ICWA, Baby Veronica, and White People Being the Worst

It is hot. I am miserable and sweaty and the rampant racism rearing its nasty head around the country this week has not been improving my mood.

Let’s talk about the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Supreme Court’s wrongheaded ruling on the Baby Veronica case. One of the best courses I took as an undergrad was called Native Women, Children, and Tribes. That class taught me more about my white privilege and the innumerable ways we continue to oppress, marginalize, and enact violence against Native populations than I ever would have had the wherewithal to learn on my own.  People in positions of privilege often don’t realize they have it until someone else, usually someone without that same privilege, points it out.

When we learned about ICWA in my course, I didn’t totally understand it because I wasn’t acknowledging my privilege and the storied history of white violence against Native children and their families. This is embarrassing now, but I remember feeling a bit offended for a second. I thought, “I could give a kid a great home. What do you mean I couldn’t ever adopt just because I’m white?” And then the heavens opened and I was punched in the face by the mighty fist of, “Hey, there white person, you’re the worst!”

The Indian Child Welfare Act is meant to ensure that Native children remain with their families and their culture. White people are the very last people who should be considered when a Native child is being adopted. And that’s totally valid. The conversations happening online around this issue are disgusting- much like my initial reaction to learning about ICWA. “Why can’t we adopt them? We could give them more opportunities and a better life!” Here’s the thing, white people: there are plenty of non-Native children who need homes. You can’t adopt Native children, because they are not toy poodles for you to parade around. Removing a Native child from their culture is a blatant act of violence. Remember the American Indian Boarding Schools?

But that was a long time ago, right? We don’t do that anymore! Well. It wasn’t that long ago. When white people remove a child from their culture, especially when that culture has been historically, systemically, and continually obliterated by those same white people, violence is continued.  The Indian Child Welfare Act tries to stop that violence. I don’t see how anyone can argue with that. And then the Supreme Court did. Of course they did.

Following the Baby Veronica case has been akin to watching the quick dissolution of common sense, which is how this entire week in United States politics has felt, really.  The National Indian Child Welfare Association has an awesome fact sheet on the case. Here’s the short version, if you’re not caught up: a native child, Baby Veronica, was placed for adoption with a non-Native couple. Veronica’s father, Dusten Brown an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, never agreed to the adoption and never waived his parental rights. The adoption of Veronica was never finalized. When Brown became aware of the adoption, he immediately sought legal counsel to stay the process and assert his parental rights. This was a little difficult for him because he was in Iraq. That’s right. When Brown returned from Iraq, a South Carolina district court and Supreme Court ruled ICWA valid and custody of Veronica was transferred to him. But the prospective adopters, the Capobiancos, kept appealing and the case went to the US Supreme Court.

Earlier this week, SCOTUS ruled in favor of the Capobiancos, contesting the validity of ICWA. Because apparently white people still can’t kick the habit of ignoring the laws made to protect Natives from white violence. Because white people are the worst people. The SCOTUS majority objects to ICWA, because they just don’t like the way it dissuades white people from adopting Native children. Which is the entire point of ICWA. To prevent the continuation of racist violence. The SCOTUS objects to preventing that. In further SCOTUS stupidity, they literally suggested that Brown surrender his parental rights and then try to adopt Veronica himself. Because that makes perfect sense!

Now, the case is getting kicked back to a district court, and there’s a chance that Brown might lose custody of his daughter. Hopefully common sense will kick back in at some point and Veronica will be allowed to stay with the biological father who wants to raise her. I really hope that happens, but you just can’t trust white people to do the right thing.

I sometimes think about going to law school, just because of situations like this one. I’m so frustrated by the whole thing. What really kills me is that you know if a white serviceman was in this situation, there’s no question that the child would be returned to his custody. If a white dude went to Iraq all while fighting for custody of his child, the media would be completely in his favor. But Dusten Brown isn’t a white man, so he’s not afforded that same respect. Or any respect, really.

Another thing that just kills me about this case is the website that’s up in support of the Capobiancos. It’s called Save Veronica. Save Veronica? Are you fucking kidding me? She’s not in danger! This child is living with her biological father who has been fighting tirelessly for his legal rights. Save Veronica? From what exactly? A loving home with her family? I can’t even. I hate white people. I really do.

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This Week in Politics [part 1]

If ever there’s been a week that’s made me want to move to Sweden… well that’s every week, really. But this week in particular has been vexing in regard to US politics and culture. This week reinforced the many reasons why the United States ranks sixth overall on the Social Progress Index. (We’re seventh in personal freedom and choice, sixth in personal rights, fourth in equity and inclusion, and forty-eighth in ecosystems sustainability. OUCH.) Sweden is ranked first overall.  I want to go to there, Liz Lemon. But running away or choosing not to care doesn’t do any good. Apathy does not an ally make.  Let’s talk about two big things happening around the US this week, and why we should care.

The Supreme Court overturned DOMA. Huzzah, hurrah, it’s about time. I’m annoyed that this is even an ‘issue’ that the government needs to intervene upon. I’m more annoyed by all the idiotic and frustrating responses coming out around the ruling. This morning I heard some lady on NPR say, “Of course I don’t support same-sex marriage because I don’t support same-sex couples.” Hi, lady. I don’t support you or your bigotry! Other people were going on about the man/woman marriage precedent set by the Bible, which is a totally valid argument since this country is and should definitely be governed by that particular religious text. I feel absurd stating that I’m being facetious here, but apparently there’s still a large group of people who don’t understand why the Bible isn’t a credible political document. Hey, y’all. Don’t like same-sex marriage? Okay. Don’t have one. And while you’re at it, stop trying to legalize discrimination. All that hatred doesn’t look cute on you.

Wendy Davis is a rockstar. Oh, man. Oh, men. Oh, white men of the Texas senate. You are the worst. Wendy Davis led a one-woman filibuster against SB 5, a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks and would close most clinics across Texas. For thirteen hours, Wendy Davis stood and spoke against the bill. She did not sit. She did not even get a bathroom break. For thirteen hours. Republican senators tried to trick her into speaking off topic, a violation of rules, which would have ended the filibuster. They tried to claim she broke the rules by receiving assistance putting on a back brace. When the bill was finally voted on, the numbers were in favor of passing SB 5. (After all that!) The vote took place a few minutes after midnight and was therefore invalidated on a technicality.  But because white men in politics can do anything, they tried to change their own rules. They tried to kill the bill, even though the vote was taken after midnight. Wendy Davis was treated terribly all day long by a bunch of people without uteruses (Hey there, white dudes. Don’t like abortion? Okay. Don’t have one.) and then they tried to change their own rules. All that hypocrisy and cruelty doesn’t look cute on you. Oh, and Big Media? The way all of you felt the need to comment on Davis’s pink tennis shoes? That sexism doesn’t look cute on you, either. And I clearly know about what looks cute on people, seeing as I have a uterus which radiates fashion sense. That’s a biological fact, isn’t it?

I love the idea of politics and hate the way they’re carried out in this country. A cursory glance at any comments section will show a lot of sweeping and often off-topic generalizations about “all liberals” and “all conservatives”. We’re so mired in our camps and we all get off on hating each other so much, that we’ve lost the ability to converse like compassionate humans. We can’t even treat each other with basic decency. (Someone helped you put on a back brace because we won’t let you sit down and we don’t care about your physical wellbeing? Rule-breaker!!!) We’re not willing to listen to each other. This includes me- I don’t want to hear anyone’s ideas on why they think homosexuality is wrong. I’m a fallible human and I don’t have time for that nonsense. I just wonder when we’re all going to realize how terrible we are, and decide to do something about it. When are we going to decide life could be a little better if we tried to be a bit more like Sweden? Is that ever going to happen? I worry about the fact that none of us seem to be concerned with the embarrassing and shameful conduct of our country.

Speaking of that shame and embarrassment… tomorrow we’ll be talking about racism. George Zimmerman, Paula Deen, and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Indian Child Welfare Act…get ready. This Angry Feminist Killjoy is coming for you.

On Being Out and About While Female

There’s a classroom activity done in Women’s Studies courses that illustrates the differences between what it’s like to be a man in the world and what it’s like to be a woman in the world. It’s very basic; I mean “in the world” in the sense of “walking down the street”. The men in the room are asked to describe the things they do to ensure their safety when they go out. The usual response is crickets. When women are asked how they keep themselves safe, there’s a flood of responses. Never go out alone. Carry mace. Hold your keys between your fingers so you can a) jab a potential attacker with them and b) aren’t fumbling around at your car like a sitting duck while you try to unlock the door. Imagine what it’s like if you happen to be trans or gender queer or your sexuality doesn’t fit the dominant narrative. There’s a whole pantheon of extra things you have to do to stay safe, then.

I tend to disregard all these ingrained rules for being Out and About While Female. It’s not a smart decision to wander around as if I have the same privilege as men, but I do it anyway because I’m really mad that I’m denied the simple right to feel safe in my own community. My logic is nonsensical, and I’ve regretted my lack of mace/key shanks/rape whistles more than once when a man has felt okay stepping in my path, touching me in some way, or suggesting I spend my evening with him.

In our culture, we teach girls and women to be constantly on guard and take preventative action. Violence is assumed, and it’s our responsibility to make sure it doesn’t happen to us. This also assumes that the violence will be inflicted on some other girl or woman, one who (maybe like me) wasn’t willing to play the precaution game. If you’re harassed, assaulted, or raped- it was probably your fault for not fending it off well enough. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could get our lives together and start reframing these issues as the perpetrator’s problem? Rape isn’t a woman’s issue. Rape is a man’s issue. Instead of teaching our girls and women not to get raped we should be teaching our boys and men (hold it in your holsters here, pals, this is one heckuva thunderbolt coming your way!) to not rape.

Last night, my friend and I were out together when we found ourselves propositioned by two of the most flap-mouthed, milk-livered gudgeons I’ve ever encountered. We just couldn’t seem to shake them- even when we moved to another bar entirely. This is the moment when that Personal Safety bit came up again. There’s a line between maintaining social decorum and feeling safe. These men were total jerks sure, but was it enough to justify being rude and giving them the what for? But, why is that even a question we felt the need to ask ourselves? This was our night out- why did we feel obligated to keep spending our time with these (im)perfect strangers?

Because we’re socialized to be nice and polite and pander to men. Ugh. Even us Angry Feminist Killjoys fall into that trap sometimes. And then one of the dudes bought us drinks. That’s the kiss of death on a quick getaway. My friend and I took one of those group trips to the bathroom so we could discuss how we were going to make our escape. That’s when we were told we couldn’t take alcohol into the bathroom. Because of course we couldn’t. This bar happened to have a strange setup where the bathroom was technically outside of the bar, so while I understand the liquor licensing issues going on, that presents a huge problem for Lady Safety.

What were we supposed to do with these brand new drinks? Leave them with the absolute codpieces who purchased them? That would definitely work… if we were hoping to get drugged. We ended up making a desperate plea to the employee barring our entrance. My friend said, “We’re with these awful guys” right as I said, “Look, I think they might actually slip rufinol in these.” She was very kind about it, babysat our alcohol, and I’m pretty sure she was ready to help us sneak out the back. Ladies have to help each other out, you know. We broke away shortly thereafter. The fellas didn’t take our departure kindly, which was just so endearing it made me want to change my mind and spend more time with them after all!

The point of this post wasn’t merely to complain about that uncomfortable experience, but to illustrate the frequency with which these same stupid situations crop up in our lives. Every time my lady friends and I go out without a gentleman amongst us, we end up spending the night fending off handsy dudes. Sometimes we meet really great people and have nice conversations and a fun time, but… there is always the assumption of violence. Is this situation safe? What do these people really want from us? Is this going to end poorly? The presence of even one male in our group will change the course of our night entirely. At one point, my friend mentioned her boyfriend to the dudes. Even though we’d been saying we weren’t interested all night, they didn’t hear it until a male partner was invented. Why is it that men will respect men (even imaginary ones!) more than they’ll respect the women they’re courting?

It’s exhausting. It’s frustrating that none of our male friends ever fully understand what we’re trying to tell them. I was out with two male friends once, and they couldn’t understand why I was frustrated when they vanished for a quarter of an hour. We were in an unfamiliar city and I had to spend the entire time alone, trying to escape leering eyes and unwanted advances. (I was tipsier than I should have been, because until they disappeared, I felt safe with my friends around.) I really pride myself on my independence, but there are some situations where even I know that being mouthy and snarky is going to get me into trouble.

Our culture keeps making all of this my problem, but it’s not. I shouldn’t have to be constantly sparring and on edge. Because this is a man’s problem. Apparently that’s a really difficult concept in our society, so here are a few things you can stop right now: expecting sex because you bought me a beer; assuming that I owe you my time; becoming rude and violent when I don’t give you my time or my body; touching me without my permission in any way, at any time, ever; generally being a nuisance. Let’s start there, okay?

Cinderella Ate Her Daughter

I recently finished reading Peggy Orenstein’s book Cinderella Ate My Daugther: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. This NPR interview with Orenstein offers a solid introduction to and overview of the book.

This book was an interesting exploration of the sickening media frenzy and marketing circus that now dominates childhood- especially girlhood. I loved the small facts that are sprinkled throughout the book. Did you know that Disney Princesses, when they appear in a group, never make eye contact with each other? Princesses don’t have friends! Creepy. Orenstein charts the origins of Princess Culture (guess what, it was conceptualized by money-grubbing dudes) and the steady rise of young girls’ obsession with all things pink and sweet.

But for some reason I haven’t quite pinned down yet, I had a difficult time making it through this book. It’s short, not even 200 pages of text, but I had to renew it from the library twice. One chapter entitled “Wholesome to Whoresome: The Other Disney Princesses” toed dangerously over the line of Slut Shaming in its judgments of Disney media moguls. (Or, as Orenstein called them, “mogurls”.) Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Hilary Duff, Melissa Joan Hart, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, and Selena Gomez were all dissected as examples of good girls gone bad. But instead of critiquing the culture that created and sexualized these young women (guess what, WE did that to them) Orenstein vilified and shamed their choices. In a chapter on cyber-bulling, she brushed off young women’s suicides as the result of their previous mental instabilities, not the torture they were subjected to. Throughout the book, I felt like Orenstein was flirting with slut shaming and victim blaming in a way that made me very uncomfortable.

Furthermore, while I think the marketing and media blitzing aimed at little girls and young women is terrible, I’m skeptical as to how much our childhood phases really impact the people we’ll become. For most of our lives, my sister refused to wear dresses or to allow the color pink to exist in any of her belongings. She spent most of her time wrestling and breaking her bones. Conversely, I am sporting a heavy pout in my preschool photo, because my mom forgot it was picture day and sent me in pants. I was devastated to be photographed in a moment when I wasn’t wearing a dainty dress. I played with dolls, took ballet classes, read all the American Girl books. And wouldn’t you know it, my sister is married and fully entrenched in domestic life while I’m an angry feminist killjoy busily bucking all sorts of trends.

If you never leave the Princess vacuum, that’s clearly problematic, but I think most of us grow up to be people who don’t much resemble the various months we spent obsessed with one thing or another. I did once know a young lady who, in our first year of college, wore an inordinate amount of Disney gear- a Disney World bracelet, Snow White t-shirts, and the like. That was disconcerting to me. She was so invested in the Princess plotline that she was incapable of initiating or maintaining interpersonal relationships. Turns out in the real world, being a Sleeping Beauty isn’t a great way to win friends and lovers. Because you’re, you know, asleep. But I still think this was a rare case.

Rather than shunning all popular trends, we should probably just emphasize media literacy more. If we learn how to gain a critical consciousness around the media that’s produced and mainstreamed in our culture, we’ll be better equipped to examine how it functions in our lives, and what role we want it to play in our lives.  Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to participate in lots of the popular culture my friends reveled in, because my mom didn’t think pop culture was appropriate. She was absolutely right, but this resulted in some really awful ostracization and exclusion from my peer group. Rather than rote banning, I think it would have been more productive if my mom and I had conversations about why this media was popular and why it was objectionable.

Ultimately, I’m glad I read this book. Aside from the interesting facts, I wasn’t introduced to any new positions or ideologies I wasn’t already familiar with, but it was nice to see this topic taken on publicly. I imagine I would feel much differently about the book if I were a mother, or happened to be considering motherhood. At this point in my life, the contents of the book were interesting only in a detached way.  I was moved to side with and defend the young women (those “other” Disney princesses) rather than to outright ban the color pink from my life.

Summer Hair

Summer hasn’t officially begun in the northern hemisphere, but summer hair has been emerging in my friend group. The end of the school year (which brings with it the pressing need for change) and the sweltering weather has all of us trimming, shearing, and shedding our locks. The conversations around our haircuts have been an interesting insight into the continued expectations and pressures placed on women’s appearances.

It seems like everyone’s partner has an opinion on how a lady’s hair ought to be styled. Either it’s suddenly too short or it should have been cut even shorter. I think we’re all interested in the opinions of our friends and partners. When it comes to the choices we make about the way we look though, I wish people would keep their criticisms to themselves.

I cut my hair ridiculously short my freshman year of college. It looked really cute, but I got so tired of complete strangers asking if I was a lesbian, I just grew it long again. Now that I’m older and more comfortable talking back, I almost want to cut my hair off again- not because I want short hair, but because I would really enjoy getting into rows with all the idiots who a) think that short hair is a signifier of sexual preference, b) that there’s anything at all wrong with looking like or being a lesbian, and c) have the audacity to comment on my appearance at all.

Even the process of getting a haircut can be a bit of an ordeal. I never feel more out of place than when I’m sitting in chair surrounded by beautiful people with perfect hair and flawless skin. I always feel like a female failure when my stylist asks what I usually do with my hair and I say, “Um, you know, I wash it?” I’ve never had my hair cut without the stylist asking me about my boyfriend. I guess that’s a good conversation starter, but I always have the urge to make some snarky comment about having a girlfriend. I never do- I don’t want to even risk offending the person with the power to shave my head- but I can’t imagine how alienating those questions must be for people who actually are (my goodness!) lesbians.

So much about the presentation of race, gender, and sexuality are wrapped up in the way a woman’s hair is styled. Our hair is another site of bodily ownership, yet another place that is constantly coopted by others. Do we wear our hair the way we do because it makes us feel great, or because it’s the way somebody else wants us to be wearing it? How funny, when hair is at the very bottom of the List of Things that Matter. Rather, it’s at the very bottom of the List of Things that Should Matter. Hair is pretty near the top of the List of Things that Inexplicably Do Matter. Especially if you’re a black woman! There are so many politics around a black woman’s hair. I have a very limited understanding of it. I watched the documentary Good Hair and thought I’d learned a lot, but this article helped me understand how much of the film was playing into and perpetuating white dominance.

My dear friend gave me a bracelet that says, “fuck off”. It’s not the most polite thing in the world, but it is my absolute favorite piece of jewelry.  It’s my response to every unwelcome comment about trivial matters. You think my summer hair looks stupid? Allow me to direct your attention to my bracelet! You don’t like that I won’t get a pixie cut even though you think it’s so super hot? Have you seen this bracelet I’m wearing? But while being self confident and assured are great attributes we should all strive for, they don’t in and of themselves depoliticize our presentation of identity. And that’s frustrating. It shouldn’t matter how we look, what we wear, or the way we cut our hair. It shouldn’t matter, but it usually does. I can flash my bracelet all day long (and I’m more than happy to do just that) but the real change is going to happen when we stop making judgments and assumptions about identity based on appearance.

For what it’s worth, I think your summer hair looks great.

Activist Burnout

I know this is a cliché, but I’m still going to tell you: working on this blog has been incredibly rewarding. My posts here have sparked conversations with friends and strangers. My perspective has been challenged and I’ve learned a lot by listening to different points of view. Sometimes I get messages about topics and current issues I should cover, and I’ve found that I’ve become much more aware of gender and social justice issues in the news and my daily life. I have a huge stack of books, articles, and objects strewn about my home waiting to make an appearance here. I haven’t been absent for lack of interest or material.

The title of this blog is somewhat of a joke- folks who know me personally know that I generally maintain a quiet and gentle disposition. I can’t remember the last time I actually yelled at anyone. The conversations I have, even when they’re heated and passionate, are still rational and don’t involve personal attacks. It’s no secret I’m a feminist, but I don’t think anyone in my personal life would have ever called me an Angry Feminist Killjoy.

But just because I’m gentle doesn’t mean I’m not genuinely angry about the state of social affairs today. When I first started working on this project, I did reading about the role of anger in activism. Anger, I learned, is a great motivator. When we get angry and actively choose to throw aside complacency, we can create change by challenging and dismantling oppressive structures.  When this project was just beginning, one of my advisors warned me that this activist anger can seep into our personal lives, exhausting and depleting our mental and emotional stamina.

I thought I was handling the personal/political/professional crossover perfectly well. For every positive comment and message I receive here, I also get one utterly vitriolic personal attack on my character. You don’t see them show up here, because they’re in clear violation of the House Rules. For the most part, these nasty messages don’t bother me. They’re a good indicator that we need to keep having these discussions. My feelings aren’t hurt when a stranger on the internet calls me a cunt/bitch/whore/slut/etc. It’s another sign that we need to keep doing work in this area. But there’s also this swelling feeling of panic and nausea every time I get a new comment notification. Waiting to see if the new message will garner productive discourse or more personal attacks makes my heart do this really uncomfortable jump. My hands shake a little bit. It’s all very fight or flight. Even though I can brush off the hate and move on with my life… I don’t like that it happens. It’s exhausting and draining to know that there are so many hateful people lurking around.

And then my depression showed up. I’ve had depression for years, and I’ve luckily reached a point where I can manage it rather adroitly- ie: no self-medicating or self-harming, yay! But that doesn’t mean it’s easy when it shows up. My depression has this way of showing up out of nowhere, so I go from perfectly content to full existential crisis overnight. Suddenly, looking at the piles of books and articles and objects waiting to be blogged about wasn’t exciting; it was overwhelming.  Every developing news story about injustice made me feel hopeless and heavy. I turned my phone off and slept for something like 20 hours the other day, because moving (not to mention acknowledging the harshness of society) felt like too much to handle.

I’ve held off making this post, because I can only imagine the kind of messages I’ll get, wielding my little hiccups in happiness as veritable proof to invalidate my thoughts.  There’s also the fact that I don’t like talking about my depression with anyone. But as the personal, professional, and political continue to intertwine in my life, and because you’ve all been supportive and generous readers of this site, it only seems fair to be a little vulnerable and provide some kind of explanation.

 One thing I’ve learned about my depression is that it gets much worse when I stop doing the things that make me happy. Unfortunately, I have a way of convincing myself I’m not really happy, and then I abandon things I love. Writing these posts and connecting with all of you really does make me happy (regardless of what my brain chemicals sometimes try to say) so I’m going to stop listening to so much sad indie music and jump back in. Maybe a little more cautiously this time. I think I need to make sure to step away often enough to keep that activist anger from consuming my personal life and pushing me into a giant pit of sadness.

I’ll see you soon. Remember that you can always submit ideas or posts to angryfeministkilljoy@gmail.com. In the meantime, let me know what you do when the personal becoming political becoming professional overwhelms you. How do you avoid activist burnout?