What My Soul Sings

LenyDay 41 of our Lenten Journey beyond “Beyond Vietnam.”  From Leny Mendoza Strobel (photo right), Professor of American Multicultural Studies at Sonoma State University, in her Foreword to Ethnoautobiography: Stories and Practices for Unlearning Whiteness, Decolonization, Uncovering Ethnicities (2013):

A long-time colleague asked me, for the first time the other day: Why did you become interested in the Indigenous?  My answer was an academic one: When I started doing research on Filipino Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices.

What I really wanted to say was: I have always been interested in the Indigenous worldview; it’s what my bones know and what my soul sings.

I have been teaching whiteness studies for a long time.  My first entry into this emergent field was decades ago when authors like Gloria Anzaldua, Cherrie Moraga, Audre Lorde and bell hooks were writing about the colonized subject’s archeological project of unearthing the buried bones and memories of the colonized psyche.  In my own work I write about undoing the colonial gaze, taking off my colonial jacket, and remembering the messages I received from the dream world that I should keep my homeland on the map of Memory and Place.

Whiteness, I realized, was one of those constructs that I had to reckon and wrestle with as it became clear, the deeper I went into my work, that I had to learn how to let go of its hold in my life.  In the letting go and in being emptied of colonial projections, I needed to find another toehold that would ground my being.  I found my way back into my own Indigenous roots.

In my multicultural studies courses, I always include the topic of White privilege and its intersection with class and gender.  Over the years I’ve seen my students become more and more receptive to the concept of privilege but most of the discourse on White privilege always stopped short of offering students a process on how to decolonize European colonial thinking and how to end whiteness.

So I was very glad when I met Jurgen Kremer and read his work on Ethnoautobiography.  I realized that I could have summed up my own process of decolonization and Indigenization with this concept.  Our conversations led to the idea of a workbook that undergraduates can use that will offer a pathway out of whiteness and White privilege, out of the masterful (but empty) self constructed by modernity.

*Jurgen Kremer and R Jackson-Paton define Whiteness:

A broad term used to refer to the combined causes and effects of settlement and racial privilege, including many personal and cultural manifestations.  Inquiries about whiteness critique the cultural and historical experiences of White people, with particular attention to its social construction as a purveyor of privilege and status justifying oppression of non-Whites.  As with White, or White mind, this descriptor is not seen as a permanent state, but rather describes qualities to transform, heal and decolonize.

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