Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Adrienne Keene

It's Halloween. I haven't had much energy or interest in the holiday this year. I started grad school in September and since then school work combined with work work has left me pretty much out of the dress up and celebrate loop. If I had time, I'd obviously dress Chop up as Lambchop and I'd be Shari Lewis...

Lane would look so cute in this wouldn't he?
Even though I've been busy, I haven't been totally in the dark about the seasonal discussions of overly sexualized female costumes, instances of black face, and how the entire month of October is now a pumpkin spiced smorgasbord. Unfortunately, what never seems to get enough attention is the undying favorite of dressing up like an "Indian". Ireland Baldwin wins this year's award of just-not-getting-it after she dressed up as the "Chief" from Disney's "totally not racist in anyway shape or form" children's classic, "Peter Pan".
Ireland as "Chief" 

Her responses to anyone voicing upset over her costume choice ranged from the basic non-apologies, "I respect all cultures and would never mock one. I am Cherokee Indian and I am also well aware of what many tribes encountered in the past."  To the more inventive, "Deleted the picture because it was insulting all the poor little white girls who need a racial cause to be apart of for attention." 
Good questions, Pocahontas!

Am I included in the latter? I guess. Ireland is only 18 years old, is famous for having famous parents, one of whom notoriously called her a "pig" when she was a child, and is probably responding harshly out of embarrassment. Whether or not she is actually Cherokee Indian as she said is hard to say because who really knows? None of it is an excuse. But how many of us think this is so bad? Or have even considered what dressing up as a caricature of another culture really means?  

Adrienne Keene, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, has explained it to me through her blog "Native Appropriations". She is a student of Harvard's Graduate School of Education and researches education access for Native students. Native including those of American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian decent. In 2010, she was compelled to start her blog because of a trip to Urban Outfitters and her disgust from all of the "Tribal" products they were selling. Since then, she has educated me as well as other white girls who need attention and thousands of others about what native appropriation is, why it's harmful, and how we can become a more historically aware and culturally progressive nation.

I think most people, like Ireland, would say that they "know" about the atrocities committed against native people when the first settlers came to America from Europe. This past Columbus Day there was a popular post circulating the internet about how terrible Columbus was towards the native people he encountered when he "discovered" America. Many have a grasp on the history of their mistreatment but seem to believe the suffering of Native people at the hands of the Americans is over. The truth however is that this is not a part of our past but an ever present issue today. 

"Indians" exist to us mostly in their stereotypical form. They are mascots, alcoholics, a cross-legged seated position, noble naturalists, brutal scalpers, casino operators, tax-free cigarette and gas purveyors, hipster paraphernalia, and of course, a costume. Whatever "good or bad" perceptions of Native people you may have, they are damaging because they are not real. They are constructions. Manipulations for a twisted fairy tale that we have handed down generation after generation. We have decided that peace pipes, tee-pees, tomahawks, dream catchers and Geronimo are one in the same, "Indian". We know little about the differences in tribal culture, the significance of the headdresses and patterns. Non-Native people are satisfied with the incomplete and inaccurate picture. 

Keene's work directly confronts the belief that "Indian" is an all encompassing term. Her work is not about political correctness. She is offering you truth about her ancestors, family, and own present day experiences. In her installment of the excellent series WELL RED, she recounts the story of her family's farm. After the Trail of Tears, her great-great grandparents were given land in Oklahoma under the Dawes Act. You can read more about it on Wikipedia, but the Dawes Act basically took tribal land and chopped it up into plots for single ownership by American Indians. This land kept their family prosperous and alive throughout the Great Depression. Her great grandmother was given her own farm where she raised her 8 children. Life was good. Then, the county decided to create a man made lake. They flooded out the Indian land. Her great-grandmother was given $870 total for both of the family farms. She had to move her children into town and took a job as a cook in a restaurant where she worked for the rest of her life. My great-grandmother was still alive when I was born, which means this incident of injustice was not as far removed as we would like to imagine our crimes against American Indians to be. As Keene says, 
"So much shit's happened to Indian people."
With all these statistics, this appropriation by Victoria's Secret
is even more upsetting.
And it's still happening today. Since reading "Native Appropriations", I've become more aware of news pertaining to Native people. What I've learned is extremely upsetting. According to the Department of Justice, one in three American Indian women will experience rape or attempted sexual assault. These are just the reported cases as many women are encouraged not to report their rapes. Rape in many tribal villages in Alaska and on reservations throughout the country is as high as 12 times the national average. Rape has become an expected part of a woman's life. The rape culture in America exacerbates these already horrific statistics.* 

And what is our government doing to help? Nothing. If you remember back to a year ago, the House failed to reauthorize the Senate's version of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. This would have given tribal courts jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indian sex offenders for crimes committed on their land and against their people. The House and some Senate GOP members felt this gave the tribal courts too much authority so when the reauthorization was finally passed, it was without this provision leaving American Indian women vulnerable and unprotected. *

I have watched documentaries about the rampant sexual assault of native children by Catholic missionaries in Alaska, a woman's struggle to cope with life on her reservation, corporations dumping toxic waste on American Indian lands causing deadly cancers and illnesses to decimate their populations, and the efforts to regain their Native languages and identities after centuries of abuse. All of these documentaries were set in the present day. This injustice is not a part of our past. And we have to acknowledge that. How do we do that?

To start, let's not dress up or misrepresent Native people anymore on Halloween or in our daily clothes. In the episode, "Don't Trend on my Culture", from The Stream (below), in response to the question is dressing up as an American Indian really as bad as wearing black face, Keene says yes and asks, "Who has the right represent whom?" The history of representation of Native people has historically been done by white actors. How many famous American Indians can you name? I can't name any. Because of this, Native Americans have been kept out of telling their story in popular culture which is why we find ourselves today manipulating their history. Keene says the misuse of their culture has trivialized it and in order for Natives to have a voice, they must play into the stereotypes. She wants more options. 

This is what separates the Native experience from other ethnicities. People like to argue that the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins are no different than the Fighting Irish or the Patriots. The crucial difference lies within who is in control of representing these cultural mascots. American Indians do not have ownership over the teams who use racist depictions but non-Native groups represent themselves. This is the significant difference. 

So what can non-Natives do to positively contribute to the cultural repair Keene is working towards? 

1) I'd say we need to listen and hear what she and others are saying. We need to stop defending our shameful history. And read read read Adrienne's blog! If you don't understand what makes a dream catcher so bad, don't be afraid to do your research. Then tell your friends! 

2) If you like American Indian aesthetics, support actual American Indian artisans. Beyond Buckskin, a website founded by Dr. Jessica Metcalf, profiles American Indian designers and craftsmen so you can be sure your purchases are culturally accurate. Jessica and Adrienne recently spoke out against Paul Frank's native appropriation in a collection last year and were heard by the company! Paul Frank collaborated with four designers from different tribes to produce a first of its kind collection. This was a rare success from a conversation that often proves frustrating and fruitless for both bloggers. 

From the National Congress of American Indians
3) You can educate yourself on the history of American Indians in your community. Since we all "know" non-Natives were not the first ones to live on the land we "discovered", you can be sure there is a rich American Indian history right in your own hometown. Learn about the specific tribal culture of your area. Find out what happened to the people and where they are now. This is probably the only actual way to go about ending the injustice our country commits against American Indians today. And maybe it will change your mind about keeping those harmful mascots that are so prevalent not only among professional teams but throughout public schools. I know I'm going to write a letter to the school board in Jamestown about changing the high school "Red Raiders" mascot. November is Native American heritage month so go and find out what events are happening around you. 

4) Lastly, think not only on Halloween but everyday about the images you are creating about another person or group of people. If you are not a racist and want to be sensitive to the experience of others, don't defend your right to harmfully contribute to injustice. I have to give a shout out to my friends who host an annual Halloween party called Spooky Boobs. It's always tons of fun but they make it clear to all who are invited, NO APPROPRIATION OR CULTURALLY DISRESPECTFUL COSTUMES. They create a safe, fun, creative, awesome party every year! Hopefully I'll be able attend again sometime soon.

For the happiest Halloween, remember these words from Adrienne

*Facts in these paragraphs can be found in The New York Times

Monday, July 22, 2013

Major General Valentina Tereshkova

Hey. It's me. Julia. And this is my blog, Calista Jones. If it feels as though we've become strangers, it's because we have. It's not you, it's me. I moved to New York City. It's great, but the move itself took up all of my mental energy; job applications and such. But I'm back now. And after seeing Grace Coddington shopping for groceries at Gristedes in Chelsea, and excitedly explaining to my bf who she is, I remembered that I don't want to quit reminding you that women have always been leaders, warriors, geniuses, truth-tellers, explorers, philosophers, and revolutionaries, no matter what the liberal media* would have you believe. So let's keep chatting, shall we?

In the sixth grade, I decided I wanted to be the first woman on the moon. I made this decision because at the time, I felt like that was a job a person in my position could achieve. Kids always imagine incredible things for their futures and the only quality that made me an exception was that I had the understanding that as a female I could set myself apart as the first of something. So I chose the only job that came to mind: going to the moon. I drew my lunar landing on the cover of a mock Time Magazine for a class project. I created a board game called "Pigs in Space" for another project. And when adults would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I'd proudly announce, "I am going to be the first woman on the moon." They'd chuckle and say, "That's great!"

We've discussed my shortcomings in math. This was also true in science, and as much as I loved explaining how I would convince NASA to reopen the lunar program so I could take the first giant leap for womankind, I knew I would never see the dark side of the moon. It just wouldn't be possible for a girl in my position. I resigned myself to not really thinking too hard about my future after that. 

Puffy sleeves for storing xtra O
and stilettos for
lookin xtra fierce!
It's not that I blame adults for not being more encouraging of this goal or that I think if they had I'd be blogging from space. It's just that, I wish I hadn't known this was just a fantasy; no more real than Astronaut Barbie. I mean, who actually owned one of those, right? It was simply a cute imaginary goal I expressed in my extraordinarily nasally voice, to get attention; always my number one priority. 

Everyone got a kick out of it and I wasn't the only girl who capitalized on the novelty of being female. It was sort of a 90's "thing". Even when we'd repeat after Ginger Spice and shout "Girl Power", we knew it was mostly about being sparkly, loud, and jumpy. (Which were actually radical departures from typical accepted girliness: pastel, quiet, and stationary.) Feminism had become a new outfit, a new token of the cute female tween, a simple trend. Engineering, exploration, and education weren't necessarily required.

There wasn't a seat for me on top of a rocket because why should there be? I can't point to the exact moment I was taught this, but I have a distinct memory of learning about Christa McAuliffe, the teacher selected for a shuttle flight, and being made to feel that if she had just stayed in the classroom, she wouldn't have blown up in the Challenger disaster. Obviously, that was an oversimplification but it was what I deduced from the adults who were teaching me. She was denied her bravery and sacrifice by retroactively being told to stay in her place. I had never heard of Sally Ride, couldn't name another female astronaut, and most certainly not of Valentina Tereshkova. Space was not a woman's place.

Let's chat about Hillary for a second. You know who I'm talking about. The next President of the United States, Hillary Clinton (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)  Let's not get too excited because there are other matters to discuss, but, Hil wanted to go into space too when she was young. She even wrote a letter to NASA to inquire about how one would go about becoming an astronaut. You know what NASA told Hillary, the next POTUS? They told her that girls can't go into space. Or they sent a list of requirements for space travel which would have precluded women. No one is really sure but I don't think there is much distinction between the two letters. Her critics say she obviously didn't want it enough but it seems like an impressionable teenage girl, even one with as much tenacity and determination as she, would feel discouraged by their response. So even without written, documented, proof, take me and Hil at our word, OK? WE WERE NOT ENCOURAGED. And it was because we were girls.

Too bad we didn't grow up in the Soviet Union. 

Yes, you read that right. And even though it is not totally sarcastic with regards to this post, it is obviously not too bad that we did not live in the USSR. And still don't. See, Pussy Riot.
BUT, Russia did do one thing right during the height of the space race. They sent Valentina Tereshkova into orbit. In 1963. 1963. As well versed as I am in feminist history, I had never heard of her until the 50th anniversary of her 3 day mission. I know it's important to know that women weren't allowed to do anything throughout history, however, I feel like it's also important to know that there's never been a time when women were doing nothing. How had I never heard of her until my 28th year of life, two years older than she was during her historic flight? 

Valentina was one in 5 women selected out of about 400 who applied for the female cosmonaut program. This means that not only were there 4 other women cosmonauts, but hundreds of others were brave enough to try out for a chance! That's amazing because even though those women didn't go into space, they put their names down to do something that few at the time had ever done. Men or women. To me this is a tangible example of progress in the world. Tereshkova had dreamed of parachuting and flying as a child. I'm not sure she could have imagined going into outer space but she was given an opportunity to exceed her childish fantasies despite her gender and social status. We should all know about her. 

Tereshkova was given the flight name "Chaika" which in English means "Seagull". She had a tumultuous three days in space. She was nauseous and uncomfortable the entire time which sounds a lot like my daily commute on the subway. (Motion sickness: another practical reason I am not an astronaut. I can't even sit on a porch swing.) Despite the hardship, she completed the entire mission which meant that afterwards she had spent more time in space than all of the American men combined. At 26, she was also the youngest person ever to fly in space. The data and photographs she collected were used to make new discoveries about our atmosphere, thus furthering all space exploration. She played an integral role in our understanding of the final frontier.

In 1969, around the time the space race was coming to a close, the female cosmonaut program was disbanded and it was over another decade before a second Russian woman would venture into zero gravity. Though she was denied a second space flight, Maj. General Tereshkova went onto become a cosmonaut engineer and politician. Out of about 560 people who have gone into space, she is the 10th person to do so. The first woman out of 40 total throughout the history of space exploration. Her accomplishment is monumental. 

It can be said Russia only used women in their space program to acquire another "first" in the race with the US. They certainly didn't make sweeping changes to their treatment of women overall. However, that does not take away from the fact that several women trained for and one completed an actual space mission. We cannot discredit their achievement. We should also remember that during this time space exploration captivated the entire world and while astronauts wives were gossiped about in our country much like the reality show wives are today, Valentina was awarded medals for her scientific exploration. I wish I knew about her when I was in sixth grade. 

Sage advice from Sally Ride.
Cold War tactic or not, the Soviets saw an opportunity to outdo America because of our gender inequality. Should that not be a lesson for us going forward? A societal weakness that could one day cost us valuable resources, intelligence data, or even worse, lives? Sexism has real, damaging costs. Our journeys into space will have effects further reacting than our Earthly borders. Shouldn't we want as many strong, capable, intelligent leaders as possible in order to make the greatest gains?

Elsa with her astronaut gear.
Before I left Chicago, I went to the Adler Planetarium with my best friend Jenny and her family. It was as educational for me as it was for her 5 year old son and 2 year old daughter. It became apparent that going into space will become a lot more realistic for their generation than it is for mine. We watched a documentary called "Space Junk" and spoiler alert people of Earth: we've already managed to pollute the orbit Valentina traveled. I didn't realize how many satellites are already required for powering our day to day systems and it seems that once we pick up our intergalactic litter, us normals will be circling the globe before we know it! I may not go to the moon, but I might take a commercial space flight some day if they develop a motion sickness pill strong enough for me. Maybe Captain Elsa will be piloting my flight! 

Can someone send me a Lego figurine of all the women I've written about so far? 

*Read the first line of the NYT linked article. Read this rebuttal. Accept that I love appropriating Sarah Palin phrases.