Re: Identifying Race

Pauline Shafer (pali@U.WASHINGTON.EDU)
Wed, 31 Jul 1996 11:29:18 -0700

Dear Chuck and respondent,

I feel a real need as a mixed-blood Native American to let you know
there are some tones in this interchange that made me feel more than
slightly uncomfortable. Most my life ( and I am not alone in this response
and feeling) I have just try to ignore the effects of remarks
like that. But with the growing problems around race and identity, I can't
any longer. I can only try to convey in a compassionate and tactful
way, what I feel.
I share your frustrations about categorizations of ethnicity. I know
you did not most likely mean any harm. I too share a few races (3) and
have been confused and angry about having to fit in some
box. But for those of us that have suffered a lot due to racism,
racial identity can be a very important and sensitive area. I know hearing
this kind of thing can cause people to feel like it is a big pain in the
butt and to want to just say, "Get over it", but when one hasn't had to
endure a lifetime of racism, it is easy to say those words without
realizing what "Getting over it" may entail.
Those forms, and especially public school forms, are sometimes
neccesary in identifying what the needs of certain communities are. I know
because my own daughter has participated in a number of programs for Native
kids and I went through them as I child. If you and child are planning on
that as well, then I am sure you will be welcomed within the community. If
not, and the response was an abstract exercise in semantics,
then I would ask that you please be aware that sometimes when a number of
people do stuff like that it can have tough consequences for people who do
truly identify as Native Americans and live within the Native community. With
all the cutbacks going on in Indian Country, some of those programs need
what funding they can get. I certainly don't think all forms with
questions of racial identity deserve this sort of consideration. I
guess I just am asking that you try to be mindful in your awareness of
trying to deal with issues of racial categories.
And in response to the thread implicating original occupancy, while it
may be compelling to contemplate the origins of the Native
American cultures, the fact of colonialism, stolen land,
language and culture remains. I'm sorry, but I am just weary of hearing
the position that Native Americans are really Asians and so have no claim
to the identity of "Native American" and whoever was born here and has not
left the country is a "Native American" as well. I mean, part of the
reason of the name is to demarcate the cultures that were here prior to
European invasion and the treaties were made with them AND their
descendents. I know that you most likely did not mean to belittle
the many actual American Indians who identify as Native Americans in ways
that mean more than born here and never been outside the borders. As
anthropologists we are aware that genetics are not the only constitutive
factors of what makes a culture.
I sincerely hope this post isn't considered a flame or offends the list
members, too much. I feel these issues are imperative for anthropology.
Native anthropologists as well as others in anthropology and the
discipline itself, are impacted by them. If the issues surrounding race
and culture studies are to be honestly dealt with, dialogue and
acknowledgement of issues too long suppressed must be allowed.
As you pointed out in your response to the person who made the remark about
"so-called Native Americans" (sigh), everyone could be called African, if
one wants to go back far enough. So, I would add in response to that guy
to what end and purpose? What is the purpose in wanting to point out that
there are theories that assert Native Americans migrated here from Asia?
The trueness of the theory does not impact the issues surrounding
contemporary Native American policy, cultures and identity. People who have
lived in America for a mere few generations have fought and died for a
country they derived their identity from. Is a (what amount did he offer
12,000?)...12,000 year residency any less viable? The contracts and
treaties were signed by people who were already here on this continent's
soil. Would you have any less right to the income from renting out your
home because you were not the original first owner?

Pauline Escudero Shafer
American Indian Studies

On Wed, 31 Jul 1996, Chuck Coker wrote:

> J Cook wrote:
> [snip]
> > > Looking at her a2ncestry, I see (using stereotypical labels)
Cherokee, Apache,
> > > Zapotec, Mexican, Black, and White. Now which box should be checked? (I ruled
> > > out Asian, BTW.)[snip]
> > You shouldn't have "ruled out Asian". The so-called "Native americans" came
> > over from Asia sometime before 12,000 years ago. And that includes all the
> > "stereotypical labels" you listed except "Black and White". They, of course,
> > came over some time later.
> Good point! I didn't think of that at the time. Maybe I should have given
> the school office personnel (an unwanted) lecture on migration patterns. :-)
> Of course, if we go back far enough, we must all be African, right?
> Chuck