Andrea Smith, Rachel Dolezal and Reading Realness

(from l. to r.) Rachel Dolezal, Dorian Corey and Andrea Smith

(from l. to r.) Rachel Dolezal, Dorian Corey and Andrea Smith

I am, in the words of Black twitter, #ActualBlack.  I say this not to endorse “identity policing” but to point out:

  1. I have parents, grandparents and great grandparents who were forced to cope with the following forms of White supremacy (in chronological order): the TransAtlantic Slave Trade, lynching, segregation, mass incarceration, and microaggressions.
  2. My body, skin, hair, voice, accent (or lack of accent), sashay, and personal aesthetics are to some degree disturbing in all public and private institutions (except for prisons and the morgue).
  3. I did not sign up for this club, but I am proud to be a member.

In all seriousness,  I have been thinking a lot about  the question: Why has the outing of Rachel Dolezal and Andrea Smith as  White – allegedly – caused such a sensation?

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Freedmen’s Children and Racism in the Cherokee Nation

Rena Logan with her Cherokee Nation identification card. Photo courtesy of Sulekha.com

Rena Logan with her Cherokee Nation identification card. Photo courtesy of Sulekha.com

African and Native American peoples came together in the Americas because of colonization and slavery. Over centuries, Black people and Native Americans created shared histories, communities, families, and ways of life. They were joined in a struggle against prejudice, laws, and twists of history. Earlier in the colonial period some Native Americans were enslaved alongside Africans. Later on, select tribes harbored runaway slaves where intermarriage and the joining of cultures gave way to new and interesting communities of African American and Native people. There are still Blacks today who enjoy Indian citizenship and celebrate their mixed heritage, however, one group has been stripped of that right. In 2007 The Cherokee Nation decided to limit its membership to people who can prove they have Indian blood. This took away the citizenship rights of about 2,800 Black Americans who are descendants of slaves once owned by wealthy Cherokees.

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Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage

“I got Indian in my family” is a phrase not foreign to Black folks, especially Southerners. It quickly rolls off the tongue as an explanation for phenotypic attributes such as keen noses, high cheekbones or “good hair.” Often dismissed as cliché, the notion is brushed off as foolish banter, but once upon a time Native American and Black communities did merge. With everyone so quick to claim “Indian blood” has anyone really questioned why and how this historic alliance came to be and why it dissolved?

William Loren Katz, a former public school teacher, wrote Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage to turn one dimensional accounts on their heads, shine a light of shame on American “heroes”and fill in where the blatant omission of textbooks fail us. While it is an insightful read targeted at middle and high schoolers, don’t be ashamed to walk into the young adult literature section of your local bookstore or library and pick it up. This factual work is a great resource for adults who have been deprived of this history, too!

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The Truth About “Indian” Hair

Diana Fletcher, Kiowa Tribe courtesy University of Oklahoma library

Diana Fletcher, Kiowa Tribe courtesy University of Oklahoma library

Happy November! In honor of Native American Heritage Month, the blog celebrates collaborations and shared struggles between Black and indigenous communities throughout the world. We illuminate the continuing opportunities to build anti-racist coalitions without over-romanticizing this complicated and storied relationship. Before we get to it, I’d like to clear up three persistent points of confusion about this issue.

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