First-World (Story) Problems: Brown Girl Multiple Choice Edition
If a white woman on Facebook posts an illustration of a slave ship’s cargo hold filled with hundreds of African people in a attempt to convey how horrifying modern day airline travel has become — especially transatlantic flights to Paris! — how many minutes should you wait, letting that sink in, before you call bullshit?
a) No minutes, you should respond and immediately! It’s your duty to educate white folks everywhere. How else will they ever learn to be culturally sensitive allies?
b) No minutes, just shake it off and keep scrolling.
c) Eat a cupcake, you’ll feel better.
“Sally” works as a cashier at a drugstore. One day her supervisor “Barb” gestures towards a Native woman who is browsing ten feet away. When “Sally’s” supervisor mutters “gotta watch those people like a hawk,” should “Sally” —
a) Ignore her supervisor, it must just be a misunderstanding.
b) Inform her supervisor that the Native woman she’s referring to just so happens to be “Sally’s” mother who is visiting her at work and waiting for her to go on break.
c) Internalize the interaction, add it to a hundred-and-a-thousand other similar incidents since childhood, and slowly, accreted over time, suspend “Sally’s” faith and trust in white people and humanity while simultaneously participating in myriad of destructive patterns due to neurotic tendencies, and basic self-condemnation and self-loathing. Is it reasonable for “Sally” to hold endless arguments with herself about how she’s overreacting, being overly sensitive, “playing the race card,” how no one actually means her any harm, not really, and how she should feel grateful, making mental note after mental note that no one likes a complainer, that no one will like her if she complains about situations and incidents which condemn others and might paint them in unflattering ways and/or worst, as bigots or racists. Is she a professional victim? Who does she think she is anyway? Rosa Parks?
d) Calm down.
At another chain store “Sally” once worked for, the manager called her into the front office “for a little powwow,” where she proceeded to —
a) Congratulate her!
b) Offer her a raise!
c) Fire her.
If you answered “c) fire her,” could this be considered a micro-aggression if the manager wasn’t aware that “Sally” was Native? Because “Sally” didn’t wear braids, or wear a headdress or other feather-fringe accessories? Because “Sally” didn’t have a medicine bag, or carry a bow and arrow, and she didn’t paddle a birchbark canoe to work, or ride in on a spotted pony, but mostly just kind of blended in with regular society, so how would the manager know? She didn’t.
A Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet who wrote books about slavery, the Antebellum era, and civil rights, visited the very homogeneous graduate writing program. One evening after a reading, the graduate students took the poet to a bar outside of town for karaoke. Was the bar called —
b) The Slurp ‘n Burp.
c) The Plantation.
The preeminent writer’s conference accepts the following panel that seems to be based upon a kind of fatally false but persistently constructed, fabricated, colonialist, shrink-wrapped new-agey Leanin’ Tree fantasy Indian paint-by-number chicanery set, which the white-supremacist narrative insists on doling out and swilling down ad nauseum. Did the panel description include —
e) Keebler elves
f) Four Eastern Woodlands Indigenous writers read poetry and prose anthologies, evoking the 19th century ghost dance Native people once did to make a stand for their lives and defy vanishing forever. These 21st century word warriors read work that embodies how the ghost dance prevails in their poems and stories that shine on in affirmation of Mother Earth, the spirits and the ancient beauty ways.
The Academy Awards have earned a faithful hashtag following, #OscarsSoWhite. So when in 2017 the wrong film was presented for the Oscar for Best Picture, incorrectly presented to La La Land instead of Moonlight, in my own mind, it was not unprecedented and seemed to represent something sinister. Why would I have any reason to be mistrustful of an error? Because —
a) when author Daniel Handler presented African American author Jacqueline Woodson a National Book Award for her poetic memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, he “joked” about her being allergic to watermelon.
b) when Sean Penn presented Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Oscar for Birdman he asked, “Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?"
c) when Supreme Court Justice John Roberts reworded the oath swearing in President Obama so it was necessary to swear him in again later, all the news headlines stated that Obama had flubbed up his lines, when it was Justice Roberts who was in error.
d) the award went to La La Land’s producer for being “so gracious,” and Moonlight was robbed of its moment.
For many Indigenous people the holidays and observance days are psychic landmines, and a constant reminder that Native people are a colonized people whose own rich and complex history and culture means very little if anything within the broader society. Which holidays are potentially offensive to Indigenous people?
c) Columbus Day.
d) Independence Day.
e) All of the above.
f) 365 days of the year.
How many white supremacists does it take to change a lightbulb?
a) The white supremacist has to want to change.
b) Society has to change.
c) First, you need a ladder.
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