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Congress of the Oppressed II

My first year in graduate school I had a class with Renato Rosaldo called Cultural Citizenship, which was the first time since 4th grade I had been in the class were the majority of participants were people of color. There were 5-6 Native Americans (East Coast, West Coast, and South), 4 African-Americans (2 biracials and 2 monoracials, including me), 3 Asians (1 Indo-American, 1 Asian-American, and 1 Chinese male), 2-3 latinos, 1 jewish woman, and 1 white gay male. I named the class the Congress of the Oppressed, because every participant comes from a group who suffers from the dominant society's oppression.

What was fascinating about the class was that we had so much internalized the modes of engagement of the "oppressor" that in a class with no heterosexual,  WASP males, we started to oppress each other. This was accomplished by using alienating jargons and competitive argumentation styles that silenced one another. It was painful and heartbreaking that those who should know better did not.

The miracle was that half way through the class, we realized what we were doing, could discuss it, and then changed the dynamics. We began to engage with each other through poetry, music, drawings about the themes and experiences of cultural citizenship. That Congress of the Oppressed experience changed my life, because it made me aware of how in the words of Audre Lorde, "the master's tools can never dismantle his house" and that it is possible to build new houses with new tools for each other.

This is what makes me sad about the news that the Cherokee Nation has removed the 2,800 descendents of black slaves they owned from their roll of citizens by deciding that citizenship is based on "blood." Seventy-six percent had voted in favor of the amendment, thus barring the freedmen from receiving benefits from the $300 million budget, 80% funded by the US federal Government as reported by Daniel Walker of the Coffeyville Journal. In the same article, he mentions how this is part of a long history of racial discrimination by the Cherokee Nation against blacks, including the original enslavement, denial of education and attempts to confiscate their land in the 1880s.

One of the things we talked about in the cultural citizenship class was how blacks, Native Americans, and latinos all jockey for the position of the most oppressed. Thanks to the Cherokee Nation, it seems that the blacks have "won" that title today.


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