Words Unglued

The following is is a guest post by Skylar Henry. It was created as part of the COP23 SustainUs Delegation creative challenge.  Please see the end of the submission for his bio.
Poster PictureThis is a photo of six SustainUs members at the 2017 Native Voices Rising march in Washington, D.C. I provided the materials for these posters which I was able to source from the Arizona State University’s American Indian Student Support Services at the West Campus. My friend, Remy Franklin, is holding the awesome poster I created for the event. It reads, “We are not protesters. We are messengers.”

Hello, my name is Skylar Henry and I’m from Cedar Ridge on the Navajo Reservation.  I would consider myself an artist because the tribe I’m enrolled in has a rich culture and creative, artistic people. Not only do I recognize the creative culture of the Navajo Nation, but I am also recognizing that of the other tribes, both federally and non-federally recognized. This is because, collectively put, our cultures encompass the artistic values of our customs and traditions, and, with that, our point of view.

Climate justice is directly affects the lives and cultures of all of our nations.  In drawing on my perspective as an American Indian witnessing the direct impact of climate justice in my community, I chose to contribute with a poster to the 2017 Native Voices Rising march in Washington, DC. My piece incorporates a peaceful message emphasized by the soft background; however, the font also makes a bold statement.

Although I, sadly, was not in the picture, or at the march, I was and continue to be with those pictured in spirit and through my creation, the poster itself. If given another chance to be part of the cause, and possibly access to the resources to get there, I would be more than happy to show up in more than just spirit. As a student, I could allocate my time and notify my professors what I am doing and how it is important to my identity so that I would never miss this opportunity again.

My poster appears simple on the outside, but the story behind it and the energy put into it are far more complex. I was limited on resources – both material and time – but was determined to contribute my piece to the movement. The colors I had to work with were just as limited, but I made the most of what was available to me. With creative, artistic beauty and with a purpose, one is able to create any media that I would call a success.

Once completed and in reflecting on the process of creating my media, I soon realized the true effect my piece could have. To me, the colors of the font are the themes of America and of patriotism, reflecting on our Code Talkers’ view of how and why we must defend this land. That is one underlying fact in the appearance.  The overlying fact – much less abstract to the viewer – is what the statement on the poster has to say.

One of the most appealing and noticeable parts of the poster is its background. With my limited resources, I combined the colors available to me in the best way I could that would still transmit my message. I believe this palette sets the peaceful tone and feeling which was the goal of my work and the goal of the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. Not only is that, but the palette I chose also eye-catching to the audience and you can tell by yourself. The audience can relate to the colors and capture a tone of what they are feeling from the colors. Combined with the written statement, this poster has an effect as a whole that transmits the message the heart, mind, body, and soul.

I designed my poster so that certain keywords are of a different color, highlighting the important pieces of my short and sweet messaging. The word “protestors” may have a negative connotation, so I thought the color red would be an ideal symbolism for CAUTION. The word “messengers,” however, is in white, promoting a more peaceful tone and feeling. I added blue as well to the poster as it carries a more relaxed ambiance and meaning. The juxtaposed expressions of “we are” and “we are not”, written in this blue, illustrate the steady path to the truth and transitions to the main keywords and ideas embodied by the message.

In addition, I believe that messengers are a once-in-a-lifetime deal. To some, Jesus is a messenger.  To Navajos, it might be the coyote crossing their path. Messengers appear in our lives and may vanish as quickly as a shooting star, but their message can still be eternal. Messengers are here for us – all of us – and that which they have to say and do is what we should listen to and be concerned about. Messengers should be taken seriously, not lightly, as they may be transmitting knowledge and a concept greater than our mortal selves.

Image may contain: one or more people, snow, outdoor and natureSkylar Henry (Navajo/Paiute/Zuni) is a Junior at Arizona State University and an upcoming artist.  He draws on his heritage as inspiration and frequently incorporates artistic interpretation into his interdisciplinary Business and Communications studies.  Having grown up in the Western Agency of the Navajo Nation, which is near the Grand Canyon, he is familiar with the intersectionality of natural resources, culture, and climate justice.  In December 2016, he was fortunate enough to visit to Standing Rock and deliver artwork at the sacred campfire.

Your Privilege is Showing: How Climate Change Movements Miss the Point

Let’s cut to the chase: The current climate change movement, on both a national and international level, is an excellent cause with a plethora of misguided notions.  Not a piece you were probably expecting to come from a 2016 COP22 Youth Delegate candidate.  But it’s a piece that has to be said, and it has to be said now.

Before we continue blasting the world with our thoughts about environmental and social injustices, before we unite across state lines and borders to commit ourselves to challenges of the best intentions, we need to realize the lenses on our own faces.  We need to become familiar with the privileges we have that give us a voice.  We need to be aware of the hypocrisy of our actions, and how some of our actions actually silence those who, for whatever cause, have a limited participation.  With so much of our advocacy moving into cyberspace, we must acknowledge how many off-the-grid victims of climate change are left out of the conversation.  We use globalization as a strength, but isn’t globalization also our biggest enemy?

PRIVILEGE ON THE CLIMATE CHANGE FRONT
Many of us have privileges for different reasons, and if you’re reading this right now you already have one: internet access.  It’s so crucial for us as individuals to understand what privilege is and also for us to acknowledge it.  In order to make any true social change, understanding privilege and power is key to success.  These privileges are things we have access to in our lives that are in fact luxuries.  They might even be social classes or citizenships we were born into that were simply a roll of the dice.  Yet these privileges affect us both passively and actively.

When privilege affects us passively, it may be because, e.g., we do not experience discrimination or struggle financially day-to-day.  A lack of discrimination, or a lack of financial difficulty, therefore becomes our accepted norm.  In fact, it might not even occur to us how many privileges we have because we haven’t experienced a lack of that privilege.  On the other hand, privilege affects us actively when it creates a lens through which we see the world.  We have a certain idea of how life “should” be, usually based on our norms, and we end up transposing our ideas cross-culturally without even realizing it.  It’s sometimes hard to see a lens when we don’t even realize we are wearing it.  (Click here to read more about how I think our cultural lenses affect our conversations with “developing”, “impoverished”, and even indigenous communities in an interview by Chloe Maxmin.)

Today, we live in a global economy.  Our actions, more than ever, have a rippling effect that touches even the most remote face that we will never get to see or know.  This is so evident to those passionate about climate change and carbon emissions.  We understand the earth is one being, that the trees are its lungs, and that water is a sacred, shared source.  Our days move in a rhythm with the same fiery, gaseous, and extinguishable sphere in the sky.  Even before the internet, we were synchronized in this way.  Our existence, whether spontaneous or planned, relied on this synchronization in order to come into being.  Yet we are weaving that interconnectivity even closer to the point of complete interdependence.

So how does this globalization affect the movement against climate change?  The more and more we become interdependent in our global economy, the more and more we rely on international movements to address global changes.  Carbon emissions is at the forefront of this struggle.  However, we can’t help but be hypocrites; for, as we strive to resolve shared issues from globalization – like carbon emissions – through international efforts and coordination, we are in fact reinforcing the same principles we are trying to defeat.  We look to international leaders, we rally the people from every corner of the globe, we use the effective global communication tool known as social media, we buy cotton shirts in support from unknown material and labor sources, and we hop on a jet plane to get us everywhere in between.  In this way, we become hypocrites – and we exclude those without the same privilege as ourselves from the conversation.

A LIMITED PARTICIPATION
Social justice and environmental justice are not mutually exclusive things.  In fact, our Western lens tends to separate all things that should not be separated.  To think that human rights can be preserved without addressing environmental protection is a foolish notion that will destroy us if we cannot separate ourselves from it.  Yet as the culture of modern, Western society strives increasingly to separate the two, the inseparability between indigenous communities and the protection of their natural resources become evermore clear.  Our disconnect from where our food comes from, who makes our clothes, and even our cultural values translates into a disconnect from humanity and social justice.

When we operate with this disconnect, we risk framing our actions and the reasons why we do them in a way that limits how people feel they can participate.  This circles back to privilege and to having an expected vision of what life should be like.  It’s easy to make a movement where you encourage people to shower only 1 minute a day, ride their bike instead of drive to work, and buy only locally-sourced, organic foods.  Well, there are many places in the world where the population cannot participate in such a movement.  And it doesn’t have to be a remote corner; sometimes it’s in the American backyard.  Even where I live on the Navajo Reservation, many people don’t have running water so they can’t reduce shower time; they might hitch-hike to work, but they can’t bike clear to the border cities where the work and the bus routes only connect major towns a few times a day; and we live in a “food desert” where some folks don’t have electricity for refrigeration, so the choice is usually between a bag of chips or canned conventional food.  Yet it’s undeniable that the Navajo Nation is feeling the effects of climate change.  In some ways, these changes are contributing to the food desert effect.  So how can these exceptions be inclusions?

My example is just one of many, and it’s something I’ve thought about more and more as I’ve traveled.  So often the people being affected the most by climate change are the same people who don’t live with the luxuries that we “cut back on” here and there to “reduce” our impacts.  Of course, it isn’t just about how we rally ourselves socially and who is or isn’t included in social media movements.  It’s also about who is making the decisions on how we live and our health.  The policy-makers who separate themselves from the rallying public and who negotiate behind closed doors are making decisions that will affect the health and prosperity of literally every being in the world.  Talk about privilege, and talk about power.

Another example that I think really embodies the same concept of limited participation actually has to do with public art.  Public art is such a powerful tool of communication, a wordless language that transcends boundaries and delivers messages of varying complexity.  But public art can also be incredibly exclusive.  In the United States, public art is too often used as a tourist statement to encourage people to visit and come into an area.  Sure, it might positively impact local business, but the art the movement introduces is static pieces that live among the unintended audience.  The art isn’t meant to necessarily do anything for the citizens in the area, and it especially tends to exclude certain citizens like the homeless.

A classic example of how public art can be exclusive is the Fremont Troll of Seattle.  The bridge where this art piece is now used to house sleeping homeless people and some alleged drug activity.  As a way to “creatively address” this “problem”, the “public” united to install the Fremont Troll.  On the surface, it looks like a nice idea; but really, the statue displaces the “problem” rather than addresses it – and it most certainly alienates the people the art is actively targeting.  It simply strengthens and widens that social divide/gap.  It reinforces the already present issue that homeless people are not viewed as citizens, as part of the public.  The alternative?  Public art that is in fact a fluid space, inviting participation from the community.  Urban peace gardens are an example of this.  They serve as educational platforms open to any human and they rely on the community’s efforts to keep the installations running after the artists have created them.

If we really want to make a difference on the climate change front, we have to be aware of how we limit participation.  Maybe we are limiting others, and maybe policy-makers are the ones limiting us.  Regardless, we have to avoid reinforcing these gaps by building a Fremont Troll and to instead create a change that runs deeper than just a bandage on a communal wound.  We have to actively seek voices and participation from all demographics and situations, in spite of the nature of the movement and because of the movement itself.  Movements that look to include all kinds of experiences, and which add real perspective to privilege in every form it takes, it’s those movements that are more like the education tool of the urban peace gardens.  They work to include every story into the need for change. 

Ironically, Chloe’s blog also touches on this issue, describing her experience between “us” and “them” while participating in COP21.

THE HYPOCRISY OF OUR METHODS
As I mentioned briefly when addressing privilege, the methods we have to have access to in order to participate – such as transportation, cell phones, and social media – are also methods that reinforce our hypocrisy.  The most obvious is when we have to take a plane or a car to a conference on climate change, or to promote having Zero emissions by 2050.  But some of them aren’t as obvious, and not acknowledging them weakens every effort we could dream of making to combat a changing climate.  Do you know the environmental and social consequences of your cell phone?  Of the coffee you drink?  The clothes you wear?  The manufactured bike you ride?  The alternative energy you promote?

While I admire the #ZeroBy2050 movement from the COP21 Youth Delegates last year in Paris, I think it is also a good example of how we tend to really miss the point.  Yes, zero emissions is an amazing concept.  But there are numerous flaws.  Perhaps the biggest offender is the support of renewable energy.  During the #ZeroBy2050 movement at COP21, the participants were fighting to get language entered into the Paris Agreement that would call for the complete phasing out of carbon emissions by 2050.  Similar to the Break Free campaign, which aims to abandon fossil fuels completely, this movement vehemently promotes “clean energy” in place of emissions-generating operations.

I’m a Masters candidate in Mechanical Engineering for the purpose of studying alternative energy, what goes into the systems, and how they have yet to improve.  I am in this field solely for the purpose of understanding the technologies and what we are actually promoting.  One of the biggest flaws of these alleged “clean energy” sources: they depend enormously on the mining industry.  I’ve experienced across so many different organizations and communities this diehard approach to going “alternative” without having seriously considered that the “alternative” is not “clean”.  True, renewable sources will last us longer, but the current technologies we have leave us tied to mining, no matter how much we want to keep it all “in the ground”.  And it’s not just the metals and rare earth materials that go into fuel cells/solar panels and wind turbines, it’s also the metals and chemicals in our painted bikes and modes of transportation and the gold in the circuitry of all our electronic devices.

Yet, the more you think about it, our world works in a balance.  That’s part of what we are fighting for, right?  To maintain the atmospheric balance.  To reverse rapid changes we have made since the Industrial Revolution to which Nature is struggling to adapt.  But we can’t completely eliminate carbon emissions.  It sounds radical to say, but carbon emissions are also part of the balance.  When we say “carbon emissions”, we simply mean “carbon dioxide” – a key component to the atmosphere.  Too much of it can have serious ramifications.  For example, too much CO2 in the atmosphere heats the earth during radiation.  It also causes an imbalance in calcium carbonate precipitation in the ocean water, leading to the acidification of the ocean and the dying of coral reefs.  (Read my term paper on this topic here.)  But the same can be said if we dramatically reverse and completely eliminate carbon emissions.  We have to be careful that we don’t promote the idea that no carbon dioxide equals a healthy planet.  Rather, we have to find a way to strike a balance.

Saying we will not burn fuels that create carbon emissions also means we must strike down every effort to promote biomass energy.  Why?  While burning coal, oil, and gas does produce far more emissions, burning woody mass is not “clean” either.  Here in the southwest, biomass offers an alternative to fossil fuels that also has an alarming abundance.  When we get forest fires, they tend to rage for long distances at greater intensities.  The tendency is to fight them, yet forest fires are crucial to the ecosystem here.  Certain seeds only open when burned, generating young trees.  Fires create breaks that keep disease from spreading across entire forests.  Climate change, sadly, is having a negative impact on the natural phenomenon of these fires as well.  All of these factors result in crown fires that lick up the dense, dry, unburned undergrowth and fuel the intensity of the flames.  Encouraging people to burn this undergrowth through biomass projects would help reverse our negative impacts on the natural cycle of fires, but, of course, it would technically produce carbon emissions.

My mom always talks about diet by saying “Everything in moderation.  You can have too much of any thing, even if it’s good for you.”  I think our attitude about climate change and natural phenomenon should be like that too.  Not nonchalant, but in a way that accepts there are meant to be periods of drought, there are meant to be periods of flood – as long as it’s the way of the world deciding what happens and not humanity’s greed that is causing the changes.  I think this perspective is really important and grounding if we want to seriously make a difference.

When I was younger, I used to be zealous about changing light bulbs. Then my focus shifted to changing the systems that determine how we use energy, because, as the saying goes, “we need system change, not climate change.” As a youth delegate to COP21—the international climate-change conference in Paris last December—I witnessed the most sophisticated political skills the world has to offer focus on one goal: to change the fundamental components of our energy systems. They failed. In Paris, I learned that there is an even deeper level of change required to prevent climate catastrophe. It’s not system change—it’s human change.

-Chloe Maxmin, In 2016, No More Human-As-Usual

It really is human attitude and perspective that is the underlying, root cause of so much turmoil in our world today.  It is a disconnect from the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the social/environmental impacts of getting those products to our hands.  We can’t fully depend on policies to govern how we rule ourselves.  As Chloe says, the change for humanity and the health of the world has to come from within.

SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
I don’t have the solutions.  In fact, I go through days of doubt when I’m convinced there is no solution.  But what I can say is self-awareness is at the core of this movement.  For the collective human body to make a change, that change has to come from within the individuals.  To create this change and self-awareness, we have to acknowledge where we do and don’t have privilege; we have understand the implications of everything we do, purchase, and consume; we have to be aware of the lenses we have.  We have to include, not exclude.  We have to share stories alongside facts, because it is the facts the policy-makers want to see and it is the stories the people want to hear.  And always, always, always, we have to keep an open and honest perspective.
To see how these topics have surfaced in my own global challenges, and how I’ve questioned “What does solidarity look like in the eyes of climate change?”, click here to read my experience in Nicaragua from May 2016.
 
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A repost of a watercolor I did after being inspired by the street art in Nicaragua.  Read my post on my trip to Nicaragua for more information.

“My Indian Name is Runs With Beer”, an example of racism.

Before I even launch into yet another example of mainstream racism, I have to ask: At what point did “political correctness” – or being “PC” – become a pejorative?  By its very definition, it’s a mechanism for cultural sensitivity to protect minorities from being marginalized.  Now I see kids on the Internet every day using it like a slur against one another.  Respect is becoming extinct.

The purpose of today’s piece is to expose an example of racism towards indigenous peoples and why it’s not okay.

This morning, my friend Michelle texted me a picture and her commentary on a cooler design she found on Facebook.  The page is a closed group, called “The Cooler Connection”.  She described it to me as being a page that largely consists of sorority girls sharing cooler designs (presumably for college drinking and whatnot).  She added me to the page so I could see its content: Most posts share designs of coolers people have done, some posts ask for advice on cooler painting, and there are even posted guides to how to paint your own cooler.  Although the idea of college students dignifying all things binge-drinking terrifies me, I also see the page as a neat way to add creativity to ordinary objects.  It’s like an interactive, DIY Pinterest board of cooler art.

Seems harmless, right?

Wrong.

Michelle’s reason for sharing this page with me to day was so I could see a cooler design by student/artist Jess Merry of Appalachian State University.  Miss Merry, from the Raleigh/Cary area, went to school in Boone in western North Carolina – i.e. the heart of Indian Country.  The Tsalagi, in particular, reside in this area on the Eastern Band of Cherokee reservation.  You would think anyone spending considerable time in this vicinity would be privy to cultural sensitivity and the concentration of an ethnic minority in his/her area, but sadly this does not seem to be the case.  I say this because Miss Merry’s design was an example of racism against the indigenous American race:

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“This is gorgeous, but that is INCREDIBLY offensive!!” wrote my friend in a flustered response.  And she’s right: The artwork should be commended, even the Papyrus handwriting, but the truth behind it is none of its content is acceptable.  Well, it shouldn’t be acceptable.  But, as evidenced by the commentary on the post, few people seem to grasp exactly why.  Instead, virtual eye rolls and accusations of “here we go with the PC comments” and “get over it” statements alternated with ones saying “this is not okay”.

“For all of you that don’t understand why it’s offensive [you] are what’s wrong with this country right now,” Michelle continues.  She is referring to the attitude that cultural sensitivity needs to die out and that too many people voice opinions about “getting over it” when there are social-economic-cultural crises so deeply rooted in historic trauma and perpetuated prejudice that there is no “getting over it”.

Not only was Michelle addressing the problem of stereotyping indigenous peoples, desecrating a headdress and chief nobility, and having no respect for one another’s’ culture, she also calls out the unacceptable treatment of ceremony.  “To put it simply, it’s disrespectful because you’re mocking a Native American tradition,” she writes.  She’s referring to “Indian names” – or really, naming ceremonies – which is a very important custom in some, but not all, groups of indigenous peoples.  Mocking this ceremony is not only a religious assault, but it continues the stereotypes through pan-Indianism with which Western film culture has brainwashed the ignorant.  In other words, the design was borne out of a racist interpretation of a homogenous indigenous culture – which simply does not exist.

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Okay, so I’m going to break this down and try to explain exactly why we should be upset about this cooler:

1. Racism.

Before everyone gets all bent out of shape about me using this word, let’s bring up the definition and then see how this fits snuggly into it:

racism

[ ˈrāˌsizəm ]

NOUN

noun: racism

the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

All members of each race meaning we are looking at the overarching, identity-stripped, cultural whitewash that we call “Native American culture”.

Possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race meaning we are using a stereotypical profile (like those being removed currently from mascots across the country), we are blaspheming religious symbols and ceremonies to a limited number of cultures and also applying them broadly and stereotypically (“pan-Indianism”), and we are insinuating alcoholism is an inherent part of “being Indian” (and paralleling it to a religious name-giving custom).

Especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races meaning the ideas entrapped in this cooler design, which are all rooted in outdated stereotypes from Western films and past “Indian policies” (explained in the subsequent points), exist purely as remains from a culture that believed indigenous peoples to be savage, uncivilized, and an amalgamate race far inferior to whites.

So to conclude, this design does in fact perpetuate racism.  What’s even worse: not everyone understands why it is racist against a marginalized race of people in this country, and people continuing to act out of ignorance – that is a very damaging thing.

2. Cultural appropriation.

Cultural-Appropriation3

Race relations is still largely a problem in the United States – in fact, as I experienced through the US’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN this past week, our country is largely frowned down upon for its backwardness in race issues.  In the United States, we tend to look at race rather than at culture and individualism.  This is, in my view, still a product of past, racist policies where someone could be marginalized simply because of his/her skin color.  Slavery is the prime example of this.  So our society still has a lot to learn about culture and cultural sensitivity, which is all exemplified by the cultural appropriation we see talked about more and more these days.

Sure, America might be a “melting pot” and cultures might influence one another, but cultural appropriation takes it a step further.  Cultural appropriation is when a dominant group exploits the culture of less dominant, less privileged groups, often without any kind of understanding and respect for the latter groups’ histories and traditions.  Therefore this cooler, too, is appropriating culture that is not in any way understood by the party-goers who would likely be using this decorated piece.

3. Pan-Indianism.

I will keep this simple: Indigenous cultures are incredibly diverse.  “Indian”, by the concept of “Pan-Indianism”, refers to indigenous peoples from the northern Arctic coast down to the southern South American tip.  Now explain to me how something like a stereotyped “Indian” profile and the contents of the cooler design are not a perfect example of Pan-Indianism?  And the problem with Pan-Indianism?  It washes away cultural identity, eliminates individualism, and allows for stereotypes to branded all over anyone who falls into the category of “Indian” – without any regard for accuracy or respect of someone’s traditions.

4. Alcoholism stereotypes.

If only I could count all the times someone used Cromagnum English to tell me about “white man” bringing over the “fire water”…. Well, actually, alcohol did exist in many of cultures for centuries – maybe even thousands of years – before any “white man” arrived on Turtle Island.  Yet we are constantly making jokes about Natives by building off of these stereotypes of alcoholism in Indian Country.  But none of it is even true.

This is not to say that Reservations don’t face an alcohol problem, because they do – but surely this same trend can be attached to any other traumatized demographic, including those in chronic economic despair (and the majority of some Reservation populations live in poverty).  According to studies by the NIAAA, white people (especially men) are more likely than any other demographic to drink regularly, by a younger age, and drive while under the influence.  A bit ironic since this demographic is also more prone to perpetuate such stereotypes about indigenous peoples.

Furthermore, indigenous populations have the highest rate of alcohol abstinence of any other ethnic group.  Many Reservations and tribal lands forbid the sale of alcohol.

The stereotyping of indigenous peoples in regards to alcoholism, as done by this cooler, is just that: stereotyping.  It is only funny if you believe it is true, and if you have no heart or care about real-world people and real-world consequences of perpetuating such misconceptions.

5. Cherokee royalty defends it.

Any time someone (who does or doesn’t identify as indigenous) states “this is offensive”, a whole slew of people suddenly find red in their veins.  “Well I’m Native American and I’m not offended!” they’ll exclaim, failing to see fallacy in their statements.  I say “Cherokee royalty”, because 9 times out of 10, these people have a great-great-grandmother who was a Cherokee princess.  Well, they claim they do, because there are no “Indian princesses”.  This demonstrates how they either are completely BS-ing, going off of mainstream phrases about “Indian identity”, or they are so disconnected with their might-be culture that their opinion is absolutely 0% indigenous to begin with.

“Indianness” isn’t a costume, a trend, or even a blood quantum – it’s an identity, an identity that includes everything from participating in your heritage, knowing your clan/blood line, enrolling if enroll-able, and promoting your culture.  When you promote your culture, you’re also protecting it.  You understand the true histories about “Indian policy”, you know the current struggles of your tribe and also many struggles of other tribes, and you are familiar with the pieces of “Rez life” that don’t get romanticized by non-indigenous America: commodity cheese, HUD housing, and corruption within your own government.

Furthermore, I consider stating your blood quantum to be a rude attempt at weighting the value of your voice by western society’s concept of how “Indian” you are.  It gives the ignorant a chance to take a stab, saying things like “Well you’re only 50%, so you’re not a real Indian” or “You might be Navajo, but you’re also 50% Lakota, so you can’t have an opinion on anything Navajo”, as an example.  If you’re a dual citizen, you just say your citizenship.  What’s sad is, even when I do this, I find myself inserting “Indian” into my statement to address the blank stares I get.  The flipside to stating blood quantum as a way to identify yourself is when people who are most likely not genuinely indigenous at all (but rather fantasize about the “cool” parts of being Indian, sans marginalization, etc.) make statements like “I’m 6% Native” or “I’m part Native American”.  Umm, what?  Just…just stop.  I already know I have no interest in what you’re about to say.

6. There’s no one left to offend.

You wouldn’t be comfortable making fun of someone to his/her face for something he/she can’t change (physical appearance, religion, etc.), yet this cooler mocks religion, race, and culture.  Therefore we can only assume that this cooler was shared because it doesn’t occur to mainstream society that Indians are not in fact dead, Indians are not in fact savages incapable of technology, and Indians are in fact on social media like any other American sorority girl or other on this cooler page.  This ties directly in to all the studies being done to prove how mascots stereotype and further marginalize indigenous peoples – especially youth – who have to face perpetuated misconceptions of who they are in everyday life, from school to what they see portrayed through national sports team mascots.  Even when these mascots are meant to be “positive”, they still impact these peoples negatively.

If you’re interested in these studies, here are some links to what has been discovered as psychologically damaging to populations that already suffer disproportionate amounts of historic trauma:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2014/07/22/indian-mascots-report-washington-nfl-team/13006145/

http://espn.go.com/pdf/2013/1030/espn_otl_Oneida_study.pdf

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/report/2014/07/22/94214/missingthepoint/

7. Hate speech platform.

Let’s be real: No one using this cooler has any interest in educating people on why they find humor in it despite the grave realities behind why its humor is rooted in on-going racism.  You’re not going to go to a party and find people saying, “Oh, hey, funny cooler!”  “Oh, yeah, thanks – it’s actually stereotypical, culturally appropriating, etc., but it’s funny because most people don’t know the truth behind why it isn’t funny!”  Nope.  In fact, given my experience, if anything comes from it there will be a following of more stereotypes, like wawawawa, dancing around like idiots, perpetuating this noble savage interpretation of real living human beings.  And, to add to bullet 6 above, all of this would be done as if it were impossible that someone in the room could possibly be indigenous.

examples
Search: My Indian Name Is Runs With Beer for many more examples.

As I conclude this piece, I have learned that the cooler was apparently already removed from the page.  Regardless, I am alarmed that this is not a rare occurrence.  (See relevant post on Newspaper Rock: http://newspaperrock.bluecorncomics.com/2011/01/aim-fights-runs-with-beer-t-shirt.html)  I am also alarmed that too many people have come to defend the racism behind this example.  I hope that the time I have spent writing this piece will speak to two audiences: 1) I hope indigenous friends and allies can identify and roll their eyes at the classic examples of rhetoric used in defending yet another classic example of racism being widely misconstrued as acceptable; and 2) I hope all of the others have found this piece an adequate summary for why we shouldn’t be taking such things so lightly.  Again, I don’t think “political correctness” should be used as a pejorative.  But I also believe such an example steps well beyond the limits of what is or isn’t “PC” and enters the realm of intolerable racial tension.

“Freelance” i.e. “Unemployed”

Cameroon

Picture: Me in Cameroon with some village children after being asked (and sponsored!) to help build a gravity-fed well system and act as a French translator, a useful hobby!

If you google what a “freelance” really is, you’ll find many defenses against paralleling “freelance” to “unemployed”. The defenders are, of course, freelancers. I, myself, have always turned my nose up on the title “freelancer”, truly viewing this as “I can’t get a job”, as something I’ve done as a hobby to get money on the side. I thought, maybe I’m just being a bit too harsh or critical? But, no, I stand beside my argument. Those who call themselves “freelancers” are, really, just “unemployed”. I was a freelance writer for a paper until I was offered a regular position, but I was doing it for fun because I write all of the time anyway. So, sure, there are people who do it for fun. They’re not necessarily “unemployed”. But anyone who relies on “freelancing” as a real job? Hmm…

My question is why do people who use this euphemism “freelance” in place of “unemployed” the same people who are so defensive about this topic? If you don’t have a job, why bother hiding? I would embrace the fact that I’m still trying to make money in what I want to do rather than giving up on writing or whatever altogether and working at a grocery store or a restaurant or some other menial high school summer job. Of course, I don’t think writing is a job. I don’t think art is a job either, and I can only half-heartedly accept music as a career. That’s because I do all of these things as hobbies. I’ve held jobs in all of those positions before, but always as side jobs for a little extra cash or because someone approached me and wanted to hire me. In a world with so many bigger issues than who’s wearing what, who can replicate reality on paper the best, or entertainment… I become skeptical of society in a heartbeat. And, quite frankly, I also become unsympathetic for the “freelancers” who can mope about their disguised “unemployment”.

So maybe this is more a debate of what kind of majors are truly significant to society or to what extent we should really “follow our dreams”. Maybe this is just me rolling my eyes at people who can’t get off their asses and move out of their parents’ house and get a real job. I don’t really know. I guess my point is, whether or not you choose to hang on to that unfruitful major and label yourself as a “freelance” whatever, at least acknowledge the fact that you’re “unemployed” and searching. The first step to recovery is admitting what’s wrong, now isn’t it?

Debunking Fashion Snobbery

One thing that pisses me off about, well, every day life is our obsession with this bizarre enigma we refer to as “fashion”.  Being “fashionable” or “well-dressed” is an important part to any publicly active and successful being, at least in America and other First World countries.  We are so caught up in appearances and aesthetics in literally every perspective of life that it completely consumes us.  The feeling of social security we get from meeting self-imposed visual standards becomes the lifeblood to maintaining our self-esteem.  One faltering moment and our confidence is undermined.  But how did we ever come to rely on such meaningless concepts as “fashion”?  And who became the judge of it anyway?

I personally believe “fashion” and “aesthetics” derive from ancient practices.  Thousands of years ago, monarchies and religious rulings determined that women should be covered in a certain way, and men had to dress appropriately to complete their daily chores (hence their use of pants for convenience).  This is perhaps the point from which our fashion “stigmas” arose: we placed expectations on certain groups of people’s dress and manner, and some of this developed into class distinction.  Although we have long struggled to destroy the hierarchy of class, we as citizens continue to fuel the fire by dressing, acting, and buying in means we can’t necessarily afford just to display some false vibrato.  Who are we kidding?  Well, no one cares.  You’ve got to learn to keep up in today’s world; that means little time for thinking.

Now, where did aesthetics come into play?  You know, designing your house in a certain way.  Discerning a certain status via style and – often – false  impression.  I think this too has a cultural root.  Tradition plays an important part in all societies and, although ancient peoples did not necessarily spend superfluously to impress visitors that they didn’t have, they did hold on to the style and ways of their people.  It’s a defining thing.  It’s art.  It started as an activity, it blossomed into a form, and then it launched into this pressuring hell of subjectivity.  Elements from different cultures that were found attractive by others were adapted and preserved.  Then with events like the Silk Road introducing trade and global awareness, people started wanting these “finer things”.  It’s always for some kind of façade.  Suddenly, these “different ways of doing things” collided, were compared side-by-side, assessed, improved, developed…  Aesthetics – and fashion – … It has all become a form of expression in which one A) strives to meet certain standards, B) tries to perfect those standards, and C) often next struggles to exceed those standards through either perfection of a form or through discovery of a breathtakingly new concept.

But now that we have developed into this modern world of fashion and interior design, who actually lays down the rules for what is “good” and what is “acceptable”?  How do you define “cool”?  While some trends and shades invoke emotions and sensations that are pleasing and understandably desired, some trends are absolutely horrendous and distasteful.  Yet they’re still successful.  So who is trying to convince our instincts otherwise?

Apparently, there are people who “decide” these things.  For example, the non-profit group called the Color Marketing Group.  These people literally sit around and say, Oh, people last year like these shades and these trends, so we’re going to base next year off of this and then revamp an old selection that was successful in past years.  These people teeter between appeal and experiment, between satisfied customer and satisfied vendor.  They argue that the customer, ultimately, makes the decision of what is “fashionable” because the next year’s trends off of what was and what wasn’t popular in the past.  My argument?  That’s not completely true because I don’t feel like I am deciding anything.  I’ve grown up in this world where clothes are already stocked, I had to select from those stocked things, and my selections were not always satisfactory.  Besides, I really do believe people’s tastes revolve mostly around models and celebrities.  People idolize people.  If a tween sees Miley Cyrus in yoga pants, she thinks that’s the coolest thing and buys a pair.  Some of the racier trends on the Red Carpet?  Check out a night club.  I’m sorry, CMG, but I still think you’re snobs.

Then there’s reality TV.  Fashion shows.  Best Dressed and otherwise.  I never agree with them.  For example, America’s Next Top Model…Tyra Banks…acting like a snooty fashionista expert of sorts and why?  Because she was a model?  Oh, please.  Some of the things she wears and does make me sick to my stomach.  More than half the time my tastes conflict entirely with this snobbish “fashion world”, and yet it controls so many factors of our lives.

How about that show where you dress people in better clothes to improve their self-esteem?  The problem usually lies in their bodies and how they perceive themselves inwardly, not in how they dress.  It’s true though: While I tend to critique the critics, there are definitely some fashion lines that I don’t cross.  Those lines are usually “tacky”, “slobbish”, and “risqué”, lines that are painfully crossed quite often by people on this show, perhaps in oblivion.  But, in that case, I think a slap across the face would suffice.  Why arrange some exorbitant shopping spree with some presumptuous gay – or maybe straight – man critiquing a simpleton’s underclassed fashion sense with some flamboyant accent as if he were gay?  Half the time I want to shout, People, if you want to help her out, tell her to go on a diet!  It’s not just how you dress.  You can’t cover it all up.  Fashion is no band-aid to true inner problems.  That self-esteem comes from within, it comes from a confidence in your body and your health.  E.g., paint your face all you want, if you still view yourself as ugly without it, you’ll just feel broken and constantly haunted without the facade of makeup.  In other words, that show really sums up my feelings on how we put too much faith in fashion and these alleged “experts”.

I just wish we weren’t such a sheep society.  I’m not sure where we went wrong, but our need to be on top lets us lose our sanity and drain our wallets to attain personal expectations and social standards.  I think it makes us more miserable than it does happy.  And you want to know what the funny thing is?  I think one of the happiest animals I’ve ever seen in a belly-sliding, snow-covered little penguin… and penguins don’t wear clothes!!  Lesson learned.