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EMERGING FEMINISMS, Clapping Back and Losing Friends I Never Liked – The Feminist Wire

EMERGING FEMINISMS, Clapping Back and Losing Friends I Never Liked

By Terese Marie Mailhot

*”Collective Voice of the Voiceless”: Campus Violence, Resistance, and Strategies for Survival Forum Contribution*

 

Academics’ ethnic enthusiasm wanes when they meet me. I’m Native American, and I don’t fit into their image of an Indian woman. I don’t like outdoors, I’m pale, I’m angry most of the time, and although my politics engage in collectivism, I revel in my personal success. By all accounts I don’t think I’m likable in academia. In the creative writing world, I feel like it’s a feminist act to be honest about writers’ work and tell people when it is familiar, or when they’re not making a character human. To be a woman, a brown woman, in a room full of white people who have been traditionally educated, it’s intimidating to have an opinion. I want to be a good writer more than I want to please people.

At a reading I was being unlikable, criticizing a poet for writing a whole book of poetry about love. Let me be accountable, I said to my friends, we don’t need another hetero book on love. He went through poems about de-familiarizing porn shops, professing his love for his girlfriend, and then he asked us to shout out a number one to one hundred, and he’d read the section aloud. I shouted out, “sixty-nine!” to be mean, but he read it just the same. In front of me a woman with a black bob scowled. I sat checked. I felt bad.

Romanticized Image of American Indians from Daily Motion.

Romanticized Image of American Indians from Daily Motion.

At the after party I went up to her, excited to meet someone fearless, opinionated, and interesting. I’m a lonely person, it’s a human condition, don’t blame me. She told me her work discusses Native Americans, and incorporates a lot of their beliefs. I overlooked all this, thinking, okay, I can befriend her then check her romanticism. We smile, we laugh, we discuss our favorite obscure albums. I “friended” her on Facebook.

She became a teacher after graduation, for, “Impoverished Appalachians.” She praised herself for giving them their first encounters with, “good literature,” and of course I rolled my eyes at these statements. Her well-meaning classism and racism was the kind I hated the most. I was convinced if I confronted her, she would be checked, and would move forward. But then I fell into a Facebook war I would eventually lose.

Caitlyn Jenner transitioned into womanhood, it was everywhere, and it was interesting to see people discuss gender identity. The woman I was beginning to resent with a passion posted, “Bruce Jenner is not going to hell, people. Revisit indigenous culture on this continent. The Cherokee had at least three genders, and the Hopi, four!” I felt conflicted. I hated myself for hating her. I thought, this woman is well-meaning, and I’m the asshole judging her without engaging her. I commented on her post, “Also, look at some Caucasian cultures on this continent who discuss gender. There are many progressive white cultures who believe gender is a construct.” She deleted me, and deleted my comment.

At first I thought I went too far, then I felt hurt, then I hated myself, then I became even more neurotic and asked my friend to check her Facebook and see if she said anything. Finally, after a margarita, I realized what she did was racism on top of ignorance. She shut out the only Native American voice in her news feed, and resented that I clapped back at her for making me feel romanticized. I proceeded to feel good about myself, being some type of activist in discourse. Instead of allowing her to talk about Native Americans like she was a sociocultural anthropologist, and not an ally, I offered a criticism and couched it in humor.

Viva Flores at UTEP. Author permission.

Viva Flores at UTEP. Author permission.

Can I tell you this is not the first time I’ve offended someone and lost a friend? Granted, a friend I never really knew, who never really warmed up to me, but a friend nonetheless. I’m lonely, and sometimes instead of telling my son’s school that they need to have a discussion on culturally offensive costumes, I toss and turn in my bed, trying to turn into myself and away from the fight. My mother told me I had better be willing to lose jobs and friends if I ever wanted to be an activist. It’s a troubled life when you agree to stand against racism at every turn. From the small things to the petitions to give inquiry concerning the missing Indigenous women of North America, it all feels important.

I’m tired of it, and yet I can’t stop. I despise myself some days, for taking up every issue. I resent myself for giving people, “bad vibes,” when I discuss the literary canon and how it includes a lot of racist texts or fails to include diverse and deserving authors. I discuss a diverse reading list when I see that there isn’t one, and I’m always quick to tell someone their work features tropes or lazy stereotypes. It’s a lonely life to be opinionated, guileless, and angry. I understand part of my personality is unpleasant, but I wonder how much of it is personality and how much of it is me calling out violence and sticking up for the brown women like me, or giving a valid critique on a work that isn’t all it could be. I have friends, and I have activists and academics who love me, but sometimes I want to be in the crowd of people who don’t worry about representation. I wonder what it feels like to love yourself for the work you do and to just be the default.

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1545724_10151795881666502_117695940_nTerese Marie Mailhot is from Seabird Island Indian reservation. Her work has been featured in Carve, Yellow Medicine Review, Burrow Press Review, and The Offing. Terese is also a columnist at Indian Country Today.

 

12 Comments

  1. anonymous

    November 2, 2015 at 9:40 am

    you seem like a super cool person on top of being an important voice in the world… keep up the good work!

    but yeah, loneliness sucks and it’s easy to be lonely when you’re not complacent in racism and sexism and genocide but thank you for standing up for what’s right even if it’s not popular.

  2. veganelder

    November 2, 2015 at 9:44 am

    I’m sort of confused as to what it is that you seek. It’s not my impression that those who are the default are particularly worthy of emulation. You note that you have friends and those who love you…that’s a lot.

    You say you want to be in the crowd that doesn’t worry about representation. I’m an old white guy and I must tell you that white people sorta suck (big time)…I’m not sure at all why you would want to be in this awful group. It certainly hasn’t made us into anything to be proud of.

  3. Nobathembu Letsoenyo

    November 3, 2015 at 3:09 am

    I think that perhaps you need to make peace with “not being liked” …giving people “bad vibes”.I have been told that I get too intense and that perhaps I should relax a little (thanks, no) There are days that I am tempted to believe that I am not a nice person…I get over that quickly because quite frankly there are people I need to go annoy with my opinion…I cannot multi-task and feel rubbish about myself at the same time.Some of us have to be the annoying one. I battle to understand why Children in South Africa are fed a ridiculous amount of literature by “dead white men” when there is so much more available. You bet I am going to be the parent who raises this. You bet I am the one to ask in Geography lessons why there are only “Around the world to..(European Countries Series only) and yes you bet the school library will end up buying books on West Africa. The thing is…SOMEBODY has to do it.It need not be comfortable…it just needs to be done.If the world could alter its dominant narrative ALL on its own (without the agitators with “unpleasant personalities”) like yourself….it would have done that already. It does not have such capacity.

  4. Aaminah Shakur

    November 3, 2015 at 8:32 am

    Thank you thank you thank you for putting to words what so many of us feel every day.

  5. grace bom

    November 3, 2015 at 9:08 am

    Really good. Thank you. I too am familiar with the descending blanket of silence after a callout during a supposedly ‘cheery’ event.

    The old white guy in the comments: shut up.

  6. Acclimatrix

    November 3, 2015 at 11:39 am

    I just wrote a post about anger yesterday, so I identify so much with this, even as a white cis woman. The isolation our activism can bring is really hard. This post made me want to friend you on Facebook, ironically, so I hope you’re able to find some community in all this.

  7. Shareen Mansfield

    November 3, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    It is easier to mute us . Handing us the microphone only happens on their terms.
    Thanks for writing this. Keep speaking up.

  8. Jamie

    November 3, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    The only people who love themselves for their work and think of themselves as the default are judgmental asshats who genuinely believe they understand the whole world and everyone’s place in it without reference to their own subjectivity. Your facebook friend sounds like a perfect case in point.

    As you can probably guess, I don’t have a lot of friends among my academic colleagues, either, but I admit I usually don’t bother to engage. Trying to check self-righteousness is a bit too Sisyphean for my emotional health.

    In any case, I enjoyed the essay. Cheers, and have a nice day.

  9. Maisie Scarpia

    November 3, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    cannon? canon.

  10. Alison

    November 7, 2015 at 8:44 am

    You have a beautiful voice and I really enjoyed this piece; it made me think, and it made me laugh. (“I revel in my personal success.” Who doesn’t? Especially for creative work. But being proud of your artistic accomplishments doesn’t fit the standard narrative of indigenous women. Time to flip the script.)

    I had a student in office hours yesterday who is struggling to see things from other people’s perspectives. I hope she finds her way to this essay. Thank you for sharing it here.

  11. Pingback: EMERGING FEMINISMS, An Introduction to the "Collective Voice of the Voiceless" Forum on Campus Violence, Resistance, and Strategies for Survival - The Feminist Wire | The Feminist Wire

  12. Terese

    November 11, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    Thank you for all your kind words and close reading. It’s definitely a clunky piece, and I’m sorry if it’s missing some line editing. It felt immediate, so it was rushed. I’m glad that the message resonated with some of you.
    Terese