Posts tagged institutional racism
on personal experiences of anti-Indian racism in an ethnic studies classroom
so i don’t think i posted it on here yet, but basically my lecture this week went terrible. the topic (as listed on the syllabus) was “case studies in racism: the american indian experience;” some of the lows of the class include 60-70 white kids yelling at me so loud that i had to yell at them to be quiet at the top of my voice, a white girl telling me she’s “5% Navajo” and that gives her the right to berate me in my own classroom, bizarre tone-policing, and multiple students trying to undermine me and belittle the material by saying things like “the Florida Seminole mascot is an accurate educational tool,” “you’re saying Native Americans are the only ones who experience racism and that’s racist,” “i’m not personally responsible for genocide or racism and i feel terrible about it, but i can’t change it so stop holding me accountable,” and my personal favorite, “you’re only saying this stuff because you’re Native and bitter—i don’t respect you and don’t wanna have this conversation, i don’t have to say shit.”
it was so bad that about 10-15 students (mostly students of color) came up to me after class to apologize for their classmates’ embarrassingly immature & racist behavior. one of them even said that the class was scary and he was surprised that i didn’t start crying halfway through the lecture. the one cool thing is that those select few students could point to their peers and say that they were an excellent example of how ingrained racism is—that people with passing grades in an ethnic studies class can still pull shit like that and think it’s ok shows that they’re regurgitating rhetoric and not processing this really, and that there’s still deep-rooted racism in that room.
i had expected some resistance, because this area has a history of pretty overt anti-Indian racism and this campus has not responded well. our ethnic studies department has no Native or indigenous faculty, and i’m the only Native grad student. there are 5 Native grad students total on this entire campus (we are a VERY large public land-grant institution in close proximity to quite a few large Native communities). last semester when a Native faculty member was beaten within an inch of his life just a block off campus, the university didn’t even send a press release or emergency notification for days. my department (ethnic studies) does not offer a grad-level Native or indigenous studies course, and does not require those who teach intro to ethnic studies to have a curriculum culturally sensitive to Native peoples. i asked my department head if i could be added to a faculty meeting agenda to discuss curricula changes and anti-Indian racism in our department, and i was told that was not the “appropriate forum,” and a (thus far unscheduled) private meeting would be best. in both undergrad and grad classes, each time we have had our 1 token reading or class period on “Native issues,” it’s gone terribly, i have been totally and openly disrespected, and i’ve left the class furious and hurt. in day to day interactions with colleagues, i have been told i’m “too ghetto for grad school,” that reservation Indians are lawless drug-addicted criminals, that if Native women don’t want to be raped they should leave their reservations, and that i bear the burden of on-demand proof of Native experiences of genocide.
i’m fed up, and i’m leaving. i was supposed to stay for my PhD (and was given funding to do so), but i’m graduating early with my MA and would not come back to this institution under any circumstance. my two-year stint here has been so traumatic, i’m taking a break from academia in general—i’m now working for an organization run by and for Native women, and am not planning on pursuing a PhD for a few years at least. this is not about painting myself as a victim, but to be real about how hostile a space as allegedly “radical” as an ethnic studies dept can be to Native students; for my own personal wellbeing, i have to take a breather from this shit. honestly, if i do go back into academia, i think in the long term my goal is to be teaching at a tribal college—i would rather be paid a third of what i could get teaching at a non-tribal institution and working with Native faculty & students, than deal with this shit on the regular for more money and recognition.
in the meantime, i have to teach intro to ethnic studies again next semester, as well as finish up TAing for it this semester. i’m completely rewriting my curriculum and while i wish it didn’t have to be this way, the repeated and consistent horrible experiences i’ve had have demonstrated that i have to treat that classroom like the battleground the students are making it into. it’s really unfortunate because that kind of atmosphere works to the detriment of all of us—it’s exhausting and traumatic for me, and not the ideal learning environment for them.
i have been begging and demanding support from faculty and administration essentially since day 1, and i have yet to see or hear anything from them at all except “wow that’s totally inappropriate i can’t believe it! so not ok, that needs to change!” (it should be noted these comments have not manifested any concrete changes in departmental or institutional curricula, dynamics, or accountability).
people do not want to be reminded of how ignorant they are, or how complicit in violence they are. i get it. but you’re losing dedicated scholars and educators like myself (and all the students i could have recruited or helped to retain!), and not only reinforcing colonial power structures and systems of domination, but perpetrating colonial/racist violence yourself.
please read every word of this and realize this woman’s experience is not the exception in academia—this is absolutely the rule. academia is one of the most virulently racist institutions i have ever personally experienced and it should be held accountable for the way it systematically drives out intelligent, passionate, and extraordinarily gifted marginalized students.
that bell hooks quote about white people being scared of violence from black people made me think about how in a culture defined by and built on white supremacy, violence has been defined in a very specific way that makes sure that white people can see themselves as victims and acts of violence against black people can hide behind laws and regulations, i.e. school to prison pipelines, drug laws, racial profiling. So a lot of violence that happens to black people has been codified in society to be seen as transgressions on our part and not as acts of violence against us.
the linked bell hooks quote:
“I am always amazed when I hear white folks speak about their fear of black people, of being the victims of black violence. They may never have spoken to a black person, and certainly never been hurt by a black person, but they are convinced that their response to blackness must first and foremost be fear and dread. They too live in denial. They claim to fear that black people will hurt them even though there is no evidence which suggests that black people routinely hurt white people in this or any other culture. Despite the fact that many reported crimes are committed by black offenders, this does not happen so frequently as to suggest that all white people must fear any black person.
Now, black people are routinely assaulted and harassed by white people in white supremacist culture. This violence is condoned by the state. It is necessary for the maintenance of racial difference. Indeed, if black people have not learned our place as second-class citizens through educational institutions, we learn it by the daily assaults perpetuated by white offenders on our bodies and beings that we feel but rarely publically protest or name. Though we do not live in the same fierce conditions of racial apartheid that only recently ceased being our collective social reality, most black folks believe that if they do not conform to white-determined standards of acceptable behavior they will not survive. We live in a society where we hear about white folks killing black people to express their rage. We can identify specific incidents throughout our history in this country whether it be Emmett Till, Bensonhurst, Howard Beach, etc. We can identify rare incidents where individual black folks have randomly responded to their fear of white assault by killing. White rage is acceptable, can be both expressed and condoned, but black rage has no place and everyone knows it.”
Toni Christina Jenkins, the waitress who got a racist slur in lieu of a tip, just got suspended from her job at red lobster. Because protecting racists is more important than protecting your customers.
If you have the money/ spoons, please consider donating to “Tips for Toni"