Racism still exists

What You Need to Know to Be a Better Ally

Check your privilege.

How The Racist Backlash To Barack Obama Gave Us Donald Trump

The evidence was there all along, according to a top Democratic pollster.

WASHINGTON ― Remember when pundits hailed the election of Barack Obama as the beginning of a “post-racial” America?

After the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, it seems like a distant memory. But in 2008, it was the prevailing wisdom among political commentators.

Cornell Belcher, a long-time Democratic pollster who worked on both of Obama’s presidential campaigns, started seeing through the mirage of racial harmony well before Trump’s election made it obvious. In Belcher’s book, A Black Man in the White House: Barack Obama and the Triggering of America’s Racial-Aversion Crisis, released weeks ahead of Trump’s election, he presents years of research showing that white resentment grew steadily under Obama.

He too had hoped Obama’s presidency would usher in a period of post-racial politics. But in his public opinion research in the ensuing eight years, he told HuffPost on Thursday, he saw a “rise in racial aversion … which accumulated in a sort of perfect storm for a candidate like Donald Trump.”

To measure “racial aversion,” Belcher surveyed people’s responses to “a range of questions … from affirmative action questions to government doing too much for people of color, to people of color not being as patriotic.”

The answers, collected over the course of eight years, showed a hardening of white attitudes toward people of color. Belcher attributes that trend not just to Obama, but to the rising coalition of communities of color that elected Obama.

Obama won reelection with just 39 percent of the white vote nationwide, not just by turning out more people of color, but also by taking advantage of the fact that the country simply had more voting-age people of color to turn out, Belcher noted. The changes that made that victory possible scared many of the white voters who went on to vote for Trump, according to the pollster.

Trump “is a George Wallace-like historical figure. The difference is that George Wallace could not win the Republican primary. He couldn’t win the nomination and become president,” Belcher said.

“But Donald Trump could, because now, with the rise of really, not Obama, but the Obama coalition, the wolf is now at the door,” he continued. “And what I mean by the ‘wolf is at the door’ is, I mean America is going through dramatic shifts, demographic shifts.”

Now Belcher is warning against Democratic analysts who see a message of economic empowerment alone as the key to rebuilding the party.

“[The country is] only going to get browner, so we have to solve for this, or we lose the future,” he concluded. “And again, that’s not pointing fingers at so many working-class whites, who, you know what, their world has changed, and the changes that are happening in our country, in this country, are stark. And we shouldn’t be surprised that some people are uneasy about it. But we should have that conversation about that unease, and a prescription about that unease that doesn’t pit us against each other.”


It was after President Obama was elected to the White House that I realized that we were still a racist country. I thought it had eaten itself out like  a bacteria. Wrong. It went underground. It hid in the shadows and it slinked around corners. I saw it and I was sickened by the pure evil racism. I talked to friends. I talked to black friends who were patient as I tried to explain why I thought it was over. They were good to me. Better than I probably deserved. now I look around with open eyes and I see discrimination and racism and sexism wherever they raise their filthy little heads. I wish I had been right but I wan’t and I can’t change the world unless I see it as it as it actually is. So I am here for the marginalized. I will stand with you. And if I have more to learn, and I am sure that I do, teach me. I am on this journey to learn and to be more like divinity.




12 Ways to be an Effective Ally at Standing Rock

12 Ways to Be an Effective Ally at Standing Rock



Important Tips for Non-Natives Who Want to Support Standing Rock

A brief disclaimer: As a relatively young white man, I am not an expert in white allyship for native causes, and am in no way a spokesperson for any indigenous movement. I was inspired to write this piece only because of painful mistakes I have witnessed continuously repeated in native spaces by people like me. In fact, virtually all the actions one can unintentionally take to hamper indigenous movements, I have personally committed. I am writing this so that others can avoid common pitfalls and step into what I see as effective allyship within native movements.

1) Work towards the ultimate goal

Everyone knows that the immediate goal of the protests are to stop the pipeline, but what many outside observers seem to fail to realize is that the ultimate goal is for unified indigenous peoples themselves to stop the pipeline.

The last time that many of these tribes came together was for what the Lakota know as the Battle of Greasy Grass, and we know as Custer’s Last Stand. They are well aware of this fact at Standing Rock, as flying all over camp are exact replicas of the flag captured during that total defeat of the US army. This gathering is even more significant than that famous battle in terms of unity, because never in the history of this continent have so many tribes come together to work as one for a single goal. If this action against the pipeline is accomplished via grassroots indigenous support, native unity is gaining a track record of successfully fighting for their equal treatment.

What this means for us on the ground is that our top goal is to strengthen the peace and unity of the indigenous factions within the camp, and to support natives stepping into positions of leadership and influence in this movement. Non-indigenous individuals attempting to assist the protests by leading, organizing, and coordinating natives are actually harming the long term outlook of this movement.

The ultimate goal is for unified indigenous peoples themselves to stop the pipeline.The ultimate goal is for unified indigenous peoples themselves to stop the pipeline.

2) Understand the different ways you can help

There is a lot of need on the ground in North Dakota, and there are many ways you can support. One is by simply donating. There are several different funds for the various camps out there. If you donate in this way, the money will likely be used for legal fees, central kitchen supplies, care of the children and elderly, winter gear for the protectors, and more.

At Standing Rock, we met a lot of impoverished individuals who had been camping for weeks or months, and were prepared to spend the whole winter there, despite not even having sub-zero sleeping bags. These groups are often small, autonomous, traditional, and too proud to ask for the help they need when there are so many elderly and children present. I believe that distributing aid directly to the people who are in it for the long haul has a powerful impact on ultimately stopping the pipeline. To read more about how aid on the ground can help, please look at this document we compiled, tracking how our money was spent.

There is also need on the ground. Kitchen volunteers commonly worked up to midnight, started feeding people at the crack of dawn, and could certainly use extra help. There is a school on site that may still be looking for teachers. First aid skills, manual labor, trash clearance, minor landscaping, balanced media coverage, running errands: All were required from what I could see. If you feel comfortable contributing in these ways, are willing to navigate the complexities of race and colonialism, and are able to be self sufficient, I think your presence would be valued and appreciated onsite.

Some have been camping for weeks or months.Some have been camping for weeks or months.

3) Know how not to contribute

Since returning, I have seen a few fundraising efforts online that I thought were well intentioned but potentially problematic. One was of a Los Angeles based art director who was trying to raise $6,000 to fund her dance company to travel to Standing Rock, so that they could make an art documentary and choreograph a modern dance piece of the protests. Another was of a Brooklyn based alternative healer who had raised $1,750 to fund her travels there so she and her coworkers could give free acupuncturist sessions to the activists. Both of these funds advertised the needs of the protesters on the ground and promised that excess money would be donated to the activists.

There is a painful history of indigenous personal struggles being appropriated for someone’s artwork, personal validation, or new age experience, and they are rightly sensitive towards these forms of well-intentioned exploitation.

Native communities have a long tradition of powerful art that resonates with individuals from all backgrounds, and alternative healing that supports their people in the absence of modern medicine. From what I can tell, this movement is about strengthening indigenous culture, not diluting it. Most people who are not part of the tribes that are unifying should be paying their own way out there and fundraising for the activists.

Some people may say it’s better to donate money you would use to travel there, to the organizers. Essentially, I view simply writing a fat check as one of the downfalls of western solidarity. There is a strong tendency to donate out of guilt and then move on from the struggle. This is a budding movement and needs individuals from all walks of life in this country on the ground, interacting with, and trying to understand the complexities of the challenges facing Native Americans. The camps themselves are asking for empowered allies, willing to do the hard day-to-day labor that this space requires.

This movement is about strengthening indigenous culture, not diluting it.This movement is about strengthening indigenous culture, not diluting it.

4) Work to Build Unity

Much white activism is built around generating outrage and anger, so as to better rally support for a specific cause. This is a fine strategy for many protests, but when these habits are brought to Standing Rock they fall oddly flat. This is because there is already plenty of conviction (and anger) on these reservations whose residents are turning up in force. There are hundreds of Natives prepared to camp through the winter if need be, and Standing Rock has turned into a village at this point, with all the politics and natural divisions that a village would have.

What this group of people effectively living together needs, is to have peace amongst themselves and to celebrate what they are accomplishing, so that they have the emotional stamina to thrive for the long haul. Unleashing a bunch of dramatic agitators in this space does nothing to relieve these essential problems facing the various camps stopping the pipeline. If anything, it exacerbates them. If you are going with the assumption that this protest is a place for theatrics, costumes, ironic signs, and anger, think again. The rules of activism there are fundamentally different, and revolve around building cohesion, unity, and mutual solidarity rather than incitement and dramatic education.

5) Trust native competency

This is a particularly challenging thing for many newcomers to this struggle. First Nations do things a bit differently than we do, and at times it can feel grating. Often you may wonder if any Indian you meet will ever reference something specifically in time and space. You will even see individuals with critical jobs sitting around the whole day appearing to do nothing. Ignore your frustration and do not try to step in and save the day. If you feel the need to assist, simply ask how you can help and do whatever is asked of you, no matter how trivial. Just know that things happen on their own time out there, and remember that there is only one group to ever extract an unconditional military surrender from the Unites States of America: the Lakota nation. You are around highly competent individuals doing what they do best: protecting their lands, culture, and way of life. Take this opportunity to learn from the experts.

They need to have peace amongst themselves and to celebrate what they are accomplishing.They need to have peace amongst themselves and to celebrate what they are accomplishing.

6) Understand the cultural context of the situation

Before you go, please do yourself and everyone else a favor and read up on two things: Basic statistics on the quality of life on the reservations in South and North Dakota, and the activism of the American Indian Movement around the 70s.

You will find some things that surprise you. Alcoholism rates of up to 80%15% of high schoolers have attempted suicide in the last 12 months, and a life expectancy that is lower than any other country in the world. No you didn’t read that wrong. If your goal was to live as long as possible, you would be better off being born in Sub-Saharan Africa than on many reservations next to Standing Rock. You will encounter poverty and hear stories to rival, and likely surpass, anything else you have ever seen or heard. Brace yourself and check your privilege. You may have things stolen from you. Remember that for many youth on the reservation, a dollar is powerful, a nice pair of jeans maybe comes by once every few years, and a gallon or two of gas opens up a world of possibility. Protect yourself from theft and false promises about what offered goods will be used for, but respond to such events with compassion.

Remember that the last time serious activism was occurring on these reservations, it resulted in great loss of life. Know that despite the peaceful nature of these protests, many are prepared to die for the good of their people, and personally know people who have.

7) Be prepared to experience race as the racial minority

This is the thing I was least prepared for, which changed my life the most. I had been in other contexts where I was a racial minority (say Latin America or Nepal), where I was celebrated for my race or at least acknowledged as neutral.

This is different on “The Rez”. The reality is that most whites coming onto native land over the last 100 years have been exploiting, whether intentionally or not, these indigenous communities. Additionally, the last time there was serious activism on these reservations many of the whites trying to get involved were FBI informants. While all races are genuinely invited to all the camps at Standing Rock, as a white person you will find yourself having to prove yourself to be an exception to the rule. Ironically, this is how I imagine what it is like being a racial minority in America in general, where you have to continuously prove yourself to be the exception to stereotypes imposed on you by the majority culture. If you are paying the slightest bit of attention, you will experience what it is like to be a racial minority with an attached sense of “otherness”, and this will likely change how you view the world.

You will experience what it is like to be a racial minority.You will experience what it is like to be a racial minority.

8) Be aware of the importance of symbolism

It was commonplace for Natives to recount intimate details of some historical massacre in casual conversation. It was normal to see someone carrying around a jar of water, or other item, from a piece of land where hundreds of their people had been massacred by colonialists. Why is there this intimate connection to the past when our own culture swiftly forgets details about anything that happened to our family before our grandparents?

In my opinion, natives have a greater closeness with the history because many view themselves not as wholly individuals, but also as a part of a larger tribe, with the trials and tribulations of those communities not being completely separate from theirs. It is important to try to navigate these difficult waters so that you aren’t accidentally rubbing someone’s face into an incident that seems like ancient history to you, but might as well have been yesterday for many of your companions.

I made plenty of mistakes when I was out there. One time, I suggested to the people who I was distributing funding and materials with that perhaps we should get some old army surplus wool blankets, as these are cheap, extremely durable, can fit both needs of cold weather garb and sleeping gear. I was gently reminded that many traditionals simply wouldn’t accept blankets from a white man, as the bio-terrorism of our shared history is still remembered quite clearly.

Try and avoid obvious pitfalls like these but also know that while you are there you will make mistakes, I guarantee it. Don’t let a gentle reminder hurt your feelings, as no one is questioning your intentions. It is important to not be defensive, but simply apologize and correct whatever you can.

Many view themselves not as wholly individuals, but also as a part of a larger tribe.Many view themselves not as wholly individuals, but also as a part of a larger tribe.

9) Avoid ceremony unless you are explicitly invited

I imagine nearly everyone has the desire to participate in a Native American ceremony, held by some powerful medicine person which facilitates a unique and authentic experience. These protests are not the place to come looking for that.

Moreover, I am sure many hold a desire to gain some kind of spiritual connection with these ancient traditions, and develop a relationship with these ceremonies such that you could hold them with as much power as any Native American you come across. These protests are not the place to demonstrate that.

There is something that can only be described as a deep hunger in white people for authentic, earth-based spirituality. Unfortunately, this hunger is often combined with an unfortunate combination of feeling entitled to be taught these traditions, and a complete lack of cultural awareness. Coming into native space with charged religious symbols, attempting to participate in ceremonies uninvited, or publicly leading new age rituals, patched together from the mutilated parts of other divergent traditions, makes you as complicit in cultural genocide as the racist cops arresting activists at the checkpoint you will be going through.

On my last night camping next to the Missouri River, I was talking late past midnight with one local young man who seemed pretty traditional. I asked him if he was learning the old ways. He replied that he was trying to, but it took a lot of time. His elders and grandparents would often wait months or even years in between teaching or sharing with him aspects of his people’s religion, waiting for the moment that was just right to impart a specific piece of wisdom.

These protests are not the place to come looking for a Native American ceremony.These protests are not the place to come looking for a Native American ceremony.

10) Leave your costume at home

I am incredulous that this actually needs to be said, but apparently a bunch of people feel that they need to literally dress up at this occupation. I would like to ask these people, seriously, if they would consider wearing their sparkle pony fox-eared hat and matching mittens to the marches for women’s suffrage occurring in the 1920s. We are here to support quietly in the background, not flaunt a radical-ragamuffin style that our privilege affords us.

11) Don’t take up space

One odd but unsurprising thing I noticed was that although the protectors were ~95% native, 50% of the individuals who sat closest to the central fire were white. We have a habit of taking up inordinate amounts of space, and often can attempt to make a situation or movement about our own struggle and personal exploration.  Move back and help from the edges so that others can step into the center.

12) Check out this small recommended reading list

Neither Wolf Nor Dog, by Kent Nerburn. This book was recommended to me by my native family when I was first going to help on a reservation years ago, and I found its perspectives indispensable.

Additionally, Standing Rock Allies Resource Packet provides important information on what you need to know before going to Standing Rock. This includes guidelines on joining camp culture and Oceti Sakowin Camp Protocols.




Many of us want to be able to help the Native people out as they make this historic stand for their sacred land and to protect the water from contamination. At a time when water is getting contaminated often and it is contaminated from oil and deteriorating pipelines, this is an historically and culturally significant time.  The last time the Nations came together was to fight the White Man who was stealing their land.


If you have decided that you want to go to Standing Rock to offer your assistance, these points will help you to effectively and successfully stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in this historic endeavor. White people need to be careful that you don’t act on feelings of white privilege such as having the right ideas. Keep on the edge of things. The Native people need to be able to control this protest.  It is their culture that is on the line, their land, their ancestors, and their lives and water.  It is their rights being trampled, and their ways must prevail in this protest.





The Vote

America is coming up on one of our most important votes. Historically, voting; before the women received the vote, men made voting  into an excuse to drink and have fist fights..There was chaos. It is amazing that we made it through these times. Voting was done in saloons and a man’s vote got him a free shot of whiskey.

There were problems with voter ID. Not because of the reasons we debate  today, Police were stationed in the saloons to keep the peace. They often looked the other way, so guys could vote again and get another shot. Guns were toted for a man’s protection. Some may have even been needed. Don’t know. Election day was wild.

Today, emotions flare on all sides. We have evolved. Thanks to the Suffragettes,  women now have the responsibility of voting too.  We no longer vote in the saloons and the whiskey no longer flows like hot lava. Election day is a time for all citizens to speak up.

We must remember on election day to put our apathy aside. Citizens all over the world risk their lives to get to America to have the chance to become citizens and to vote to keep the freedoms we have here in America. They traveled here in ships and planes seeking what the original Pilgrims sought when they arrived in the 1600’s. They wanted freedom and a voice in creating and strengthening these freedoms for all Americans.

In November, remember voting is indeed a right, but it is also an important responsibility. If we are apathetic and don’t use our vote, we weaken our democracy. In every generation, there have been those who threw the hat in and gave up. They stopped voting. They stopped listening to issues.  Both sides of the issues. If something happens later on they don’t like, often, they are the first to complain loudly and frequently. Perhaps if these people had voted, the results would be much different. At the very least, they would have had the opportunity to say, to vote for what they believed in.

My challenge to Americans in November is to go to the polls and vote. Tell our leaders what and whom you want to lead our government. Don’t get caught up in the discontent you feel. Use the discontent within to get yourself out of the house, vote before you go to work or on your way home. We are citizens of a great Democracy and we have a responsibility to work to keep it whole and continuing to grow as the world is growing.

It is important to remember that with all of the new technology, America and Americans need to show people what Democracy is and how it can and does improve lives. Go vote, be proud, no matter who wins, and I do have a favorite, but whoever wins the process will have worked again as it has every four years since the founding fathers wrote the Constitution.

July 4, 2012 Fireworks; Photo by Barbara Mattio

2012 fireworks; Photo by Barbara Mattio