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No Fight Too Small in the Battle Against Racism

Change doesn’t end with a court ruling. A court ruling doesn’t stop the subtle racism at every water cooler, or in the homes of well-meaning white people who just don’t understand why we can’t "get over it." Checking the white privilege of a woman who thinks she’s a godsend for being “color blind” will make our communities better informed. Shutting down the guy with a confederate flag for a profile picture may shut down his hate speech at local bars, for fear we are out there lurking, wielding our words and autonomy at him, showing him we’re done with his nonsense. Conversational racism perpetuates the negative stereotypes that have historically damaged us as a community in so many ways, and fighting it is worthwhile, only if so my kids won’t have to.

When someone starts in on, ‘why can’t we all just get along?’ or, ‘I’m colorblind,’ tell her you’re all out of cookies. They’re one of the worst, most well intentioned types of racists. They don’t see color, when we’ve been fighting for hundreds of years to be recognized as a people. I understand the desire for us to be “one,” and we are. We’re human, and sharing the knowledge that we’re all suffering and dying, but it ignores the fact that some of us are brown, lady. Ask her if she sees money, or how many fingers you’re holding up, and tell her a stigmatism won’t make her a better person.

Enter the man with the confederate flag as a profile picture: he’s lonely or he makes his wife miserable, researching Eugenics while posting, “If you don’t like cultural appropriation, stop using our cars and going to our hospitals!” This man isn’t incorrigible. Really, delight in this poor creature. Without Natives, white people wouldn’t exist in North America. We fed a few of them, showed them our medicine and irrigation techniques, and inspired their political identities. Shining on these ignorant people does affect them. Yes, they might pretend to ignore our knowledge, but rest assured that they go to bed at night lamenting our wit, feeling inferior in the dark of their rooms, wondering if those YouTube videos on the Bering Strait are wrong. When he says nobody gave him any handouts, and that we should get over it, he’s internalizing a hate that can be broken down with a few thousand helpful references to books and articles on the voter suppression Indians currently face, the last Indian boarding school shutting down in the 80’s, or how the statistics show true, undeniable disparity. You might be the hundredth person to tell him this, but it’s a slow journey for him. In the off chance that he will reconcile with truth, stopping him could shut down a generation of hate.

It’s hard to combat racism. I understand it’s a daily struggle, but what did our ancestors fight for, if not better communities? When someone tells you in a paternalistic tone, how bad they feel for our ‘alcoholism’ problem, or how ‘diabetes’ is rampant, ask them what they’re doing to help. Tell them how sorry you feel for the Caucasian culture’s ‘alcoholism’ problem, or how ‘diabetes’ is rampant in their culture. So often, people don’t realize they’re racist until they’ve been checked. I know, at first they’re defensive, even offensive, but they leave with the pang of shame in their stomachs, like the feeling my son gets when he’s caught doing something bad. I tell my boy that’s a good feeling, because it makes him human, and what he does with that feeling will determine the man he becomes.

I could have listed a hundred other types of racist, but it’s an endless list. It’s not petty to engage in these small discourses, to show pride in your people and defend your teachings. It’s small minded to think that sad man with his confederate flag doesn’t affect you when he goes into town and mistreats the Natives he sees. We can engage in aggressive discourse and shape the way people regard us. It’s arduous, and just exhausting; so don’t carry it to bed with you. Know you’re doing something worthwhile by simply having a voice.

Terese Marie Mailhot is from Seabird Island, a place bound by the Mariah Slough and the Fraser River. She studies at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work, “Heart Berries,” can be found in Carve magazine, and her story, “House Party,” is forthcoming in Yellow Medicine Review.