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Troubled Mixtures (2017-10-24)

A big ol' splash. A big ol' splash.
With a Little Help From the Folks at pinterest, October 2017

There are many topics that can be counted on to raise tempers and generate controversies in north america, and despite the many pious claims about slavery being long gone – would that it was, but it isn't, it's just being called something else – and how there are no laws against "miscegenation" anymore, the fact remains that so-called "race mixing" remains controversial. It is often referred to by other names that obfuscate the racist underpinnings of mainstream anxiety about it. How long this will continue to the case with the mainstreaming of white racism against anyone labelled "not white" in the united states remains to be seen, although racists are as happy to use euphemistic terminology as anyone with bad intentions towards those they deem "other." What we can all be certain of, whatever the favoured racist words of the moment are, is that the concern will be focussed on "white miscegenation." No other mixing counts.

This makes "mixed race" people, presumed mixed "white with something else" a perpetual source of anxiety. As J. Olumide has written, such people are either pathologized or set on a pedestal. They must be either tormented, unsure of who they are, with nowhere to call home, sentenced to an inevitably sad and degraded life, or saintly and selfless individuals who labour tirelessly at their own expense to cure white people of their racism. Never mind that racism is not a sickness, but a word we use to describe a hierarchical system of white privilege and teachings that tell white people they are superior and have the right to degrade "non-whites." Based on this rationalization the Métis Nation is still denounced by some writers as a degraded group, not a nation, that only resisted the imposition of the nascent canadian state because they were degraded. Political and historical complexity neatly overruled by the claim that Métis behaviour was wholly dictated by their inappropriately mixed "racial" heritage.

For those keeping track, that's the real meaning of essentialism by the way, the claim that inborn characteristics, real or imagined, dicate a person's behaviour, likes, and dislikes throughout their life. Note this is not the same thing as using identifying characteristics to tell different beings or objects apart. For example, mammals can be differentiated from reptiles by such features as having hair and bearing live young. Those characteristics don't tell us how the mammals in general or in specific will behave apart from the physical consequences of having hair and bearing live young.

Then of course, there is the extraordinary praise for anyone who is wiling to "play indian" especially if they are willing to play the version who is a "mixed blood" out of direct contact with their putative Indigenous heritage. These folks are easy to pick out. They always come from nowhere specific, can't explain their specific and current ties that reflect their integration in an Indigenous community, and may be quick to rattle off a stream of more or less obscure Indigenous nations they believe they have some distant ancestor in. The most savvy avoid the now worn out claim that "Great great great great grandma was a Cherokee princess." If they are in the public eye, these are the folks who are happy to go along with settler moves to innocence, teh last thing they want to do is make whites uncomfortable or sound angry. Nowadays it's a lot harder to get away with this shit than it used to be, as Joseph Boyden has discovered to his social cost, though he had already reaped plenty of financial and critical rewards before his façade was punctured. Neither his behaviour, nor anyone else who tries to play this game, was piloted along this path by their "mixed-race" heritage.

The ongoing anxiety about white miscegenation ties back to the discontent with the reality of ethnogenesis as discussed in Ethnogenesis and its Discontents. But that is not all it is. On reading and listening more closely to the relatively mainstream expressions of this anxiety, I was startled to realize it all sounded familiar in a cock-eyed sort of way. A version that may be a bit less immediate and so easier to recognize and read through is drawn out by Patricia Roy in the first part of her trilogy of books about anti-asian racism in british columbia, A White Man's Province. The most virulent writers claimed in the case of Chinese immigrants that if they were allowed to immigrate freely to the province, they would soon out-compete and overrun the whites. Furthermore, they insisted that these newcomers were dirty and carried infectious disease. With a few small adjustments, the same claims are made again and again, in more or less vicious words, about yet another "non-white" group. The only reason Indigenous people are not generally spoken of in quite the same way is because we are assumed to be too small in numbers and therefore not any biological threat.

In other words, the loudest denouncers of immigration and miscegenation are most anxious and worried because they fear being treated in the same way that their ancestors treated Indigenous peoples. Or in some cases, their cousins in what used to be referred to as "the colonies." They can't believe that isn't exactly what somebody else will do to them at the first opportunity, and since people who think they are white have been and are engaged in violent colonial behaviour all over the world, there's a lot of worry and bad conscience to go around. This then feeds a circular rationalization for refusing to stop colonizing, refusing to put an end to systems of oppression of all kinds, because they insist that means they will be subjected to the very same things next. This circle of nonsense is anything but true, but it is good at keeping a person anxious and scared, therefore unable to think and reason. Nor are they able to see or accept that others aren't chomping at the bit, just waiting to colonize them. Is it any wonder that the two most medicated conditions in northern north america right now are anxiety and depression?

Copyright © C. Osborne 2017
Last Modified: Monday, May 29, 2017 2:03:23