This bridge called my solidarity: The divide between Black women and Indigenous activism
On Thanksgiving last week, Colin Kaepernick joined Indigenous peoples celebrating the Indigenous Peoples’ Sunrise Gathering at Alcatraz to commemorate the anniversary of the Indigenous 1969 takeover of the island. His attendance has been praised as an important and necessary act of solidarity during a whitewashed holiday rooted in genocide and violence and the one year anniversary of the Standing Rock resistance.
And honestly while a part of me was really happy at Kaepernick’s act of solidarity and the acknowledgement of a mutual struggle, the power of the visibility he helped bring to that moment, I was also a bit bitter. Black people across ethnic groups and nationalities aren’t granted the same support and solidarity or consideration by other non-Black Indigenous American people in return, even as our movements and work are used by everyone to elevate themselves.
It isn’t just them, though. Everyone has been biting from Kaepernick to give light to their movements and struggles and erase the inherent Blackness of his original protest. Whether making it about “Brown” people (whatever that even means), Donald Trump, or MMIW, the original intent and goal of the movement has been taken over by people who don’t actually care for Black struggles or stand in solidarity with us, but are willing to take the work Kaepernick and Black folks at large have done and the reach it has, without nearly as much backlash.
This is all hard for me to navigate around this time of year. I too have previously protested the holiday through fasting and went to Standing Rock last year. I believe fully I cannot get my freedom if Indigenous peoples of this land do not get theirs as well. But beyond my own personal stake in their liberation, I just care for them because I should. While we have shared histories and traumas, commonality isn’t what drives me to care, but a human love and compassion towards their unique struggle and a wish to support them in getting their liberation and justice.
But this is a lonely place to be in as an Afro-Latina woman, because, again, I don’t often receive the same consideration and solidarity in return. And nothing made that more apparent than the previous week’s backlash towards Nicki Minaj’s sharing of fanart depiction Disney’s Pocahontas in the style of her recent Paper Mag cover.
Without a doubt, Minaj sharing that fan art of Disney’s Pocahontas drawn in the style of her recent Paper mag cover is problematic and messy. The piece is in poor taste, sexist and perpetuating fucked up stereotypes, not because there’s something wrong with a woman of color being sexual, but because the hypersexualization of that specific caricature which is already a false depiction, and the context of said hypersexualization, is dangerous.
But it has to be named that Minaj herself didn’t draw nor commission that piece, an Argentinian Instagram artist by the name of Dave Salamanca R. created it and tagged her. She shared the fan art along with a bunch of other pieces parodying her, including one of Bojack Horseman. I don’t see this artist getting as much backlash over his creation of that piece as she has, nor has anyone noted that she shared a bunch of pop fan art. They’re making it out like Minaj had this specific piece intentionally commissioned for herself and shared only that piece from a place of joy and humor.
Minaj also did not create the larger context under which that image is violence, this settler colonial culture, or this depiction. All the blame for that falls very squarely on Disney (who has been sued by Viand in the larger scheme a history and continuance of settler colonialism and whiteness, as does our lack of education on that reality that gets whitewashed in the Pocahontas movie. Yet no one has gone after Disney or our education system. As far as I know, while people, who weren’t ever fans of hers or likely any other Black female artist in the first place, are calling to boycott Nicki, no one has made calls to boycott Disney. There’s a clear antagonism that is felt towards Nicki but not any other players involved in this image. While she does hold some responsibility for the sharing of the fan art, people are hyper-focusing their outrage on her for blatantly slut-shaming and racist reasons. I scrolled through comment after comment, page after page, Instagram account after Instagram account and saw the full-force of the anger, slut-shaming, racism, and shaming.
Demands for solidarity with AAVE and appropriated social justice terms and hashtags peppered therein un-ironically dominated my feed as well. One form or another of “You of all people should know better!” were also to be found everywhere. I had to unfollow probably well over a dozen pages and accounts. The toxicity was overwhelming.
Overall, I’m more likely to see more calls for patience, mutual understanding and solidarity with well-meaning but still racist white people and communities, and compassion lent “well-meaning white allies” who do the bare minimum than to a Black woman, who is expected to not only carry and know her history as an Afro-Caribbean woman and the history and politics of African American culture struggles as well, but be versed and carry the struggles of Indigenous women, even though they have made no offers to return the favor.
The joy and ease of which many Indigenous men took in virulently attacking and shaming Nicki Minaj in clearly gendered ways stood out to me as well. There was otherwise no word from these men when #MeToo was at its peak and an article about The Native Harvey Weinsteins by Adrienne K was making the rounds, nor any criticisms from others of their silence. There was no comparable outlash when some women brought up the violence of the AIM movement towards women and leaders when Dennis Banks died. The peak of this hypocrisy and patriarchy came when people started circulating Ricardo Cate’s response art, a dehumanized depiction of a Nicki Minaj being slapped by Disney’s Pocahontas.
Minaj exists in her own context of a dangerous hypersexual racialized gaze that has been oppressive, rapacious, vile and deadly to Black women since slavery, during colonization and throughout our history in the settler colonies we were kidnapped to. It was this pathological demonization that crowds and crowds of Indigenous people and their allies in the comments gleefully engaged in while allegedly taking issue with this kind of violence happening to Indigenous women.
Ultimately, they prioritized an already false and dangerous caricature which many have called to stop being used or reclaimed even by Indigenous peoples over the life and existence of a real live breathing Afro-Caribbean woman, perpetuating that misogynoir and sexualized violence towards her. I have to ask, are they lying about caring about racialized hypersexualization or hypocrites who buy wholesale into the idea that Black womanhood is inherently contemptible and thus not deserving of respect or care?
And it has to be realized, when we talk about cultural appropriation and violence, we have to do it with understanding historical contexts. There isn’t one for Black appropriation and antagonism towards any other racial group (even if we participate in white or other settler violence of the sort) but there is a context for antagonism from all other groups, including people of color, towards Black people, and those groups benefiting from it. That is why Anti-Blackness is understood and spoke of as a unique phenomena. Minaj is not equally as bad or just like white people for sharing this fan art, but non-Black people of color can engage in a colorism and anti-Blackness in a way that is damaging towards Black women. This is not tit-for-tat, there are actual consequences towards the bigotry and sexualized racism these people displayed towards Minaj here.
I’m not trying to take away or derail from the nastiness of that original fan art or the anger towards it, or belittle how it hurt people, especially Indigenous women. But I don’t really think I saw any anger towards the image that wasn’t imbued thoroughly with anti-Black antagonism, whether overt or covert. I can no longer focus on the original offense when a more egregious one was added on it and participated in by everyone without blinking an eye. So many shared liked or posted bigoted comments, shared a Native dude drawing a clearly denigrated and less than human image of Nicki Minaj, a real life woman, being slapped by a better drawn, better honored Disney Pocahontas, which is the one that is actually an unrealistic and racist caricature.
It’s telling and sad that the only time I ever see Black women or (and, often synonymous, darker skin) in Native spaces is to get disproportionately angry at them for cultural insensitivity/appropriation or demanding they elevate so-and-so issue with their platform. I never see any Black (including Afro-Indigenous) person on Native social media, even though an embarrassing amount of of Indigenous pop culture takes from or is straight up Black. That leaves me instead constantly hearing, seeing and watching Black culture, slang and Blackness being used, worn and appropriated with the very specific exclusion and erasure of Black people themselves, or even worse, only ever seeing Black bodies being abused or mocked for misstepping.
Over the years it has become apparently to me how non-Black people of color weaponize the charge of cultural appropriation against Black people, Black women specifically in really blatant ways, and that to them, “solidarity” is a hammer to wave when convenient. These communities are slow to everything surrounded solidarity except quick to mobilize and vilify Black people, women especially.
People who otherwise say nothing about Black people, have no relationships or connections with us or our movements, say nothing about Black issues, show absolutely no care or consideration for Black struggle, don’t even so much share a link or post an image of a Black person aside from a popular artist or poet whose music and art they like to consume (and often superimpose themselves into) have no right to ask me for solidarity. When all you do towards us is steal from our existence, our labor, our movements, our culture, we have no real solidarity between us. And no, moments like Kaepernick’s attendance of the Unthanksgiving event at Alcatraz doesn’t count, because that was his labor and his act. He made his way towards Indigenous peoples, not the other way around.
The thing is about solidarity is that not every act or exchange between different groups of color should be called it, and can be misleading if it is. If you stay still in your spot and your position, especially as a non-Black person, and Black people move 100 miles to meet you where you are at, and where you’re positioned is rife with anti-Blackness, that isn’t solidarity, and it isn’t safe for us to make our way towards you. That is us doing all the labor to show solidarity with you at the risk of ourselves. To take credit and say “This is what solidarity looks like!” when you haven’t even lifted a finger to support us or challenge bigotry in your ranks is shitty and disingenuous.
Not only are we owed an apology for violence and anti-Blackness perpetuated and true solidarity and support for our movements and struggles, we’re owed credit for what of Indigenous resistance comes from us as well. We’re owed accolades and checks for the appropriating of #SayHerName, for “Black Snake Killaz” and all misuses or appropriations of AAVE, many forms of street art and graffiti, shirts that say “Priest Don’t Kill My Tribe”, for Indigenous academia and pedagogy that is essentially just stolen and uncited African American and Afro-Diasporic work and pedagogy, every Native Hip Hop act pretty much ever, and so much more.
Exploiting our culture while erasing and even hating and abusing us is absolutely an act of colonialism and cultural warfare. I won’t stand in solidarity with that.