What I want to write on here is a topic which is confusing to me. Perhaps, by writing, I’ll approach a better understanding of the semantic machinations at work . . . or I’ll be further bewildered. Some of the confusion stems from not entirely knowing what to attribute to conscious linguistic strategy or unconscious — or unintended — assignments of meaning. As usual, I am limited by my own experience with the persons and things around me. So, here we go.
My point of questioning — what do we mean when we say or write “indigenous”? — begins with myself. For those who do not know, I am American-Iranian: my dad is a native Iranian, my mom a native American (the confusion already begins: by “native American”, I mean that she is a white-skinned woman of European descent who was born in North America, and not a Native-American/American-Indian/Indian/etc.). Consequently, using a broad rubric of legitimacy via genetic percentage, wherein I could be described as half-Iranian, I could, hypothetically, lay claim to an indigenous identity. Right?
Hold on. Did you notice what I did? Putting aside the arbitrary methodology for legitimacy, pay attention to the fact that I linked indigeneity to my non-American, or non-White, aspect. One possible source for such a way of thinking would be the fact that my American “half” derives from countries external to what we now know to be the United States; whereas my Iranian “half” derives natively from that originative country. But this merely introduces a new question: when do the persons who occupy a land no longer become “immigrants”? and how far back do we have to go to establish “nativeness”? I know that answers to such questions do not factor into my association between indigeneity and my Iranian history because I have no communicable chronological formulae for these things. In some sense, it’s clear that the definition of indigeneity seems to depend upon a wide timescale (35,000 years, for example, is an obviously ample timescale); yet it is not at all clear, intuitively or even mathematically, how wide this should be.
Let’s look at this in another way wherein a new problematic emerges. This is especially useful since it is actually the rationalization I’ve used when people have asked me how I ethnically “identify.” Now, when I’ve been asked this, I’ve pretty much responded with: “I assume that I’m interacted with on the basis of how I appear, so I consider myself White.” It’s interesting that I’ve never experienced pushback or questioning with this, because it is precisely the kind of rationalization many transgender people would despise! — and I have expressed this rationalization to transgender people! Is it permissible because I am “owning” an aspect of my appearance which is associated with “oppression”? If that were so, why wouldn’t transwomen (most of all those who have difficulty passing) assume upon themselves a similar responsibility for anatomical maleness? Of course, public perception/reception does matter . . . but how much?
Regardless of matters of transgenderism, this seems like a strange conceptualization. Its whole logic depends upon that public perception of and reception to a trait which may not even be the primary determinant within all interactions. This primacy does become a matter of course, I think, if we believe that White Supremacy is the bedrock from which all human relations in our current-day environment formulate, proceed, and function. But this is only a matter of course, critically speaking, inasmuch as one sees each human individual as a mouthpiece for their respective power system with no individuality or autonomy residing outside of ideology: in other words, only inasmuch as one filters reality through a postmodern, materialist lens which interprets every interaction as a dialectic between demarcated Oppressed and Oppressor.
Herein, I think that we might begin to approach an understanding of how the word “indigenous” is increasingly being used today: as, partially, a synonym for certain groups of people who are not White/passing-White. This is as interesting as it is troubling, for, if we follow the implications to their logical conclusions, it means that White peoples are not-so-subtly being cast as ethnically alien to humanity. If you are a White person living in, for example, some part of Europe — say, a French person of mostly French lineage — , ask yourself why it feels wrong to describe yourself as “indigenous” . . . because I can bet, if you’re a bit plugged into the Internet, that it will feel wrong to do!
So we see here a way in which White peoples of today are assigned a negative — that is, negated — identity. Such an assignment may be done to preempt “colonialist encroachment.” If I am perceiving this rightly — that an association is being made between linguistic permissions and a rough historical sectioning of groups into more basically virtuous and less basically virtuous camps — , it is especially concerning, because “indigeneity” very easily can be propped up in identistically qualitative terms, antonymically relative to “Whiteness”, whereby it is no longer a neutral term describing a subject with ancient situational roots but one which is also defined against an oppressive monolithic Other.
It is unclear to me how a dialogic recognition of mutual autonomy within this framework is genuinely possible. For some, that might be the point. If you and I are naught but mouthpieces for larger power systems — a walking set of socioeconomic events reflecting a macro dialectic — , we are faced with homological impossibility, or a relational incommensurability. All we can do is advance or retreat according to group-based dominance and submission. The Black person, e.g., becomes unknowable to the White person, and vice versa.
Before I pursue a final thread, I want to state that none of what I have written has been an implication or explication of the nonexistence of White Supremacy or the historical and extant violence enacted against other peoples on some basis of expansionism. My problem — well, my main problem — with the continual explanatory recourse to this ideology, as if it were the conscious and unconscious informant for all thoughts and behaviors, is that it has become a monomaniacal materialistic critique of a monomaniacal materialistic ideology. It is a modern-day Luciferian attempt to defeat the devil himself.
All right. In providing one apparent definition for “indigeneity” (possibly incorrect, correct, or degrees of both), and in suggesting that White peoples seem to be denied, on the basis of political propriety, the use of this term for themselves, I want to ask another question comprising a dimension of the query, “What do we mean when we say or write ‘Whiteness?’”: within such a framework for identity, can Whiteness be descriptively positive?
I want to proceed by another thought experiment for myself and readers. Look at the word “Whiteness”, and observe what thoughts and feelings arise. Now do the same for “Blackness.” I don’t know about you, but “Whiteness” for me largely evokes negative thoughts and feelings — sterility, tepidness, problematics, myopia, meanness — , while “Blackness” does the opposite. Yet these associations do not map to my lived experience; rather, now that I’ve had time to ruminate at a distance from hard political allegiance, I’ve understood that they map to the online and offline ideological atmosphere I’ve been around for some years now. As one example among countless others: last year, I attended an anti-police brutality demonstration, and when a young Black woman, who was reading a poem of hers aloud, knocked White people’s “spiceless tongues”, the White people in the crowd clapped and cheered. This happened at a time when my eyes had begun to open and I could see it for the strange event it was: a group self-diminishingly applauding its description as bland — for to not would be antithetical to the merciless march towards Utopia.
A source for this acceptance of self-diminishment seems to stem from this language game wherein “Whiteness” is used interchangeably with “White Supremacy.” I think that this mirrors the interchangeable uses of “Patriarchal” and “Misogynist.” These conflations, strategic or not, ensure that the first term in either pair is irremovably based on and defined by exploitation, despite a historical review of group-based phenomena showing, rather, a pattern of humans creating social structures in order to mitigate the problematics of survival, which are much greater than casually conceived by persons living in modern societies resplendent in conveniences. The later emergence of certain toxic strains and tyrannies from some of these social structures is a related subject, yet such emergences are too often made to be the equivalent in this language game, perhaps because such conceptual equalizing can make complex entangled issues appear neater and more vulnerable.
Again and again, I find a bizarre and largely ignored or unnoticed resemblance between this radical/progressive framework for Leftism and the more world-weary manifestations of Christianity. Here, there is a deeply cynical, practically paranoid belief that most of the things one has ever learned or been exposed to have been pernicious (it is interesting, too, that this belief has the characteristics of a conspiracy theory¹). The thinking goes, I suppose, that if that which is systemic is institutional, if institutionalization is hierarchical, and if hierarchicality is inherently exploitative, then Whiteness is fundamentally blighted. Consequently, the moral duty of the White person, so full of Original Sin, and basically an unconscious antagonizing body of socioeconomic advantage, is to violently demolish and empty theirself.
It is not evident, however, what assumes occupancy following this purge, aside from the “correct” ideology², codified and dictated without one’s input, and presumed by its adherents to uniformly contain unambiguous goodness. In fact, the White person may be told that the more discomfort they feel, the more in the presence of truth they must be (it cannot be overstated how dangerous this blanket assertion is). Perhaps nothing can assume occupancy because the purge never ends. It might be that this conceptualization of Whiteness as a sinful state is so extreme that identity therein is just a lifelong battle of un-learning until death. If it is true, as I wrote elsewhere, that the “sole determinant of reality herein seems to be whether or not a characteristic can be labeled normative, i.e., oppressive and false, or non-normative, i.e., oppressed and true”, Whiteness therefore acquires that quality of falseness, or inauthenticity, and is cast as a sham of identity.
Where is the room for self-determinacy and personhood here? Where are the positive aspects located, and how might they be found? If this is our model, I don’t know. The “merciless march to Utopia” seems to have left these considerations behind in the dust, as if they could only be the whining of immobile narcissists (as an example: a triangular diagram has been making the rounds which, amazingly, situates the reasonable question, “But what about me?”, in an area designated “Covert White Supremacy”). In case I’m being unclear: the problematic I’m describing is not that White peoples are now systematically unable to self-actualize or derive pleasure from their or other White peoples’ cultural works, nor that there is a lack of cultural heritages from White peoples to engage, but that this march seems constitutionally unequipped to be inclusive of — indeed, more often than not, and by all appearances, hostile towards — such positivity, individuality, and historical appreciation so that it may all grow alongside an informed criticality.
Stay in the troop enough and you might start to believe, as I did, that most White-created things are contaminated by White Supremacy and must be disowned or deemed boring, irrelevant, otherwise prejudiced, or unjustly canonized, and that the best stuff was/is stolen from people of color anyway. Earlier this year, I was stunned and disturbed when a person stated to a group, which I was a part of, that in truth it was really almost totally non-White (and non-heterosexual) inhabitants of the United States who had struggled and achieved great things . . . the not-imperceptible corollary being that White (heterosexual) peoples — irrespective of class — had uniformly sat on their haunches, profiting and oppressing. Crucially, I felt socially barred from questioning this, for I knew that doing so would be categorized as “fragility”, and that, even if what the person said was untrue and insensitive towards my familial history, and that of countless others’, I should just let it slide because the untruth of what was being said, I guess, paled in comparison to the untruths of White Supremacy.
What we are faced with seems to be a terrible Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t predicament for White peoples who want to engage a doctrine of racial justice, or find themselves among it: disagreeably or alternatively speak up and get chastised and possibly excommunicated, or keep your concerns to yourself, unquestioningly adopt the “right” words and turns of phrase, and live with an ever-constricting sense of intellectual and emotional self-repression and self-diminution.
I’ve found the avenue of Anti-White Supremacy groups, attended exclusively by White people, insufficient as well, for there too is the common casting of disagreement, perhaps in the name of individuality, as “fragility”, and a similar characterization of Whiteness as a lame yet insidious thing doomed to extinction. This is, I think, indicative of our childish, one-solution-fits-all politics of negation, which I wrote on recently, wherein the overt problematical aspects of one thing (not even necessarily exclusive to that thing) mean that it must be ridiculed and demolished, rather than transformed with a deep understanding that it is a phenomenon possessing polarities, and that to deny either of these domains entails great and often unpredictable risks of mutual ruination.
As I end this exploration, dissatisfied, exhausted, and still confused by a variety of things, I want to restate my point about self-repression, for the potential dangers of this effect are enormous. People can only stuff what they think and feel further down until spitefulness develops, which may in time invert whatever related sympathies one held to begin with and, in the end, explode outwards. I am able to realize this danger because I have had to fight against it myself. This year, I finally escaped a years-long living arrangement because I realized, once and for all, how parasitically it was depriving me of my right to personhood by turning me into a statistical stand-in; how its obsession with cleanly demarcating Oppressors and Oppressed was creating literal segregation and producing paranoia, tensions, and outright unsafe situations; and how professed concerns for the deprived and disadvantaged were being obviously and toxically overshadowed by a bitter, small-minded, swelling hatred for whatever group all of the blame could be put onto.
Psychologist and author Rollo May writes of neuroticism early on in his book The Discovery of Being — a text which I will also refer to in a future essay — , observing: “…in our day of conformism and the outer-directed person, the most prevalent neurotic pattern takes the […] form [of] going out too far, dispersing oneself in participation and identification with others until one’s own being is emptied. […] Patient after patient I’ve seen […] chooses to be castrated — that is, to give up their power — in order to not be ostracized.” Self-sacrifice can be an admirable and astonishing thing. When, however, there is a protocolic demand to sacrifice all of oneself to an ideological god, on the basis of that self being a nefarious construct placed atop the Immorality of History, we are in pretty big trouble, and we further endanger ourselves by not tending to the present just because we are so sure of our destination.
¹ These are, as far as I’ve been able to determine, the primary traits of conspiracy theories: 1) a totalizing belief in a centralized power, often characterized according to ethnicity, which has ever determined and continues to determine global history; 2) a belief that reality as we know it is essentially “negative” and an illusory construct founded on exploitation; 3) a categorical disinterest or near-immediate dismissal in anything which challenges this worldview; 4) the characterization of people who believe or think otherwise as “lost” or “ignorant”; 5) the ability to bring in data which when isolated may appear evidential but when subjected to a dynamic and broad scrutiny reveals a number of self-fulfilling prophetics.
² It is doubtful that this new occupant would indeed be called an ideology by its supporters. At the moment, it seems that “ideology” is frequently used to describe an “incorrect” or “tyrannous” political allegiance, when in fact, more accurately, the word neutrally denotes the inability or unwillingness to view and consider reality outside of a strictly political dimension.