As a person of color, Native America – broadly and specifically - Sicangu Oyate (Burnt Thigh People), I’ve learned to live with racism. I’ve been on the receiving end of this behavior. I wish I could say racism has gone away but it hasn’t.
In the past, when I've tried to confront someone’s racist behavior and explain how it is derogatory and degrades me, I've usually given up. My upbrining has taught me, the Creator takes care of such things. When I stood up to these people, I’ve been told to stop. Stop making a scene. What they are putting out there will be returned to them in-kind and much worse.
I now know that many of these things I’ve learned over the years are coping mechanisms that helped me survive growing up on a reservation surrounded by white ranchers and white folks. We learned to co-exist with them. Underlying all this was fear. Fear that white men could physically harm us.
If you’ve ever had a group of white men try to stop your car, been called a prairie nigger, shouted at while you shopped, watched throughout the time you were in a shop, and made to feel so uncomfortable your only option was to leave. Those are real moments. They are fucked up!
It saddnes me that as people of color who survive racism, we've learned to rationalize racist behavior away. We think of the promised land. We pray for strength.
We internazlie it but it manifests itself in our own destruction. We drink a little more so we don't feel. We cope with a bottle booze. We create an “us vs them” mentality with our own people. We create a subculture in our own communities of good people and bad people. We stand on each other so we can feel better about ourselves, figuratively and literally.
I've spent many years in fear of violence against me. I've experienced it at the hands of people who said they loved me. I've known it by strangers. With that said, violence begets violence. I know that. What I know is that I am not going to live in fear anymore.
The more of us who speak out against racist behavior and tell people then we contribute to our own well being, collectively and individually speaking.
The next time you see a store owner watching an elderly Native person shopping ask them, “what are you looking for?” It will be enough of a shock that they won't know how to answer your inquiry. The next time someone brings out a medicine bag in a bar then tell them, “that's absolutely, incredibly innapropriate and I'm offended.” Finally, don't call me “Chief” because that is a heralded position in my community and I am not such.
As we speak out against racists behavior we become more fully ourselves. We realize our own beauty. Generations of people survived so we can stand tall and be proud. Our lives, our bodies, our spirituality – all maters. We are a beautiful people, individually and societally.
Stop internalizing all that ugliness. Make a difference and speak out against racism. Native and Proud! XOXO, Nick