Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Giving Back

I'm snowed under with revisions, but I wanted to pop in to share a couple of links and related thoughts. The topic of this post is Giving Back, but not in the way I've come to think of it--as in volunteering, or giving back to your community. I'm referring to giving back, or sharing profits when you've taken something that doesn't belong to you. When you've profited from something (or someone) that was not yours to profit from.

When I visited India over twenty years ago, I remember sitting in the courtyard of an elderly neighbor.  I know she was related to us somehow, somewhere in the long chain of ancestry--an ancestry that, for the most part, could be traced to the very land we had laid our cots out on in the heat of a Punjabi noonday sun. My family has been living in the same part of the world, likely in the same 50-mile radius, for centuries. There are streets named after my father's forefathers.

And yet, when the British came, they changed the names of many of those streets, instantly erasing hundreds of years worth of story and struggle and memory, and rewriting history. The names the streets were given were now names of British men. Men who had histories and ancestral homes thousands of miles away and had shed not a single drop of blood or sweat to nurture the land they now claimed.

I thought of all that as my elderly neighbor sighed and said, "Things were much better when the British were here."

Boi-oing! (That's my eyes bugging out.) "Excuse me?"

She nodded emphatically. "The streets were swept regularly. They built roads. There was some civility."

Because she was an elder, it would have been disrespectful for me to mention that the only streets that were swept were where the wealthy British lived, and that they were swept by Indians. It would have seemed like a challenge, and one does not challenge their elders. So I also didn't mention that the only roads that were built were ones that would take all of India's natural, precious resources to Britain and to the British elite. And I definitely wasn't going to mention anything about civility.

I bring this up because I read this post by Zetta about gentrification in Brooklyn, and remembered that the phenomenon is not just local; it has a historical blueprint. And that, often, when folks come into a neighborhood/country/culture with the grand idea of "taming", "settling" or "borrowing", there is usually no thought to giving back to the community that is already there--that already has its sacred spots, its cultures, its language, its spirituality. The main impetus is taking from the community.

The other link I want to share along these lines is to this NY Times article. Here are a few quotes:
"Just last month, MSN.com issued an apology to the Quileute for intruding on its territory while videotaping a 'Twilight' virtual tour in September. MSN.com sought permission from the Chamber of Commerce in nearby Forks, Wash., but didn’t pay the same courtesy to the Quileute. The video team trespassed onto a reservation cemetery and taped Quileute graves, including those of esteemed tribal leaders. These images were then set to macabre music and, in November, posted on MSN.com. The tribe quickly persuaded MSN.com to remove the Quileute images."
And this:
"'Twilight' has made all things Quileute wildly popular: Nordstrom.com sells items from Quileute hoodies to charms bearing a supposed Quileute werewolf tattoo. And a tour company hauls busloads of fans onto the Quileute reservation daily. Yet the tribe has received no payment for this commercial activity. Meanwhile, half of Quileute families still live in poverty."
Then this:
"Going forward, the Quileute should be engaged in the 'Twilight' phenomenon. They should be able, first, to welcome Ms. Meyer to the reservation and introduce her to the Tribal Council and all the Quileute people. They should be consulted on projects where the Quileute name and culture are used to market products. And Quileute elders should be able to share with the world the true Quileute creation story, in which tribal members were transformed into humans from wolves (not vampire-fighting wolves)."
Check out both those links and see what connections you come up with. Are there similarities? What are the common threads?

More from me later! Off to bury myself in revisions now...


Zetta said...

great post, Neesha...it's really about that bizarre Western concept of "discovery"--like nothing exists until YOU set eyes on it, and then it's yours and nothing that came before matters...

Anonymous said...

I immediately thought of the term "intellectual gentrification" when I read this post and I did a little websearch to see what else is written about this phenomenon. Typically, in defining gentrification, we think about low income communities, poor communities being overtaken. I found a very interesting article from the Puerto Rican Culture Center which propose we look at communities as intellectual space, viewing them as asset based rather than deficit based. Of course those rooted in a community know their assets, however too often they're buried. Until, say someone makes a movie. Then, those with greater power bring those assets into their realm. Sounds quite racist. How do you fight it? I want to say that poor people are powerless in our (any!) society, but we have to move beyond thinking of ourselves as poor and see our assets. That is empowering!

Neesha Meminger said...

Edi, I love this: "we look at communities as intellectual space, viewing them as asset based rather than deficit based."

Zetta--that's a mindset that reminds me very much of my children...

evelyn.n.alfred said...

Man Zetta, you hit the nail on the head with that comment.

I didn't even realize that the Quileute from Twilight were real people...I figured they were made up.

Great post Neesha!

MissA said...

Thank you for these links, I agree, the Quileute people should receive proceeds from all products that are sold with their images and their privacy should be respected. Also I hope they are accuartely portrayed in the movie (well as best as you can be when your people are werewolves).

Oh and thanks for drawing my attention to the article on Haiti as well!

Best of luck with revisions, your next work will be great =D

Mrs. Pilkington said...

fantastic post. and edi, that term: "intellectual gentrification" is so appropriate for what goes on right now in media, including literature, when there are those who actually believe they are expressing love for a community or culture when their "main impetus is taking from the community", cheerfully and wholeheartedly. just one of the reasons why we need to encourage children to 'read' critically -- there are a lot of 'trojan horses' out there...

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