Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Hyphen

Last night, while out at the bar with a couple of my friends, our waitress tested me.

She said, as she conversed with our table, "My family is Scottish..." and I refrained from looking shocked. Shocked because she's a POC (Person of Colour) or perhaps you prefer the term Visibly Monitory. She said it with all the casualness in the world and because, so many times, have I said I'm Native and people look stunned and in disbelief, I wanted to respond with a casual acknowledgment of her statement.

I'll admit, sometimes I like when people look stunned because I know it's surprising to some people since I'm so pale. But I've resented when people didn't believe me or questioned it. No, I'm not trying to punk you. No, I'm not lying. Yes, here is my treaty card as proof. Sure, go ahead and decipher my facial features to see if you can find my Native heritage. It's cool.

Side by side comparison to make it easier on you

In the past, Mixed Race was sometimes looked on as a solution to a problem. For example, A.O Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines in Australia until 1940 and made well known by the movie "Rabbit Proof Fence", systematically enforced the practice of removing "Half Caste" Aborigines from their parents in order to lessen their contact with other Aborigines and encourage "biological absorption". I look in the mirror and wonder...have I been biologically absorbed? But...that can't be because, although I look white, I identify much more with being Native. But, perhaps Mr. Neville would've thought that I had been biologically absorbed successfully as most would never guess my Native heritage unless they knew what to look for.

Then I think of it from the other perspective. Has my Native DNA tainted my Caucasion DNA? Is there no redemption of my lineage now that I am Mixed Race? Is this a case of the One Drop rule? Honestly, I don't care. But there are people who cared about these things and still do. It was not that long ago when governments and society were trying to figure out where Mixed Race people fit. In fact, many of the decisions made by yesteryear's racists, white supremacists and eugenicists are still affecting People of Colour and their right's today. For example, the issue of Virginia Natives trying to gain recognition as a tribe. Even my own treaty rights rested on a very precarious balance as one of the only reasons I got them was due to my mom being Caucasian and my dad being Native. Native women and their children lost their treaty rights when they "married out". This was amended in 1985 (the year of my birth) but still affects many people, especially their grandchildren who don't get treaty rights or status despite the amendment.

One of my favourite insights into being Mixed Race is the short film by Vin Diesel called Multi-Facial, which deals with him struggling at auditions to be what they expect him to be. I have included it (in two parts) below:

I'm not an actress. I don't face these challenges professionally but I think many people of Mixed Race deal with the reality of not filling the role you are expected to fill. Either being too this or not enough of that and society looking at you and trying to figure out what stereotype is more fitting for you. Personally, I enjoy not fitting into any of molds that have been cast for me. When I catch someone off guard because I am paler than they thought a Cree person would be, I am happy. I've made them question their own reality by introducing them to mine. And last night, I was happy to be on the other side of that interaction when the waitress made me question my own preconceived notions.

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