January 8, 2007

La Raza, White Privilege and the "Hippie Question"

On New Year's Day, I hailed the forthcoming book The Cost of Privilege: Taking on the System of White Supremacy and Racism. Until they get a website up to promote the book, I hereby declare Fire on the Mountain the official unofficial publicist for this most important work.

One thing I want to do is to draw attention to the ways, overt and insidious, that white privilege has affected people's resistance to the capitalist system and the ruling class in this country.

This post reprints a 1969 document from New Mexico. From today's Santa Fe, no doubt it will look as quaint as a chamber pot. It was written at a time when Chicana/o activists had initiated an armed struggle to defend and reclaim land that was theirs under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, a formative battle in the rising movement of La Raza.

It was also a time when young white people started surging out of the suburbs and cities to places like Vermont and New Mexico, to chill and pursue a lifestyle closer to the earth. These two social movements collided, and here's what it looked like from the point of view of El Grito del Norte, one of the most important publications of the rising Chicana/o movement. For all the years intervening and the changes since, there are notes in here that ring as true as they did, that will spark anger and shame as surely as they did on the day they were written.

The words "white privilege" are never mentioned here, but the article displays a deep and rich critique of the actual mechanisms of privilege and of the invisibility of those mechanisms to those who are given the privileges.

Newcomers and Old Struggles

...After talking with many people, EL GRITO has come to some conclusions about the Hippie Question.

The first one is this: Any violation of anybody's civil rights is a threat to everybody. If the police are today arresting Hippies when they have committed no crime, they can arrest you tomorrow--in the same way.

The second one is that teaching hatred of human beings must be fought against. We can hate injustice or oppression or lies, and we must fight--maybe even kill--people guilty of these crimes against humanity. But to teach hatred of people based on the way they dress or their religion or whatever it is--this is dehumanizing and dangerous. La Raza has had enough experience of this, not to become guilty of it to others.

The third one is a message to the Hippies, or Longhairs, especially those who are thinking of coming to New Mexico. It is a message offered in a spirit of humanity and truth-telling.


The basic message is: PLEASE DON'T COME! At least not now. Stop and THINK about a few things you may not have heard about or thought about.

Think about the fact that, as much as you reject your middle-class Anglo society and its values, you are still seen here as gringos, Anglos. Think about the 120-year old struggle by chicanos and the even older struggle by by Indians to get back land stolen from them by Anglo ranchers and their Anglo lawyer buddies. Think about what it means for a new influx of Anglos--no matter how different their purpose from those others--to come in and buy up land that the local people feel to be theirs and cannot afford to buy themselves. Think about the fact that a real estate agent in Taos reports having sold almost $500,000 worth of land to longhairs.

Think, on the other hand, about how people have sometimes reacted to Hippies who get welfare payments and food stamps. Even though this takes nothing away from poor Raza people, they have felt resentment. It seems like a false representation, when the Hippie involved can get money from home or a decent job if necessary.

Think about the water problem. Longhairs usually come from the big city, not knowing that water here is precious and often hard to get. They see a stream and wash their feet or dishes in in. Hey! That's our drinking water. We are used to being abused, ignored, scorned--but that's too much.

Think about not only the land and the water, but the culture. Longhairs come, often deliberately unwashed and ungroomed in their rebellion against a sterile, hypocritical middle-class society. They don't see that, for the Spanish-speaking people, cleanliness is a weapon of cultural self-defense against the oppressor. It is not a symbol of hypocrisy, but of the little pride and self-respect left to them, preciously guarded. So is conventional sexual morality: the tight-knit family is everywhere a source of strength and unity against a hostile environment. Longhair values might sometimes be better--but they cannot be imposed. Especially when you are not joining the struggle of the people against the oppression which is the source of many Raza values.

Think about the educational advantages that you often have--whether you wanted to have them or not. You can come here and start a little business, and you will often succeed where Raza people fail (or would not even try). "Son muy vivo," Raza people say--the hippies are very bright. It is often true, it is not your "fault" but it is important to remember how many times the Anglo's education and technology helped to make him a successful oppressor. If you say "I've come to learn from the People," excuse us if we sometimes remember: that's what the Anglos said when they came to the Sierra Nevada, learned from us how to mine, and then drove us out, even murdered us.

Think about yourself, and just how clear you are about rejecting your own society's values. Recent events here have shown that, when things get heavy, the longhairs sometimes act very much like the society they have fled. When a hippie woman in Taos was raped by a chicano youth (because the chicanos don't understand free women and because they have been taught not to see hippies as human beings), the longhair men called the cops--THE COPS. In another case the longhair went out and shot the chicano for supposedly raping "his" woman. And he got off, with a hung jury.

Think about this: the longhair has opted out. Most of the chicanos and Indians have no option--except revolution. People here cannot flee to islands of peace in a nation of horrors, this is their nation. It cannot be said too often: there is a long, hard political and economic struggle in these beautiful mountains, a struggle for land and justice. That struggle calls for fighters and supporters, not refugees with their own set of problems. You may see the scenery and relief from an oppressive America. We see a battleground against oppression.

Think about this: if you (rightly) condemn your own society, your own culture, so strongly--why not go where it is, and change it? And if your answer is "I can't" or "I won't," then think about what this answer implies--and whether you are then a person needed by the people here, who can be useful here.

Now, finally, please think about this: if you must come, wait a while. Wait until things cool off for longhairs, wait until the speed freaks have (hopefully) left, wait until the longhairs who are already here can develop a better climate--if they can. While you wait, READ and LEARN about this part of the country. Read what has been done to the people here by the white man; find out why they see Kit Carson and all those other frontier types as murderers--not heroes; find out what the U.S. Forest Service and Smokey the Bear represent here. Don't just put on a long skirt and think that you understand "the Indians"; too many rich tourist ladies do that too. Learn Spanish, learn about the everyday culture, hang around some poor Spanish-speaking families. Learn about the tradition of courtesy, and why you must not presume on it. Learn some humility; look in yourself for unconscious arrogance and selfishness.

Ask yourself, what do I know? Do you know how many Mexican-Americans there are in this country? Do you know that in terms of education and jobs, they are worse off even than the Blacks? Can you imagine what it is to speak one language as a child and then suddenly be dumped into a classroom where another is enforced on you--and fall behind in class, and then be told you are stupid?

Can you see the difference between being poor and being without money? Can you go to a demonstration by poor people and let them run it in their way, and not impose your style as did some longhairs in Santa Fe recently? Can you show respect for another people's culture and not be disrespectful simply because that's the way you feel toward your own culture? Can you in other words, do some hard thinking?

If you think, you won't come. Not now. And when you do come, come as a revolutionary.

El Grito del Norte, July 6. 1969
reprinted in "Tierra O Muerte: The Land Belongs to the People"
(A Radical Eduction Project pamphlet, 1970)

If there is sufficient interest, I will post the follow-up article from El Grito del Norte, "No Parking on people's Earth" (March 28, 1970)

1 comment:

Nelson H. said...

Awesome post. To follow up I'm gonna leave some spam. Promote this SHIT!!!

Comment spamming below:

In the coming weeks I'm challenging myself to take on questions of white supremacy and white privilege as a central focus in all forthcoming posts. I extend this challenge to others in our corner of the blogosphere. I remember Villa Villekula's call for bloggers to make "classim" the topic en vogue this past Labor Day; and in this vein I propose a very specific form of the aforementioned challenge.

Let's take the MLK holiday as an opportunity to blog against white supremacy.

A broad topic indeed, but one that is so foundational to any other conversation we might have, whether we are talking about patriarchy, capitalism and class structure, popular culture. Plus many, many folks already do this daily. But the idea is a more coordinated effort to flex out collective muscles. If others agree with this idea, spread the call far and wide. Everyone has a solid 6 days to get a story worked out. At the very least transcribe a good theory piece and put together a decent intro. Get friends who don't blog involved. I'm always amazed at the shear number of folks on MySpace - get friends to post something there in the blog section or even as a bulletin. It doesn't matter, just lean on them to do it.

Drop a comment on this post back at my blog if you are up for it. I will start keeping a list of co-conspirators on the side-bar along with a post early next Monday with a list of blogs to follow that day.