07 11 / 2013
05 10 / 2013
edit: please read this post before contacting me about any posts i’ve made related to this matter.
it’s been a week, no word from joseph fink. as mentioned in the edit of my previous post, here is the entirety of my email to him, in which i used some major kid gloves when discussing why the apache tracker’s arc upset me as well as flat out begging him to consider the humanity of native people and maybe try prioritizing that instead of the humanity of racists.
My name’s Ellyd. I wrote a post on Tumblr examining the implications of the Apache Tracker’s plot arc and why it was so troubling to me as a Native person. I believe Laura linked you to that post so I won’t send it again. I don’t know if you read it but I wanted to speak to you personally regarding why I find this arc so upsetting and why I have been troubled so much by your responses to criticisms thereof.
My goal is not to make you feel bad about something you have written but to beg you to consider how this plot is alienating and hurtful to people of color who are fans of Night Vale, regardless of authorial intent. (Also, I ask that you be forgiving of any potential typos as I am in the midst of a chronic pain flare, the medication for which makes me a little woozy.)
It is impossible for me as a Native person to approach any media in a vacuum. Everything is consumed within the context of my lived experience. Which has overwhelmingly been one of derision and dismissal of my indigenous identity by non-Natives. I have no doubt that this is a experience shared by all indigenous peoples living in a post-colonial world. Growing up, I was told repeatedly by kids and adults alike that I couldn’t possibly be Native because we were all dead. There is, unarguably, an enormous amount of ignorance surrounding indigenous people and our particular struggles. When I first started listening to Night Vale I was incredibly excited to hear Cecil holding the Apache Tracker accountable for his misuse of our sacred symbols such as his cartoonishly fake and insulting headdress and willful misinterpretation of Native religions and cultural practices.
It often feels like a minute-by-minute struggle to explain to people why these symbols are not to be misused and why it is so incredibly harmful to perpetuate this cultural theft. It is not just a matter of appropriation being wrong. It is also the context of the horrors of still ongoing genocide and the Catholic boarding schools that our elders were forced to attend, where they were beaten and tortured for practicing their indigenous religions. This forced assimilation has resulted in the wide-scale loss of our religious and cultural traditions. Tens of thousands of years of history have been wiped out. What we have left to us are fragments, and only too often do we see what little we have being distorted and misrepresented in the media, often to the financial gain of non-Natives. More often than not, attempts to educate people on correct representations are ignored or met with hostility. We are told to get over these stereotypes, while at the same time we suffer from them in real and often violent ways, such as the direct correlation between the staggeringly high occurrence of rape of Native women that is overwhelmingly perpetrated by non-Native men, and the “sexy squaw” stereotype still indulged by non-Natives to this day. While a white woman may see no harm in dancing nude in a fake headdress as an expression of her “wild side,” indigenous people know only too well how this reinforces notions of Native women as sexual objects to be exploited.
When we are hurt by stereotypical images and behaviors that are seen to perpetrators as harmless the impact of these instances are minimized as a personal excess of sensitivity and inability to take a joke. Furthermore, it is more often than not demanded of us that we take into account the humanity of those who would misuse our cultural signifiers and perpetuate harmful stereotypes while at the same moment our own humanity is being denied us. I cannot begin to count the number times I have been told to consider the feelings of those who have treated my culture and the cultures of my fellow indigenous people as a fashionable trend to be used and discarded. I am routinely told that they didn’t mean to hurt me. That, if their racism is indeed acknowledged as such at all, the lack of malicious intent supposedly should lessen the blow. The feelings, the humanity, of those perpetuating racism is routinely prioritized over those experiencing it. If I am not suitably deferential in my approach, if I do not prioritize reassuring someone that they are still a good person despite their ignorant and hurtful actions, my feelings are disregarded entirely as invalidated by my anger. The threat looms large that if I don’t play nice, so to speak, the racism will continue and will have been justified by my failure to articulate my hurt in a way that is palatable to those doing the hurting.
It is within this context that I consume all media, and it is within this context that I am so troubled by the Apache Tracker’s storyline and the desire to give him humanizing dimensions. I am troubled by the fact that he was able to completely appropriate Native identity as his own by fully transforming into a Native American. I am troubled by the fact that this experience in no way enlightened him to his horrific behavior hitherto. I am troubled by the fact that it is once he goes from white to brown that he dies. I am troubled by the fact that he is given a monument at all, that he is declared by Cecil to be a “good man” in spite of his racism, and further by the fact that if Cecil himself is not Native American, it is not remotely his place to disregard all the ways in which the Apache Tracker has contributed to these real world systems of oppression that hurt real Native people, like me.
Within the context of contemporary indigenous struggles, I am begging you to please consider that this is not just a matter of a few people being too sensitive, or just not getting it. I am asking that you examine critically why this racist was given a monument, why he was declared a good man in spite of his racist actions, whereas we have heard no confirmed Native voices weigh in. The entire conversation regarding the impact of the Apache Tracker’s racism, directed at Native Americans, has gone on without the input of any characters we know to be Native. I am asking you to please consider the fact that your Native fans know only too well how it feels to be talked over, to be ignored, to be told they must prioritize the humanity of those who do not afford us the same courtesy. And also to understand that my desire to generate discussion about this is not me trying to bash Night Vale or the work that was put into it. It is because I am so invested in this story and the joy that 95% of it brings me that I am continuing to try to talk about the aspects that are hurtful to me. I don’t want to just stop listening. But I do want to be able to listen without feeling, yet again, as if the humanity of racists is given precedent over that of indigenous people such as myself.
If anything in my email is unclear, please let me know and I will be happy to clarify or just discuss this further.
so there’s that. at this point i am so over talking about this shit but in sum: cultural context matters. it matters that we are denied the right to tell our own stories while white people overwhelmingly profit off of their own inaccurate depictions of us. it matters than when we speak up, we are frequently ignored. it matters that appropriation is more than just icky, but an extension of cultural genocide and the destruction of indigenous identity and that is why it’s really, really, really, REALLY not cool to write plots in which indigenous identity is something attainable for racist, appropriative assholes. it matters that every single self-identified native that i have seen reblog my first post has expressed the same discomfort that i feel with this plot, but we are still being spoken over, non-natives dissecting whether or not this plot is actually racist and if follow-up plots negate any racism hitherto, as if our feelings do not factor in one way or another. it matters that even in media that purports to spread a message of anti-appropriation, that is indeed progressive in many other ways, we hear nothing from any characters actually identified as native, meanwhile racists who contribute to the systems that harm us are graced with humanizing arcs.
given what a mess of fuckups this plot is, and the outright refusal of the writers to hear criticism thereof, i won’t be listening anymore and i can’t in good conscience recommend welcome to night vale to anyone, as much as i otherwise like it. the absolute number fucking ONE rule of writing about oppressed people in a non-shitty way is a willingness to listen to those people, and the creators have not demonstrated that at all. especially considering the fact that a simple “thanks for your feedback, we have heard you, we will try very hard not to fuck up in future” would have made literally all the difference in the world.