Panelists talk Afro-Indigeneity, abolition at MESA webinar

Saturday, November 21, 2020 - 2:00pm

Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs hosted activist and cultural critic Amber Starks and Kyle T. Mays, professor of Afro-American studies at UCLA, for a discussion via Zoom titled “Afro-Indigeneity on the Way to a Post-Settler World.”

Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs hosted activist and cultural critic Amber Starks and Kyle T. Mays, professor of Afro-American studies at UCLA, for a discussion via Zoom titled “Afro-Indigeneity on the Way to a Post-Settler World.” Buy this photo
Courtesy of Christian Juliano

Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs hosted Amber Starks, activist and cultural critic, and Kyle T. Mays, professor of Afro American studies at UCLA, for a discussion via Zoom titled “Afro-Indigeneity on the Way to a Post-Settler World” on Friday night.

The panel largely focused on what Afro Indigeneity means and how Afro Indigenous ancestry and history is understood in the United States. Starks commented on the balance between having ancestry rooted in North America as well as Africa. She said the ancestry and history that preceded her activism has enabled much of the work she has done.

According to Starks, the stereotypes that come with frequently being racialized as Black instead of Indigenous prevents Afro Indigenous people from experiencing the duality of their identities. Asking an Afro Indigenous person what “percent native” they are, Starks said, should prompt one to think about their belief system and the history of white supremacy.

“Black folks were meant to be utility, we were meant to be product and commodity,” Starks said. “When we do exist as multi-dimensional beings, people question ‘But how can you be, because you’re Black?’” 

LSA sophomore and moderator John-Solomon Milner spoke about racialization and his experience being Black as well as Indigenous. 

“People tend to see my Blackness, and because of my light skin and curly hair, they assume that I’m mixed with white and black,” Milner said. “I often feel like I have this veneer of whiteness that protects me, in a way.” 

Starks also said historic anti-Blackness over-criminalizes their communities. 

“When Black folks do something wrong, there is this whole ideology around what Blackness is and also what punishments should go along with that,” Starks said. “This is why we, as Black folks, can be destroyed by the state.” 

Attendees asked how they can move toward creating a more just society and, more specifically, how Afro Indigenous people can fully nurture their identities. Mays suggested that abolitionist approaches should be embraced and seriously considered.

“If we really want to get somewhere, capitalism is not going to save us,” Mays said. “The election of Joe Biden (and Kamala Harris) is not going to save you. It is not going to stop the killing of Black and Brown people in the streets.” 

Starks discussed how there should never be  competition between Indigenous and Black people about who will receive justice first. 

“There is a time and place to say that native folks are hurting,” Starks said. “But not as a response to Black oppression. Why would we want to reinforce ‘we don’t believe you’ and ‘what about us?’”

Both panelists emphasized that the entire community should be pushing toward a common goal. Any sort of savior complex, Starks said, should be rejected in favor of cooperation.

“Oppressed folks don’t need a savior,” Starks said. “We need one another.”

Daily Staff Reporter Christian Juliano can be reached at julianoc@umich.edu.


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