The design for the then-new gold $1 Elizabeth Peratrovich coin was on display during the Elizabeth Peratrovich Day celebration at the Tlingit and Haida Community Council on Feb. 16, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)

The design for the then-new gold $1 Elizabeth Peratrovich coin was on display during the Elizabeth Peratrovich Day celebration at the Tlingit and Haida Community Council on Feb. 16, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: The ongoing work of Elizabeth Peratrovich

Please join this journey with me to rectify the inequalities we perpetuate, even accidentally.

  • Monday, February 15, 2021 11:33am
  • Opinion

Of all the February holidays I could have been born on, I am honored to share my birthday, Feb. 16, with Elizabeth Peratrovich Day.

I look to this remarkable woman for guidance and inspiration. Using eloquence and a heaping dose of sarcasm, she told the Alaska Senate in 1945, “I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind gentlemen with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights.”

However, while I share my birthday with Elizabeth Peratrovich’s day of honor, I do not share her heritage. I am, in fact, a member of the dominant culture, which has spent those “5,000 years of recorded civilization” subjugating others and somehow equating brutality with superiority. I find the values my culture has passed onto me deeply concerning and unsettling. So, again, I look to Elizabeth Peratrovich’s example to name and uproot the harmful beliefs that make me complicit.

With the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, Elizabeth Peratrovich worked hard to ensure the illegality of discrimination, paving the way for people of all backgrounds to have basic human rights. Her efforts are an inspiration to the rest of us, because that work is far from complete.

For I doubt most people in the U.S. would associate at all with the term, “white supremacy,” no matter their political leanings. Yet, threads of white supremacy infect our society beyond the extremists. Therefore, I would like to share a few of its characteristics, as adapted from Showing Up For Racial Justice, to bring awareness to how our actions and attitudes may deviate from the values we wish to uphold:

Perfectionism:Lack of appreciation, mistakes seen as a reflection of identity, to be avoided rather than educational.

Sense of Urgency:Devalues thoughtful decision-making, as well as long-term approaches and consequences.

Quantity over Quality: Valuing the measurable over the un-measurable, or process.

Only One Right Way:And something is wrong with those who do not adapt to that way.

Either/Or Thinking: Dualistic outlook that limits alternatives.

Individualism: Self-centered thinking; valuing competitiveness over cooperation.

Progress is Bigger or More: Does not consider the cost of expansion.

Objectivity: Believing living beings are things; and de-valuing emotions.

If you recognize any of these characteristics in yourself, I encourage you to explore in more depth where they come from and how to remove them from your life. We need to do the hard work of social justice on a personal level, and not just by pointing fingers at others, before we can implement lasting change.

In my years of peer support and self-work overcoming depression, I have learned that when I wish to remove a bad habit or false narrative from my life, I have the responsibility and power to replace it with something else of my own choosing. The following are qualities I choose to embrace:

Deep gratitude and humility

Reciprocating

Giving to others what they ask for, not what I think they need

Asking for permission, patiently listening to the answer, and honoring if that answer is “no.”

Taking only that which is given, and of that, no more than I need

Hearing critique and doing the work needed to improve

My value is equal to all other living beings, no more, no less

Then, following Elizabeth Peratrovich’s example, we need to work together to codify inclusive policies into law and organizational structures. Perhaps I am naïve, but I hope that the majority of people in the U.S. do not wish to prolong a culture of white supremacy. Please join this journey with me to rectify the inequalities we perpetuate, even accidentally.

• Kali Hofman is an uninvited guest on the lands of Lingít Aaní. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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