thoughts on authenticity
April 12, 2014
so taking off from this ask i”ve been thinking about issues/concerns of authenticity.
authenticity for iaopoc is one of those really slippery notions with ever changing goal posts… b/c white ppl never want us to believe that our lives, cultures, families, genders, ideas, spirituality, etc and so on are ever truly ‘authentic.” for most white ppl, the only authentic iaopoc cultures are likely to be the few uncontacted tribes. and even this is a claim that can be contested, as many of these tribes are constantly under threat from colonial/capitalist/state interference and are on the defensive. perhaps this awareness of the outside world renders them inauthentic… maybe it doesn”t matter so much if they are ‘contacted”…
when we look at what white ppl are willing to consider authentic, it becomes clear that authenticity is a relic of the past. and i mean this very literally: relics, art, other physical manifestations of iaopoc cultures are routinely judged for authenticity. the older something is, the more ‘ancient”, the more likely white ppl will consider it ‘authentic.” it means that authenticity is something we”ve lost. something that exists only in the past and that we shall never able to be or become.
but this is sort of the point… one of the fundamental goals of colonialism is to eradicate our cultures and assimilate us into white supremacist society. to steal our lands and labour and creativity to profit white ppl. perhaps (as in many things) one of the most obvious examples of this is Black americans (and their culture). since absolutely nothing about them as a modern iaopoc socio-cultural group or their culture is considered authentic in any meaningful sense. it is one reason why so much of their cultural activity is considered open game for theft, appropriation, and so on. why AAVE is pretty much never (outside of their community) considered a ‘real” language/dialect. why, in many ways, they are rarely conceived of even having a culture that is distinct from the white settlers.
because how can a ppl with no clear history (before their enslavement) and no clear language have a culture? how can this non-culture manifest in music, art, writing, etc. in ways that allow Black americans any claims to primacy, ownership, creators? they are no one, and so they have nothing. right?
it is the clearest example of the ideal role that iaopoc are supposed to have in the modern, white supremacist world. cut off from our lands. our history stolen and/or erased. our mother tongues forgotten via violent coercive processes. and all effort, labour, etc. feeding into the machine that oppresses. and doing it in such a way that resistance to this largely presents itself as incoherent. from this angle, in a lot of ways, Black americans are really the only truly ‘modern” non-white ethnic group (because they lack any coherent claim to authenticity within white supremacy).1
and, of course, these standards of authenticity force us to remain frozen in the past. if our cultures are vibrant and alive, this means that they are changing and adapting to the way the world currently is. and this is a good thing. because it means survival. and survival is resistance2.
so when it comes to a question like ‘well, i”m a dfab person and my culture doesn”t seem to have any historical word/ID for ppl like me, what do i do?”. the thing is. if you”re a person from that culture. and you have a gender. your gender is necessarily iaopoc and not white. despite the force and violence involved in making us concieve of and frame our genders within a white supremacist/colonial framework, that doens”t actually mean our selves/genders are coherent within that framework.
that i”m bakla, which has historical roots, doesn”t make my gender any more authentic than a tomboy — which is clearly using an english loan word. does some filipin@ dishes using new world foods (like tomatoes) mean that these dishes are less authentic than what an Indigenous group cooks with (if they only use local stuff)?
authenticity doesn”t lie in our past, but in our present and our future. it exists because we exist. because we survive. and because well will overcome and dismantle white supremacy and decolonize one day.