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As a woman with skin that is too weird to be white, but too pale to be considered truly Native American, I’ve faced a lot of pressure from my people and from white people to basically “pick a side.” To change myself in a way that will make it clearer what I am, make it easier to be put into a category. To be quantified and found wanting, like blood is used by the USA government.
I can remember being eight years old, standing in front of a mirror, and applying a concoction made of powder, whitening serum, clay, and toner to my face. I was trying to burn through the first layers of it, to make myself whiter, to do the same thing as my uncle. I was trying to wash away the heritage I had from my body.
Growing up in the cult, I could only see that skin, the way that it set me apart even in the most minute of ways, as a stain, a blemish, a sin. Something that needed to be scrubbed at until it bled, that needed to be lightened in any way possible, that was always going to mark me as a heathen. A word that still makes me twitch and pull away today. A word that carries with it judgement over my entire people and everyone who has ever even been mistaken for one of us.
I used to think that if I could just be light enough I would be worthy of love. I wouldn’t have been picked up by the foster care scoop in Montana. I wouldn’t have to know it was like to live on the reservation. I wouldn’t know the cold sting of a powwow tent shower, wouldn’t know the hunger that living on treaty goods brought. If I was white enough I would somehow be able to exist in that world without showing that I didn’t fit in.
The irony in the fact that I started to accept myself around the time that my anemia began to suck away my colour is not lost on me. The fact that I wished for years to take away that which barely lingers in my skin in the summer haunts me.
Ironically, it was during this time that I found groups of other people with the same issues. I met other half-blooded people who would jokingly call themselves mutts, half-breeds, and many other things. This normalized my perception of everything around me and made me feel like maybe I didn’t need to choose. Maybe it was okay to be me. Born to a Native American mother and a German father.
While people will always judge those of us who aren’t “X” enough to fit into their mold. The community, the people around you, and your own family history makes it clear that you are the sum total of everything that has gone into you. Culture and personal history don’t need to be a zero sum game.
My wife, my friends, my acquaintances, they all have the same stories to tell. They have all felt the same pains. In a world that is increasingly filled with mixed race people who could somehow pass for one or the other, judgement of one another from both within and outside of one’s community is something that has no place in a truly decolonized and / or culturally aware mindset.
Today I love and worship the color that shines through my wife’s skin. I marvel in the changes to our skin during the different seasons, and I take joy in the fact that no-one else will ever have the exact same combination as we do. We are comfortable in our shifting and muddied skin colours and backgrounds. Are you?