Wearing my ‘Redskins = Racist’ Tee in a Bourgeois Area

Last month I picked up this delightful tee and have been giddy to wear it everywhere I go. I decided that the first time I would wear it, it would have to be in a place with high ignoramuses who bleed privilege. Yeah yeah yeah…call me out for being an attention-whore who seeks shock value, whatever. Anyway–

Where did I go? Santana Row, of course! I get this gag reflex every time I go there. Although I’m overly generalizing, it seems to me that everyone wants to be like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West out there. People who hang out there on any given day means they 1) aren’t at work or busy hustling, and 2) display their wealth in disgusting excess. The interesting thing is – San Jose is so ethnically diverse. It attracts folks from all over the world because of it’s association with Silicon Valley on top of being considered the biggest (wannabe) metropolitan city in the South Bay. Although many groups of people who reside in San Jose are minorities, many of them are very unaware of internalized oppression and the reality that they (we) are largely marginalized. They ‘pass,’ so they don’t think any more of it. Sounded to me like a perfect opportunity to give people a little dose of history, a bit of a challenge, and also kick their consciousness in gear.

So, you bet your bottom dollar I’m going to traipse myself around in this t-shirt!

The Results:

  • Lots of double-takes. Most people’s gaze went to my shirt, up to my face, and down to my shirt again.
  • Blinking eyes and raised brows. A lot of these also came in the form of pointed stares as if it were somehow offensive to them. No surprise there, but wearing a t-shirt is passive – not active, nor confrontational. (Ok, maybe visually confrontational).
  • One conversation. One guy said that he agreed with my shirt. He seemed nervous and made it a point to keep our chat very short, but overall he relayed that after learning more in-depth treatment of Native Americans in the US at school, he couldn’t believe people still use such terms.

That sole conversation was more than I expected. But as I could see the wheels in people’s heads turn, I knew that the visibility – and more importantly, readability – were a good point to my wardrobe choice. I know I’m not going to change the world by wearing the shirt, but I can challenge wearer-perceiver relationships and stereotypes that keeps people from talking about it. At the very least, I can say I’ve got them thinking about it. We all start somewhere.

To read more about how the term “redskins” is racist and offensive, I’ll point you to one of my favorite bloggers and scholars, Adrienne K.’s Native Appropriations. As for the shirt, I got mine here  from Bambu DePistola – be sure to check his music.

UP NEXT on “Decolonization” – A Politically Correct Term Required?

“Decolonization” appears a scary, uncomfortable term. “Global warming” was replaced by “climate change”; “gentrification” replaced by “shifting urban economic landscapes”. Just as these monikers were deemed undesirable and ineffective to be considered important in mainstream news, it seems as though the waves of “decolonization” has also fallen into obsolescence due to overuse and righteousness. So what’s next for this term? The movement? Stay tuned, and mind your canoe!


This is a facebook status I recently posted which was inspired by numerous online discussions I have observed, participated in, and even instigated. Right after posting, I urged everyone to laugh but also really consider where the future of this whole “decolonization” tip is going.

These conversations continue. Just as I encountered more and more people stoked on decolonization and indigenization, what seemed by the masses, I have equally encountered those who shrink back in disgust at its implications. Interestingly, those who are all about it, and those who are naysayers regarding the term, BOTH celebrate cultural customs, and do work to promote ancestral (Filipino) traditions. So why the big fuss? Apparently these terms are giving us a bad rep, painting us as potentially xenophobic, new age brown folks in America. Don’t believe me? Check out Tlalli Yaotl’s blog post on Anti-Colonial Anarchism vs Decolonization, Barbara Jane Reyes’ musings on what it means to Decolonize the Creative Space, or even Michael Dalupo’s  questioning of diasporic individuals who “indigenize” but might not actively support and protect the indigenous of the homeland like Lumad’s Quest for Justice.  All of these posts hint towards the decolonizing trend being just that: trendy. Does that make us trendy brown people?  Of course not, so let’s decentralize some things just a moment –

I don’t believe decolonization and indigenization limits us to just one ethnic group. I do believe that decolonization enlightens us to knowing how systems of oppression/marginalization have permutated over the generations, leading to our internalized oppression and marginalized cultural traditions. Also, “indigenizing” doesn’t have to imply xenophobia where we must choose only one indigenous root; considering we are probably all mixed at this point, the process of ‘indigenizing’ could rather imply embracing the (spiritual) ways of life before Westernization/eradication of non-Western cultural norms. In some circles, it’s merely a frame of mind, or a lifestyle- DISCOUNTING the temporal notion of indigeneity. All things said and done, I like the thought of dissolving Western attitudes towards the Non-West. Surely, we can at least hope for equality and normalize our own traditions.

Don’t let the name scare you off track. Continue the journey and don’t let Western norms make you think being different is bad. Being Othered, however, IS bad, and we should do all that we can to abolish the systems that perpetuate such prejudices. This is, after all, why we do what we do, and we can do it with finesse and passion.  Call it what you want to call it, though, right?  If anyone has any ideas, comments, or suggestions – PC or Radical – hit me up and share them.

Postcolonialism on CNN: Think Above

Sometimes, people mean well.  Sometimes, people passively (or submissively) accept definitions the West prescribes to ‘Other’ people.  Sometimes, those people are your own family members.

Image

Earlier today, I checked with my mom to see if all of our relatives were okay in the motherland.  Typhoon Haiyan is documented as the strongest to date, and it has traveled right through the Philippines.  She reassured me everyone is okay, and then with the best intentions, emailed me this photo from CNN.  When I opened it, I felt that sensation similar to a stone dropping through your brain and down to the pit of your stomach.  There’s so much going on here that I won’t even go through and dissect the wording.  I am glad for those who can read with a critical eye and extract the message behind the words.

The problem is that people read this in a positive light.  We have so much work to do.  The idea of Filipinos as happy, noble savages is one that sadly perpetuates in this quote.  If that isn’t enough, it illustrates us as obedient and yielding – and totally capable of putting up with HUNDREDS of years of colonialism, missionization and Western imperialism.  But hey, that’s okay, because we’re resilient and we just shake it off and smile.  What an amazing ‘privilege‘.  Lucky that the typhoon devastates their homes and love one’s lives.  This message is pretty despicable, but what’s equally disappointing is that people unquestioningly welcome this image created of Filipinos.

I won’t blame ignorance, but I sure hope to help educate it.  When I brought this up to my mom, she got really defensive and scoffed at me, ‘with a chip on [my] shoulder’.  I juxtaposed the CNN quote with this American political cartoon from about half a century ago:

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To me, the parallel is clear.  Here is historic colonialism: the entire race of the Philippines embodied in this puny character who is depicted as beat down, uncoordinated, undignified.  This image gives off a very strong ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ attitude, and doesn’t give the Filipino character a voice.  Enter: postcolonialism – the quote from CNN is written in a us/we format, speaking for and not from the perspective of Filipino people.  (If it is, in fact, authored by a Pin@y, then a paradigm shift is in order).

I can’t make it any more obvious that the CNN quote builds upon residual colonialist ideologies, therefore continuing contemporary postcolonialism.  The thing is, we are aware.  We are conscious.  Many of us were once programmed with a colonial mindset, and now more than ever I have encountered a push to DEcolonize.  This has been ongoing amongst generations, I’m sure, but now that I’ve started this process, I keep encountering more and more on the same journey.  As far as decolonization goes, complete rejection of our upbringings or reversion to complete indigeneity is unrealistic, as we (I) are (am) living in contemporary, urban conditions. But perhaps we can incorporate the indigenous mindset and use it to inform our guiding principles.  Striking this balance is where I think a lot of power/dynamism rests.  Let’s harness this energy and help lead others to critically confront postcolonialism, shall we?  Future generations will need it.  As for my mom, hopefully she comes to enlightenment as well.

Think above, y’all.

Cultural Appropriation vs Cultural Exchange

Earlier this morning, I came across an article  written by Jarune Uwujaren that discusses the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange.  I have been following a lot of websites and blogs that have attacked those who misappropriate cultural/native/indigenous forms for quite some time.  As someone who knows the histories of colonialism, missionization and imperialism upon ones country and cultural heritage, I clearly position myself on one side of the line.  Western expansion from the 18-20th centuries has obviously effected cultural mixing, hybridity and certain appropriated traditions.  To say that I only live, eat, speak, dress and think in a Filipino mindset wouldn’t be true.  I was born and raised in the diaspora, was brought up monolingual, and thus have a very American upbringing.  Sure.  But I know that we all get a knee-jerk reaction when hipster kids don their Native American feather head dresses, or when you see a bindhis on the forehead of a really trashed, scantily clad somebody out at a club.  “Do they know what they’re doing??” is really the only thing I can allow myself to think without getting infuriated.

Now sometimes even I get really insecure about my own interests.  I respect all native/indigenous traditions, and I come from a place of understanding.  I have dedicated the past almost 8 years of my life studying material/immaterial cultural heritage, and the majority of it hasn’t even encompassed my own heritage.  And I’m not talking from just my interaction with books and scholars, but I have gotten to know artists who were integral in causing cultural awareness and social change, as pillars for a cultural renaissance and art activism for their communities.  But just because I know it and understand it does not give me agency to adopt their materials, their designs, or don their ancestry by wearing their textiles.  That would be in direct contradiction to what I stand for, not to mention complete disrespect.  Just because I am in the know, does not make it okay.

But of course, there are those who have no clue.  And sometimes this is completely innocent.  And sometimes, they are brought up thinking that just because America is a huge melting pot (I like the word potluck) of cultures, food, expression, that all of these outwardly forms of self-representation is there for the taking.  Personalizing one’s style and world view is or should be a good thing.  But it’s really not that easy.  When someone who has taken a visual design that is directly linked to the spirit of my ancestry, all I want to do is acquaint that person’s face with my vicious backhand.  When something I consider sacred, that I would have to go through rite of passage for, that I have to gain the honor and respect first before gaining knowledge of its meaning, it is nothing short of blood boiling that someone thinks they can easily wear it around because it looks ‘cool.’  This is offensive, and I know we need to be patient with those who aren’t aware.  As Uwujaren puts it,

“True cultural exchange is not the process of ‘Here’s my culture, I’ll have some of yours’ that we sometimes think it is.  It’s something that should be mutual.”

Preach, sis, preach.  The line between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange is a fruitful intersection for dialogue.