Over the past several weeks, leftist organizing and academic communities in places like New York, Madison, and Indianapolis have been dealing with the aftermath of revelations that some of the loudest and ‘wokest’ members of their communities, Jessica Krug, CV Vitolo, and Satchuel Cole were actually white people masquerading as black. This type of racial or ethnic fraud is, unfortunately, not new. Many made connections to earlier revelations from 2015 about the Spokane NAACP’s former director, Rachel Dolezal’s similar antiblack race fakery and UC-Riverside Professor and radical feminist Andrea Smith’s false claim to Cherokee heritage, a claim she still makes despite being asked not to by the Cherokee nation. What’s up with these frauds?
Joseph M. Pierce (Cherokee Nation) is Associate Professor at Stony Brook University. He is author of Argentine Intimacies: Queer Kinship in an Age of Splendor (SUNY Press, 2019).
Zaire Z. Dinzey-Flores is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Latino &Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University and a member of Black Latinas Know. Her research focuses on understanding how the urban built environment mediates race, class, and social inequality.
Follow this week’s guests on Twitter:
Joseph M. Pierce @pepepierce
Zaire Z. Dinzey-Flores @zairedinzey
Catch Up on the Issue
Shocking Details Emerge on Indy Activist Who Faked Life as a Black Woman.
White US professor Jessica Krug admits she has pretended to be Black for years.
Open letter to Elizabeth Warren from Cherokee citizens
Indigenous woman scholars join in open letter to denounce Andrea Smith.
Essay By Joseph M. Pierce: “In Search of an Authentic Indian: Notes on the Self”
Article By Joseph M. Pierce: “Adopted: Trace, Blood, and Native Authenticity.”
A Third Step (The CV Dossier)
TBV Statement on Persons Engaging in False Racial Representation
- Joseph M. PierceAssociate Professor at Stony Brook University
- Zaire Z. Dinzey-FloresAssociate Professor of Sociology and Latino & Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University
- Karma R. ChávezAssociate Professor and Chair of the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at the University of Texas at Austin | @queermigrations
[0:00:02 Speaker 1] Mhm. Oh, okay. Yeah,
[0:00:09 Speaker 0] you’re listening. Toe Latin Experts A podcast of Latino studies at the University of Texas at Austin Latin Experts features the voices of faculty, staff and students, as well as friends and alumni of the
[0:00:23 Speaker 1] Department of Mexican American and Latino Latino Studies. The Latino Research Institute and the Center for Mexican American Studies. Join us for this episode of Latin experts. It could be mhm.
[0:00:43 Speaker 0] Welcome to Latin experts. Some karma Chavez to your host for today and this is Episode six. Over the past several weeks, leftist organizing and academic communities in places like New York, Madison and Indianapolis have been dealing with the aftermath of revelations that some of the loudest and woke asst members of their communities Jessica Krug, C. V. Vitolo and Satchel Coal were actually white people masquerading as black. This type of racial or ethnic fraud is, unfortunately, not new. Many made connections toe earlier revelations from 2015 about the Spokane NAACP’s former director Rachel Dolezal’s similar anti black race, fake Ary and U. C. Riverside professor and radical feminist Andrea Smith’s false claim to Cherokee Heritage, a claim she still makes despite being asked not to buy the Cherokee Nation. What’s up with these frauds? Should they just be canceled? Do they tell us something about the state of identity politics and left leaning social movements and academic spaces? Do they tell us something about white identity politics? Are the cases of playing Indian and putting on blackface comparable, or how should we discuss them in relation to one another? Are these frauds government agents so many questions and so little time? But to help me unpack some of the stakes of these recent revelations, I’ve invited to esteemed guests first. Joseph and Pierce, a member of the Cherokee Nation, is associate professor at Stony Brook University. He is author of Argentine Intimacies. Queer Kinship in an Age of Splendor, which came out last year from Sunni Press. And he’s also Ah, University of Texas at Austin Alumna. And we also have Zaidi dens, a Flores on associate professor of sociology and Latino and Caribbean studies at Rutgers University and a member of Black Latinos. No, her research focuses on understanding how the urban built environment mediates race, class and social inequality. Welcome both of you to Latin experts. Hi, karma.
[0:02:53 Speaker 1] Thanks for having
[0:02:54 Speaker 0] Definitely. I’m so excited. You’re both are here, and I’m gonna just jump right in because there’s ah lot to unpack here. And so one of the responses to these cases of racial or ethnic fraud is to re if I or naturalized biological understandings of race rooted in blood. So how do we have these discussions without falling into problematic understandings of racial purity or races? Biology on Joseph? I’m gonna pitch that to first.
[0:03:26 Speaker 2] I think that’s a really important question because it asks us what is the difference between race and belonging? Race is a concept onda structure that has evolved over time, but always in a way that is, um that marginalizes certain communities because of a presumed phenotype or blood, um, quantum in the case of indigenous communities. And it leaves out, it usurp our own understandings of who we are as people in our own ways of belonging to each other as a community. So something like, um, DNA testing is a good example in which someone will attempt to verify a claim to being indigenous in a way that completely circumvents the way that tribes, um understand what it means to be a citizen of a sovereign nation. No tribe accepts a DNA test as, um being the same as membership or citizenship in a nation. And yet people continue to try to use biology. Um, quote And I’m doing air quotes there Biology as a way of claiming, um, membership in a community. And and that’s and that’s really problematic.
[0:05:16 Speaker 0] Mhm. I think this distinction is important. I’m actually gonna pitch this a little bit different way to use. I eat a in, um, by talking about something that the black Latinos no collective wrote in this really important Twitter thread. And I think you are one of the main authors of this, uh and you’re writing in the context of one of these race fakers Jessica Crew, who made a claim of not just black identity but Afro Latina identity. So the collective rights and I’m gonna quoted at length here narratives of misty Suhay suggests that race is fluid and as a result, anyone could be black or everyone has some black ancestry. This does not, however, work in reverse. Not everyone could be white, and so we have to recognize Messi’s Ah, hey works within a context of and supports white supremacy go on policing blackness. It’s not about exclusion, it’s not that kind of club. We protect our energy and safety and celebrate our common experience in the face of a world that often denies us life. We must protect blackness. So I’m wondering if you could first give us just a brief primer on how you’re using mestizo here and then help us understand the difference between policing and protecting blackness.
[0:06:32 Speaker 1] Yeah, so really great questions and complex questions. Um, that I would begin with this concept of messed isa here, which really has been used to different ends. And so one of the ends and this is linked toe movements toe the colonized Latin America waas to suggest that we are all mixed, that there are no differences. So it’s a laudable goal of those who were seeking independence. But in the process, we eliminated for the ability toe talk about the exclusions and the disparities and inequities that are produced, um, in these societies that are at the heart of the birth of these societies, so in messy saw her, it wouldn’t necessarily yield Um uh, black or dark or indigenous, pure and undesirable sort of positions. But we would yield widened mixed type that would be representative off the nation’s in those cases, or of the community or of the public. And so in that sense, uh, in naming white supremacy, engage in mess desire, which in some ways we’re meant to resolve right inadequate, pure quote unquote pure subjects we are than highlighting the ways in which power is already engaged in the concept of mass destruction. So in talking about that quote unquote on adult erred black subject, we are then thinking of the ways in which this black subject makes sense off themselves in the context of a racial, unequal society and social psychologist. You know, getting more toe the U. S. But have spoken of the ways in which there is a racial pride or a black pride that emerges from an experience of oppression and so to speak of protecting are subject hood as black racial subjects. It’s about making sure that those racial oppressions are maintained that day. And so I think there is a conversation in domestic about, um, about having black roots or being a mixed community, um, with the intent off fighting against the tropes of white supremacy but in the process, we sort of talk away the what we call the fact of blackness, right? What Phanom named the Fact of Blackness, Where you, as a quote unquote, visibly black subject, continue toe face the conditions of oppression that produced that very, uh, mestizo but white supremacist notion off the public and community.
[0:10:20 Speaker 0] Mhm. Yeah, I think this is really, um it’s so interesting and so important to think in this context of what we’re talking about with racial fraud, Uh, the fact of blackness and the kind of visual politics there. And I think in some ways this this question leads me to the next thing I wanted to talk about, which is one of the reasons I really wanted to bring the two of you in a conversation is because I really wanted to be able to think about some of the tensions or when I just say relationships between anti blackness and anti indigenous 80 a zwelling black and indigenous communities that I think these questions about racial and ethnic fraud bring to the surface. And Joseph, you wrote a powerful thread of tweets where you noted that you you didn’t want to turn attention away from blackness on black people who have been harmed by these present situations. But at the same time, and I’m gonna quote from you at length here, you said that the feeling of deception here is so recognizable because of Andrea Smith, who is still publishing books with Duke University Press on Indigenous Issues and Elizabeth Warren and so many others. And you say, and because of how my own ancestors will only ever exist is a memory imagined and because of the effects of white supremacy and settler colonialism, for me as an indigenous person and as the child of an adoptee. And because those memories are the only tenuous link, the threadbare strand of connection that I have to a sense of self that seems ever on the brink of being accused off, false, invented or appropriated, the feeling of devastation and of loss erupts all over again. In moments like this, I haven’t even begun to process until now. But damn, this is hard. So those air your powerful words and I wanna turn it to you to ask, How should indigenous people who have been harmed by Andrea Smith or other instances of fraud ethically respond to this moment, which is about playing black.
[0:12:33 Speaker 2] I think that this is a moment where, um we are witnessing how white supremacist e effects racialized communities in similar but distinct ways. And so I would say on But I was trying to get out with that threat. Is, um, that black and indigenous people One of the things that we share is a marginal relationship be cut through white supremacy. So we’re we are all living in a white supremacist world and the Americas as a concept as an epistemological space and as a built environment, um is predicated on indigenous dispossession and enslavement of black people. That’s that’s the foundation of contemporary capitalist modernity. What that means for our shared struggle is that dismantling white supremacy may may look differently for indigenous people, um, than for Afro diaspora communities in different locations throughout the Americas. Um, it also means that we have a shared investment in naming those structures of oppression where they exist. One of those places is in usurping our lived experiences. Um, as Saida was saying, The fact of blackness is one of those moments in which the black subject is interpolated by the state or by a white gays. Um, this is something that also happens for indigenous people in a slightly different way in which so often indigenous experience is tethered inevitably to the past, as a relic of the past, as something that is able to be put on and taken off like a costume or like a mascot. So when we see people like Andrea Smith, who have claimed Cherokee ancestry for a very long time, um, we have to first recognize that, um, that she is claiming Cherokee Identity, and she is not claimed by Cherokee people. Um, this is a phrase that happens a lot in in activist circles in indigenous movements. Is it’s not who you claim, but it’s who claims you, Andrea Smith. That’s not claimed by Cherokee people. This does not mean this does not mean that, um, enrollment, blood, quantum citizenship are are not problematic. They are problematic because they are constructed in relationship to white supremacy. And so what we have to do is be able to hold both of these a same time. On the one hand, Smith has deceived so many people. Um, and she continues to assert influence over native studies and now black and native studies, um, in a way that, um is not accountable to the communities that she is affecting on. That’s one thing that that we have thio really consider. And on the other hand, through the strategies that are often used by white people to claim, um, membership in the Americas is by inventing or masquerading playing as some sort of ethnic minority. And this is where Messi saga comes up, but sort of from the other side, where someone can put on the mask of an Indian and then take it off because they are operating from the position of white privilege and white structural privilege. This is not the same right or privileged that that is afforded to black and indigenous people who are coming from the experience of, uh, genocide and enslavement.
[0:17:08 Speaker 0] Mhm, Zach. Today I wanna pitch this back to you in a sense, about these relationships between indigenous 80 and blackness, especially when thinking about people in the African diaspora have in large part lost connections toe African indigenous 80. And then when we’re talking about Afro Latin X folks in particular, there are also connections. Thio often d tribal eyes or de nationalized indigenous Etienne America’s. And so it seems this relationship maybe, isn’t you know, as clear as it might seem, toe some people on Twitter? So how should we be thinking these issues in relation to each other?
[0:17:45 Speaker 1] It’s quite a difficult subject because I think it involved. And I think these theories of Desai or conceptions of justice I or even the playing, uh um ah character by these people, these fakers a involves a reduction right of experiences. And, um, in the case of Latin America and the Caribbean and how it manifest for Latina X communities in the US there is such a broad range of, uh, experiences and relationship between Afro Diaspora Rick communities and indigenous communities. So toe phrase the question in the context of the Caribbean, where the indigenous is exalted as sort of like a solution toe um, Africa, right? Like that as a escape from Africa. It’s a quite different premise of opposing it for Central America or South America or even Mexico. So, um, it’s it quite a tough, um, negotiation that happens there. Not to say that you know the legacies of freedom and sovereignty that are circulated around Afro diaspora. Rick and indigenous communities are not very riel and have existed right throughout in the Americas. But to the question of how, then do we think of the fakers and this context? Joseph mentioned these ideas of Misty Sorry, a right of indigenous and African and Spanish ancestry coalesce to create a sense of like everyone is everything. So we don’t know what anyone anybody is, and so that leverages these identities or qualities that people decide to attach themselves toe in order to make claims off authenticity on. I think it’s very interesting the types of qualities and characteristics that then are drawn or referenced. So in the case of Krug, um, these qualities, things like poverty and sexual violence and, um are kind of reference that really reveal more about a white supremacist or a white gays off thes Afro diaspora Rick and even, uh, indigenous our excluded, um, communities. Uh, that, uh, that really this right? The very experience, the racial experience, in this case of being black Latina, um, and then offer this messis are kind of conception as, uh, as a front right for these very rather complex on sense of self that it’s really being articulated by a black Latino community.
[0:21:34 Speaker 0] Yeah, yeah, I think, uh, that’s exactly right. And it’s profoundly that as well. Um, I told you that this time was going to go quickly, and as a matter of fact, it has because we are pushing up at the end of our time together, so we’re gonna have to leave it there. But I hope maybe you’ll consider participating, uh, in listening party, the listening party we’re gonna dio. But I really want to thank you both for being here today. Zero didn’t say Forest and Joseph Pierce for being here. Thank you so much.
[0:22:09 Speaker 2] Thank you.
[0:22:11 Speaker 1] Thank you. That was very fast.
[0:22:13 Speaker 0] E No, it goes so fast, Andi. I also just wanna mention the lasting experts Collective, which is comprised of faculty and research staff and Latino studies at U T. Who helped me to think through how to frame this episode so big thanks to them. And thanks to all of you for listening to Latin experts
[0:22:33 Speaker 1] thing is Ashley novel. Montero’s the communications associate. A Latino studies. Thank you for listening to this week’s episode. Make sure to check out the Latino studies Instagram page, Follow us at Latino studies. You t to keep the conversation going. Yeah