Friday, November 11, 2016

Who I am and what I am doing with these posts

This writing is an offering without ego attached (or with a promise to deal with my ego/sense of control when it comes roaring up so you don't have to). It is an offering, a conversation about how to shift white conditioning and its security system of white supremacy with racism as its strategy.

This offering is not about getting it right, it's about saving my life, the life of my child and her maybe children, the life of my partner, my family, and my loved ones ,those known and unknown, those of you whose lives were already targeted before this election. It is about finding better ways to fight, about being rigorous for all of the ways in which whiteness keeps recentering itself in my own body and the world around me, and it's about remembering that if I try and do this by another more personal progressive version of the police state, then I might get short term gain but zero long term transformation.

This offering is grounded in my own sense of purpose, my understanding of what it means for me to be in this life. I am the child of my ancestors and their decisions, whose survival choices and lack of choices were part of creating the world that I inhabit today. I am here because they lived. We are here because they helped build or else stood by without acting or withdrew from the struggle for justice. We are here because sometimes they fought and stayed in but it wasn't enough.

And so I call all of them: my father's two different Italian family lines, the Grappones who lived for generations in the town of Gesualdo, and who came to the US at the turn of the 19th century to the 20th, settling on Lenni Lenape land. I particularly name my great uncle Romolo who, although I did not know him well, once told me that if he had his choice, he would have gone back to Italy because, as he said, this land is not our land. I am not white, he said, but my children are and I don't know how to stop it.  My father's other family line, the Raffos, came slightly earlier and were from Sicily originally and then migrated north to Genoa. I have met a Raffo family who, upon first arriving in the US, looked along the racial line and said, well, we are more like them than them and so married into families in the Black south. That was not my family line.  I have stories of anti-Italian bias experienced by my family. I have stories of struggle. But by the time my two Italian family lines got to my generation, we were already well in the trade off of culture/language/history for the empty promises of US whiteness. First, these families benefited from colonization as new settlers, living in cheap New York housing for new immigrants, land that was only cheap because of how it had been taken. Both of these family lines benefited from the  racial policies of the 1950s where actions like busing and changes in public education helped to consolidate this generation of immigrant descendants into white people. 

I also bring in my mother's two lines, the German and the Anishinabeg/French Canadian. I am the great grandchild of the Sieferd's and Friedel's, German Catholics who came in the mid to late 19th century, settling just outside of lands that are the traditional lands of the Erie people, what is now Cleveland, Ohio. Buying land as farmers and, for the space of a generation and a half, becoming rich off this land through what it produced and then later through its sale. Being German and based on when they emigrated,  their access to whiteness was more immediate than the Italians. Many of them then used this access to join and become leaders in the powerful labor unions of the early and mid 20th century, participating in the class consolidation around whiteness, when unions fought to keep out the Black workers who had come north with the Great Migration. This is just one of the ways that my ancestors participated in the ongoing evolution of white supremacy. I particularly bring in my great Grandmother who had the Sight. I am the child of this family line that, today, shows up as pissed off white working class midwesterners looking for someone to blame for their pain. 

And I am also the grandchild of my maternal grandfather, a man without a birth certificate who told me stories when I was growing up about his parents as they left their reserve at the turn of the century to escape the boarding schools being set up in Canada, left their home/culture/language/land in order to keep their children. I am the child of the stories he told in secret, not shared across the family as stories we all had in common, some of us having pieces and some of us having more. These are stories I also didn't share until a Native friend looked at me and asked, Susan, do you want the genocide to win? Ever since then I have worked to find out as much as I can about my grandfather's people, about my people, the Anishinabeg, and to not use my whiteness to turn "Indian" into a nice box that I get to claim but to instead, be in deep relationship to this history, listening and waiting for right action, so that, as with all of my family lines, I can do the repair that caused harm.

I claim all four of my grandparents and their parents before them and I am responsible for and accountable to what their choices and lack of choices created. I am their child..

In each of my family lines I am either the 3rd or 4th generation from arrival into this country or from beginning the journey of hiding.  This telling is also my own, not necessarily how my  brother or mother or other family members would tell these stories. This is part of what is broken. It matters when we don't know who we are and where we come from; who our people are and what they have done. White supremacy thrives on the confusion this not knowing brings.

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