Posted by: Tina M | 3 March , 2010

A reflection on the word “Native” and the various ways it appeared today

It began with a strange conversation at a bus stop in San Francisco. This older white man sat down at the bus stop and remarked that “You can’t pay any mind to those things”  (in reference to the time display of when the bus would come). I had to agree, since I’d been inconvenienced by public transportation earlier that day and I had mixed emotions about 1. being stuck at a bus station next to this man that is determined to have a conversation with me, no matter how little I say in return. and 2. being rescued from returning to work for a few minutes longer.

Luckily, Destiny made the ultimate choice and I spent 20 (at least it felt-) minutes listening to this man recount his time spent in Japan with “the natives” . . . and while he never used that phrase, he did keep describing the differential treatment he received than the “natives,” for instance:

“It’s different for the “natives” but when you walk into a hostel without a reservation, they’ll tell you there’s no room. . . ”

I mean, maybe I was assuming this man’s relation to the Japanese peoples to be one of an imperialistic exotifying nature, but the use of the term “native” has an awkward feeling to it.  I think it separates an “us” and “them” and usually white americans end feeling self righteous and entitled.

I continued to smile and wait, and then found a seat on the opposite end of the bus.

Hours later I was in a meeting, talking about a training we’re doing on LGBTQIQ cultural humility and one of the talking points is the coming to San Francisco as part of a Coming Out that many people experience, and the analogy was used “have you ever been at a party in the Bay Area and someone asks ‘Is anyone actually FROM here?'” and I agreed and then remembered that my co-worker was a Bay Area “native” and I pointed this out (a little awkwardly) and this made me recognize the privilege of moving and starting over. It’s different to carry all of your personal history and connections with you in your daily life. It’s a privilege I experience in my daily life. . . a blessing and a curse.

I was talking with my co-worker on the BART ride home and she mentioned her Brother was on his way to Africa for some International Dance event. She laughed as she explained that his Birthday would fall in the middle of his trip, and so he’d be celebrating with “the natives.” This called upon connections between “Native” Africans and African Americans. The often times over-exaggerated connection between the two communities vs. the pride and community that is born out of a sharing of the repercussions of Fucked up imperialistic rule and enslavement that is still vibrating across the surface of all of our communities. . . and of course there’s the fact that I’ll never know what it means (by virtue of my white privilege).

I do know this, it’s a loaded term.


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