, July 25, 2012
On its face value, this book seems like a necessary critical piece coming from this beautiful renaissance era of interdisciplinary social sciences and the proliferation of scholarship in fields such as Critical Race Studies, Indigenous Studies, and Ethnic Studies.
Smith has certainly become one of the leading lights in Native American academe, however, IN LIGHT OF HER BEING REPEATEDLY ASKED AND OUTED BY MEMBERS OF THE CHEROKEE NATION TO STOP CLAIMING SHE IS CHEROKEE-which she reportedly claimed she would do-THE COMMODIFICATION OF RACE AGENCY by Smith continues.
This is very, very sad. Smith is not a Native American scholar. She is not Cherokee. On her own, she has created some compelling scholarship, which unfortunately, is completely hijacked when one is outed as being a Native imposter. And the interesting backlash from her outing has been that the radical left, which is certainly a place I called home myself, which claims that it isn't stuck in identity constructions like the liberal left, and has been reaching transformational level theory in expanding intersectionality, or the social construct of white supremacy and transcending it into a 21st century paradigm (it is a technology of globalized American empire).
I look at the past few years, and two interdisciplinarian scholars in the small radical left academe have been outed as being privileged whites claiming false Indian heritage. This is really painful. Churchill, he was an egoist. Smith, in person, is quite likable, certainly compelling. Her outing and lack of any rebuttal is distressing.
And the reactions to both of these cases (Ward Churchill & Andy Smith) have been most instructive, and hurtful. In the world of radical scholarship, agency is key. Although a critic of "Oppression Olympics" and often quoted for her rethinking OO writings-Smith actually has utilized the ultimate check mate in what is an increasing world of reverse oppression being created by the most purist and righteous social thinkers on deconstructing race, and all of the -isms our capitalistic society creates as it continues to consume and oppress.
There has been some interesting scholarship on the agency of claiming American Indian heritage. Rayna Green (Cherokee-real) who is now at the Smithsonian has incredible insights. Smith has even written on this, and hindsight now makes her seem pathological, even messianic. It's very sad.
On its surface, Smith seems to be deeply aligned with Native Americans, women of color, etc. She says very right on stuff. However, step back from all of this-and shouldn't an enlightened, liberated scholar see how claiming an agency that was never hers to claim is the ultimate appropriation? It isn't lost on many of us, and the fact that seminal books by authentic Native Americans such as Deloria's "Playing Indian" are out of print, yet, South End press has literally made millions from library and repeated text book sales from their fake, right on Indians, Churchill and Smith-is the true fallout from all of this.
The fact is, America is colonized, and real Native Americans are uncomfortable being around for most. And it isn't just a white/Indian thing-as the scholarship in this wonderful interdisciplinary elightenment is often void of the level below all of the exploited minorities who were in myriad ways enslaved to be here. Their brutalization is real, no doubt, but they rarely add Native American genocide into their own overall analyses. Some do, and I hope that this transformation evolves.
Smith grew up in the liberal mecca of San Francisco. She is a product of Harvard, the UC System, became a leftist academic superstar when UMI bounced her at tenure review (institutionalized censorship of Native Women is top tier agency in this gated community "world"). Reality is-she had a feather landing into an Assoc. Prof position at UCR-one of the premium paying university systems, unionized no less, in higher ed. This is the type of privilege rarely seen extended to most Natives-and honestly, Occum's Razor, is likely the product of someone brilliantly gaming the game.
It's shameful, and she speaks all over, gives convocations and key notes at small liberal arts schools and internationally represents herself as a Third Worlder, and is continually credited as being either Cherokee or Native American-because they have ultimate claim to these occupied lands, and that is something my beloved social libertarians and progressive ally communities want to hear about, feel like they control understanding of, and she offers them a safe way to learn about something which many could authentically understand if they actually visited the few Native lands or banished lands left that haven't been sucked into (re)occupation by the capitalistic technology (ie Casino).
And the first person to really out her, Russel on Indian News Today-he has been trashed by many of my righteous allies because as a Cherokee, their nation has no right to exclude those who claim Cherokee if they aren't enrolled. What???? In any other situation, these people would pounce and verbally dissect a white person who claims and created a career out of privilege off of being black when they aren't. Some are claiming that Smith obviously looks like something-which is ironic and extremely sad all at once given their laborious dissections of how race and gender and class and isms are constructed.
The reality is, the claiming of agency as a Native is a political and cultural reality. Smith, even if she is 1/32 or 1/8th Native, is not Native American. It's the Smoki all over again. I wish that culturally, we were advanced enough to understand the concept and construct of the Metis-and wonder why such an obviously brilliant women, if she is indeed of mixed or even distant Native heritage, did not push those boundaries in the halls of the private and public ivies. That would be very radical-for us to accept Metis, and not create the single silo of Mixed for the human remnants of our this empire's founding extermination.
Look at how dysfunctional our dismantling and deconstruction has gotten us. At the end of the day, so many of us, in this isolating and increasingly dehumanizing culture we live in, want to be recognized, be a part of something, and when we look into that something we are a part of, the agency of oppressor is so brutal, so visceral, that even the best of us will attain ultimate oppressor status by playing from both sides of the privileged deck of cards.
Smith had privilege from the agency of acculturation in San Francisco. She knew how to exploit and manipulate make believe Indian agency to become a top tier professor. What puts her into the category of uber-oppressor is that she continues to travel and collect thousands of dollars in honorariums. And because she is a social networker, an important skill in this small pool within the US academe, the deconstructing exercise has come full circle and many radical left academic celebs are actually blaming legitimate Natives for having oppressive means of self identity.
Sit back and think about this-it is so messed up. It makes my stomach hurt.
And to set the record straight-because this really is the agency in leftist academe, I am an enrolled member of a tribe, but I do not make any claims to be Native, as even though my mitochondria is clear-my agency isn't. I grew up in the urban east coast seaboard, and my Native parent, a child adopted through the Mormon Industrial complex, which has been systematically trying to also become the "tribe" of the west by appropriating Natives (not dissimilar to these leftist Native wannabe Native scholars!)
I've said my peace. I hope that there are enough authentic thinkers out there to really integrate this teachable moment and evolve. Again, if Smith would clearly speak on this matter, I am a person who is capable of forgiving and certainly sees what humane things she has been portraying in her scholarship. I hope she will tell people the truth and sincerely apologize. I think her voice is important, and am just very hurt by seeing an ally exposed like this.