Friday, August 22, 2008

You Must Be Indian!

I was flipping channels and hit Lifetime just in time to hear a man asking a little neighbor boy why he was so dark (he was extremely light to me). The little boy said quickly that he took after his grandfather who was Cherokee Indian. In the story it was later found that the little boy thought to be white, living in an all white town, with white parents had been switched at birth and was actually bi-racial. It was something watching the little boy having to explain why he looked different than the rest of the kids.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I was asked or told, "You must be Indian" The only people that asked this question were black people. It was always a strange question to me and I tried to ignore it. It is true, I guess (even now I still hedge) my grandmother's family was Cherokee, Black and Scottish (so I was told). That never meant anything to me because I didn't look like them and I'd barely met any of them. Race or skin color was a definite issue on my father's side on my mother's side, the only mention is, "the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice."

It was REALLY easy to tell the difference between my mother's family and my father's family. Looking at pictures of my great-grandmother and her siblings, some look mixed, black or even Caucasian. Still, I hated being asked. If I said yes, inevitably there was one person in the (black) group that would say, "All of (us) are mixed with something. It doesn't make you special."

Why was I asked? It had to do strictly with the extremely long length of my hair and the texture. That's it. Since I am very brown, no one ever confused me with being bi-racial. There had to be some explanation and in the Black community. Usually that was being Indian.

Let me introduce you to my relatives, the McCains. This is my great-grandmother and her full-blooded siblings. The last picture is my father with two of his great aunts.

On the flip side. Going to very white schools, the white kids never took notice of my hair. I don't remember it ever being mentioned. I do remember Officer friendly coming to school telling us to beware of bad men and all the pictures were of black people. I remember being asked if I lived in the ghetto. I remember kids being curious as to whether or not I actually had a father, if all black people could sing, run fast, or talk jive. It didn't take long to figure out these were not considered positive things. So, when the white kids would ask me questions, I would tell them that I couldn't possibly know because I was INDIAN! I just had figured that being Black meant bad and being Indian meant being special or at least a lot less Black.

At my white school I was Indian and Scottish and in my all black neighborhood I tried to just be a Black girl. I actually went through a two-year phase of tucking all of my hair under and pinning it to look like it was short (my mother forbid me to cut it).

Years ago I worked at in an office where they had big St. Patrick's Day celebrations. A co-worker was putting Shamrocks around the office with people's names on them. When he got to me he said, "Oh Valarie we gave you one too, even though you obviously are not Irish." I said, "No I'm not, I'm actually Scottish!" I wish I had a picture of the look on his face.

FOOTNOTE: One of my cousins on the other side of the family saw the pictures before reading the post. She asked me who all the white people were on my page. When I told her they were my father's relatives, surprising she said, "I always wondered exactly what you were. You never looked like the rest of us, you always looked a little foreign or mixed with something." She was very serious and was a little surprised -- still. Still, to me, I just look like a Black girl.

1 comment:

Tami said...

I just thought about putting up a post almost exactly like this one! Very funny. I can't tell you how many times I heard that also.

Original Court Date: April 18, 2009
Final Court Date: May 18, 2009
[607 total days & 165 days w/IAN]