After my post on the Conquistabros and Navajos party at Harvard, I fired off a few angry emails to the National Chapter of Sigma Chi, linking back to my blog. When the apology came out in the Crimson last week, I assumed that was it. Yesterday, however, I received a personal response to my angry email from an officer at the National level:
Dear Ms. K,
I am sorry you were offended by the chapters theme party. While the theme was felt to be insensitive, I can assure you the men of the Harvard Chapter of the Sigma Chi Fraternity meant no harm by it. I too have a native lineage and I can assure you the chapter will be dealt with appropriately at the local level. It is my understanding that they have already issued an apology for their insensitivity, and I am sure they will think twice about the message their themes may relate in the future.
(I took his name off because I don’t want to totally humiliate him)
So I’m not going to completely tear it apart, and I do realize he was trying to be nice–but there are a couple of things I’d like to point out that are classic responses to racist acts in society’s current framework of “colorblindness.”
First, the phrase “I’m sorry you were offended” instead of “I’m sorry they were offensive” (which, to be fair, Sigma Chi totally did use the second phrasing in their apology in the newspaper) implying that I’m being “overly sensitive,” rather than that there could have been an actual problem. This is then putting the weight of “proof” on the subject of the racist act, rather than the actor, which happens all the time in incidents of this kind.
Then, “I can assure you…they meant no harm by it”–intent, it’s effing magic.
and finally, the “I too have native lineage”–minimizing my identity and my response as a Native person. That’s actually the common response to anyone confronted wearing an “Indian” costume, “but I’m Indian too! My great-grandma was a Cherokee Princess!” It bothers me to no end, because there’s no easy response. I can’t just be like “no, you’re not.” I usually think of something along the lines of “you may have Native heritage, but I have close ties to my community, and I know my elders would be very upset by your [comment, costume, etc].” But the dismissing of my opinion because you’re “native too” doesn’t help anything.
If you want more info about “Colorblind Racism,” this is a great book we’ve been reading for my Critical Race Theory in Education course: Racism without racists: Colorblind Racism and the persistence of racial inequality in the United States by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. Definitely a great resource.
But am I glad he emailed me back? Absolutely. Am I surprised at the language in the email? Absolutely not. Anything else would have been far outside the societal norms we’ve set for dealing with issues involving race. One step at a time.