OMG…it isn’t about me!
“When we do this workshop with youth, they say…OMG…it isn’t about me!” These words were said by facilitator Rachael Ibrahim at a Move to End Violence-hosted liberation from oppression workshop I recently attended that focused on organizing to end racism…and the words have been bouncing around in my head ever since.
My name is Sandy and I’m in Cohort 3 of Move to End Violence. As an aging Anishinabe woman/advocate/activist, I have processed and struggled over the course of a lifetime to release a barrage of disparaging messages and realize that there’s nothing wrong with me.
I was born in 1950, coming out of the boarding school era, but during a time when it was common practice to remove tribal children from their families of origin. My siblings and I were placed in non-native foster homes. Some of my earliest memories were of being struck repeatedly and told to act “white”…and not to act “savage” anymore. I was too young to know what “white” or “savage” was; all I knew is that there was something wrong with me. When the “big boys” in town lit matches and threw them at me and my siblings, called us dirty Indians and told us to go home, I knew again…there was something wrong with me/us.
Overt and covert acts of racism throughout a lifetime can take its toll. Sadness creeps in because we have to acknowledge that every racist remark or experience has been internalized to some degree. Messages that something is wrong with them are instilled at a very young age for Native and children of color. And to realize that other marginalized groups – women, people with disabilities, immigrants and refugees, LGBTQ/Two Spirit, and those from differing class, age, religious or spiritual practices, etc. – have received similar messages that attack the body, mind, and spirit is maddening.
As you can imagine, to hear Rachael say that youth who have attended this workshop say, “OMG…it isn’t about me!” gives me a renewed sense of hope that young people of color and American Indian/Alaska Native children and every marginalized group may have a chance to grow up with a sense of pride in who they are that people from my generation never experienced.
And still…it just isn’t enough!
We know that racism is a social problem along with sexism, classism, heterosexism, and all forms of oppression. We know that oppression is institutionalized and systematically supported and perpetuated from Federal policy on down to the local level – for example, remove tribal children and place them in non-Native foster homes. It is institutionalized in every system and reinforced through policy and practice. Consequently, it is supported by societal practices – individual, family, and community beliefs–because policy and practice informs how every-day people act, think, and believe. As a result, non-native foster parents were convinced it was in the best interest of society as well as Native children to be assimilated into dominant culture.
It wasn’t until I joined the Battered Women’s/Anti-Rape Movement that I began to release much of the internalized oppression I had harbored for nearly forty years. It was then that I started to learn about institutionalized racism (and other forms of oppression) and began to understand all the ways I had internalized the racist comments and actions over the years that had absolutely nothing to do with me.
So yes, as I age, I feel tired and sometimes discouraged. But, the simple phrase, “OMG, it isn’t about me!” inspires me and gives me hope for a better and more just world. Tribal and youth of color…of all ages…there’s nothing wrong with us. What’s wrong is that racism, violence against women and girls, and all forms of oppression, is structural and institutionalized. Let’s work together, learn how to do it…there are ways…and tear it down! It’ll take some time, but we can do it!