (contributing author), including "The Development of Feminist Consciousness Among Asian American Women", by Esther Ngan-Ling Chow

Asian/Pacific Islander American Women: A Historical Anthology, by Shirley Hune and Gail Nomura

A Patchwork Shawl: Chronicles of South Asian Women in America, edited by Shamita Das Dasgupta

Bint Arab: Arab and Arab American Women in the United States
by Evelyn Shakir

The Family Flamboyant: Race Politics, Queer Families, Jewish Lives (S U N Y Series in Feminist Criticism and Theory), by Marla Brettschneider

Her Works Praise Her: A History of Jewish Women in America from Colonial Times to the Present, by Hasia R. Diner, Beryl Lieff Benderly, and Hasia Diner

Tortilleras: Hispanic and U.S. Latina Lesbian Expression, edited by
Inmaculada Perpetusa-Seva and Lourdes Torres

U.S. Chicanas and Latinas Within a Global Context: Women of Color at the Fourth World Women's Conference, by Irene I. Blea

Women of Color and the Multicultural Curriculum: Transforming the College Classroom, edited by Liza Fiol-Matta and Mariam K. Chamberlain

The Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History, edited by
by Wilma Mankiller, Gwendolyn Mink, Marysa Navarro, Barbara Smith, and Gloria Steinem



Valerie said...

As a Jew, I have to say that neither my parents nor I have ever felt anything other than White. I'd feel like a bit of a poseur trying to claim anything like the oppression of WoC.

Sorry to be so persnickety on your blog. I really do appreciate your writing, and this really was a pretty brilliant entry.

Julian Real said...

Hi Valerie.

Thank you for bringing up this issue! I *really* welcome and appreciate your comment, and, just to be clear, persnickety remarks are very welcome here! No apologies are necessary. : )

Speaking now from my own experience, I've met many white Jews from and beyond the U.S. who do not consider themselves to be white. And as a U.S. white Jew, I strongly disagree with them about this, in terms of how race is and has been defined and enforced in the United States and most of white supremacist Europe for one to two hundred years. If "we" are in nations whose ruling population has distinguished races with terms such as Black and Colored and White (think white South Africa), I believe the Ashkenazim fall into the white category unambiguously! Then again, I've never set foot in the white areas of South Africa.

What constitutes being "of color" (racially, ethnically, and politically) varies widely; some people of color and whites include white folks in the population termed "people of color"; I do not.

Unlike you, I have felt something other than white as a U.S. citizen: the historically white supremacist ads by Abercrombie and Fitch have no use for me, for example; "All-American" is rarely a Jew of any ethnicity or race, if being Jewish is identified as such in their ads.

I think the experience of Jewishness as it pertains to being white, among the Ashkenazim only, is very varied. There are places I know of where homophobia, anti-Black racism, and anti-Semitism/anti-Jewish bigotry are each strongly and virulently held and expressed among heterosexual Gentile and/or Christian white boys and men against those who are perceived of as "other". (They don't tend to view any girls and women, including white ones, too favorably either.)

Any neo-Nazis or Klanspeople I run into are not likely to regard me as white, and could beat or kill me because I'm not their idea of "white". Of course being gay also does nothing for my level of "acceptability" with those folks.

The Ashkenazim, as well as the Sephardim and the Mizrahim were all found to be "[not-white]non-Aryan" under European Nazi rule--at least as Nazis ridiculously while lethally defined the term "Aryan". Neo-Nazis still consider any Jew to not be white, or to be "impure". As if any white person is pure! (Again, don't get me started!)

Any Jew in the U.S. of entirely European descent (let's say north of Spain), particularly of Eastern European descent, I regard as white, in terms of race-related privileges and entitlements as I understand and experience them.

And, also in my experience, U.S. white Jews do not collectively have the standing, status, or level of entrenched occupational presence or colonising and controlling white supremacist force that Gentile whites do, particularly those Gentiles of Western European Christian descent. In Israel, yes. In the U.S., no. I see Israel, among other things, as an increasingly violent white male supremacist State. (And the Jews there are not comparable to white U.S. Christians, in any historical or political reality.)

Even given all that, I personally and politically consider the U.S. Ashkenazim, generally speaking, to be racially white. But not so the Sephardim or Mizrahim, inside or outside of the U.S.

I think those of us who are raised and treated by non-Jewish whites as whites who "happen to be Jewish" (don't get me started!), should own that albeit ethnically marginalised privilege. And, of course, Jewish folks do not often occupy one ethnic, political, racial, or cultural location. Some Ashkenazic Jews I have known have last names that have been anglocised (Greenblatt to Green, for example), and are fair-skinned and light-haired enough to "pass" as white throughout their lives. For me, if they are not religious, that means they ARE unambiguously white.

In my view it works this way: if "feminist" or "profeminist" implies whiteness, that's a gross distortion of reality, even while it is reinforced by the media reporting on feminism and the Academy teaching it. If "lesbian" or "gay" is equated with being white, in white-dominated, white-controlled social circles, that too is racist. If "Jew" equals or implies white, that's just as politically problematic, as it invisibilises so many Jews around the world, including within the U.S., who do not and never did speak Yiddish, for example, and who may have no relationship whatsoever to Eastern (or Western) Europe.

I welcome more discussion about this.

Valerie said...

You have actually made a brilliant point here. While I'm the fair-haired and pale-skinned daughter of Eastern-European atheists who made it clear that they considered their trips to synagogue a part of being "culturally" Jewish, and while there are many people with similar experiences in power, I should not speak on behalf of Sephardim or those who are more religious.

In the extremely anti-semitic environment in Texas where I grew up, I did not feel white, but since moving north, I have always felt white. Perhaps the whiteness of Jews varies according to local attitudes?

There's this great book, How the Jews Became White Folks, which sort of perfectly explains how I can feel and operate as white while my aunt does not. I haven't had any major setbacks due to my heritage, but she has had to run from genocidal maniacs to a country where she was treated as a burden and occasionally threatened with violence.

Valerie said...

I guess that what rubs me the wrong way is that many many Jews in this country who have never experienced any social role other than whiteness appear to use a legacy of persecution to conjure anti-semitism at will. They are extremely prone to doing this whenever the topic of Israeli occupation comes up, and then blythely informing me that I am a "self-loathing" Jew. The fact that I have actually had to worry about my physical safety due to my Jewishness and they have not doesn't come up, possibly because they don't want to discuss the ways in which I'm probably much more attuned to what actual anti-semitism looks like than they are.