“The earth will don an electronic skin”: Digital Diaspora, Indigenous Feminisms, and the Anti-Racist Blogosphere

This is an ongoing project, y’all, so please bear with me as this takes form! If there’s enough interest, I’ll post updates on this as my dissertation research progresses. At this moment, I’m looking at indigenous feminism/activism and its manifestations online, as an extension of an earlier project on pan-Indian identity and virtual community. I’m greatly indebted to Becky Thompson, Ella Sekatau, Alice Nash, Katie King, Mary Corbin Sies, and Psyche Williams-Forson for helping me think through the issues associated with anti-racist work, feminism, and solidarity on the blogosphere. I’m particularly grateful to Crystal Rizzo, who’s helped me brainstorm this project and is also generally fantastic.

I draw the title of this post from a 1999 BusinessWeek article, where the author describes a future of stitched-together networks. Neil Gross writes:

In the next century, planet earth will don an electronic skin. It will use the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations. This skin is already being stitched together. It consists of millions of embedded electronic measuring devices: thermostats, pressure gauges, pollution detectors, cameras, microphones, glucose sensors, EKGs, electroencephalographs. These will probe and monitor cities and endangered species, the atmosphere, our ships, highways and fleets of trucks, our conversations, our bodies–even our dreams.


So, here, what I’d like to do is spend a bit talking about resistance, community-building, and solidarity, using as my launching point a rejection of Information Age discourse that would naturalize the emergence and evolution of technologies.  The Visible Earth image above from NASA highlights that if we are talking about the presence of technology as a “skin” (which, seriously, isn’t necessarily the best or most useful language, since it hides modes of production and differential labor dynamics), large chunks of the earth are not just naked — they are non-existent. Moreover, the bodies discursively associated with these areas (typically bodies of color) drop out of the conversation, even if those bodies are ‘present in the room.’ What’s really interesting about this discursive move is that, some authors, like Eliete Periera, continue to describe a world where indigenous users are only novice techies, arguing that their websites only focus on the individual, their particular ethnicity, or are focused on a particular organization, even when that level of technological proficiency is reflective of the nation in question as a whole.

So, I want to use this post to do a couple of things. I want to talk about identity formation online, particularly identity in communities of color. I also want to think about location. I’m combining these two in order to talk about cultural survival, community building, and solidarity online. In honor of NWSA’s theme, I’m also using this to gather together several online resources related to indigenous feminism.

Primers for a Digital Diaspora:

In “From Slave Ship to Mother Ship,” Janice Cheddie describes the ways in which black creative work and black identity have both been informed by technological evolution, suggesting that modular technology (technology based around joining pre-made parts together, like icon-making websites, xeroxing, or remixing) has helped to create an African Diasporic identity not inextricably bound to geography or specific regionally based identities. Sunaina Maira describes something similar in Desis in the House. I’d like to suggest that this process, where technologies of race and new media shape and inform each other is ongoing, and that something similar to these two examples occurs in the indigenous blogosphere.

This first section includes the first websites recommended to me as primers. The sites included offer foundational concept and establish the “shape” of the conversation.

First up, here’s the video from the Native Feminisms: Without Apology conference from 2006. Jessica Yee has a great resource list up at Bitch, which includes a link to the aforementioned conference, and several other really fantastic articles/sites.

News From Indian Country prides itself on being Native-owned and written, and isn’t affiliated with a tribal government. Stories come from all over the US.

First Perspective features stories from Canadian tribes. Brenda Norrell (who’d been involved with Indian Country Today, but left after criticizing them for censoring her stories) runs Censored News.

Jodi Rave started Buffalo’s Fire, which is more focused on public policy.

Check out NativeWeb.org, Indigenous Action Media, or IntercontinentalCry for a more global vibe.

Simon Moya-Smith blogs about his work as a reporter.

What you’ll notice as you read is that each website acts as a clearinghouse for a multiple groups, and that the issues raised are more linked by theme (particularly community-based issues like cultural survival, land/environmental issues, public health, etc.) than by ethnicity.

Histories:

The websites included here are more historical meta-sites, meaning that they provide a bit of context about particular historical trends, and then link to other sites. The process of citing illustrates a web of connection, meaning that it illustrates ‘creative entanglements with agency on all sides.’ Who’s linking to who and why reflects allegiances (political and social) and also the political cohorts in which these authors are locating themselves.

If you’re looking for history, check out Paula Giese’s Native American Resource hubpage, which contains over 300 pages of historical documents spanning the last few hundred years. There’s also ElderSpeak, if you want some voices with your historical data.

First People/New Directions focuses more on academic research.

Projects: Critique:

In this section, I’m describing websites engaged in a sustained critique of the state and the media. They generally talk about colonization, but that might not be their primary focus. I’m using some posts from First People/New Directions to transition to this section, because I want to emphasize that even though I’m categorizing these projects, they actually overlap in terms of writers, purpose, and site.

Jennifer Nez Denetdale talks about the implications of indigenous feminism in terms of solidarity, place-making, and sets forth an agenda for Native feminists. Winona LaDuke talks about why indigenous feminisms encompass global citizenship projects, highlighting holism, access to resources, etc., as vital components of its mission.

Malinda Maynor Lowery breaks down the “work” of colonization.

Debbie Reese focuses more on children’s media, paying particular attention to the historical erasure of indigenous bodies and the state.

Native Appropriations engages in extended media critique, breaking down the racism and imperialism implicit in popular culture’s depiction of Native peoples, while Beyond Buckskin focuses on fashion, history, and youth culture. My Culture is Not a Trend does something similar to both.

NativeJournalist includes polls, talking points, and some human-interest type stories, as does Mal at These Are My Moccasins.

What’s really cool about this set of blogs is that several of the writers work both in and outside of the academy.

Projects: Strengthening Community:

Here, I’m combining projects directly related to community, as well as projects more related to the arts. As you can see from the Nations2Nations mission statement, the kinds of collaborative arts projects mentioned here are very much about community and place-making.

CyberPowwow took place every 2 years from 1996-2004, and included physical meet-up sites as well as a virtual exhibition.

NativeOUT is a media hub for Native/LGBT issues.

Anishinaabekwe reflects on activism and self love.

Native America Calling is a huuuuuuuuge talking circle centered out of Alaska. You can download podcasts here.

Indigenous Politics talks about the political, social, and legal ramifications of indigenous activism across the world. Angry Indian does something similar, but in a newspaper format, as does IndigenousNGO.

Joy Harjo reflects on the arts and spirituality here.

If you want to talk about indigenizing new media, consider taking a peep at “Songs of the Land,” which is a beautifully rendered community music project that draws its inspiration from the urban landscape of Vancouver. Cheryl L’Hirondelle also has another project that introduces prayer and ritual into a cyberspace world that often rejects that.

Media Indigena talks about the arts, news, and includes editorials/reviews.

Urban Native Girl is a student in Toronto. Her photoblog includes her thoughts on fashion and the arts scene. She’s also a contributor to Reel Artsy.

The role cross-posting, linking, and guest posting plays is really interesting to me, because of the ways it reflects that web of connections I referred to above. Several of the bloggers listed above link to sites like Racialicious, Jezebel, Feministe, or INCITE. Jessica Yee guest-posts at Bitch, Racialicious, and MS. In the next part of this series of posts, I’d like to talk about cross-linking and the web of connections linking the anti-racist blogosphere, suggesting that this web of connections is one of analyzing a global citizens movement.

Comments

  1. UbiquitousGrue says

    I’m still parsing most of the links – thanks for the great roundup. In the meantime, I want to single out that comic; it’s remarkably cutting. A tiny, bitter part of me wants to plaster it on all the scifi boards. I love technology and speculative fiction (I’m in a position to enjoy these things) but there’s no denying that the genre – indeed, the entire framework in which these things are discussed – has some serious blind spots.

    • UbiquitousGrue says

      …which is a profoundly inane comment to make. “Yeah, scifi is fun (for me), but there’s still like, racism and stuff.” I mean, obviously. I’ve managed to take the comic’s message and turn it into something insipid.
      Sigh. Feel free to delete that one.

  2. says

    Stunning post, Maria. I’m doing a term paper (for Giroux, even) on social justice blogging as a platform for public pedagogy and this is a fantastic tie-in.

  3. Casey says

    That Pictures For Sad Children comic is awesome, and it’s indicative of stuff I, as a nerd used to think about (the whole “being rich and white in the future will be AWSUM!!” thing…even though my family’s been straddling the poverty line for 20+ years).

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