I’m a white girl.
Or at least, that’s what you’d think when you saw me. I don’t blame you, I’ve got blonde hair and pale-ish skin, and I only look like an interesting ethnicity when… well, when I’m around my family. And even then, it’s probably hard believing I’m somehow related to them when I’m the only pale person in the mix, this blonde singularity in a sea of Native Americans.
Now, I am not actually related to these people. I’m adopted. I figured it out a while ago; there were just so many clues. However, even if my birth father wasn’t Native, I’d still consider myself Native American. I was raised in a Native American-centric household with Native American immediate and distanced family. When I was a kid I went to a local pow-wow thing, dancing in this fancy native dress. I read books about Native American traditions and folk tales. I learned Mohawk words from my cousins when they came to visit every summer when we were young.
More recently I’ve been visiting family on the reservation more; the photo above is of my cousins and I after we left the reservation and took a detour with our grandparents to Boldt Castle a few years ago. As you can tell I was just so enthralled.
My heritage and ethnicity have always been a large part of my life.
And this isn’t a racist statement, but because of how I look, no one really knows this about me unless I tell them. It’s just hard to come to the conclusion that the girl with pale skin and blonde hair is half Native American. And if I ever do mention this, most people try and tell me that their half cousin’s second wife’s nephew’s sister in law was a member of the Sioux, so they are as well. But… no.
Growing up in Native American culture and not having darker skin and dark hair kind of sets me apart, sets my privilege higher than my family. I know it sounds odd, but not having anyone really know my ethnicity took me away from the stigma and the constant need to fight for my rights. Yeah, I’m the girl that will call you out for saying raciest things (*ahem* we are not Indians) but I don’t really have much to loose from them because no one can use raciest things against me, or at least, no one does.
If it were 100, or even 50 years ago, being a half native American woman would be one of the worse possible things for me. But here I am in 2016 without a trace of any ignominy to show for it.
There is a kid in my “friend” group (a gang of rapscallions I eat lunch with) who is also half native. I’ve known him for years, we were in the same 5th grade class, and it’s interesting how differently we’re treated. No, he’s not made fun of because of his heritage, but he can mention it more freely, not be questioned, and occasionally get some kind of “trail of tears” pun thrown at him.
I find this interesting because in 5th grade, when we learned about “thanksgiving”, my teacher said “We… not you so-and-so, invaded the Indian’s land and just took it from them.” Our teacher excluded him, and not me,which makes sense, but at the same time, I’m pretty sure no teacher in their right mind would exclude a black person from a talk about slavery.
That’s the kind of racism I don’t have to deal with, the kind of thing that I get to completely avoid because, for some reason, I didn’t get the dominant gene and I look like a “normal” white girl.
I kind of hate that I am not always attached to my heritage because it’s just such a large part of my life. Most other people with a strong subculture of ethnicity have their race to show for it. In other words, they look the part. This doesn’t mean every everyone who looks a certain way has a certain culture, it just means that it’s harder to defend mine to people. I’m not some white girl with a tiny trace of Seneca. I’m half Native American by blood and almost fully immersed in the culture because of my family and the ties I get from them.
But no matter how many reforms for the reservation I vocally advocate for, no matter how many times I make note of people’s insensitivity, I’m just the pale white girl to them.
I’m the one with the privilege.