Monday, August 11, 2008

Sad mixed race statistic

This morning I read an Op-Ed in The New York Times that begins with this sentence:

"ONE in three American Indian women will be raped in their lifetimes, statistics gathered by the United States Department of Justice show."

and this is the second paragraph:

"The situation is unfair to Indian victims of all crimes — burglary, arson, assault, etc. But the problem is greatest in the realm of sexual violence because rapes and other sexual assaults on American Indian women are overwhelmingly interracial. More than 80 percent of Indian victims identify their attacker as non-Indian. (Sexual violence against white and African-American women, in contrast, is primarily intraracial.) And American Indian women who live on tribal lands are more than twice as likely to be raped or sexually assaulted as other women in the United States, Justice Department statistics show."

[For the full Op-Ed article, click here]

I don't have anything profound or enlightening to say. Only that I think our understanding of race with respect to indigenous people in the U.S. (and around the world) is poor. And in the U.S. I think that we live in this amnesia or willful ignorance about the history of U.S. colonization of American Indian land and culture. But clearly, as this Op-Ed piece shows, there is a real albeit violent/tragic way that American Indians are aware of the presence of all us settler-colonists.

And I think it goes without saying that rape against women is a phenomenon that our society has NOT gotten a handle on. In college I had three close friends who were raped (by acquaintances--in other words, men they knew), and I am sure that all of you know someone who was a victim of rape (even if s/he hasn't disclosed this to you).

Not a happy Monday post, I know, but I think it's important to remember that this goes on--largely uncommented about--and that the repercussions of rape not just for individuals but for their families, friends, and larger communities (and I'd add our entire society) are too huge to ignore and yet...this still goes on? Why???


Taavi Burns said...

On a slightly tangential note, until I read "tribal lands" I thought American Indian was referring to Americans with ancestors from India, not Native Americans.

Can you comment on this usage of American Indian? Thanks!

Jennifer said...

Hi Taavi,
Thanks for your question--it's true that it's so confusing all these labels!

So, to begin at the beginning. Christopher Columbus was looking for a trade route to Asia. And when he landed in the Caribbean he thought he found it--that he had reached India. And thus, he called the indigenous population he discovered there "Indians."

As European colonialism spread through the Americas, this name stuck--so in North America, the indigenous tribes that made contact with the European colonists were deemed to be "Indians" by them.

Fast forward to the 20th C, post WWII. The Indian subcontinent gains independence from Britain, immigration restrictions in the U.S. ease up, culminating in the 1965 Immigration act, which opens the doors to immigrants from around the globe, but esp. from Asian countries and migration of Indian immigrants increases.

Meanwhile, the last 60s also brings a rise in racial consciousness in the U.S. and the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.), a political movement of various American Indian tribes agitating for their rights and sovreignty. Some wanted to claim the term "Native American" to emphasize the roots and rights of the indigenous population in the U.S. (because everyone who is NOT a member of an indigenous tribe is either a colonizer or settler). Others want to claim "American Indian" as a nod to a pan-tribal political coalition.

In academic circles, the term "American Indian" is preferred to Native American--not entirely sure why. I believe that this may also be the case among American Indians, although truth be told, I think most American Indians prefer to be referred to by their tribal affiliation (Cree, Choctaw, Navajo, Ojibwe, etc...).

I truly welcome others to chime in, especially anyone who identifies as American Indian/Native American or with various tribal communities.

Hope this helps Taavi!

Taavi Burns said...

Yes, that does answer what I asked. :)

Overall I was wondering why even the New York Times used the term "American Indian". It seems from your reply that it's actually the accepted term in academia! So the further question comes to mind: why does academia continue to use a term that is, at face value, misleading? I get the impression that when speaking of race and racism, it is important to speak of things by their "right" names. It does everyone a disservice to use inapt euphemisms. Humans have a hard enough time making rational decisions without complicating the issue with misleaing names.

"But everyone knows that..."... except that I was confused at first. I'd hope I wasn't the only one! :)

Isn't there something to the fact that Native Americans were here first, and are not settlers or colonizers? Are we not doing them a disservice with a term easily confused in (my) mind with (recent) immigrants?

I've been on a nomenclature binge these past few days. I think my coworkers are getting sick of my saying "This has a horrible, unintuitive name!" :)

I'm no more qualified dthan the next person. But when I remember, I like to ask "Why?" And include smiley faces. :)


Jennifer said...

Actually, many American Indian groups prefer the term American Indian rather than Native American.

I don't think I made that clear in my earlier response and I can see how I made it seem as if this were entirely a preference based on an academic sense of racial nomenclature rather than a respectful gesture towards those who identify with a particular racial label.

In general, within academic circles, we try to use terms that the racial groups, themsleves prefer. Therefore, Asian Americans, by and large, prefer to be called "Asian American" and not "Oriental" although a few prefer to be referenced by their ethnic categories (Korean American, Chinese American, etc...) but as a whole, when you are talking about a mass political group (which is what racial groups are in essence) Asian Americans prefer to be called this to any other label. I am, of course, not speaking for the entire group of Asians in the U.S.--no one can do that. I am merely commenting on a general trend and generality within Asian American political/community/activists and academic arenas.

It is also true within academia that the people who study particular racial and ethnic communities often identify within those communities.

So in terms of American Indians, the American Indian scholars that I know almost all identify in some way with a specific tribal affiliation. At Southern U. there are members of the Cherokee, Lumbee, and Cree nations on teh faculty who specialize in American Indian culture/studies. And they all prefer the term American Indian, although they will accept Native American.

I think the New York Times as a more "liberal" newspaper, does try to use the accepted terminology that groups use for themsleves. Which means that most Native Americans actually prefer to use American Indian as the official label used to represent their "indigenous" status.

I believe in Canada the term "First Nation" is often used--and in other places, "indigenous" is the preferred term (in Australia it's aboriginal) so it really depends on the location.

As to why American Indians prefer this racial label to Native American, for that I"d have to defer to an American Indian scholar.

You do raise a point about the confusion of language. I think for many in the U.S. the term "Indian" is used to describe Native Americans and not people from India, and this has a lot to do with where you are in the U.S.--for example, "Indian" is used quite often in the Southwest and, at times, no one bats an eye about it being un p.c. Yet in other locations to use the term "Indian" (like in Queens, NY) would generate mass confusion if you are referring to people of the Navajo nation rather than people from Punjab.

I know this is only more confusing in some ways--the explanations I'm giving--but it is part of the problem of race in the U.S. (and maybe around the world) what people want to be called versus what they are called.

CVT said...

Well, I'm back, and I just wanted to chime in on this one. "Back" is in regards to being back in ready internet-access-land after working at an arts camp in Central Oregon the past month. In that time, I spent tons of time with a good friend of mine, who happens to be "Native American" (Klamath, specifically). We also work with a number of Native kids from the Warm Springs res.

Now, I can't say a lot to the general "identifier" for "American Indians." I do know that my friend does NOT call himself "Indian." I've picked up the habit of referring to folks as simply "Native" (for short) or "Native American." Can't say which is "right" as I'm not Native myself, but S (my friend) and I talk about these things A LOT, and those terms seem "safe" enough.

Good timing on this post, though, because I always come out of my time working at the camp (I've worked there the last 4 summers) very conscious of how over-looked Native folk are in the racial schema. Sure, Asian folks are ignored, but nothing like what we've done to Native Americans - killed them off AND act like they don't exist. So few left that everyone feels okay still having a football team called the "Redskins" in the nation's capital. Pretty sick, really.

Actually, thinking about this just inspired my next blog post . . . I'll stop here and just post, and let you comment over there.

Jennifer said...

Welcome Back! And such a timely topic too since it seems you have spent a lot of quality time with your friend discussing these issues.

I think as with all types of labels/nomenclature, it's tricky because different people have different preferences. Your friend prefers Native American and probably has very strong feelings/rationale for his preference. Similarly, my own friends and colleagues who use American Indian have their own opinions and strong feelings for this term over another.

So what to do, especially if it's not necessarily convenient to actually ask (because it's always better to ask but awkward to try to do it in a way that doesn't make you look weird/stilted--I mean, imagine if I was introduced to an African American colleague and immediately said, "By the way Jim, do you prefer to refer to your racial category as African American, black, or some other form of racial signifier?" My colleague would think I was CRAZY.

I suppose just having the conversation would be helpful when it comes up--so in other words, is it important that I know what Jim prefers to be called? Probably not too much in terms of me being able to have a collegial relationship with him, and especially if, when describing him, I feel like I can rely on descriptors like his age, height, where he came from/grew up, what his area of expertise is.

I feel like I'm rambling now, so I'm just going to stop. But would love others to chime in with their 2 cents.