Wednesday
May302012

Going Native


I recently found out what I am-- my mom got curious a while ago and did our family tree. I suppose there are always bound to be surprises.


For most of my life I was told I was a good chunk Russian, and it turns out that some of those forbearers were Germans who moved to Russia and intermarried, so while we are "All African" and all that I guess I'm really more German than anything. I'm also descended from Scottish nobility, English, probably Black Irish, and more Native American than I thought. I knew that my grandfather's father, Cicero Walker, was a full-blooded Cherokee who had no doubt been part of the Native assimilation thrust upon his generation (see: change your name and try to pass as some kind of whiter race, or get the fuck out.) His family was from Georgia, where they had owned slaves and a plantation, and most of them were eventually killed/burned out/swindled/expelled/sent to Oklahoma with blankets covered in smallpox. He ended up in Kentucky with Rebecca, the most beautiful woman in town, who gave me the Scottish and, it turns out, some more Native blood that moms couldn't trace as far back.


I've always felt somewhat drawn to this part of my heritage, but sometimes I feel like an asshole for saying that I'm part Native, especially since I don't even know exactly how much I am (definitely more than 1/8th, I suppose) and don't look the part. My grandfather could easily be Big Chief in a movie, and I have the epicanthic folds on my eyes and the cheekbones, but I am deathly pale and have curly brown hair, so I feel kind of stupid calling it my own. White privilege is, after all, about perception, so in my opinion I'm just white, and I'm sure most Native Americans would agree. But I have always been aware of this part of my ancestry, and have always been touched by their culture and their struggle. And most of all, I have always been offended by the caricatures and other offensive shit (it's like pornography, "I know it when I see it,") that passes in our country as harmless entertainment.


I'm thinking mostly of sporting mascots, where I think it's the worst - the Atlanta Braves and their stupid tomahauk-cheer thing, the KC Chiefs, the Cleveland Indians, etc, where drunk dudes can putter their hands over their mouths and put feathers in their hair and no one gets offended. Ever since I was little it has bothered me how this culture is seen as an extinct historical cartoon, like western cowboys and swashbuckling pirates-- we DO know that Native Americans are still around after all! (Albeit relegated to the saddest parts of our points west, and in spite of the fact that most of them were wiped out thanks to Andrew Jackson, racism, and manifest destiny.) 


Other historically oppressed groups demand some sensitivity and respect, at least in public venues. We would never see an African Tribesman or Slave mascot for an American baseball team jumping around in some vaguely historical ceremonial garb, or a team called the Chinks or the Spics, because it is fucking offensive. (There is the whole Fighting Irish thing, but that seems to be a more flattering, fantastical mascot that the ND community enjoys rather than the perpetuation of a harmful stereotype. And, of course, leprechauns are not real people.) I mean, my high school almost changed it's mascot from the Bombers because of 9/11. And yet I look at the TV on Sunday and there are the Texas Rangers and the Cleveland Indians on national network broadcast, in their own version of an ignorant children's game-- in front of thousands of people with that ridiculous logo on their bodies.


Perhaps the grossest part is that these people we're mocking are not even Indians, and while some call themselves American Indians just to distinguish themselves from people on another friggin continent, they are NATIVE Americans.
"Indian" is just early explorers not knowing where the hell they were, and calling the people they found here something convenient-- just as they did with slaves and other people of color. They did not recognize these people by their true roots or cultures, so they slapped some derogatory name on them and told them to get on the boat, or get off "their" land. Most of those names have faded from common use, but certainly not this one. So why is it OK for us to keep using this derogatory shit in our public venues, and how are we supposed to teach our kids to be respectful of other cultures when one that this country nearly wiped out is allowed to be derided and degraded in our sporting stadiums? Using NA culture as inspiration is one thing-- I am all for fashion, art, music, etc. borrowing from their rich history and culture. But turning them into idiotic caricatures for your own entertainment is another thing altogether.


This debate has been going on since the Civil Rights movement of the 60's, and plenty of entertainment outlets (looking at you, Disney) have revamped the way they portray minorities since. Yet in sports this ridiculous racism persists to little outrage.

I say bring the outrage back.

It's about damn time we stopped embarrassing ourselves.

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