An Acceptable Ignorance

December 8, 2010 — 40 Comments

AK note: when I get frustrated in my courses at school, or I have a lot to get off my chest, I write narratives like the one below. They’re an outlet for me, I write them like I’m writing to post them here, but then I usually keep them to myself, in a folder on my computer. I know it’s outside of my normal content for the blog, a bit more personal and reflective rather than snarky and sarcastic, but I thought I’d start sharing some of them, interspersed with more normal content. If you find this totally boring and annoying, let me know (comments are anonymous!). But, more importantly, if you have an experience or narrative you’d like to share, send it over. nativeappropriations@gmail.com

I sat in class a few weeks ago, presenting to my small research seminar. I tried to speak in a strong, unwavering voice, relying on my earlier life as a college admissions officer, where talking to crowds was my day in and day out, to mask my state of utter panic and nerves. I was passionately describing the reasons why we, as researchers, needed to be aware and reflective when working with “actors” (this course’s term for “subjects”) who were from marginalized communities, who were at risk for further exploitation and otherization by our research. I drew on examples from early anthropology, I spoke about the painful legacy that research has left behind in Native communities.

I watched my classmates’ faces as I spoke, intrigued at the mixture of expressions around the seminar table. I saw encouraging smiles and nods of agreement, but also wrinkled foreheads of confusion, and a look I can only describe as awe and wonder. I realized that these issues that are at the forefront of my mind every time I even think about my future doctoral research, ethical and moral quandaries that imbue every aspect of my notes and plans, had never even crossed their minds. These simple questions I was raising in my presentation were strange and exotic to them–and I, the quiet girl prone to being cold called for lack of participation, had suddenly become slightly strange and exotic as well.

Later in the class period, my presentation group members and I put a photograph up on a powerpoint slide. It is a photograph I love, one I’ve featured on the blog before. It shows a father and daughter at Montana State’s powwow, dressed in their regalia, waiting in the threshold outside of the stadium itself. The father is on his cell phone, a look of concentration, and perhaps concern, crossing his brow, while his daughter, in her neon-colored jingle dress, looks up at him. I like the photo for the simple clashing of “traditional” and “modern,” calling into question those pesky preconceived notions we all hold when viewing a photo of a “Native American”. We put the photo up as a simple exercise in contextual framing. We asked our classmates to “set the scene”–describe the photo, position themselves as researcher, to write down details, questions, and initial reactions when viewing the photo.

Admittedly, we picked the photo specifically because it would feel “foreign” to most of our classmates, and I was attempting to drive home my earlier points. The other part of me was intensely curious about what their reactions would be, what details they would pick up, what questions they would have.

When we asked the class to debrief after a few minutes of writing, I was taken aback by the responses. “My initial reaction was absolute fear” one young woman stated. “I realized I know absolutely nothing about Native American culture, I didn’t even know where to start.” “I found myself confused and hung up on the details–what is that thing in her hand?[it's her dance fan] why are they there? what goes on at a powwow?” a male classmate asked. Others agreed, chiming in with their own similar reactions. The comments were not rude, they were not even unexpected, but what struck me was how acceptable this level of ignorance was. No one was embarrassed or ashamed by their lack of knowledge, no one found it out of the ordinary. They shared without any hesitation, without apology.

I wondered if I had put a picture of a Black father and child up on the powerpoint, or Latino, or Asian, if the group would have found it acceptable to say something like “I just don’t know anything about Black culture! I can’t even begin to write!” or even if I had chosen a photo from an AIDS-ravaged African country, or an “exotic” National Geographic photo–would hay have jumped right in in their descriptions? I also realize my presence in the room shaped the reactions, obviously my classmates do not want to offend the only Native student in their class. But I still found it odd.

The theme was repeated this week in a sociology course. One of our assigned readings for the week was an excerpt from Teacher by Silvia Ashton-Warner. Ashton-Warner writes about her experiences teaching in a Maori school in New Zealand, and the text is rife with colonial language and imperialist nostalgia, yet it is all framed out of Ashton-Warner’s “love” for her “brown” children, and peppered with her observations about her Maori students and co-workers as intelligent, thinking human beings–ideas that fall far outside the accepted norms of the time.

I read the piece eagerly and carefully, marking my book, taking notes in the margins, writing out reactions and questions. I looked forward to discussion section, ready to bring my expertise on Indigenous education and to engage in a debate about legacies of colonialism in our own education system. I was excited, because after a year and six weeks at my school, this was the first time I had encountered anything remotely close to Native Education in a course. The very first time.

Imagine my disappointment when I arrived to class to find our student “discussion leaders” for the week had chosen to completely ignore the Ashton-Warner reading, focusing instead on our two other readings for the week. Their reasoning was that it was “too much” to cover in an hour and a half, but that we should “feel free” to bring in the reading if we felt like it. Nothing more was mentioned about the piece.

I overheard a classmate discussing the piece with our TA after the announcement. “I was really confused by it!” she said, “It took me almost the whole reading to figure out where she even was. Is this like part of a bigger book or something?” another student nodded “It was hard to figure out.”

This is complete and total conjecture at this point, but I couldn’t help but feel like the students had kept the Ashton-Warner reading out because it felt “too foreign”. It was easier to focus on our one strictly sociological theory reading and the other reading that focused on the Black middle class. I also almost felt that my fellow students were relieved that they wouldn’t be asked to interpret the text. Again, I was amazed at how accepted their ignorance was.

It is experiences like these that jolt me back into reality. I try to surround myself with friends and colleagues who have some sort of awareness about Native issues, or at least a willingness to listen and engage when I share my thoughts. I sometimes forget that outside of the little bubble I’ve created for myself, people go through every moment of their lives, or even an entire schooling experience at my elite graduate school, without thinking about Native peoples or American colonialism for one second. And, frustratingly, our society and education system has deemed that perfectly fine.

Clearly I don’t accept that paradigm, and am constantly inserting myself into conversations, bringing Native issues to the forefront, making every paper for every class somehow relate to Indian Country. But this is much bigger than me, alone, as the only Native doctoral student at my school. I don’t have the solution, and I don’t know how to change an entire nation’s education system and national narrative.

Next semester I’m leading a Native Education reading group, and once I get further along in my studies, I’ll petition to teach a module (a half-course) on some of these issues as well. As long as I’m here, I’m going to make sure at least some of these students realize their ignorance, and realize that it’s absolutely unacceptable.

Adrienne K.

Posts

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10418006673768432832 Erin Dochartaigh

    Two reactions:

    1. Hell yeah, keep sharing this kind of writing if you want to! This is thoughtful, challenging and interesting stuff and I’d love to hear more.

    2. Regarding the reading that was skipped over: I had a vaguely similar situation in a class last quarter. In my social psychology class, at least 95% of the readings were by white folks. The ONE time they assigned a reading by a woman of color (bell hooks), it was optional and it was during a week when everyone was freaking out about getting through a challenging Foucault reading.

    Total fail on the part of the professors, especially when a few of us brought it to their attention

    Okay, 3 reactions:
    3. I wish I had more folks like you in my seminar discussions!

  • http://vegawriters.livejournal.com/ vegawriters

    I really appreciate this post. I just finished a Native American studies class and I was appalled at the acceptance of ignorance in the class. While I’d taken the class to further my own knowledge, my classmates who had no knowledge whatsoever amazed and disappointed me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01735980397503850443 Jessica

    I, too, vote to keep these a regular part of your postings. Your snarkiness is excellent, and I always enjoy it, but this is moving, and important.

    Also, as a former classmate..I say keep fighting the good fight against the nonsense that takes place a little too often at the ed school.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16052055884378768202 redstar

    You are awesome Adrienne. Thanks for speaking these words – I’ve often had similar feelings. Thank you for being such a careful thinker and speaker when communicating with individuals unaware.

    “Our” society is not really our society. We are the least welcome element of our society. We are not just a minority or an exotic race with an alien culture – we ARE America. But the mere presence of a Native consciousness in these institutions of power serves to undermine the lies that justified the creation of this society. If we are remembered, it’s only through guilt or nostalgia. We have become the most invisible people in our own land through no fault of the dominant culture – I have come to believe that people choose ignorance because it would call them to justify their own role in colonization. Thus, it is convenient for them to assume: If they exist, we can’t really exist. People are astonished and scared by our presence because we represent a living strength – an awareness that they thought they could ignore. When in reality, to accept our existence, is to acknowledge a world that existed before the last 300 years. We bring a coherency and clarity with us, therefore, we are a threat.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16052055884378768202 redstar

    Ahha, sorry that was kinda grim. It’s a slow long battle, but opening peoples’ hearts and minds is exactly what you’re doing! Keep it up. Each person made more aware is an important push in the right direction. We deserve to be recognized for our past and future contributions to the world and for our history and struggles!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02445951220140365816 brooke

    not that I can truly understand your particular predicament but it strikes me as similar to my situation regarding women’s rights (and yes, that DOES include all forms of women who don’t enjoy white privilege) I am always stunned at the level of ignorance and (in the feminist arena) at the same time arrogance with which even *good* guys find it acceptable to make sexist comments thinking all is ok when they *enlighten me* that it was just a joke and I shouldn’t take it personally.

    What I find incredibly horrible is that the *foreign* aspect of a cultural context is deterring SOCIOlogy students from reading. Sociology is Immersed in a cultural context and thus one of the most obvious ways of figuring out context and derive at meanigful insights is to check how do other societies deal with this issue.

    BUt the longer I live here the more I understand how that seems never to come to mind in an american context. I always wonder how it came to be that in a checkered society *where people are coming* culturally is never an issue to be looked at….weird…but then, What I know about spanish culture as oposed to finnish can fit in a jar, too…pondering

    And NO, definitely NOt boring. I like more complex thoughts…not that your usual stuff is too facile ;)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13531255069473821550 Ben

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13531255069473821550 Ben

    For what its worth, I thought that was a terrific post!
    Its an amazing pathology, erasing the ‘native’ in settler colonies. I think you’re right, (white) people would rarely say anything like “I just don’t know anything about Black culture!” in the same way they would feel totally comfortable saying it about Native American cultures. Our knowledge(s), from what you write, reflect our politics and our circumstance – it continues to be destabilising to settler societies to acknowledge the continuing existence of Indigenous communities. And so a whole apparatus of ignorance arises which, it seems, you disturbed in class…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16581414874391956648 positive influence

    Firstly, please do keep sharing these personal accounts, I think it helps to enhance people’s awareness/recognition of the cultural/racial/etc issues that you talk about in our everyday lives, and gives us a chance to think ahead about how we might deal with incidents such as this, if the occasion comes up.

    As for the ignorance of your classmates/society in general, well, ignorance is something which creates barriers to real societal progression in many ways.
    The fact is, the majority of people simply are not reflective or conscious enough to think about issues which do not immediately involve themselves, or try to improve their understanding of issues without there being an obvious need, i.e it benefiting themselves.

    People are mostly far too self-centered, but above all, unwilling to accept that they have moral responsibilities as part of a society.
    Modern western society values the individual over the group, this is of course forced upon us for the benefit of capitalism, but nevertheless, the majority of people are not reflective enough, not conscious enough of their responsibility to themselves and the world, to escape this way of thinking.
    This means that people put their own interests first, and are not driven to seek any other perspectives than their own. ‘Society’ tells them that the way they are is perfectly fine…so why challenge themselves?

    The only way to solve this problem, is to MAKE people see that there are perspectives other than their own. MAKE the external relevant. In other words, shake them up a bit, blow their minds. In a peaceful way, of course. Appeal to people’s curiosity…you just have to let them think that they are discovering something on their own terms, for that’s the only way that people will accept truths which diverge from their opinions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16352579302717804143 Itsbugart

    “No one was embarrassed or ashamed by their lack of knowledge. . .”

    On the other hand I think that acknowledging their ignorance was a good thing. Your classmates didn’t try to pretend that they knew more than they did or that they already knew all they needed/wanted to know.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16767522707548871951 Diana Miller

    I am grateful to hear that you presented this information to people that were “unaware” It is so important that these precious seeds of thought are planted even though many will not take hold….Those that don’t are not ready and they are not your responsibility. Let them go and nurture the ones that sprout….They will help plant more seeds….When my friend and I would set up a booth at various pow-wow’s focusing on re-education of Tribal histories….we would evoke responses from the students like “We Haven’t read anything like this” or the reference to “indians” would be past tense as if The People only existed in museums….History was written by non-tribal peoples and most of the time ….this is what is taught in schools starting with the primary grades on up to university levels….It is good that you had that experience….You are a teacher….and ….the pupils will come….Thank-you for all you have done and all you will do….

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03048576220830755440 soonerscotty

    I love this post!!

    I cried throughout most of it. As you are aware I attended the same grad university as you but, in a different school. And you just described my entire experience right down to being the ONLY Native student in the school.

    I cried because it pains me that you’re having to experience the exact same issues. Granted, it’s only been three years since I was there so, I shouldn’t really expect much difference. But, it makes me so, so sad that any of our people have to endure this.

    The post was beautiful and thoughtful in a way I have never ever been able to verbalize for myself or others.

    Wado,
    Love ya kiddo =]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12671964443131533438 Cougarific

    Good for you for writing this and having the courage to share it. You have a great voice that we all want to hear. I live in Canada in Alberta and the racism agains Aboriginal Canadians is absolutely ugly and terrifying. I have to remember that I am who I am, if someone thinks less of me because I am brown, then that cannot be my problem. It is hurtful and can be a daily struggle but I am constantly reminded of my strength and that is empowering. I plan to mentor aboriginal youth and spread the message that THEY get to choose who they are, not how others want to define them.
    Again, thank you for sharing. I feel like I am connected whenever I read your blog.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09245770257633067815 torgana

    Thank you so much for this. I am an alum of the school you attended (although only for a master’s), and I wish I could return and take your module! I was in numerous classes where we discussed race, SES, gender, and ability issues, but these never included Native issues. And when I was there I am sure I would have reacted to your presentation as the students in your class did: unashamed of my ignorance. The ivory tower is often an echo chamber, and it wasn’t until I entered the so-called real world that I learned about my white/straight/ableist privilege and how I make others invisible.

    So please know that your words are powerful, and keep challenging the institution and making your voice heard. You really shouldn’t have to, I realize, but that is the sad reality of the present world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08715870929591609469 silvii tron

    I liked the post, no I loved it!
    Before I visit or settle in a new country (this is my second one) I like to read about the place I’m going to, read up about the culture and in some cases do’s and don’ts.
    I like visiting your site because it educates me and informs me on a culture that is foreign to me but also on one I wish to know more about. I guess I can credit my parents – both from different countries and race, encouraging me to explore, and learn about other cultures and countries so that I have a better understanding and appreciation for diversity.

    I think schools should introduce classes such as yours – it shouldn’t just have to start at colleges. I feel the younger you get students to understand and to be aware, the better.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14328347379621837240 Anishinaabekwe

    Excellent post and thank you/miigwech for writing it! It helps me to know how important it is to take pride in yourself and your culture as a Native person in this world. That in order to survive in the “acceptable ignorance,” in the majority/mainstream culture it is essential to take pride in who you are. This helps me to realize that in all systems educational, government, etc are intertwined and colonial still. Personally, I am committed to walking the Red Road and be proud of myself everyday as a Native woman of mixed heritage no matter what.

    Again, your post rocks!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11880421591605252956 bree

    When I was in grad school I have very much the same experience. There was only one other minority in my cohort. And we both got fatigued from having to explain things. Which is impressive since Im kinda militant and she went to a historically black college.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12015852046857277742 Reema B.

    Very informative, and please do keep such entries coming!

    As an international student here in Boston and a psychology major (where in most classes, I tend to be either the only foreigner or one of a few foreigners) I too notice this acceptable ignorance especially of a culture that seems too foreign (such as mine), I especially noticed this in my cultural anthropology elective class and also in my College Writing class in Freshman year.

    I always sensed some of form of “colorblindness” whether subtle or even overt and particular experiences would bother me especially where a fellow American classmate would talk about my people (I’m an Arab and Muslim) as monolithic. At first I kept thinking that maybe I was being too sensitive but then I read some interesting articles in an education class which confirmed many of my experiences and had a one-to-one discussion with my professor about it.

    I really enjoy your blog and have learned so much from it and keep realizing how much there is that I really don’t know. Your blog made me discuss more about Indigenous issues in the States and I have been getting mixed responses from my listeners (or rather “pretend-listeners”) lol. I’ve also become more interested in Native American cultures and think that as an International student, I cannot truly be serious about learning the history and cultures of this country without learning anything about the diverse Native American groups.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06930063125203710694 Alison

    I thought this post was great, and would love to read more.

    I am from BC, Canada, and I am white. I am completing my undergraduate degree in social work, specializing in child welfare. In January, I will do a practicum with the state child protection agency in Aboriginal Services. It’s really important to me that I am NOT an agent of continued colonial oppression, which is why I read your blog and others foregrounding Aboriginal news and perspectives.

    I have taken a course on Aboriginal Social Work. Other social work courses have spotlighted Aboriginal issues (including my 4th year research methods course), and I’ve focused several papers on these topics, including a paper about Avatar for an anti-racist course which won an award for ‘discourse analysis’.

    Regardless, I still feel I know next to nothing about Aboriginal cultures, and I feel that to say I DO is arrogance. Still, ‘minorities’ shouldn’t have to continually educate people about their cultures, that should be OUR responsibility. You are correct, such ignorance is inexcusable.

  • http://nikolita.livejournal.com/ nikolita

    @ Cougarific – I live in BC (same university and program as Alison above me, actually), and there is a lot of racism here against Aboriginal people here too.

    As others have said, such racism is indeed unexcusable.

    Loved this post too.

  • http://travelpeapod.wordpress.com/ travelpeapod

    Hi Adrienne! I liked reading your post and don’t think it’s out of place. I generally teach undergrads who know next to nothing about indigenous peoples and was suddenly struck with how exhausting it is to deal with this on a daily basis.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02945385659698659077 Julia

    Adrienne,
    This is a terrific piece. Could I cross-post it to Love Isn’t Enough? Let me know what you think. team@loveisntenough.com

    Thanks so much.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06371494629077168194 Chantal

    I really loved this narrative, and look forward to seeing more content like this on the site! Thanks!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17334720354604345690 ~Etta (M.S. Material Sci & Eng 11')

    Thanks for sharing! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16129210217777837909 delux

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16129210217777837909 delux

    I’ve come to the conclusion that for a lot of these ivy league folks, they feel that knowledge’s worth is relative to their awareness of it. The assumption is that if something is worth knowing and relevant, it will already have been handed to them. The concept that there could be worthwhile knowledge that they havent been given a memo about, or that might even uncomfortably contradict what they have already been told is The Truth, is varying degrees of unbelievable. So of course its ok to be so ignorant about native people– to think it might be a problem might cast something– their educations, their world views, general privilege, etc– in a bad light. Or something.

    I think this also is a big contributing factor to the “But you should be grateful that XXX is spreading knowledge about your people” defense that tends to erupt when cultural appropriation in pop culture is challenged.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05721228519900704211 Jadey

    here via Racialicious

    I had a similar experience in my undergrad, when we were doing seminars in a sociology class – the readings for the week were on gender variance and transexuality in a global context, including hijra in South Asian countries and two-spirit Aboriginal people in Canada and the US. I was both excited and apprehensive about what the student presenters would bring to the table (apprehensive for a good reason – this was also the class where the professor began her lecture explaining how offensive the term “berdache” is, then proceeded to use it all the way through the lecture anyway). But when it came time for the presentation/discussion facilitation component (and the discussion was the most important aspect of the assignment), they gave almost the same excuse as your presenters did: It was too intense, it was too complicated, and they weren’t going to talk about it. And then they just sat down, with twenty minutes left to go. I guess they were more comfortable completely bombing the assignment than actually engaging with the material. The professor never challenged them on it. I suppose it might have been a blessing, at least, for them not to talk about it at all than to talk about it in a destructive, ignorant way – I definitely didn’t trust the professor to guide them effectively after her own problematic lecture. It would have been ever worse at a graduate level.

  • http://hypatia-eidos.livejournal.com/ hypatia-eidos

    This is an excellent recounting of your experiences. I look forward to seeing similar content in the future!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08079249414567370468 Georgia

    As a Caucasian, I think part of the reason it is acceptable to be ignorant about Native Americans is that it makes us incredibly uncomfortable to seriously think about what has been done to native peoples. While we eventually freed African American slaves, we’ve never made a serious, large scale attempt to make right what we did to Native Americans. People don’t want to think too much about it, they don’t want to try to explain to their kids that we stole all this land, so kids grow up ignorant.

    I am in no way endorsing this ignorance or saying it’s acceptable, I’m just saying why I think this ignorance exists to the degree it does. People like to focus on the “success” stories. ‘Look! We freed black slaves! But we’re sure not going to give back all this stolen land to Native Americans…’ (Obviously it went far beyond just taking land, but I don’t think white people even want to start to think about things like rewards offered for Native American scalps and such.)

    If it makes you feel a little better, we do talk (here at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs) about Native American affairs sometimes in my classes, but mostly only with regards to tribal management of lands. For example, under the Clean Water Act Native American’s have some leeway over what their water quality standards are on tribal lands will be, but they are still required to monitor and submit info to EPA. We’ve also talked about how to balance federal laws that conflict with Native American traditions- so for example no one is allowed to kill an endangered species of raptor, but if the Fish and Wildlife Service (in charge of Endangered species protection in the US) obtains an illegally killed bird that has a cultural or spiritual value, the feathers are sent to tribes to use in headdresses etc. We’ve looked at some court cases involving Native American traditions- for example the cases regarding Peyote use, as well as ways that Natives managed the land before whites settled it (such as burning underbrush in forest to hunt deer more easily), which can be important when looking at the history of a particular ecosystem. In short, the subject of Native Americans comes up sometimes but we never really discuss Native American culture directly.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09684229592695281847 Michael Mack

    I’m glad you took the initiative to share this. As an older educated urban Indian much of my life experience in relations with others, particularly whites, demonstrates this ignorance. I had to face the fact that America’s institutions regard Indians as a “side” issue, an interesting sub-topic, etc. but generally not “significant” enough to matter or include when “important” subjects arise. Georgia’s comment above touches upon the truth of the matter. Each state’s board of education follows the example set by the U.S. Board of Education, which has s-l-o-w-l-y begun to include more details and Indian perspectives on American history. But until Indians become more active in those state boards and school districts and participate in establishing and changing curricula we can only expect to see the same ignorance.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07945362985988810101 Ashes

    Have you read “Decolonizing Methodologies” by Linda Tuhiwai Smith? It’s an amazing book that grapples with the same questions you do about research ethics in Indigenous communities. I also use it as a primer for folks who have never (had to) think about how they are implicated in research before.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09470434355934557668 Claire

    I really enjoyed this piece and would love to read more like it. I’m a grad student in theoretical linguistics, so while the end-product of our research is pretty abstract, we rely on native speakers of various languages to get linguistic data, and so many of us have research relationships with indigenous speakers and communities. I often feel like there’s an attitude in the research community of “we’re scientists–we’re just interested in the truth–so we’re obviously not racist!” which can really shut down any discussion of how racism and ignorance figure in our classes, research, etc.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13639092368048459949 V-H

    I love you post, please continue posting. It saddening how encourage ignorance towards native culture.We had a discussion in my sociology class and the amount of people who argued that Natives had “red skin” was disgusting. Ignorance should not be acceptable but how can one rid of it when there are so few resources?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12183924406723129765 Waterswaves

    Thank you for sharing this, Adrienne. Please keep sharing posts like these in the future. I’m so tired of feeling invisible but not knowing how to help change things.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14963772326145910073 azizi

    Greetings! I’m an African American woman who just found your blog through a posting at racialicious.com.

    I love your post and agree with what Georgia and Michael Mack wrote about the reasons for the “acceptable ignorance” about Native Americans. I know that I don’t know and am interested in learning more. I’ve bookmarked this blog and intend to be a frequent visitor.

    With regard to your comment that people wouldn’t express acceptable ignorance about Black people as they did/do about Native Americans, it seems to me that part of the problem is that a lot of White people and other non-Black people think that they know & understand Black cultures & Black people much more than they actually do. (By “Black people” in the context of this post I mean “African Americans”, but this comment could be extended to also mean other people from Africa and the African Diaspora).

    I think this is part of White arrogance, and-as mentioned by other posters here, it can be very exhausting trying to correct prevailing misconceptions-not to mention that we are often the ones that get accused of being racist, or “focusing too much on race”…

    Rant over. Thanks again for your post & keep on keepin on!

  • http://aidanabroad.wordpress.com/ aidanabroad

    Funny, Adrienne…my first thought for the pic was, “His regalia looks heavy.” Then, “That little girl is cute.” Then, “Is he on his cell phone?” Pretty mundane… so it’s interesting (and disappointing, but not surprising) to hear the reactions of your classmates. I’d be interested to hear what you said to your class about working with Native subjects.

    As for the readings, as a new teacher this quarter, I must say that I’m guilty of the same thing as your discussion leaders — it took me about half the quarter to figure out how to structure the class time so we actually got to discuss all the readings. I fear I may have annoyed some students by not discussing their favorite article, in the time it took me to get the balance right. But what gets left behind? The messy, tricky, complicated pieces. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and I don’t want to defend it — it’s an ungraceful dodge of some important issues, and I think poor facilitator/teacher training might be to blame.

    Thanks so much for sharing your reflection! It was good to read it. :-) Aidan

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09982096011555921412 scseery

    I hear ya! It’s exhausting, isn’t it? I’ve spent my entire life following the example my grandmother set, and it sounds like you are doing what we do-rather, she did- I should say, she passed away several years ago. I know that in my history and anthropology and other classes the other students are very, very, tired of hearing me turn every conversation and the professors and probably bored with me finding a way to make every paper somehow about a NATIVE topic! It’s just that…if I don’t find a way to dig the little kernels of truth out of the text, to see where it’s appropriate in context to fit a little info on our culture into the conversation and maybe make people think about their stereotypes and inherent racism a little bit? Who will? Nobody, that’s who. Well, nobody here. Apparently, wherever you are, you’re doing it. Hopefully, elsewhere, others are doing it, too.
    Mvto!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16129210217777837909 delux

    @Azizi: Agreed. These folks dont really know much more about african descended people, but a steady, lifetime inculcation of stereotype and supremacy has led them to think that they are experts and therefore have little to learn.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04994290023872841969 ()

    YES! this post was awesome, keep them coming please!

    I will second the motion made by Ashes for giving Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s book a look. Really good, I actually carry it around with me and refer back to it all the time. Also check out Graham Smith and Russel Bishop, and pretty much anything on Kaupapa Maori, really enlightening.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17549806249237292582 Starleigh Grass

    I can related. I find that there is an intentional ignorance in the mainstream population about Indigenous issues. It’s there for a reason. If you are entrenched in ongoing cultural genocide and you learn about it your culpable, but if you don’t know anything about it you can feign innocence.

    I think it’s important to hold people accountable and call them on their irresponsibility.

    As an educator I often face resistance from students when I present tough Indigenous topics. I actually just wrote a post about it today. http://twinkleshappyplace.blogspot.com/2011/01/residential-schools-day-1-reflective.html

    In the academy we as Indigenous peoples are not talking about our issues on our own ground. We are doing it in the epitome of western colonization. I’ve been involved in politics and community organizations and talked about Indigenous issues, and by far the hardest place to be heard or even open up discussion in in educational institutions.

    I’m glad that you posted this because it makes me realize that I’m not alone in the struggle to carve out a meaningful space for Indigenous issues in mainstream education.

    Thank you.