The sun tricked me awake this morning.
I began opening my eyes because all of this light was streaming into my room and I could have sworn I saw blue sky through the slats of my blinds. An hour later, after checking emails, responding to ongoing Facebook conversations, and dealing with a hefty dose of white privilege (and I haven’t even had my breakfast yet) the sky outside is slate gray.
I’m beginning to think that blue sky was an illusion to get me out of bed and into writing. Nicely played, universe. Now I wait for the rain and fiddle with words.
I am tired of non-Native people asking for advice from Native people and ignoring it. Asking for our opinions on issues that directly impact our lives on a daily basis then discounting our voices, our experiences, and what we know in our bodies to be true. I am tired of watching non-Native people stroke their egos on the backs of the indigenous.
I have been involved in an online dialogue in which a white woman writer has asked for the advice of Native American/First Nations writers on her manuscript – a historical novel about a 19th century man struggling with his identity as a person of both white and Indian heritage. Several Native writers, myself included, have responded with honest, mostly kind, sometimes harsh, but always real feedback. There have been concerns about her title, concerns about stereotyping, concerns about appropriation, concerns about language and history, concerns about a white person writing about a culture foreign to her own. To her credit, the author is kind in her responses and does not seem to be taking the criticism personally. However, she is having trouble hearing what her Native critics are saying.
She is very quick to defend her choices rather than receive our feedback. She says she chose the title because. She says she writes about our culture because. She says she has an Indian friend, she likes our connection to the earth, she wants our opinion, she is grateful for our opinion. But, she can’t hear it.
Someone told her this conversation is not only about race. I agree. This conversation is about privilege.
We all have it. There are days when I sit in my two-bedroom apartment sick with worry because I don’t have enough money for groceries. I complain about how little I have, about how difficult life seems to have become. My heart gets heavy with lack. Then, I open my eyes and look around. My rent is paid. My bills are paid. I have a roof over my head. I am enrolled and almost finished with graduate school. I have TWO bedrooms. Not one. TWO. And that second room is for books and a meditation cushion. This is privilege. And I have to remind my ego that I have plenty. I have more than plenty. I am swimming in a wealth of abundance.
The white woman writer said, “I don’t know what I do that makes me continually face rejection. If I could figure it out, I’d fix it.” Oh, my well-meaning new friend, it is privilege. You are blind to your own privilege. You think it is acceptable to write from the perspective of a people you have only discovered through the writings of other people of privilege. If you want to write about Native people, then come down here with us. Come down here and listen to our stories. Take them into your body. And sit with them for a good long while. Let them cook inside of you until you understand our pain and it is more than you can bear. And even when it is more than you can bear keep listening, keep sitting, keep cooking.
It is frightening to see our own privilege. But, it is better to strike away the illusion. When I finally looked out my window this morning, I saw the illusion of sun for what it really was: snow. And it was beautiful.