I am a Yurok Indian. We are the salmon people and my ancestors have lived by the Klamath River in northern California since time began. But after centuries of continual sexual conquest against Native American women, I am not the color of Pocahontas. That’s right, I’m white-skinned and Indian. This hasn’t always been easy to come to terms with. The words of classmates in the public school district still buzz in my head:
“But you look white.” “Well, how much?” “Yeah, but you’re not, like, a real Indian.”
I remember feeling angry. I didn’t know who I was angry with or why. Now I know that I just wanted validation. My people have historically been marginalized by Euro-American institutions; our land stolen; our people murdered and raped. But I am continually told I am white and that I benefit from these institutions. I feel as if I look like the other team, and when I say different I am not taken seriously. The words of Kim Anderson, an indigenous scholar who has also struggled with a multiracial Native American and white identity, have helped me; she writes, “part of being Native is feeling like we aren’t!” (27).
To me, racism is a systemic interchange of power relationships predicated on a socially constructed racial hierarchy, but it is far more complicated than ‘white’ versus ‘black’ or even ‘everybody else’ for that matter. A deeper understanding of racism must incorporate how hierarchies play out within and between disenfranchised groups of people and those who opt to identify as people of color. Denying someone their identity is racism; invalidating and identity is racism. There is importance in the concept of race regardless of whether it is ‘real’ or not because within our racially stratified society it is a major factor in one’s self-identification and how people come to make sense of the world.