Native and Black Solidarity: Why Mykki Blanco Is Right

James Baldwin is quoted as saying, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” If that’s true for black people, I’d say the same has to be true for Native Americans, particularly since they were the first non-white people of America to be brutalized. It’s for this reason that I’ve always thought Native and black people should work together to help end each other’s strife, and it’s also this reason that I was confused as to why people were getting on rapper-turned investigative journalist/activist Mykki Blanco’s case. 

Sometime late last week, Blanco put out a series of tweets calling on black activists to remember their Native brothers and sisters who might not have the same outlet and can’t speak to their pain on a national scale like the black activists have been able to do. I only caught news about Blanco’s statements secondhand, with some decrying Blanco and others tweeting in support. I wanted to see what the fuss was about, and instead of expecting something that would cause ire, what I found were reasonable statements. Statements like:

 

 

Of course, some people let Blanco have it for literally no reason. From the comments I saw (and the comments Mykki chose to address), the dissenters were mostly of the opinion that Black Lives Matter is the only movement of oppressed people that matters in the U.S., and that Native people should find their own leaders to speak for them. Even worse is that some actually went as far as to say talking about another non-white ethnic group’s issues were playing “Oppression Olympics.” This is just another way of saying “All Lives Matter,” something the Black Lives Matter group hates to hear from white mouths.

Thankfully, there were many people who were excited by what Blanco tweeted and tweeted back how their minds were opened to the Native struggle. Many said they would include it in their Black Lives Matter cause. What I’m perplexed by, though, is why the dissenters would say that talking about Native American issues is somehow hijacking the movement, when, in fact, black activism does have the nation’s attention. Why not use the national spotlight to focus on how every non-white group in America has been negatively affected by white supremacy? Along with that, why not welcome Native activists into the fold? We’ve welcomed Asian activists into the fold, haven’t we?

“But then it wouldn’t be about Black Lives Matter! It’d be All Lives Matter!” Well, Imaginary Person, all lives do matter at the end of the day, technically speaking. I get how that statement is usually said to negate discussion about the mobilization of any group—I’m not saying it that way, because I know the discussion doesn’t just end at saying “All Lives Matter.” And perhaps we’d have to change the title or something. But Black lives aren’t the only lives being affected by white supremacist views and white supremacist policy.

Native lives have been wiped out to about a fourth of their numbers (if not less) since settlers came to America. Native lives continue to be ignored today, despite many Native women going missing, sexual assault crimes against Native women, and Native suicide rates being exponentially high, not to mention cultural aggressions like appropriation and Hollywood caricature (the most recent example being Adam Sandler’s The Ridiculous Six). We shouldn’t think the focus on our problems will diminish just because someone asks for a discussion on Native issues to take place.

Mykki also tweeted irritation at “hashtag activism”:

I’ve seen a lot of activism, hashtag or otherwise, in my Twitter feed, and I have to say I’m of the same mindset. To me, there’s a difference between using a hashtag to elevate a cause and using the same hashtag just to be on the bandwagon.

There are those out there who do use hashtags to create awareness, and participating in that awareness is cool, in fact, it’s encouraged. But at the same time, there are those out there who are just using the hashtags to seem trendy. And some of the things I’ve seen out there, like posting some imagery and video for shock value rather than to actually inform and overt tweeting of “facts” that might not be facts, gets on my nerves.

Don’t get me wrong; imagery and facts are helpful to mobilize. But sometimes, there’s just too much going on and all that multimedia can causes psychological trauma.  And untrue facts only dilute a movement’s cause, but untrue facts and multimedia also give people lots of clicks, retweets, likes, whatever. You can quickly become popular for posting things like that, which can be seen as a dangerous thing, because I’m sure there are some out there are in this just to be popular and “with it.” For those who are bandwagoners, perhaps their annoyance with Blanco requesting for focus on Native lives is, actually, their fear of their bandwagon being asked to adapt, and they don’t feel like adapting.

Overall, I don’t think black activists should feel offended by the idea of including Native voices in our narrative. Let’s not forget that so many of us will preach to the mountaintop about your “Cherokee princess” relative (or, in my case, my great-great-grandfather, supposedly), but won’t think twice about the actual Native people living in horrible conditions, who need help getting better access to some of the things we black people —yes, us, who are also oppressed—have access to, such as the ability to garner the national spotlight on our issues. It shouldn’t take invoking a real or not-real ancestor to humanize the Native cause for some black people, but if that’s what it takes, then looking at it that way should show how their fight is our fight as well.

Even if you don’t have Native blood in your background, the Native fight is the same as our fight, which shares similarities with the fights of other oppressed groups in America. All of us who have been affected by white supremacy should work together to end that dangerous mindset, since two  of its key tenets is to make it seem like non-white groups have to compete against each other and to keep groups separated so there won’t be a revolution.

ADDENDUM: A day later, and I’m astounded as to the amount of irritation this post caused. Thankfully, despite the fact that I write critically about racial things and popular people like Beyonce and Nicki Minaj, I don’t receive much BS in my Twitter notifications (I hope it has something to do with how I explain my points), so what’s “a lot” to me isn’t a lot to someone else. But still, I’m surprised I got the outrage I got.

First and foremost, to all who read this (especially to the people I muted): My blackness is not up for argument or debate. I am black. That is how I have identified myself for all my 27 years of living. I’ve dealt enough with black kids looking at my sideways for speaking “proper,” hanging with a multiracial group in high school, and for having long hair because, in some of their minds, black girls couldn’t have long hair (the long hair part itself could be its own post, since it’s only been recently that I’ve learned to accept my hair as a part of myself). It’s always easier to deal with negative points of view when they come from outside your race; it’s always more hurtful and disappointing when those points of view you’re fighting in other people are said to you by the people —your people — who are supposed to understand.

If you met me, you’d realize that despite my not being quick to talk at first, I’m probably one of the most Black Power people you could find.  I will be the first person to say that yes, Black Lives do matter. Yes, corrupt police should stop killing us. Yes, racist policies in the criminal and penal system need to stop.

HOWEVER. Me being black and saying “Black Lives Matter” DOES NOT IN ANY WAY preclude me from saying that the lives of Native Americans, Asians, Middle Easterners, etc., matter. I know there’s an argument out there about not co-opting the “X Lives Matter” formula when it comes to other groups to keep the Black Lives Matter movement un-appropriated. You can use whatever words you like. But what I’m getting at is that while I do say Black Lives Matter, I’m not prohibited from saying that the struggles of other oppressed people are 1) something we as a society should be discussing and 2) are intertwined with our struggle.

It seems like some folks out there want to believe that African Americans were the first minority to get shafted from white supremacy. If that’s the case, where do they think the Thanksgiving controversy came from? The controversy isn’t about the myth of happy black people helping white settlers! It’s about the myth of happy Native people helping white settlers! I’m sorry to point out history, but Native people were the first people in America!  They were the first white settlers tried to enslave. They have endured many hardships, from having to see their leaders fall, either in battle or by capture, having their land taken and being forced onto unfamiliar territory on reservations, to being forced to attend re-education schools. The power that was at work doing this to them was the same power that kept Africans and African Americans enslaved! How does this history equate to Native and African American history not being intertwined?

Saying that black people weren’t the first oppressed minority somehow had some thinking I was negating everything black people have been through. I don’t get how stating historical facts is somehow wrong. What kind of narrative do they use to justify getting mad with someone who has studied history and continues to study history?

Perhaps, some got misled when I stated that the specific Black Lives Matter movement include mention of Native issues in their fight. On the outset, someone could be like, “That doesn’t make any sense! Why include Native issues in black things?” But, if we use critical thinking, we’d realize that there are a lot of other racial, social, and cultural issues that need (and should) be included into Black Lives Matter, because there is more than one type of black person in America. 

Let me repeat this: There is more than one type of black person in America. 

Let’s take a look at a person who is both black and Native American. If you go to Facebook, you’ll find several groups devoted to just such a people. How would they fit into Black Lives Matter? How does Black Lives Matter address their concerns, which involve racism they face from society, not to mention the law, for being both black and Native?

What if this person wanted Black Lives Matter to rep black Natives and the unique issues they face? Or, to go even further, what about about Afro-Latinos? Or biracial/mulitracial black people of any race (Native, Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern, white/European)? Is it right to make them conform to just being “black” in order to get their voices heard? Is it right to keep the societal thing of making someone conform to one race even though they are a person with a diverse background?

“But it’s still Black Lives Matter!” You might say. “We’re just talking about people who are 100% black!” Well, that’s already not completely true, because if you’re a descendant of slaves, you’re not 100% black. Evidence: your last name, the name of a slaveholder. So let’s acknowledge that off the top.  And honestly, just like I wrote yesterday, many a black family has stated proudly how they have Native ancestry in their blood, whether it’s true or not. If you know it is true in your family, then are you getting to know the issues that side of your family faces?

But who’s to say a black group can’t rep other issues alongside black ones? The NAACP is short for “The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.” This is an American group, and I point that obvious fact out because of the use of “colored.” This isn’t Britain, in which the term “black” was historically used for both African and Asian (particularly South Asian) people. In America, “colored” is used for “black people who were descendants —or were formally—slaves.” However, the NAACP has always had people from other ethnic backgrounds in its organization, and today, as we have seen through their Image Awards, they honor a diverse range of movie and TV stars, musicians, and activists whether they’re black or not. Today, it seems like their use of the NAACP is for the advancement of all oppressed or displaced people, not just black people.

To be a little more contemporary, let’s take a look at the Dream Defenders. This group came on my radar during the Trayvon Martin case, yet they are not a group that only deal with black issues. They are a multiracial, multiethnic group that is, as their website states, “an uprising of communities in struggle, shifting culture through transformational organizing.” Also, unlike a lot of Twitter campaigns, also have a list of goals and demands that speak to a broader, more global sense of community, a sense that includes black lives as well as the lives of other oppressed people:

(note the part I’ve bolded)

  • We believe that our liberation necessitates the destruction of the political and economic systems of Capitalism and Imperialism as well as Patriarchy. We believe in People over profits. We believe that nonviolent resistance is “the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom” and are fundamentally committed to nonviolence as our means of struggle against a violent oppressor.

  • We want an immediate end to the police state and murder of Black people, other people of color, and other oppressed peoples in the United States, the immediate release of the 2.5 million prisoners of the United States’ War on the Poor, and trials by juries of our peers.

  • We want an immediate end to all wars of aggression (domestic & abroad).

  • We want a democracy that is fair and protects the right to vote for all.

  • We want free, fully-funded public education for all that teaches us our true history and our role in present day society.

  • We want community control of land, bread, housing, education, justice, peace and technology.

  • We want more. We deserve more. We will organize, train, act and win.

To me, The Dream Defenders are proof that you can be a group that focuses on black issues and focuses on the issues of other oppressed groups simultaneously. Further proof of this: The Dream Defenders’ trip to Palestine to show solidarity with the people in the Gaza Strip. Even Black Lives Matter representatives were with The Dream Defenders in the Gaza Strip! So even Black Lives Matter has the ability to rep the needs of another oppressed group without that group being black.

Also, Martin Luther King himself championed various causes. Of course, we know of his work within the black Civil Rights Movement, but he was also a champion for various other causes including ending poverty, which he was working on with the Poor People’s Campaign, which aimed to help poor people of all racial, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds.  Let’s also not forget how King himself was influenced greatly by Gandhi and even took  trip to India to learn more about what Gandhi accomplished. There’s also Malcolm X, who realized after his trip to Mecca, where he saw Muslims of all races praying, that if he was going to advance the black race in America, he had to be welcoming of all races to make lasting progress. Both these men acquired a broad worldview that only served to help them in their short lives, and could have kept helping them influence others if they weren’t cut down by assassins.

I think I’ve written everything I’ve wanted to write here. The takeaways are this:

1)I don’t take anyone questioning my blackness. I thought we weren’t supposed to be judging other people’s blackness; didn’t folks just get on George Takei for saying what many black people have said about Clarence Thomas? Some black people were getting on Takei for the same stuff they’ve done themselves to other black people, so let’s not do any pot-kettle calling.

2) I don’t take anyone questioning how loyal I am to black movements. I can be loyal to a movement and still want to reach across the aisle and help others. One person in particular wrote me some awful stuff about how “damaged” Native people are and how they have to learn “self love” or whatever first before anyone can help them. What kind of loyalty to a cause asks you to look over another group’s needs?

3) A group can and should acknowledge that not all black people are cut-and-dried “black,” and that their needs should be addressed within black movements.

That is all I’ve got on this subject. The end.

 

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