Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Why Don't You Ask Me About My Whiteness?

I didn't create the system. I'm just learning to live within it...

I didn't create racial categorization nor racism in this country. I experience it everyday. I wake up and I am reminded that I am Native American because of the obvious 'physical features' – long hair, high cheek bones, body shape, body type, health issues, etc.

I am part of the only racial categorization that is measured by blood quantum just like animals. Dogs have pedigrees. Horses have pedigress. Cows have pedigrees. Native Americans have pedigrees.

Each of these animals are measured and tracked for their ability to produce or compete. Purebred animals are superior. There is no mixing. The goal is to not weaken the bloodline.

Needless to say, I am not a purebred. I am a complicated mix of my ancestors. Their stories are told within family folklore and hushed whispers.

The family stories about my great grandfathers don't include why they came here to America. Why they took indian wives. Did they love each other? Could they marry? Was it Legal? What were their lives like during the “Indian Wars”? What happened to their children? How were their children treated?

People never ask me about are my white ancestors. My paternal great grandfather an immigrant German carpenter who took an indian wife. My maternal great grandfather who was an immigrant French fur trapper who raised my grandmother.

Even though I'm part white this privileage doesn't extend to me. My whiteness doesn't safeguard me from the looks, the tone of contempt, and the fear I live with for my physical safety. My burden is to “represent” for all Native people everywhere I go.

When I travel home to South Dakota I put my armour on to deal with the racism. I realize what a luxury I have living within the inner city of Minneapolis. This inner city is diverse enough that racism has a different tone and tenor to it.

I live and exist in this world as a mutt. I can't change a darn thing about that. I grew up on an Indian Reservation but that doesn't make me, 'more indian'. I understand some Lakota but to some, 'I'm not indian enough'. I live my life according to the worldview that I learned as I grew up so maybe, just maybe, I can carry my tribal ID without having to justify why I have it.

What I know is that I am a complicated mix of decisions of the men and women who created me and those that created them and so on, so the next time you see me don't ask me the obvious, ask me about my white ancestors...

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