Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Quantifying Identity- "It Only Takes One Generation"

Story Time:

At a gathering for graduate students in a local bar, the inevitable, icky question of funding came up with people I was meeting for the first time from other departments. My roommie and I explained how ours worked, and part of this involved discussing the nature of graduate fellowships. I clarified that most  of our fellowship students are on one of two that last five years each, while I was a unique case with my two-year-master's-diversity one. Another guy said he was on a Ph.D. fellowship for diversity  because he's Hispanic. I said I'm Native American. He squinted his eyes and asked me, skeptically, "How Native American?"

"Wait, what?" I asked.

"How Native American are you?"

I stared, slack-jawed. Some other gals at the table started to say something like, "Now hang on, it's not like I get asked, 'How woman are you?' and I say, 'Uuuuuh, 98%!'"

"Well," he went on, entirely unphased, "I ask because there was this girl at my undergrad that's 1/32 Cherokee and had a full ride for it. I mean, the girl was as white as white can be, but she claimed this random, distant relative, and got free college, it seemed really unfair."

How cute.

I knew exactly what he was doing- implying that since I'm pale with dirty-blonde hair,  I must be a total poser, milking the system unfairly, etc.

So I puffed up and said, "You want to test how Native American I am? My grandpa was beaten by a priest for speaking Lakota at school, that's how Native American I am."

(Granted, it was actually my great uncle, but I was pissed- same generation, at least.)

"What?" he asked, confused. I repeated and he asked, "I'm sorry, speaking what?"

"Luh-coe-tuh, you know, my tribe's language?"

"Oooh, LAKOTA!" he said, as if he just now got it. 

"YES!" I said, "Lakota. Sioux, Oglala Lakota Sioux, like Crazy Horse?"

"Yeah..." he said, but his eyes squinted again. "So your grandpa?"


"Was beaten?"


"For speaking Lakota?"

"Yeah, exactly, so don't you dare go implying I have no connections to-"

"Well," he interrupted with, "so you got the diversity fellowship, that's great. Mine was a doctoral one, so it was for academic merit and diversity."

So we went from implying I'm "not Native enough" to having no actual academic credentials because I am "Native enough" in a few seconds. 

Now, this dude would prolly have gone off the rails if I asked "how Hispanic" he was. And would have thrown the table at me if I suggested he didn't deserve his fellowship because the only real reason he had one was because  he's a minority. But I'm not that kind of person. So I refrained.

I kind of wish I hadn't.

The above conversation is one indigenous persons in this country have over and over again, even if they have darker skin than I do. It comes in different forms and in different contexts- it could be from institutions testing their credentials; from non-indigenous persons they meet; or even from other indigenous persons themselves. This comes down to blood quantum.

Remember how that guy said, "...1/32 Cherokee..."? I'm sure you've heard people talk of their heritage that way before- "I'm 1/2 Irish." "I'm half Muggle." You know, as a way to highlight whatever portion of their heritage they wish to highlight.

With indigenous ancestry, there's an entirely different connotation.

Blood quantum is the shorthand way of saying "Amount of Native American blood in a person needed in order to 'count' as Native American." Blood quantum laws were set by the federal government and then adopted and modified by individual Nations as a means of controlling tribal membership and rosters. The federal government doesn't mind it, and there are always fights about it in Indian Country. Because yeah, resources are limited, so there needs to be a way of figuring out whose claims of ancestry are "legit" and whose aren't. But at the same time, there are so many problems with it, it's rather deplorable. But nobody can really come up with anything else. So it doesn't change.*

Why is it problematic? Well, remember how I said that guy would have flipped his shit if I had questioned his authenticity? Yeah, that doesn't really happen to any other ethnic/racial minority. It stemmed from cause to discriminate, oh sure, but the opposite happened with Blacks with the "one drop" rule, and now it stands as a means of affirmative action-esque policies. No other minority group has to provide government documentation in order to proclaim that as their identity. None. Period. Nor do they have to pass a gorram background/blood check. I think this is something  that gets taken for granted by other minorities. And I don't think anyone asking, "How Native are you?" (because again, we get asked this all. the. time.) intends to bring this  baggage up, but by invoking the question, they do. And coming from a white person, it feels like, "Fuck you, it's your ancestor's fault you'd even feel the need to ask that." When it comes from a minority, it feels like, "And I bet you've never had to answer the same question, have you? Must be  nice." Even if they  mean well, as if they  just genuinely are curious, blood quantum is an underlying, unspoken  presence in the conversation. And other people just do not understand this. The authenticity  of claims of indigenous heritage is brought into question daily by the government. And that leads to general questions from everyday people, like  that guy in the bar.

Another reason is you have to prove it through documentation of your lineage. So if there's a missing spot on the family tree, PRESTO! go home, you don't count. Have a nice day. It's really easy to get kicked off the roster because of some bureaucratic error, rather than because you actually are not qualified. 

Another reason it's problematic is the rules themselves keep changing. A few years ago, for example, the Cherokee Nation declared it would no longer allow people descended from slaves to count. A whole huge group of people were taken off of the Cherokee roster as a result. And yes, there are economic issues to consider, and they claimed they were doing so in order to keep resources in the hands of people whose blood ran Cherokee, but the Freedmen are descendants of people immersed and bred within the Cherokee Nation's culture. What the Cherokee did itself isn't my main concern, though, but rather why. The fact is, they were having trouble with their rosters and dealing with blood quantum, and kicking some people  off the dole made that easier to do. And other tribes change their rules all the time as their resources shrink and as their lands are encroached on more. Never mind whether those people getting kicked off identify in their heart of hearts as that tribe- it's the bottom line taking precedent over some people because others are suffering.

And that relates to the next reason it's problematic. Again, the rules began with the federal government. And it's entirely colonialist for a government to tell the people it has conquered the rules for identifying as part of that group. The tribes carried those rules over because they didn't have any other model to go off of- legal documentation to prove status? Entirely foreign to indigenous peoples in North America. I don't know how other tribes work, but I know back when this shit was made into law, my people, the Lakota, would accept you if you wanted and earned it. There was no document to sign, you just had to prove you lived Lakota, loved Lakota, breathed Lakota, and would die Lakota. The document thing may sound easier, but it's not- it's a lot more exclusionary to say a person's blood has to be pure enough than to say their heart does. And again, the government doesn't set these rules for any other group, so the only people whose cultures are being defined all have brown skin and have been sequestered onto Reservations.

The main reason this is problematic, though, is that it's an institutionalized, bureaucratized form of modern genocide. 

Think about it.

If a person has to pass a threshold of "Indianness" in their blood before being allowed to claim it as their identity, it's only a matter of time before Native Americans will die off. Even if we keep "breeding" with each other, the way the blood quantum laws are so finnicky with some tribes, if you're a mix of enough stuff, even if it's more Native stuff than white, if you can't claim enough of one tribe's blood, you're out. I'm not into inbreeding, and we shouldn't have to resort to that sort of thing in order to retain the "purity" of our blood just so that the government will be happy. I see no reason why mixed bloods shouldn't count, so long as they believe it in their hearts.

My mom has a saying, "It only takes one generation." Hers was the first generation to grow up off-res on her dad's side. And she is 100% city girl as a result. In one generation, the language, the skills, the culture- pretty much gone in her family.  I have more "Native heritage" than her because I learned how to do things like start a fire and grow vegetables from my friends and "family" out in Washington- and they're white. Her sister and one of my cousins are sort of going back to their roots, so to speak (I think my cousin is trying to learn Lakota, and she works on the res now), but the only way for my cousin's kids to officially count would be for her to marry someone with HELLA more Native blood than she has- and her fiance isn't at all Native American, so that's not happening. So she can immerse herself and her family on the res all she wants, the government isn't going to give two shits unless she bangs a Real Live Indian.

"Why should you let the government decide? If you want to be Indian, be Indian!" you say. Again, I point you to the uniqueness of blood quantum laws. They do not exist for anyone else. So the government has already said our identities need to be codified and quantified, ours and ours alone. There's no blood test to be American- but there's a test to be Native American. Which is pretty fucking ironic, given all of the ridiculously hypocritical nativism arguments being spouted by white people afraid the Mexicans are going to ruin the country. You want  Homeland  Security to secure your borders, do you?

I think that image is pretty telling- notice how those Apache warriors have guns? That's escalation. It shows how we aren't dying off, we're adapting. 

And I say all this as someone that doesn't "count." I'm 1/16 Lakota; that's not enough. My mom's generation is the first to be raised off-res, but the last to make blood quantum.

"It only takes one generation." 

With the birth of me and my siblings and cousins came pretty much the death of the Lakota line  in my family. Unless by some miracle  I meet a nice guy that happens to be Lakota- because call me selfish, but I'm   having enough trouble with men as it is, so I'm not about to limit my search to Lakota men.

But  as resources shrink, as demands increase, blood quantum laws are going to get stricter and stricter. And there may be some ridiculous reversal where they all of a sudden get really loosey-goosey, but in all honesty, I don't think  a swing like that would work. I think there are too few of us left for it to make a lasting difference. And anyway, individual tribes would  have to disappear. Hell, they kind of already  are.


We are not dead yet.  And  yeah, Indian Schools stopped running  a while back, the last being Stewart Indian School, closed in 1986. So our culture isn't technically illegal  any more.  But legacies  of direct violence such as war, rape, and forced removal, as well as indirect violence, such as discrimination and  blood quantum, are doing their job, and I worry that within a few more generations, there won't be enough of us left to hold onto our lands, to keep our cultures alive. 

I wonder what I'm going to tell my children. And it frightens me, and it saddens me, and I mourn for the identity they won't really be able to have. Because how can I tell them they're Native when they're two generations away  from "counting" and every signal they get from the entire United States culture is telling them that? How can I tell them they're Lakota when I already have asshats like the one in the bar going after me? When they're prolly going to look whiter than I do?

It's prolly a good thing I'm single and am nowhere near having my own kids  yet, otherwise I'd have to more seriously think of this shit, and I'd prolly have a huge meltdown.

I get angry when people ask "how" Native American I am.  And I get hurt. And  I'm not really sure how to end this, except to ask anyone reading to think next time they start to ask somebody claiming Native ancestry "how much" that ancestry is. Because it's bad enough we live with the knowledge we're being measured by the government  every day. It's bad enough we know there are government-sanctioned practices acting as the norm today that are gradually killing us off. 

We don't need you reminding  us. 

*I realized after writing this I was almost uncannily channeling this gentleman here, so I figured I should give credit where subliminal credit is due. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wide Open Spaces

I had the weirdest thing happen today, and I figured I could turn it into some deep message to anyone that gives a damn, so read on, if you care.

The seating at my favorite on-campus coffee spot, which  is also attached to a cafeteria, was uber full this morning. I'm guessing it was the rain- I imagine I wasn't the only person with the idea of just camping out and working until my meeting, rather than having to go in and out of the rain a bunch of times. No big deal- it happens, right? So I stood around for nigh thirty minutes waiting for a table to clear up in order to meet a former student about grad school rec letters. As soon as one cleared, I put my stuff down, then hopped over and ordered a yummy hazelnut  latte.  

I had been typing, my coffee cooling beside me, as I waited for less than five minutes when this old dude started putting his stuff on my table in vacant seat (for the student). And  I watched, flabbergasted, as his companion started doing the same thing to the young lady, also typing and with the remnants of a coffee and muffin, at the table beside mine. Neither even asked if it was okay, they just did it. 

I said I was waiting for someone to come, could they please find an empty chair, and the guy at my table said this "isn't a place for students to wait around."

Students, huh?

I corrected him and said that I'm an independent instructor, waiting for a student to show up so we could discuss recommendation letters, and he sat down and said, "This is a place for eating, not meeting," as he pulled his bread (I think pumpkin...? some sort of sweet loaf he got from the coffee shop, at least) out of its little wax baggie. 

I held up my own coffee and said, "I paid for this coffee, so I have every right to be here, and you're also obviously meeting with someone, too, so I see no difference between the two of us." 

He pointed at my laptop and said, "You paid for your coffee, but this isn't a place to work, it's a place to eat." 

"Oh really?" I asked. "So are you going to go around to every single other person on a laptop or whose food or drink is empty and tell them to leave? I'm not moving, sir, I paid for my coffee, just like you paid for yours, and this is a public space, so you can't tell me I have no right to be here." 

He grumbled something incoherent, then turned toward his companion and the two started speaking in another language to each other while glaring at me and the other woman whose table had been invaded (obviously they thought she shouldn't have been using her laptop, either). The other guy got up for something just as my student showed up, at which point  the other young lady offered her table to me. I said, very loudly, "Well, there's someone at your table, too, so that's not really going to work." I looked poignantly at the guy across from me. He glared, then moved to her seat, and when his companion returned, they continued to mutter and glare at me as I started talking to my student about her applications. After a few minutes, they seemed to get over it and I'm assuming started talking about other stuff, although I still couldn't understand  them.

Now these two old men... I don't know if they were professors or what, but  they were entirely inappropriate and rude and hypocritical- I had paid for the space I was occupying by buying that coffee that was still too hot to sip. Further, they seemed to have no concept of how public spaces work, let alone ones on or near a university campus- wherever there's a chair, bench, or some other thing you can sit on, there are going to be people camped out, working. Do they go up to complete strangers at the Starbucks off the highway and tell them to leave because they have a book or a laptop? And there's the fact that they didn't ask. And then being so overt about talking trash about me in another language? 

I mean, I seriously have trouble understanding/comprehending how anyone  would think any one  aspect of their behavior was okay, let alone all of it combined!

Of course, I could offer the entirely opposite story from when I was at an airport Burger King once and this adorable old man  in a suit asked to share my table, and I ended up seeing pictures of his grandchildren, including the newborn  he was about to visit. Same situation, different approach, different results. 

This  makes  me  think,  though.

Because while studying (or at least looking like you are) or meeting  people for official stuff (or at least looking like you are) is totally expected in open spaces on campus, even doing so, gasp, socially (!). I do think I'm kind of judgy about other stuff. Like I find it kind of more than a little inappropriate when I see people asleep on benches or soft chairs around  campus. Our  Union has a whole bunch of couches and cushioned chairs on one of its floors, and I swear, I don't think I've ever been  there without seeing at least one person napping. And that just... I dunno, it irks me and weirds me out. And I feel kind of bad about being  judgy, and I usually end up thinking something closer to, "Oh God, that poor person must be so drained and overworked!" but not  until after, "What a slob!" sits there for a few seconds. But I do know I'd never let myself fall asleep in public like that.

And  here's  another thing that irks me: When say you're at a coffee shop, and there's a table big enough for six, and one person is at it, alone, with all of their crap spread all over the table  so a person would either have to move it for them, or they'd have to do it themselves in order for the space to be shared. Now I understand  that sometimes you're alone  and the only table left is the big one, but why spread your stuff, except to passively say, "Fuck off," to anyone considering  asking to share? Again, the idea of acting that way just isn't brain-wrappable  for  me. 

Where does a body draw the line? When does  a body know  when it's okay to ask and when  it's not?

And I feel bad and a little useless for not really even knowing how to begin to answer that. Except maybe to say, "Follow your gut," and hope it's enough? I mean, I know I usually try to take up as little space as possible, and if I'm alone and it looks like someone else needs to sit, I'll sometimes call out to them and offer my spare seat. And I always, always  ask permission to sit with a stranger.

So I guess for once I don't really have much of a deep point to make. I just know that while I may  be kind of rude in my head, I'm not remotely as huge of an asshole as either of those dudes this morning. And no, that's not a very high standard to use, it's better than throwing my stuff down in front of people and trying to make  them feel like crap.

And I'll also say, albeit slightly bashfully, that I'm kind of proud of myself for not just sitting there silent or, worse, getting up. I stood my ground- by sitting on my fat, Native American  ass, to be fair- even was a little snarky, which isn't something I'd usually expect of myself. So, uh, go team?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Girly Nerdery 2: Cosplay, Cons, and the Intersection of Rape and Geek Cultures

I absolutely,  in my heart of hearts, believe that the way creepers at conventions think it's okay  for them to do their creeper thing at said conventions is a direct result of a combination of both rape culture and the hyper-sexist environment of geek culture. It doesn't matter whether a woman is  fat,  thin, blonde, brunette, white, of color- women are treated like crap at cons and in geek culture.  

TRIGGER WARNING: I'm going to be discussing real sexual harassment I've experienced at an anime convention, as well as bringing up other real-life accounts I've heard of online. 

There are lots  of posts online about how women at cons get harrassed. I think there's a strong misconception that only women in skimpy outfits face it, or only heavy women. I saw this on FB and I think it gets at some of this:
Contra to what a lot of people  on the comments there and  on the place I saw it on FB think, this image isn't about fat-shaming per se. It's about how women of any shape and size are treated like crap at conventions- heavy women, like the woman brave enough to draw this, are made fun of for being "too fat" for their costumes (much like this gal was here). BUT. The strip also shows how women with that "ideal" body type are called sluts and oggled at by the same people, and their "legitimacy" is constantly tested. 

In May, I hosted a bachelor/bachelorette party at an anime convention. Sort of. It was held at the  con, during the con, and myriad  of the  guests did con things throughout the weekend. I didn't- another friend and I got a room together at another hotel, so whenever I was at the convention hotel, I was running back and forth doing things prepping  for the party. So I was never in costume. I did, however, try to be somewhat in cognito by bringing a nerdy shirt for the day  I knew I'd be around  the con more. When waiting for an elevator whilst wearing this  shirt, a very tall, bulky dude that looked like David Bowie in Labrynth, except with  green skin, said to me, "Can I have your autograph?" I chuckled and said  it'd be pretty useless. He stepped closer and said, "Well how about you come up to my room?"

"Ah, no, I'm not that kind of person," I said, backing away toward the larger, open space of the lobby. I stopped parallel with a group of three guys that weren't in costume, but rather really outlandish  hats. They apparently had been watching and listening to the whole thing, because they were sniggering and looking at me. 

"You sure?" Bowie said, taking a step in my direction. 

I shook my head, but my body froze. Bowie glared at me for a moment, then said, "Psh, cunt," as he started to turn  around. The  hat guys started laughing as I bolted.

I found a staircase and took that upstairs.

Then about an hour later, as I was getting ice for the party, a dude in a Mad Hatter (ala Johnny Depp) costume said as I was passing him, "Hey, baby, where you goin' in such a hurry?" tipping his hat up a little as he overexaggeratedly looked me  up and down.

In my shock, I blurted, "Party!" as I started to walk much, much faster, which meant I had to go past him. 

From behind me, I heard him say, "The party's right here!" 

So to clarify, I was propositioned inappropriately not once, but twice, while 1) having absolutely no "provocative" clothing on, and 2) while still being the same shape I've been for ages, i.e. overweight. Yeah, big boobs, but in a shirt like that, plus with the sweater-wrap thing I had on over it, I prolly looked more like a black-and-grey blob than anything else.

Yeah, anecdotal evidence isn't always generalizable, but given the plethora of pieces about harassment at conventions and shady stuff that gets reported then ignored by the people that should care, it's hard to deny there's a problem. And it's obvious there needs to be better security and measures for people to report violations of their privacy or person.

But the misconception that it only happens to hot chicks in skimpy outfits is I think one of the biggest problems. This article from Kotaku has a good cluster of variant incidents, but some "highlights," if you will:

  • A security guard getting up in the grill of a journalist.
  • A game developer kissed a PR gal's head in a bar, and another kissed her neck.
  • Another PR gal was accused of not doing her presumed job of taking a picture with a dude that thought she was a "booth babe."
  • Another journalist had a man take a zoom-in shot of her breasts.
  • One dude confessed to another that his usual strategem of making women to feel down on themselves in order to bed them wasn't working.

One thing all the women in this piece have in common is they either presumably or explicitly weren't even in costume. And you'll notice (if you read the piece) the rather entitled reactions of some of the men- that they have every right to pick up on these women and get in their space, and it's the women violating some social norm by not fucking them or not being pleased with their behavior. 

You know what that is? Rape culture.

I've had countless instances where I was harassed on the street or in a mall or something. I've been followed into stores, I've been cornered in buildings. I've had men call me a "cunt" and a "bitch" for telling them something as innocuous as, "No thank you," (in a very timid voice, I may add). And all this while being overweight, not a "hottie" at all. 

And I've had people that find out ask  me if I was wearing a short skirt or low-cut top. I've had people ask if I fought back when I was raped (and some even say I "must not have been trying hard enough" when I say that yes, in fact, I did). As if I somehow was at fault, or at least partially to blame. I can't win- just by being a woman, I'm both a cunt for resisting, but to blame for not resisting enough. My only purpose is to please men, and anything that goes "wrong" with them is my own doing. 

This  is what conventions are like, only at conventions, it's concentrated and hyperactive. I think maybe  it has to do with the pseudo-anonymity of being there- it's not in the "real world," so inherent assholery and douchebaggery are magnified and less restrained. I think this is intertwined with the sexism in geek culture that gets so adamantly defended by men, too, of course. I've discussed some of this already; and my next "Girl Nerdery" post will most definitely tackle this from the pro-feminist perspective ala Anita Sarkeesian and the backlash anyone expressing dissatisfaction gets.

But men at conventions are, after all, men from the real world, so the contradictory/paradoxical assumptions about women irl translate to cons pretty smoothly. And I think the tight spaces and brief timeframe make the behavior in itself more extreme. If the idea of geek-culture is a boys' network, conventions are the closest to the tangible manifestation of that- so it follows for women at conventions to be mistreated and viewed as subordinate at best, as entirely lacking autonomy or individuality or even humanity at worst. 

There's this entirely false assumption by men at cons that women there are only present to provide entertainment and sexual gratification for them, the men. If women aren't buying into cheesy pickup lines, the reaction is, "Psh, women." If they don't want their picture taken, they're a "bitch." There's no second thought to asking them entirely inappropriate questions like their bra cup size, their sexual fantasies, if they'd go to the man's hotel room- it's deemed "harmless" by these men. 

Women in costumes are called names, judged negatively for being dressed as such, but they're also called similar things for not taking lewd remarks as complimentary. If they voice a complaint, they "shouldn't have been dressed like that, anyway."* And like  with the "fake geek girl" bullshit, they're assumed to now know anything about what they're there for.
Wearing a costume does not equate free gropes or open legs, let alone does the mere state of being female at a convention. Gay or transgendered doesn't mean a person's internal thought process is, "Please, please, make a comment about your semen winding up on my face!" Having ovaries doesn't entitle anyone else to the right to copping a feel. 

And yeah, I think a few reasons people should find this (more) disturbing (than they do) is the overall lack of response from convention personnel, the visceral reactions against anyone speaking out (the comments section on that Kotaku piece, for example, turned into a blob about how the dude that took the camera from the guy that took the boob-picture was the asshole last time I looked, for example- even men  trying to do something about it are attacked), and the way women are basically expected to expect that kind of treatment. Men aren't held accountable, women  are lashed out against, and we're supposed to remain silent. This last is the most disempowering: We're expected to literally take  it lying down in some instances, and it's a big shocker if we don't.

That's rape culture.

And I think one thing that's rather sad about it is the environments within conventions are entirely constructed and created by people, and those people do nothing, or not enough, to create a space free from harassment or violation; and people choose to go to these things without stopping to consider that maybe, just maybe their impulse is inappropriate and invasive. And  why should these guys tone it down? They don't face repercussions! 

Women at conventions aren't there for men to oggle. They're there because they're fans, too. And their legitimacy is questioned- it's a disgusting  double-standard that is entirely constructed at each convention. Wil Wheaton,  bless is nerdy heart, has this great quote from The New Statesman on his Tumblr:
"A man can wear a bow tie and a fez and he's in costume. A woman can spend hundreds of pounds or weeks of her time on an exact replica of an outfit a minor character wore onscreen for five minutes, whilst reciting  the Prime Directive in Klingon, and she's an attention-seeking slut."
I'd go further  and say that, should she decide the comments she's getting are inappropriate and  have the gall to say as such,  she'd be called even worse things. 

Now I've been to two conventions besides the one I talked about above. I was with a large enough array of people each time, and with enough men, that I don't think much, if anything, negative really happened to me- it would have stuck  with me. So make no mistake, I'm not saying every woman that goes to a convention is going to get slut-shamed, made fun of, propositioned, and attacked. But what I am saying is that it happens a lot, and when it does, it's a reflection of the values of society writ-large and geek culture specifically.

And that is rape culture. 

*Nevermind that the most popular female characters are also usually pretty gorram skimpily-clad, but that's a topic big enough for its own post.