Cultural Etiquette: “Lesbian classic” anti-oppression booklet returns to print

Guest post by Stephani Maari Booker

In the early-to mid-1990s, I lived in Memphis, Tennessee, where I was a regular patron of the (now-defunct) lesbian-owned women’s bookstore there. One of the many great works that I discovered and bought from that bookstore was Cultural Etiquette: A Guide for the Well-Intentioned. This booklet, originally published in 1990 and “slightly revised” in 1991, was like nothing I had ever read before, not in content or in format: It contained rules, guidelines, advice, education and philosophical musings “to help people avoid some of the obvious as well as not so obvious pitfalls of unwitting racism and anti-Semitism,” as its introduction said.

The lessons in Cultural Etiquette were delivered with a healthy dose of wit, with chapter headings such as “What Is Ethnocentrism and What Should I Take for It?” and “Just Don’t Do This. Okay?” Some examples from the booklet:

Do not mimic the language, accent, or mannerisms of Jews or people of color. We are not cartoons.

People’s traditional clothes are not costumes. They are simply clothes.

Koreans are not taking over. Neither are Jews. Neither are the Japanese. Neither are the West Indians. These are myths put out and maintained by the ones who really have.

Native Americans and Native American cultures are alive and thriving, thank you. In fact, you are on our land.

Middle Easterners are not fanatics, terrorists or all oil rich.

Why, in most Science Fiction, no matter how many years you go into the future, or how many light years you go out in space, is everyone always white?!?

Cultural Etiquette was written by Amoja Three Rivers, whose name reflected her African-Native American heritage. A longtime member of the lesbian feminist and womanist communities of the late 20th-early 21st century, Three Rivers was one of the founders of the Womyn of Colour Tent and Sanctuary at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, an international feminist music festival held every August for four decades. The conversations she had with women of color, indigenous women and Jewish women at the festival about the everyday encounters with racism and anti-Semitism they experienced inspired Three Rivers to write Cultural Etiquette with plenty of input from women of these marginalized communities.

In the late 1990s after I had moved to Minnesota, I met Amoja Three Rivers at a reading she did in a coffee shop. Not long after that, she moved to Minnesota herself and I had the privilege of becoming her friend. Amoja originally published Cultural Etiquette through a womanist business she co-founded, and she used her connections with the lesbian feminist and womanist communities to get the book distributed to feminist bookstores across the country. By the time she moved to Minnesota, financial and health challenges often preempted her ability to keep the book in print. She published and sold the book the old-fashioned way: paying a printer to make hard copies and then selling it out of her home.

In August 2015, Amoja Three Rivers attended the last Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival where she was honored for her contributions to the event. Tragically, she died that December after a brief and sudden illness. With her demise, Cultural Etiquette went out of print.

Amoja’s next-of-kin found among her personal effects a paper designating me and another friend of hers as custodians of her writings. With the authorization of the next-of-kin, my indie publishing company Athena Persephoni has brought Cultural Etiquette back into print in the form of an ebook, with a print book to be coming eventually.

Since 2013, the pioneering four-decade-old lesbian literary journal Sinister Wisdom (in partnership with A Midsummer Night’s Press) has been publishing special edition issues that double as reprints of poetry collections by writers such as Elana Dykewomon and Cheryl Clarke. This “Sapphic Classics” series is bringing back writings by iconic lesbian writers that until now have been out of print for years. As a fan of the book and a friend of its late author, I am proud and honored to follow Sinister Wisdom’s lead in making the lesbian classic Cultural Etiquette: A Guide for the Well-Intentioned available to readers in a world that needs Amoja Three Rivers’ wisdom now more than ever.

About Cultural Etiquette

Cultural Ettiquette“This guide is to help people avoid some of the obvious as well as not so obvious pitfalls of unwitting racism and anti-Semitism.”

Amoja Three Rivers’ “Cultural Etiquette: A Guide for the Well-Intentioned,” originally published in 1990 and “slightly revised” in 1991, was intended as an antidote to the poison of microaggressions committed by people of all racial and ethnic groups in writing and thinking about as well as speaking and interacting with Black/Indigenous/People of Color and Jewish people. Long before Franchesca Ramsey’s “Sh#t White Girls Say to Black Girls” YouTube video and all the videos and blogs that grew from it, “Cultural Etiquette” was a thoughtful, witty account of the things no one should say to members of racial and ethnic groups subjected to systemic oppression in the United States, with chapter headings such as “What Is Ethnocentrism and What Should I Take For It?” and “Just Don’t Do This. Okay?”

This ebook edition is authorized by the next-of-kin of the late Amoja Three Rivers and is published by the author’s designated custodian of her writings. It preserves all of Three Rivers’ words with only tiny changes in punctuation, spelling corrections and formatting necessary for an ebook.

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About Stephani Maari Booker

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Stephani Maari Booker, owner of Athena Persephoni Publications, writes prose and poetry for the page and for performance in which she wrestles with her multiple marginalized identities: African American, lesbian, lower-class, nerdy and sexy. The author of Secret Insurrection: Stories from a Novel of a Future Time, she has science fiction, nonfiction, erotica and poetry in many publications.

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