R3 Contingencies, LLC Prison Points of View: Racism in American Culture - R3 Contingencies, LLC
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Prison Points of View: Racism in American Culture

There has been quite a bit of debate lately about Critical Race Theory, discrimination, its place in the “system” and the like. Many valid points have been made on both sides. It’s tough to talk about.

No one, intelligent, wants to be seen as a bigoted, ignorant racist; and no one wants to be discriminated against. It is unfortunately too much of an emotionally charged topic to be able to have a level-headed discussion. Luckily, written articles can’t be interrupted. 

Let’s be clear. America is absolutely predicated on white Christian privilege. The day Columbus landed in the West Indies the massacre of the indigenous peoples began. American colonies displaced the friendly tribes and wiped out the others. The Manifest Destiny Doctrine. The ultimate justification of the white Christian culture was to take all it wanted and to kill everyone who resisted. 

It is also true that there has always been some pushback to this when the Cherokee Nation was ordered to leave their ancestral lands they filed a lawsuit in the US Supreme Court. The Court ordered President Andrew Jackson, the great Indian fighter, to cease and desist. He told the court that he didn’t have to. He had the Army on his side. We have all heard about the ensuing “Trail of Tears.”  

So the idea that America has systemic racism built into its bones is pretty on point.

Keep this in mind, we have vilified and demonized Adolf Hitler and the Nazis for their twelve years of terror and abuse of the Jewish people. But we did it for 450 years to the Indians! No one is talking about that though, are we?   Are Indians still so unimportant in American culture that we still don’t warrant a conversation? 

As a Native two-spirit (trans-gender) I have felt my share of bigotry and prejudice.  I am far more sensitive to it than perhaps many others.  I am also aware that it is not so much, individuals who are oppressive, but the culture.  I have seen, as well, that the oppressed, often hurt their own cause by embodying those negative stereotypes that we are routinely saddled with. 

For example, the drunken violent Indian (me), the droopy pants, dope slinging black, the super promiscuous queer, the wife-beater wearing gang banger. The list goes on. It is so obvious that we are not just those stereotypes. We are not the worst examples of our kind. Just as it is true that not every white is a trailer trash hick or a pompous bible-thumping megalomaniac. These are all just derogatory stereotypes. 

Have I managed to offend everyone yet?   

My friend Severin is from Uganda. He is very black.  He does not fit any sort of negative stereotypes and yet he has been the victim of racism.  He is a Doctor of Engineering with degrees in math and computer science.  He is treated by the racist system in the same way as the very worst criminals. As though he is guilty of being black.

 My friend, Tony, a fellow prisoner here, recently went to court for his “2/3s” under RSA 651:20. (Which allows prisoners to have the remainder of their sentence suspended so they can be offered an early parole.) He was told, in clear, glowing terms, how much of a fine example he was. The picture of what “rehabilitation” should look like. Then he was denied! He went back to court a while later to try and have his “earned time credit”s awarded. This is the New Hampshire version of time off for “good behavior” or “good time.” He was again told how good of a job he had done but was ultimately denied.

 Oh, I forgot to mention he’s black. You can check his story out in our article, Racism Abound in NH Courts.

It was not fair, it is not right, but it is happening. I had to fight to be able to attend the “sweat lodge ceremony.” I have been considered ineligible because I am transgender. That has fortunately worked out but that it even came up is a problem.

 We are not alone. The discrimination is truly systemic. I’ve seen that it is no longer just against non-whites but anyone who does not fit the cookie-cutter image. Anyone who is not a straight-laced, white Christian heterosexual is subject to discrimination. I check off all those boxes! Not.

 I remember when Carlos Gambino, the mafia boss protested (that is putting it nicely) the filming of The Godfather movie because he did not want Americans to think that all Italians are gangsters and criminals. It seemed a bit hypocritical but it was actually a good point. He was trying to break the stereotype.

People like Dr. King, Sylvia Rivera, and Malcolm X fought the culture that oppressed them. They were successful because they did two important things. First, they were proud to be who they were. They did not feel shame or guilt. They refused to feel bad for being who they were and because of that pride they bettered themselves. They became the best version of themselves that they could.

 The second thing was that they did not hate their opposition. The hate would only have corrupted their efforts. Hating your enemy may help in fighting them, but not ending the enmity.  That is the only solution. Racism and discrimination are a widespread problem it’s not just against blacks, Asians, or queers. It is against everyone who is not in the “us” category. It is, and always has been, the “us” versus “them.” No one seems comfortable with “we.” Queers hate on Asians, blacks hate on queers. Asians hate on blacks. There are no easy lines to draw.

We are all people and eventually susceptible to our own cultural bigotry.

 I get ridiculed for being transgender. I have to listen to the Indian jokes and mimicry. I understand the impulse to hate; to lash out. I feel so full of rage sometimes that all I can do is cry. But I also understand, I know for a fact, that I’m okay. Being trans is okay. Being Mikmaq is okay. Being angry is okay. I can and will take pride in myself, and who I am.  I will act with dignity and respect.

 I can’t possibly change the system by myself. No one can. So we each must do what we can to establish that we are not those negative stereotypes and that even if we were, we are still people. We can show the world that we are worthy of respect and we can win over some of our detractors. It is only then that systemic discrimination will begin to be destroyed.

 Discrimination is immoral. It is a well-known fact that you can’t legislate morality. It must be an individual choice, to not only treat, but believe that we are all different, yes, but we are also all equal. 

Gregory LaValle

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