Monday, February 20, 2012

"I am a colonized and dispossessed indigenous person. Are you too?"

My friend Xelsílem asked this question on Twitter (!/Xelsilem_Rivers/status/171684388441042944). I normally identify as white, which would put me in the group of colonizers and dispossessors. But there's some interesting complexity to explore:

My father was born in Palestine, to a Christian Arab family. The pain of the Arab/Israeli conflict was an unavoidable part of his experience growing up. At age 17 he had the opportunity to leave for America to go to college. His father insisted that he take that chance. In the USA he learned to speak American English and participate in American culture.

He wasn't forced to attend an Indian residential school, but the same belief system and societal forces were still at play, and so the results have some striking similarities. Violence compelled him to leave his ancestral homeland. He believed that being American was better than being Arabic. He never spoke Arabic to me, and I grew up American more than Arabic.

My mom's mom was born in Austria, to a Jewish family. As Hitler rose to power in Germany, her father sensed the coming danger to Jews, and sent her to safety in England. There she married an Episcopalian minister, and she lived as a English Christian. She didn't speak of growing up Jewish, and hid her maiden name that would have revealed her ancestry. I was a teenager before I found out that by Jewish law I am Jewish, too.

Here again, while not the same as the experience of Native Americans, there are some similarities that can't be missed. I don't speak Hebrew or Austrian German. I know almost nothing of that part of my heritage.

There's a deeper way in which I can answer "yes" to that question. Karma and the Golden Rule are often presented as reasons do deny your supposed "true desire" to take from others for your own benefit. That is a misunderstanding, which only makes sense from our old perspective of the separate self in an objective universe, engaged in competition with other beings. That perspective is obsolete, and now we are coming to understand a new truth: where your good fortune is my good fortune. The truth of karma is that the harm done to others is harm done to myself. The true Golden Rule is that as I do unto others, I so in fact do unto myself.

And so, yes, if  Xelsílem is colonized and dispossessed, then so am I.

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