Monday, February 01, 2016

EJ David: "We don't want people to not see our color, but to value our color as equal to theirs."

EJ David is speaking.  [This talk was outstanding and is well worth reading this whole post.]

Thanking, all the folks who made this possible.  The folks at First Alaskans.  The room at Egan Center is full.  

My culture - core value is Kapwa -  "a shared inner self"  we are all connected, who one exists in another.  You are all my kappa.

[Warning:  This is a rough transcript of DJ's talk]
I was born in the Philippines.  A place colonized by Spain, then by the US.  Grew up in context of Western ideas.  Common for light skin Filipinos to see dark skin as ugly, unacceptable.  Regard English fluency as intelligence.  Everything made in USA regarded as good quality and Filipino items lower quality.  And I bought into it.  No choice but to absorb it, like air.  It was my world.  I  hated my brown skin.  I stayed away from the sun.  Thought I had to learn perfect English.  I lost my sense of kapwa with darker Filipinos.  I internalized the oppression of my culture.  I wanted to separate myself from the Philippines, to be in Disneyland, New York City.  My dream came true as teenager when I moved to Barrow, Alaska.  

Not exactly Disneyland or NYC.  Lessons I learned in Barrow.  I love Barrow because it's where I began to wake up.  I saw how the Inupiaq people value their culture and world view and began to ask why I didn't have that.  Filipino is born wanting to be white.  I also saw the struggles of our Inupiaq brothers and sisters.  Became conscious of discrimination I faced because I saw Inupiaq people faced.  I realized we aren't born hating ourselves.  Racial oppression was the teacher.  How does it affect all of us.  

Developed a lot of relationships.  Five main thoughts to share with everybody:
1.  Racism still exists, even in Alaska
National conversation on racism now.  It didn't go away and suddenly came back.  Racism just went underground, became more subtle and hidden.  Still very real.  Just not on the national consciousness.  Took recent tragedies to bring it back to national consciousness.  
But not here in Alaska.  Most common reason  - "Who cares what's happening in Lower 48 cause there is no racism here in Alaska."   On FB page someone wrote, we should not make a problem where there isn't one.  Anchorage has the most diverse neighborhoods.  Alive and well here, more subtle, but here.
Comes out in Social Media.  After Mike Brown tragedy, many Alaskans commented - they should be disappointed their son was a thug.  And more.  Lots of nasty comments.  Refugee brothers threatened last year, messages painted on their cars.  Messages to immigrants, like me, that we aren't wanted.  
Justice - Fairbanks 4 in prison for murder they didn't commit.  But 4 men who were caught on camera killing an immigrant.  White man texting who hit native man, got 18 months.  Supreme Court justices who question native links to their villages.  
Racism alive and well in Alaska.  Racism not dead, it's deadly.  Communities already suffering, maybe even dying, of it and we don't even know.

2.  We need to become aware and address modern forms of racism - these more subtle, invisible forms of racism.  Can't just focus on the outrageous.  We notice them.  I'm not surprised, because in touch with reality, we know it exists.  What is threatening to me is the seemingly large number of people who are emboldened by those outrageously bigoted statements and actions.  We are bound to have outlyers, but what scares me is the seemingly large numbers of people who agree with the hate.  I feel surrounded by hate and bigotry. We have to address the invisible, subtle racism.  That's the part that lets racism hide and even come off as acceptable.  It leads us to question our reality, our experience.  "Did I just experience racism or am I being overly sensitive?"  We blame ourselves for being offended by it.  Instead of changing system of racism, we change ourselves, internalizing our oppression.  These racist conditions do not allow us to reach our full potential.

3.  A colorblind melting pot ideology is problematic.  Easy solution is to not see race.  Like seeing race and color is racism.  On the surface looks attractive.  Catchy buzzwords.  Seeing race is not the problem.  Racism is.  Seeing color isn't why racism exists.  Pretending to not see color doesn't solve racism.  It doesn't bring people of color up to be equal.  Color blindness denies our existence, our experiences.  Our racial identities are part of who we are and our connections to others.  We don't want people to be blind to them.  Don't want people to ignore these parts of us.  We are proud of who we are, so we want people to see and respect the entirety of who we are, including our color.  We don't want people to not see our color, but to value our color as equal to theirs.  Colorblindness makes race a topic we shouldn't talk about, which means we can never address and solve racism.  Says we should all be the same, all blend together, ignores what makes us unique.  The melting pot concept tries to erase us, erase our culture, our race.  MLK's dream to be judged not by the color of our skin, but the quality of our hearts.  Not because he didn't value the colors, but because he wanted them all to become equal.  Rather than become color blind, we should be come race conscious.  Research seems to support that.  Being colorblind can lead us to thinking, feeling, and behaving in very biased was.  Research suggests we need to become more racially aware to become aware of our biases and privileges.  We need to become color conscious, not color blind.  We are able to hold multiple world views, we don't have to just hold one.  We don't need to become just one.  We can learn to respect multiple world views.  

4.  Seeing and celebrating diversity is not enough.  In Anchorage we talk about how diverse we are and how awesome we are.  But we also need to ask, who are the people in power?  They do not reflect the diversity we are talking about.  We have never had a non-white governor or mayor.  Assembly members don't even come close to the diversity we are so proud about.  This tells us that racial equality is a problem.  A part of racism is power, so this power imbalance shows that racism is alive.  Look at all the stats - education, health, justice system, socio-economic status, types of jobs.  All these disparities are here.  Further, racism is very common here and affects all these health concerns - nationally and locally.  Research shows all this.  Negative health impacts of racism is intergenerational.  How do we move our communities forward?  How do we make our leadership reflective of our community?  How do we go beyond galas and celebrations?  How do all of us get opportunities to reach our full potential.  
Over the years I've had friends tell me, "Hey EJ, why are you still talking about racism?"  Hate the game, not just the players.  Yeah, I hate the game too.  Let's change it and make it better.  Let's make it fair, equal and just for all groups.  

5.  Acknowledge, see how we are all connected, all kapwa.  Let's remember our shared inner selves, our shared humanity.  Remember and acknowledge all the social identities we have.  Not just racial oppression, also sexism, homophobia.  Not unique to people of color.  Not related to racial and ethnic groups.  Also experienced by many groups in US.  Women.  LBGTQ community.  Need to make connections between our experiences to the experiences of other groups.  See all oppression and see the enormity of it.  And develop desire to overcome it.  

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