random musings about the the R word… more questions


Random musings on the subject of race from an Indigenous woman’s perspective

Anything I write is from an Indigenous perspective. On a daily basis I interact and work with non Native people. With a small Native community it’s not that hard to navigate and I’ve picked up on the discursive texts. Pretty much I’ve also heard just about every racial social issue and how it has played itself out in the classrooms or administrative arenas we work. As evolved and “multicultural” or tolerant non Native colleagues like to believe/claim they are, their thoughts and/or experiences on working/living on/near a reservation is next to none EVEN if my nation headquarters offices are located 45 miles away. As it is, when subjects of race happen or come up, it’s usually relative to what’s circulating in the national news and/or in some far off city in an urban area where we (local people) are more than likely won’t experience. Reservations experience some of the worst racism and yet seldom if ever make national news.

With a varied professional experience, I was fortunate to travel the country and had the good fortune to meet people from different walks of life. The opportunity blessed me with a fair share of events which sometimes included race for conversation and once the first question of “what’s your background?” or “culture” questions were asked, it was a free for all. Dialogue on the social constructs of race to people asking if Native people still existed were the most entertaining. Yes… Native people still exist. The result wasn’t always some beautiful ah-ha moment, it usually included a deeper conversation woven in with innovative calls to action. Maybe a little think tank type ish for an all-encompassing remedy. However, the ‘think tank’ (is a bit cliche) for Native people, for the most part in my opinion they helped me to navigate through the current waters I’m swimming in as an emerging Indigenous woman and activist-scholar.

The social issue of race is a long-standing issue for Native, Black, and Brown people. Ironically, this country was established on stolen Indigenous lands built by African slaves from the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Based on the many scholarly readings on Critical Race Theory, race has become an issue for those who are privileged especially if they don’t believe they are perpetuating or projecting racism. When we look at what racism does to an individual, identity becomes an issue, shortly after that issues of internalized racism emerge, along with perpetual prejudiced behavior, and cognitive dissonance related to race. Often times, the oppressed won’t realize they are projecting taught or learned behavior. As my sisters in solidarity @ChiefElk @Chocolate_Meth and @deluxvivens have tweeted on this issue, the elephant in the room is, we have learned to also hate our own. We can find black on black, brown on brown, black on brown, brown on black hate without the realization that racist hate is a social construct created through divide and conquer methods of colonizing and imperialist ideals of a white construct of race. But I digress.

Given that I come from a large Native family, my upbringing and background is most definitely unique. I was raised on the southwest in my mothers homeland where I can remember being told not to bring home a “zhiinii” and that a white guy was exceptional. Fast forward to me living in my father lands, the sentiment is not any different. I find myself working through racism more than I care to admit. I am quite aware that it exists. I’ve talked about racism and how it exists on/near a reservation everyday, we just don’t read or talk about it because it’s neatly swept under the rug of apathy and “can we all just get along?” With some relative context, my son’s grandfather is from Alabama and proud of his Bama roots, however in Idaho, you won’t find him talking about that all too often. My son’s grand-mother, RIP, was a strong woman to endure the racial slurs she did in the late 60’s and 70’s, my respect for her is tremendous when I think of what society was like then. Today… well, we’ve progressed somewhat… well, maybe not. Scratch that… not much has changed.

Regardless of ethnicity, racism is a subject we as humans deal with differently. I could oversimplify this and state that I don’t believe race is an issue and that it doesn’t exist on/near the reservation and even claim that I am “color blind” and don’t see color. Even if I did, I would be remiss, but more than that, negligent and in denial to the years of oppression any non white person has been subjected to whether it was forced subjugation or coercion. I have learned, prejudiced behaviors perpetuate the oppression and we keep talking about an issue that has been prevalent since 1492. Although not as violent and the genocide no longer involves swords, guns, and distribution of small pox infected blankets, instead, today’s genocide is meth, gang violence, school to prison pipelines, rape and murder of Indigenous women. As I read about issues Black brothers and sisters advocate and work on a daily basis, today’s lynchings are the social injustices all we have to do is Google ReNisha McBride and Trayvon Martin.

As a mother, the subject of race is something I’ve skirted around. Consequently, a colleague (who used to work in a tribal school setting) and I discussed “marrying up and out” of our social economic status. We talked about experiences and observations we had made on/around the Rez and the phenomena of racial significance. I shared my sentiment about the opinions and comments that are made within Native communities about dating outside of our race.

I reflected on my colleagues conversation as we discussed the issue of race and the misconception within Native communities. My colleague and I talked about who we learn behaviors from and the cultural upbringings we experience as nations. We talked about how families can a tell young girl ‘if you want to improve your lot in life you gotta marry out‘. The discussion led us to talk about the realities of interracial relationships and the tensions that result because of it. Woven into our conversation was also the children who are born out of the interracial relationships.

Don’t get it twisted now, this is NOT just a Native only issue. You can believe that members from “Othered” communities experience the same social occurrence. Per the convo my friend and I had, we agreed, “no body wakes up saying they want to marry into poverty, we in general search for a comfortable life of convenience, not of struggle.” So when the misconception that marrying out automatically means out of the Rez/ghetto conditions, that becomes problematic, especially when young people think poverty is only something only Native or Black or Brown people suffer. If the only chance a member of a said community has to get get out of poverty is to marry “up and out” a white person… what does this say about what we’re teaching about the social constructs of race as an issue?

In our convo we also talked about the terms, “trailer trash, redneck, and hillbilly” as racial slurs for white people. And the misconception that any white person was better in some fashion? Like marrying out of your race to a white person is a way out. Sadly, this has happened to people I know. It does not automatically mean making it out of impoverished conditions, if anything, the person just married a melanin type. Not all white people live rich, glamorous, fancy lives, nor do they automatically make a person. Yet somehow, in some racialized fashion, it has become clear that some members of Native, Black, or Brown communities have internalized issues of racism and may look at the white person as “better off.”

In a separate conversation, not entirely related to race, but connected, I shared that youth are taught graduating from high school is the most important thing they can do for themselves. Thereafter they need to go beyond high school for an undergraduate degree, however, they’re not taught the how-to successfully complete these milestones. I mentioned an interaction with a non-Native teacher who commented about one of her classes in which she had Native students. She made an observation and did not know her students were Native and that some (not all) of her students placed a “value on education” and noted others were more focused on “family and community” as a first priority. As Native people, what she did not know is we value our community and family first. The teacher did not understand this cultural value nor did she know how to emphasize family before education in her classroom and students struggled. The reality of this common occurrence is that it happens everyday in public schools where Native student learners are put into remedial classes, under achieving, and most often swept into the larger populations and “Othered.”

Much later I had the opportunity to speak with that teacher and explained to her the cultural value behind her Native students speaking about family first as a cultural value system that is taught from birth. Although it did not necessarily mean they did not place a value on education, they just viewed education differently than she did. Second, I commented as Native people, we come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, we don’t all have long hair in braids nor do we come from a Plains culture who wear the stereotyped buckskin dresses, war bonnets, and moccasins… she didn’t think they “looked” Native.

In my conversation with that teacher, I had to elaborate a bit more on the differences among Native people throughout the country and shared that racial stereotypes dictated by non-Natives through education systems influences how members of the larger society view Natives on how we ought to look. I shared that we are also tired of that, and for most nations, intermarriage has occurred, been occurring, and will continue to occur, especially in an urban area where it is inevitable and children who may have unique features may not have long hair braided.

In any event… as my colleague and I talked more about our Native community, we also talked about Native women who choose to date non Native men which results in children who are bi-racial. My colleague, who is an activist works in Native education advocacy and multiracial awareness, outside of his art work, pointed out that we as a community also need to discuss non Native men targeting Native women as prospective partners. The issue goes beyond companionship as a social awareness issue. It has become widely known that males from other racial ethnic groups have targeted Native woman as prospective partners for personal gains in a lucrative drug cartel that has affected and plagued reservation communities with gang wars and domestic violence. In fact today, the Yakama Nation has issued a ban on marijuana as a means to drug enforcement within their reservation boundaries and jurisdiction.

The fact remains this has occurred far longer than we care to admit and as a result we have children who are multiracial and people who are protected under tribal governance codes that also influence and affect issues of non-Natives committing crimes against Indigenous community members and their tribal jurisdiction.

Addressing AND accepting that our Native community has intermarried for hundreds of years is not only the first step to understand that our community has become so influenced by this racial prejudiced as if it is “something new” even though it is not.

My blog thoughts out loud have me thinking more about what’s really going on with parents of bi-racial children? What are they talking about when it comes to living on or near a reservation, if at all? While I work in pre service teacher training, I had to get this out and share… read as you will, share if you fee; the need, but also comment if you can. Thanks and best wishes

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One thought on “random musings about the the R word… more questions

  1. Cynthia, Thank you for speaking to these difficult issues. I think it is easy for folks both in and outside Native communities to underestimate the challenges inherent in being Mixed Race, partially assimilated, or light skinned. These issues appear to be inherent to colonization, whether in North America, Australia, or elsewhere. The confluence of drugs, money, and racism creates a nexus of suffering and heartbreak.

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