Thursday, August 28, 2008

And now I've gotten all abstract.

As a respite from the Democratic convention, which I am of course watching, but watching in a nervous, not-hopeful-about-the-future-but-having-no-alternative way, I'm going to post some thoughts from my notes related to one of the panels on the second day of the Positions Colloquium.

There was a lot I wanted to talk about after the panel on "Alpha Bets: Language Gambles on Land," but didn't. This panel was moderated by Rita Wong. Presenters were Juliana Spahr, Pat O'Riley, Reg Johanson, and Peter Cole. I'm either one quarter or one eighth Comanche on my father's side. My father looks native American, but I don't, really. And getting accurate information about it is impossible--my father doesn't even know the name of his grandfather (my aunt claims it was "Julius Caesar Graham" and that he had over 30 children), and whatever native American heritage I do or don't have came from my father's mother, anyway. My father's distinctly not-white appearance was helpful when he was a hostage at in Baghdad during the Gulf War. He wore an Iraqi soccer team t-shirt (which my brother had, for a while. I wonder where it is?) and wandered around Baghdad without incident, buying food and noting the positions of anti-aircraft weaponry.

I suppose that discussions of race and class always interest me and make me uncomfortable. Really, I am as white and WASPY as can be. Except that I'm not. I'm not-white enough to have official tribal affiliation (which my brother successfully applied for, was going to accept, and then didn't), and I've never been baptized. My mom comes from a family descended from Jamaican, slave-owning creoles (my great-grandmother called the African Americans who worked in the nursing home where she lived "darkies") and my dad is a cracker Comanche who lived and worked on reservations in his 20s. I grew up in South America, the Asia-Pacific, and Maine. I tell people I'm from Washington, DC, but that isn't true. Unless you're a diplomat, many ex-pat communities are usually made of ambitious working-class people who want to get the hell out of their town and country, and who enjoy a standard of living totally impossible for them if they still lived at home. Class is weird among ex-pat communities. It's an old story though. Certain Europeans left Europe for the colonies in order to make their fortunes, or at least to be more economically and social mobile then they could ever be in their home countries.

So, what's my point (which is related to the actual panel discussion, but which has now wandered far from it)? Maybe that I approach conversations about race, class, and language in an overly hopeful way. However, the problem is that everyone needs to spend a lot of time explaining why they have a specific, unique identity (as I just did), and why that specific, unique identity is relevant, has been ignored, or can't really be talked about. Then the conversation moves to one of two places, usually: 1) we want to be more recognized and integrated into mainstream societies or 2) Mainstream societies suck and we don't want to be integrated into them and we should resist integration. Eventually the conversation might end in this way: some integration is inevitable or even desirable. However, we must be wary of it, even when it benefits us(especially then) and resist it simultaneously.

3 comments:

Kraig Grady said...

native american blood is stronger than white blood, so only a little goes a long way, At least this is what Gary Farmer, activist, told me. The white culture wants you to disguard it. In the 30's, many were coerced into giving up their traditional ways and so many lost touched with these roots. My great grandmother was Chipewa and lived from 1840 till 1946, my mother described her as the meanest woman she ever met. The one thing i miss most in the states is my sweatlodge which i had for 12 years. here the land vibrates quite differently, but has made me also aware how the land in the US does not do so like Europe. The blood that moves with the land is the strongest.

(0v0) said...

Reappropriating the one drop rule? :)

K., you had me from dreams of typsetter apprenticing. What a good vector, your life. Imagining it makes me happy. CD chapbooks! Ultimately maybe, the raised letter is my favorite.

I found you googling "Ashtanga Anusara Lacan." Sorry. Not that these things should be mixed together, but I guess I've done it too.

Warm regards from Santa Monica, where alienation is also a decreasing trend and South America and DC are always in my background too,

tmorange said...

julius caesar graham - a character out of opal whitely perhaps?

my great-grandfather was actually martin luther orange. he converted to catholicism to marry his third wife.

t.