Episode Seven: “Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism” with Kaitlin Curtice

Transcript:  Simran Jeet Singh: Hi everyone. Thank you for joining our program, “Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism.” I’m your host, Simran Jeet Singh. And this is our fourth week of programming and I’m delighted to have with us today Kaitlin Curtice, who is the author of this beautiful new book, Native: Identity, […]

Transcript: 

Simran Jeet Singh:
Hi everyone. Thank you for joining our program, “Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism.” I’m your host, Simran Jeet Singh. And this is our fourth week of programming and I’m delighted to have with us today Kaitlin Curtice, who is the author of this beautiful new book, Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God. I read it over the weekend and I have to say, just carried me all the way through it. I’m so excited to have her here. And I’m so grateful to all of you for joining us. Before turning to Kaitlin, I just want to give you a word on this program. Our vision is to offer two things that we believe the world needs badly right now. First we want to offer you insight into what’s actually going on with racism. What does it look like? How does it feel?

And that’s why each episode focuses on a particular aspect of racism, and helps us understand how it affects people at a personal level and also at a societal level. The impulse there is driven by James Baldwin, who beautifully stated, if I loved you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see. The other thing we hope to do here is to receive guidance from our expert guests on how to move from just understanding racism into actually taking action. And this may come in different forms as wisdom on how to grapple with the racist ideas embedded within ourselves, or as guidance on actions that we can take to address the racism all around us. The goal ultimately is to move us into action, and that’s where the idea of anti-racism comes in. So again, thank you all for being here today and thank you for being on this journey with me.

I want to introduce Kaitlin Curtice, author of this new book. I just showed a moment ago, Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God. And it’s such a wonderful and insightful book that carries us through Kaitlin’s own journey of rediscovering more than just God, but identity and belonging as well. She’s an exquisite writer and thinker, as many of you probably already know, and I couldn’t think of anyone better to help us think about the relationship and the tension between white supremacy and Indigenous experiences. So Kaitlin talks a lot about race and whiteness and decolonization throughout her books. So Kaitlyn, thank you so much for joining us today, in spite of your injury. So really grateful to have you, and welcome. And let us know how are you? How are you doing today?

Kaitlin Curtice:
Thank you. So for people who don’t know, I’m moderately, moderately allergic to bee stings. So I’ve been up off my foot for a few days now, so I made it up to my office to do the interview for a bit. So, but, I’m doing fine, you know, with COVID it’s just like — it’s so hard to ask how anyone’s doing right now. Still it’s like such a hard question, you know?

Singh:
Right, right, exactly. Yeah. And it opens up all sorts of all sorts of cans of worms multiple, right?

Curtice:
Yeah, totally.

Singh:
Okay. So let’s jump right into it. I want to ask — you have such a unique childhood experience. It’s one that feels unfamiliar to me, and to so many of us. And can you just talk to us a little bit about your childhood?

Curtice:
Yeah, sure. So, I am a citizen of the Potawatomi nation and, so I grew up — I was born in Oklahoma in an Indian hospital and I grew up between Oklahoma and New Mexico. So my father worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is basically Native police officers who are hired to police Native communities. So a very complicated job, a very complicated identity. And so, yeah, I grew up living in between New Mexico and Oklahoma. And then when I was eight, my family moved to Missouri. And before that time we were somewhat involved in like, the Baptist church, you know — we would go to church sometimes and things like that. But when I was eight and we moved to Missouri, my dad left our family just one day, very abruptly. Like none of us saw that coming.

I was nine and my sister was 18. My brother was 16. So they are a lot older than me. And, he just left one day. And so it was very abrupt for me, like — had no idea and it just kind of, you know, shifted everything. And so my parents got divorced not long after that. And we moved again to a different house and my dad moved back to Oklahoma. So then there was sort of this split in my identity where I was living in Missouri, you know, going to church and then going to visit my dad in Oklahoma again. And so, you know, grew up, my mom remarried a Southern Baptist pastor, who’s my stepdad. And so, grew up getting very involved in the church, but also kind of becoming more and more assimilated into white evangelical Christianity. And so, yeah, so it was just a weird sort of split. And as I was writing Native, I realized how much of a split there was in my own identity and how I viewed and understood myself and who I am. And so as an adult, I’m kind of going back now and like unpacking all of that stuff.

Singh:
Yeah. Can you talk about that unpacking a little bit? Like I think for so many of us are our identities are inscribed pretty clearly from a young age. Like I, you know, you, you are the race that you are, you’re the religion you are. And it’s so interesting.

I mean, it’s so interesting to live through that and be like — Oh, our identities are constantly evolving, right? Like, no matter what, when we think about our own selves, but also to sort of witness you through your book and especially, I mean, if you talk a little bit about your Indigenous identity — like you talk a bit in the book about being Potawatomi , but not really identifying with it until much later. And so what does that look like for you? How did you come to connect with that part of your heritage?

Curtice:
Yeah. You know, this is common in some Native families — that we don’t talk about being Native. Like there is, you know, we are taught to assimilate into in some spaces sort of despise our Indigenous identities because, you know, colonization, the point of it is to root out those heathen identities, you know? And so we have this history of doing that in America. And so, you know, the Potawatomi side of my family, like we didn’t talk about it. I didn’t know we had our own language. I didn’t know we had our own stories. I didn’t know our tribe was originally from the Great Lakes. Like there was so much I didn’t know, and that I’ve now started learning as an adult. And I think that when I was in college was — things started sort of coming to the surface where it was like, I know there’s this part of me and I’ve never really like, given it voice, or I’ve never really understood how to do that.

And maybe there’s more to it, but at that time, I don’t think I had the resources or the language of how to do that. And after I had children, I think that it more sort of organically happened that it was like — if I want my kids to know who they are as Potawatomi people, then shouldn’t I know who I am? And so it sort of began that journey of looking into all of me and trying to integrate the parts of that, of my own identity so that I could give them the tools to do the same thing. I wanted them to be able to have that growing up, you know, because I didn’t have it. And so I want them to know who they are from a young age.

Singh:
Yeah. Can you talk for a moment about the experience in your younger years of shame around — I mean, it sounds you didn’t use the word shame, but it sounds like it, and it sounded like it in your book — like there’s almost this sense of shame that leads to self-erasure. Like you don’t want people to know that you’re like — how does that fit in and how do you deal with that?

Curtice:
You know, I think that the white American church, the evangelical church, that those spaces I grew up in are so powerful because they teach you to sort of assimilate, even if it’s not, like explicitly said. It’s just like you just learned to do it. Like, I need to read the Bible this certain way, and I need to pray this way to this kind of God. And I need to believe in this way. And I think that as I got older, some of the things that I would now identify as part of who I am as a Potawatomi person, you know, I think you’re just taught to see yourself and see things in a different way. So for example, when I was young, I had a really deep connection to land and it was always really important to me and I still did throughout my life.

But I think that part of being in America and living in these capitalist systems is that you learn to see the land as a commodity. And so it’s like — you don’t see the land as a being, you don’t see other creatures as these beings you can have relationship with. And I think that losing that connection to land and then later losing connection to my own body like this disembodiment in the church. I think that that all was connected for me. And so learning as an adult, not just to like, sort of become embodied again in myself, but then to connect back to the land has been really important to me.

Singh:
Yeah. That’s a really interesting example. And it makes me wonder, it makes me wonder about this idea of learning white supremacy. Right? Like we often talk about it as being conditioned, or as being socialized to think in these ways, but I mean, a simpler way of saying it is that we learn to erase ourselves or what’s important to us and adapt it. And that’s why I like your usage of the word assimilate, to like — to really remove those aspects of ourselves that we hold dear in order to fit in. Right? Can you think about moments in your life where you felt like you were doing? I mean, I can, in my own life there’ve been many moments where I look back and I’m like — man, I can’t believe I felt so insecure — and it still happens today, right? Like, it’s not like it’s something of the past, but I would feel, especially as a kid, I would feel so insecure about my own non-whiteness and like really trying to fit in. So can you give us an example if any come to mind?

Curtice:
Let’s see. I know like you were saying, I know as an adult that I have these things, because I think as an adult is when I learned to name it. You know, like I never had language for assimilation or trauma or any of that until like a few years ago. Really, it was really wild that like a lot of us don’t even have the language for intergenerational trauma or personal trauma or things like assimilation or colonization. Like we — so many of us don’t even have language for that until we’re adults, which is just wild to me and so dangerous because we then like, aren’t able to heal and to like go into those spaces of healing. I think back to that same example of wanting to connect to the earth, but then like going to church and hearing these messages of how, as people, we’re supposed to like dominate and like that’s our job.

And so there was always a disconnect for me because I, what I would call, personified everything. Like I felt like I had a connection to everything. And then I thought — I felt this tension like, well, I guess that’s not the way it is because as a human I’m supposed to be better than everything else. So I can’t have this relationship anymore with creatures or with the world. And I still held onto a lot of that, but I know that a lot of it was also like slowly sifted out and without me really realizing it, you know?

Singh:
Yeah. And a lot of your book is, you trying to recapture those connections and then unlearn which — so, yeah, that’s really interesting. And I’m also thinking about erasure from another angle, right. Like we’re talking about self-erasure, but I noticed many moments in the book where you would make comments like, you would say something like the way people see us, if they would even see us at all. It was this really painful expression of being rendered invisible. And I think I noticed them because I understand that personally, of course, but there’s something really striking about the invisibilization of Indigenous peoples, you know, that we don’t learn about them in schools or in our history books. And that we’ve literally physically shunned them to the far corners of the country. So we don’t even have to see them. Like, I think there’s something really interesting and uniquely painful about it. So could you talk for a moment about what is it like to be paid lip service to as the progenitors of this land, but in reality, to be neglected to the point that it’s clear that even the most progressive among us, or even those who say it more loudly than everyone else, even they, or we, don’t really care.

Curtice:
It’s really hard. And because I’m someone who works in a lot of, you know, I guess like social justice spaces, I’m in a lot of these conversations. And I think — I write about this in Native — but I’ve gone to events before where it’s this like, you know, solidarity event, like — let’s all come together — and often Indigenous peoples are not named at those spaces. There’s not a land acknowledgment or there’s just no mention of injustices toward Indigenous people at all. And that’s always hard for me, you know. And we have not been prepped well at all in our education systems too, you’re right. Like Indigenous stories, who we are, is swept under the rug. Or we are just considered these like characters from Westerns that have disappeared. I mean, we’re like, it’s like… we’re dinosaurs, you know, like we went extinct one day, you know?

And, the fact that sometimes we meet people and they’re like, I’ve never met a Native American. I’m like — yeah, you have. Like, it’s just not like… what does that mean? You know, what does that mean? That someone would actually say something like that? It’s disturbing and it’s hard because it’s like, where do you then with that conversation? So yeah, I think that that’s always something that that will be a struggle is just trying to fight to even be seen in the first place and then to take the next steps for whatever that might mean, but it’s hard to even get there, you know?

Singh:
Yeah, yeah, no, that’s a really interesting point and it sort of, you know, there’s this almost unconscious erasure of Native — like, you know, your everyday person isn’t actively going out of their way to be harmful or hateful, but they don’t care enough. Right? So like they’re ignoring — but then there’s also, you talk about in this book — what you just said about land acknowledgments, let me start there. It reminds me of another conversation I had with a friend of mine recently, who was pointing out that when Indigenous folks are present, then we go out of our way to do land acknowledgments. But the moment we think they’re out of the room, we go back to business as it was. It was interesting way of pointing out hypocrisy that I was guilty of too. Like he said that and I was like — Oh shit, that’s me. And so, yeah, it’s this really interesting tension of, or example of, this tension. And I want to ask you about this other way, in which we see that happening all around us, where there are all sorts of negative stereotypes of Indigenous peoples in this country. Right? And, you know, mascots chants, like tomahawk chants, games like Cowboys and Indians that we grew up playing. And I think the interesting thing to me is, pretty much everyone I know, agrees that those are wrong, but we continue to uphold those anyway. And I want to hear from you about what that feels like as a person. Like, what does it feel like when, when people are doing something that’s harmful and they know is harmful, but they continue doing that anyway? And then, and then I want to turn to how white supremacy fits into upholding these kinds of things. Like, what is it about white supremacy that allows us, or enables us, to continue doing things that we know are wrong? Like who is being protected and who is being harmed and how do the power dynamics of that play out?

Curtice:
Yeah. So the thing about, you know, mascots and things like that is that, you know, people are doing research on these things to show how seeing these mascots negatively affects Indigenous children. Like there are studies that are now, you know, coming out that are talking about these things, but it is so much just a part of our, you know, holding onto the American dream, holding onto these past times of in sports. I mean, it’s just so hard to fight anything in sports. So, you know, to say like — actually, you know what that is, doesn’t honor us. And, last year we went out of town and our school, which is, you know, a pretty progressive school in our city, we went out of town and we came back and found out that one of the teachers had led the entire school in the tomahawk chop.

And, you know, we live in Atlanta. So they did that. And we came back to school and I had to email the principal and go through this process of trying to explain why it’s harmful for my two children to be doing the tomahawk chop and all their friends are around them doing it. And it’s becoming a normalized thing in their school. And so you’re going to go back to class and the kids are going to be doing it, and they’re gonna be singing the song and chanting. And once you learn that it’s so hard to unlearn it. So imagine if we’re learning those things as kindergartners, and then it just continues to build and build until we’re adults. And we have family time around these things, and we have, you know — it’s so ingrained in who we are. It’s so hard to be on the other side saying like — yeah, I know this is hard to understand, but what you’re doing damages us as people, it represents who we are in a way that’s damaging. And I feel like we could explain it all day long and some people just won’t — but I’ve also met people who’ve said, you know, I’ve done this my whole life, and now I see why it’s wrong and I’m sorry, and I won’t participate with my family anymore when they do this. And so I see these moments of change and that’s important to see like that matters to me. But it’s so hard to fight against the larger systems, you know? It’s just really hard.

Singh:
Yeah. I want to turn to, picking up on this a little bit. I think one of the things you talk about consistently in your book, that I found really powerful and intuitive almost like one of those revelations that you read and you’re like — Oh, of course this is what’s happening, is this idea that these kinds of things that you’re describing here, that most in our country with, or many in our country with, deem harmless, right? Like what does a sports mascot, or what does a chant, have to do with real people’s lives? We’re just doing it in fun, or this is just a tradition or it doesn’t really mean anything. Would you talk a bit about the actual violence that comes out of these things and how harmful they can be? And I want to hear about this of violence, like what, you know, Indigenous communities all over the world have experienced a white supremacist violence in a way that many of us haven’t right. Like, we’ve all been harmed in different ways, but the Indigenous experience is quite different the world over, and I’d love for you to help us shed light on what role has white supremacy played. The idea of whiteness. How has that enabled the dehumanization that you’re describing and then leading into genocidal violence and ostracization of people the world over?

Curtice:
Yeah. So this has been really interesting for me because I grew up as a Christian. So as an adult learning about things like the Doctrine of Discovery, which basically gave European men the ability to go to any lands that they deemed heathen, or, you know, not Christian enough and they could do whatever they wanted, they could take that land, but that means of course, that they’re going to do what they want to the people of that land. And that is what the foundation of America is. It’s built on this idea. And so, because it was done in the name of God, so it’s this Eurocentric Christianity, that laid the foundation of so much of what has continued to cycle through who we are as a nation. And, I think about like all the other sort of arms that come out of that, like toxic patriarchy and misogyny, or even our, you know, our missionary exploits within Christianity.

There’s so many things that have come out of that, that have just continued to cause more harm. One for me, that’s particularly damaging as an Indigenous woman is like something like a Disney movie. So like, Tiger Lily in Peter Pan, or Pocahontas, you have these over-sexualized ideas of like an Indian maiden or, you know — and I grew up with those images. So we grew up with these images and then the world around us grows up with these images. So then Indigenous women are viewed as these over-sexualized beings. And so, you know, being an Indigenous woman for me has meant trying to understand some of those things. And I think that like things like missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is part of this, as part of this over-sexualization and targeting of Indigenous women, that we don’t talk about nearly enough, and I think is something that we need to be talking about. So that’s just like one example, which is of course, tied to patriarchy. It’s tied to, you know, growing up in the church, I was told that my body was bad — and that wasn’t even my Indigenous body, that was just my body as a woman, like it’s bad. And you need to just please your husband one day. And like, some of those I grew up with in the church made me reject my own body and reject who I am as an Indigenous woman as well. So trying to like trying to now as an Indigenous woman, like stand against those stereotypes and that over-sexualization of Native women is really hard as well. And that’s just one that white supremacy like has created the thread that kind of constantly leads us through these things.

Singh:
Yeah. I appreciate that response. And I appreciate you leaning into a few different aspects because I think they are — it’s a really broad question, right? Like I’m asking you to tell us like all these things that have happened. And, I think what you do beautifully in your book is you point your finger to like a few things that you’ve experienced and saying, like, these are examples and we all experience them in different ways.

If you’re just joining us, this is “Becoming Less Racist” with Kaitlin Curtice, the author of Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God. If you haven’t read it, you should, it’s a fantastic book. And we’re talking a bit about the function of white supremacy and how it has enabled genocidal violence. And one of the things you just talked about, Kaitlin, that I have been learning a lot more about myself — I hadn’t learned, I hadn’t heard of the Doctrine of Discovery until two years ago. And a good friend of mine, Mark Charles, was speaking about it and it blew my mind in the sense that it’s this shameful aspect of our history that I had never learned as a historian and somebody who is born and raised in the States. Like you would think that you would learn this, but also it blew my mind in the sense that like, of course this is — right? Like it’s in line with the narrative of like how we understand colonization. And like here I am a scholar of South Asia, which was itself colonized. I’m like, I think a lot about this stuff, but hadn’t ever within the context of the land that I grew up in. And so if anybody’s interested this book by Mark Charles, it’s called Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery. It’s Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah, and it’s a fantastic book if you’re interested in learning.

But it’s one of those things where, if you’re American and you don’t know this, you should. And so I started assigning it in my class, even though I don’t teach Native American history, but I teach American history. And this is very much a part of a part of who we are. So let me ask you, Kaitlin, we’re talking a bit about genocidal violence, white supremacy, colonization, and it’s — I think one of the challenges that people have, and I alluded to this earlier, is — it’s easy for us to put this in the past, as if Native Americans don’t exist anymore, as if white supremacy is a thing of the past. And so I’d like for you to talk through as a real-life person who clearly exists, talk to us a little bit about how this plays out today. How does white supremacy today uphold the continued suffering and oppression of Indigenous peoples?

Curtice:
Yeah. Well, so many, so many ways. I think that — so when we talk about colonization, I think even that once we start learning the history of a place like America, once we start learning that history, I don’t think that we continue to make sense of it in a way that like colonization is still happening. That cultural genocide still happens. You know, that this erasure is ongoing. And I think that that for sure is a problematic space that we can get in — like my body and my identity are still continually colonized today. And so for me, you know, I also am talking about decolonizing and that’s because like you can’t decolonize something that if you don’t understand, it’s colonization. And so if we can’t both learn our history and then also learn how that thread of white supremacy continues today, then we’re not going to be able to do the work that we need to do.

And I truly believe in sort of solidarity work. Like I don’t want to do this work alone. I don’t just want to do it with Indigenous people. I want to work with people from all sorts of spectrums to talk about this and to make the world better. And so we have to look at colonization as something that continues to affect us today. You know, the fact that monuments are coming down, that places are being renamed — you know, me like seeing a Columbus statue come down and like Indigenous people dancing around, it was so powerful. And then showing it to my children too, to show them like, this is a legacy, that these statues are still there today. And finally, some of them are coming down — and we know in this movement that not all of them will come down and not all places are going to be renamed. Like, they’re still going to be Confederate monuments and monuments that celebrate the genocide of Indigenous people. And that’s ongoing colonization every time we have to see those things, you know, when we see these things like propped up as this beautiful legacy, you know, that’s ongoing colonization. So if we can’t even acknowledge the narrative and how it continues to happen, then we won’t be able to change it. If that makes sense.

Singh:
Yeah, no, it makes perfect sense. And, I want to ask a bit more about decolonizing — but before we do, Mary Ann has a great question that gets at the complexities around bringing down statues, I mean, and other things, right? Bringing back people, we have identified as heroes, and she’s speaking specifically of Junipero Serra, and she says — he had a role in colonization, but also advocated for the protection of Indigenous peoples. And, so I think the question really here is, how do we in our minds and as a society grapple with this issue, where you can have people who did good things and bad things, that we agree with and disagree with, who were racist, but also did weren’t as racist as other people, right? So like, what do we do with those sorts of figures? Like, is there an easy answer? I see you’re shaking your head.

Curtice:
Oh, I’ve been thinking about this for the past few days actually. And you know — like how, how? Yeah. What do we do with those figures? Because part of what it means to be human is to ask if we can change and transform, if we can do good — but then we’re also… We can do bad. Like we can hurt people, we can oppress people. But I think that something… I don’t know, I just think it’s important that we… Like when we’re looking at people who have upheld the institutions, that we continue to praise and view as part of who we are, like, that becomes a different thing. You know, like when it’s actually like a building is named after someone, but we know the truth about that person. We need to ask those questions. And honestly, I don’t… I don’t know. I don’t feel like I would want to be in the rooms where those conversations are happening. ‘Cause I can’t imagine how hard it is. But you have to hear from the people who are… who have been oppressed historically by those people. Like we can’t make the decision without the people in the room or at the table who need to be able to say those things, you know, like we have to be able to hear from them if we’re going to make that decision.

Singh:
Yeah. And then we can add in the additional complexity of — well, that was a different time. And what was appropriate then is not. And like, there’s different ways you play that. Right? Like, I don’t think it’s fair to say, well, this person upheld slavery. And so it was okay then, and it’s, you know — times are different now and it’s just a change of context, but there is something really interesting. And I’m speaking from my own experience too, where like, okay — growing up in San Antonio, it was very normal and acceptable in the nineties to make homophobic jokes. Right? Like people even said like gay as a negative, like — if you don’t like something, you would say that’s gay. And so, that me and my friends did that too. And like now that’s changed, right? Like I would never say that, I would discourage any of students or friends or anyone from staying that. But it kind of speaks to what you were saying — that like part of being human is to transform and change. And how do we make space for one another? Like, it’s hard, right? Like, I don’t know what the answer is either.

Curtice:
I know, it’s so hard. And actually at the end of my book, at the very end, I put sort of an endnote to tell people like — This book was written by Kaitlin when she was 30 and she may believe completely different things in a year from now. So just trust that, like I’m going to change and you as the reader, you’re going to change because we… That’s scary as a writer to put your beliefs and your thoughts onto a page. And then it’s stuck in that time. Like that is where you lived. That is what you did and believed. And so how do we like, hold, hold each other accountable, but also like hold each other to allowing room for growth and transformation? Because I believe it can happen. But how it happens and what the reasons are and how much we change. I mean, it’s all… It’s such a gray area and it’s hard. These are hard conversations.

Singh:
Yeah. Yeah. I noticed that disclaimer in your book and I thought it was so smart, and also so important. Like I think what it did for me was it signaled your willingness to be vulnerable, but also your desire to be safe within your vulnerability to be like, to open yourself up and be like — I’m permitted to do this and you all are giving me the permission. So yeah, there’s something very communal and healthy about that. I want to ask you to go back to the question about decolonization. I’ll show the cover as I read this, as I read this quote. So here we go — Actually, before I ask that, let me ask you, before I read the quote — I want to ask you a question more direct, as you talk about decolonization, it’s such a powerful idea. It’s such an appealing idea because so many of us now are thinking about coloniality and the ways it’s shaped us, but it’s hard to know what to do with that. And so I guess my question for you is — if you can take us on a practical level from your own experience, what does decolonizing mean to you and what might it look like? Like what kinds of things does decolonizing entail?

Curtice:
Yeah. So I’ll step back and just say that for the sake of my book, like, decolonization is a very sort of academic term and it has a space and a reason to exist. And what I’m doing with decolonization is sort of the bare bones of, can we at least recognize that we’re colonized and that we live in a colonized society and then can we, are we willing to do what’s necessary to examine our complicity and colonization? And I think that this affects all of us. I mean, if you live in America, then white supremacy and colonization are going to be brushing up against who we are. And so I wanted to give it a space where it feels invitational to people and not like something that’s always so scary. Like, can we without taking it lightly and just being like — I’m cool, ’cause I decolonize — can we actually enter into those spaces?

So for me, the most, like the closest space where I could do that, was in the way that I viewed Jesus and the church and Christianity, but stepping back and looking at the systems of Christianity that I have been complicit in. The ways that we have colonized other people, the ways that I was colonized, like how can I stop perpetuating those cycles of colonization? And so far that’s meant that I’ve stepped out of the church, the physical church, for a while to examine like can I even enter church spaces with all of who I am? And I don’t know. I’m in a lot of sort of that area of asking what is it supposed to look like. But I meet other people all the time who are also Christians who are trying to decolonize as well, who are considering that Jesus wasn’t a white guy.

And like, and so there’s a different Jesus that we did not learn about growing up. Things like that. That to me, those are very tangible. But I think that we can all kind of ask what systems of colonization are we participating in. Can we view the earth, not as a commodity, but as a being that we can have kinship with? Which then leads us to asking questions about climate change and about how we care for the earth. And then that leads us to asking how we care for each other. Like it’s all connected because colonization runs so deep, white supremacy runs so deep within who we are, like all of these other questions and these ideas of decolonization. I think it’s so much connected. And for us to do this work like communally, I think can be really beautiful.

Singh:
Yeah. I think that’s a really helpful way of framing it, especially this idea of connection that I think one of the greatest pains of white supremacy, and one of the greatest challenges is creating this myth that, you know, there is distinction amongst us as opposed to connection. And so I get that a lot throughout your book. Okay. I’m gonna read your quote now, and then you’re going to answer your own question. So you say on page 105, you say — and here’s the book. If you don’t have it, make sure you get a copy — the real question is this who gains life when we deconstruct these systems of whiteness, white supremacy and toxic patriarchy? And then you follow that up by saying, who loses out when we refuse to take a deep look at our own toxic systems? To both of those questions, you answer the question, everyone. And I want you to expand on that, like — how do I sitting here in my apartment in New York, how do you sitting in your place in Atlanta, like how do we benefit from bringing down these systems that we’re not even aware of on a day to day basis?

Curtice:
Yeah. I wanted to frame it that way because I didn’t want people who are not Native to think that they don’t have a place in decolonizing. You know, like I think that we all are called to decolonizing, but we can all do it in different ways. There’s certainly like, institutional problems we have that we need to decolonize, but when it comes to our life and our identities and our roles in society, all of that, like we all have different layers of what it might mean to decolonize. So for me as a Christian, there are things I have to do to decolonize my Christianity. Right? As a woman, there are things I need to do. As a white coded Potawatomi person, you know, I am white and Native. I have this mixed identity. So for me, decolonizing means that I need to listen to Black and brown Native voices, and I need to pay attention to what they’re saying and who they are and what their histories are, and that’s different from mine.

So my white privilege has to be part of my experience and my stories and that has to lead me to decolonize. So we all will learn something. If we are truly going to go on this journey of doing it together, no matter who we are, like, you will learn something and it may be different from what I learned, but when we share those things with each other, I think that there’s a commonality that happens. And that’s why I think solidarity work is so important because I have heard from so many different types of people who’ve read my book and they’ve told me kind of what they’ve gotten from it. And I’ve been so like honored that it’s been so many different kinds of people who have read my stories and experiences and have said like — this is my next step. This is what I know what to do because of your book. And it may not be what I need to do, but I’m going to trust them to know what they need to do and hope that that leads all of us to a better place, a more equitable place, you know, where we can take care of each other. And we have this where we leave the individualistic view of who we are behind and we kind of form this more communal idea of belonging.

Singh:
Yeah. I think that makes sense. And I think there is… Let me say it this way — for so much of my life, I really feel like in the racial justice space, especially in my diversity equity inclusion work, like, everything’s been lip service and it’s been so frustrating that like — okay, for so much of my life, people will know the right things to say, but they don’t actually show up. And now all of a sudden with the Black Lives Matter protests, you’re seeing people actually showing up and putting their bodies on the line in a way that they haven’t before. And I’m starting to notice a similar interest in people who want to do better and know more about Indigenous experience and they don’t know where to start. And so I think that’s where your book comes in to be so helpful. Like, it’s an introduction to a firsthand account, but also in a way that helps us unpack and unravel, like all these different things that seem so complicated. Otherwise, I mean, they are complicated, but what does it look like for somebody who is of Native American descent and of white European descendants to navigate this world and to learn how to embrace both aspects of their identity and other aspects of their identity within with them? In a way that’s both compassionate to others and to themselves, like, I think, right? Like, I don’t know where else to turn with that. So, okay. Let me ask you one last question that I haven’t asked anyone before, but for those of us who do want to know more, and want to do better, in terms of learning about Indigenous experiences. So, your book, of course. I’m not sure where I put… Unsettling Truth. So here we go. This is one that I recommended earlier. But what else would you recommend for people to read, watch, who to listen to, who to follow online, if they want to learn?

Curtice:
So many. Okay. Let’s see. My friend, Nick Estes, has a podcast and a really great organization and he’s on social media. He’s in New Mexico. So Nick, and then I do want to mention, like in Native, one of the things I wanted people to get is like, I cite so many Indigenous authors within my book so that people — I hope that my book is not the only one people read because I don’t want my experience to be the only one. There are so many of our experiences that matter. So I want people to make sure that they are going and reading the other books that I’ve given them to read. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, who is also Potawatomi, has been one of my favorite books. And Nick also wrote a book called Our History As the Future, which was about Standing Rock.
And I think that people really should try to learn about Standing Rock and why that moment was so powerful because it really spoke to so much of what’s been happening in the U.S. Then follow me, I mean, follow me on social media, because I obviously like retweet a lot of Indigenous scholars and authors and artists. And I have, I have two booklists on my website at kaitlincurtice.com that are just booklists by Indigenous authors. Some of them are children’s books. Some of them are academic books. Some of them are nonacademic. I kind of just tried to do a mixture. They’re Afro-Indigenous authors, white coded authors, you know, they’re Black and brown, Indigenous authors. I tried to do just a mixture of things, of people. So that would be a good place to start as well.

Singh:
That’s great. Thank you. And I was going to do your social media plugging for you because that’s how I first started following you and learning about your work. So Kaitlin Curtice on Twitter and Instagram is what I know. So, you have a TikTok too?

Curtice:
No.

Singh:
Alright, cool. Yeah. Okay. And then the last thing, not a question, but a comment from Caroline. She says, Kaitlin, your book is beautiful. It’s serving as an important catalyst. I’m listening and learning to you and your Indigenous kin. Thank you for sharing your voice. Mystery is with us. So I thought that would be a nice place to leave off here. Tthank you again, Kaitlin, for all your time. I know you’re very busy. You’re packing for a move. You have a foot injury. Your work and your voice — you do this educated work in such a kind and gracious way, and it makes me feel less embarrassed about my own ignorance and just comfortable being curious and learning. And so thank you. Thank you for being here and in all the spaces where you are with us. It’s a really powerful gift.

Curtice:
Thank you. That means a lot.

Singh:
And for everyone else here last time, I’ll say if you haven’t read her book yet, get yourself a copy. It’s smart and revealing. And it sheds light on experiences that we all ought to know more about, but we don’t learn them. And so, do it. And if you like the audio version, Kaitlin reads it herself. So, you should try that out too. Thank you all again for joining us today as we embark on this journey together to become less racist, I’m grateful to have you all as company in my own journey as we move together towards anti-racism. We’ll be back on Thursday, at 1:00 PM with Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, and we’ll be discussing white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and what it means to become white. And like today, as with every episode, we’ll try to learn as much as we can about what racism has looked like in this country and what we can do about it. So thank you all and see you on Thursday. Bye.