OMG! It is a mess! A mess I am very familiar with, because when it comes to race, I have lived on the very messy color line, and it gets messier and messier with each passing day.
With regard to you showing up with the Nation with questions and being relegated to the role of another flaky white chick — I get it. I actually get it from both sides. Those of us who live in these places of painful intersectionality, are always walking such a fine line — but at the same time we have to be true to who we are, or at least that is my take.
If I had a dime for every time, in my childhood, I had been called a “white bitch” and I put it in the bank, and I invested and let the interests compound, I’d probably be a millionaire by now.
As a child, I was hated, and despised by most Black people outside of my own family (which to be fair was a pretty larger and powerful extensive family, so the discomfort, I experienced was limited and mitigated- but still! I was HATED. I have been BEEN BEATEN- one more than one occassion, brutally, over the color of my skin. And yet, in those younger years, I would bend over backwards to prove myself. I am black! (I would announce to the members of my community)
I am blackity, black, black BLACK! (Yeah, I was one of those. Over compensating, clearly.) Because this rejection by people- who I considered my people and my only people (they were all I knew) was so painful.
But time moved on. I moved out of the insulated black community of my youth. I moved in and out of white America, (which quite honestly, never took all that much issue with me, seriously. White America doesn’t bother me, the way they bother most blacks because I am so light.) AND THAT- was when I began to understand why all my black family both loved me and hated me so much.
They recognized that I had access, and power and privilege in ways that most of them never would. And as this realization slowly dawned -on me- (and it took the really dark-skinned female members of my family to make me confront my own white privilege), I had to decide what I was going to do with that privilege.
I decided to make a career out of standing up for the underprivileged - of any kind. And, I stood on this firm moral ground of it’s not right!
That has been my shtick for forever. I am now starting to revise it.
As for our ancestors- we have EVERY RIGHT to connect with them, and especially if they are speaking to us. I don’t care if you are 1/200th, Native American. If your ancestors are speaking to you (and I’d say, based on that story you wrote, clearly they are), you should listen and honor them.
I have a very tormented relationship with my ancestors, steeped in so much slavery and slave mentality, I have accused them of being worse than “the white man” — which is an all purpose term that sort of references -every heinous, barbaric and brutal thing, that every sociopathic white man has ever done. But here is a dirty little secret that most African- Americans hate to discuss, I have far more often seen us treat each other, far more dispicably and disgracefully than any white person, I’ve ever known. (But to be fair, I’ve known pretty decent white people.)
As far as the ones who aren’t, well, I happened to have just been born in a time and a place and with such a position of intersectionality and privilege- that I can check them. And black people love me for this, (this is how I get to keep my black card) but it’s complicated. It’s very complicated. I suspect that you know this just as well as me. Your position of intersectionality is extremely challenging.
But, you are intuitive. So the ancestors will talk to you- and they won’t leave you alone. I suspect this is how you have ended up in the very challenging situation you are in bridging to very different cultures.
What about the woman? (Your native American ancestor.) What about her? She deserves a voice! Maybe you are that voice.
I think my mom is crazy. I think she is just beyond nuts. As is her sister and her mother before her. My sister and I lament the task at hand, which is to help these crazy women age and die as gracefully as possible. It is NOT going well.
My sister and I, try to figure it out. What made them so crazy? Racism…yes. Sexism, sure. Getting scholarships to Ivy League schools and trying to fit in with extremely wealthy whites — it would drive the sanest among us mad, but this is a deeply embedded insanity that is running through the generations, so we took it back even further. I told my sister, what allegedly happened to our great- great grandmother. She was West-African, brought of the boat and onto a plantation somewhere in Virginia, where at 13 she was brutally, horrorifically raped by some Irish overseer. She had a child, the one child, who is said to have embodied the demeanor of the mean, mean white man. Some how she got his last name — it was Bailey. I don’t know if he had some kind of relationship with the daughter…there is a lot of this story that is just gone.
But, I told my sister about it in the hopes that we could gain some insight as to why the women in our family are so mean and crazy. And my sister said to me, when I told her this story, “Well that explains it.”
And I said, “What? That explains what? All we know is that our great, great grandfather was a tremendous asshole! We don’t know anything else.”
And she said, “But we do. Think about that 13 year old girl. Can you imagine the trauma? Think about her. Think about what life was like for her. Being snatched up, put on a boat, making that horrorrific journey and on the other side of it, being raped. And having a child because of that rape… and having the child be like the man who raped you. Wouldn’t that drive you crazy? Wouldn’t it make all of your descendants a little crazy? How do you even begin to recover from that kind of trauma?”
I couldn’t imagine. I honestly couldn’t imagine. And I felt bad that I had never, really given much thought to my great, great grandmother’s horroriffic experiences. I also felt bad that I had been complicit in the erasure of all cultural traces of her from my experiences. I have never considered myself to have any connection to Africa. Are you kidding me? I’d be the first to say, Africans? Really? They are on some whole other level of whatever- that I really don’t understand, and don’t care to.
BUT THIS HAPPENED TO MY GREAT, GREAT GRANDMOTHER.
She deserves, at the very least, to be remembered. And so, I started taking this Afro-carribbean dance class, in hon0r of her. I didn’t really announce to anyone. I just did it, to forge a connection between me and her- to say- I remember you. I honor your culture.
And it was funny, because I often joke that I have too much European DNA to dance well or jump double dutch, but my teacher- a Jamaican lady- would not let me off the hook! She would target and harass me — and I was annoyed because I was there were plenty of whites (and even an Asian) who were dancing far worse than I. (And a few blacks dancing much better- but that’s always been my experience, so you know I was like whatever. It is what it is, that pesky European DNA.)
But she just would not let it go! She wanted me to move as fast and as furiously and as precisely as she did- and I kept telling her that I COULD NOT. And I really didn’t believe I could. I didn’t believe I had the DNA for it.
But she persisted. Finally, it clicked and I got it. I mean I really got it! Because those dances were not just dances- they were communications to a higher spiritual self. And when I got it. I got it.
When I finally got it. The teacher was pleased. And she said to me, “Dancing like that, you’re going to get us all off the slave ship.”
What was she talking about? We weren’t on a slave ship. We were at a rec center, taking a class. It made no sense to me. So I thought maybe it was a reference to a historical event? But I had never heard of any captured slaves dancing their way off of a slave ship.
But, looking back, I think it was metaphorical. Looking back, I think that this teacher knew that I had some how made this commitment to my great, great grandmother. I think that she was trying to make sure that I truly honored it by doing it right. Once I did it to her satisfaction, she was saying to me you are liberating all of us by honoring your forgotten ancestors fully.
Cultural Misappropriation — the artists in me thinks it a ridiculous concept. Clever, intelligent creative people are always trying to learn from others and share experiences and ideas- and that’s intelligence, progress, not misappropriation. That’s what has brought all of us every amazing new thing that we encounter.
However, the problem is, with Europeans there is a tendency to never credit or share success, but simply to steal cultural and intellectual capital from other groups. Europeans have done this so ruthlessly and viciously for so long, that if you are white and you do the slightest little flavorful thing, you will be attacked. And viciously.
The sad thing is that we (African- Americans) culturally misappropriate ourselves. So I have no doubt that there is some truth to what Africans are saying about us. (For example twerking and booty clapping are gross misuses and deconstructions of this African based dancing, which is spiritual in nature. You can’t (or in my view you shouldn’t) isolate certain dance movements out of the greater spiritual contexts and use those moves as fodder for a misogynistically capitalistic machine.
Oh it’s oh so entertaining to watch a woman’s butt bounce up and down, let’s call this twerking. Let’s make an endless amount of ridiculous videos with women doing this and put them up on You-Tube.
No. Let’s not. This is an idiotic and extraordinarily racist and sexist misappropriation of authentic African culture. We disgrace ourselves and our ancestors when we do it. I have pretty strong feelings about this, because of my experiences with the Afro-carribbean dance class.
I personally think cultural misappropriation it is out of control, everywhere- largely because of capitalism. Whites aren’t the only ones who do it, but they certainly have been the most effective at capitalizing off of it. So this makes it tricky when you are white, and are truly trying to embrace, the more colorful parts of your family history.
But seriously, rarely is white just white always — most white people — especially those in the South- have some color somewhere in their DNA. If they want to own it and explore, that’s their right. But, it’s definitely tricky, being swirly. White privilege is so pervasive, that just being your regular white self - is actually largely offensive, in ways that you would never imagine. I have had this experience of being offensively white. Especially when interacting with non-white cultures.
I went to a pow-wow, (inside a federal prison) the first and only time I have been immersed into a cultural Native American experience — and I was told to shut up, and stop being so intellectual and white — and just be, because it ain’t always about a whole lot of intellectualizing and discussing.
And…in that moment…I felt really white. Even though I had told them that I was Black, and I was drawing parallels between the two minority American experiences. They weren’t following me exactly, but told me they liked the hip-hop, the youngins did anyway. Young people love hip-hop, which is truly quite African linguistically.
But I had to shut up, because I was just a visitor in their sacred space. I was a guest and I was honored to have even been admitted at all.
But, I say all of that to say this. You are trying to honor your ancestors. No one has any right to take that away from you. That woman, that great, great, grand Native woman - she has voice! It deserves to be heard, through you.
And I think that’s why I found your story so compelling. Through it, I am hearing voices that deserved to be heard. And yeah it might be dicey getting that expression through. And yeah, you might be called a “white bitch” on more than one occasion. (If it happens enough, you just get used to it and you’re all like, yeah, yeah yeah, I’m a white bitch, is that all you got? You know how many times I’ve heard that?) And that throws em.
But. You have to be authentic. You have to stand in your truth — and if that means you have to be a white trans woman, holding space with and for Native Americans-inside of their culture that you don’t entirely recognize or feel totally comfortable within — so be it. It’s just the curse of being swirly. But when it is all said and done, you simply cannot deny all the various facets of who you are. I have just come to terms with this myself. And…it’s been quite a journey.