6 Things Not to Say to a Mixed-Race Person
This is an excellent video by Marina Watanabe.
As an American Indian of mixed blood (my Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood says I'm 3/8s, but my reality is a bit more complex than that), I know many other mixed-blood Indians. They, like me, have run into conflict on both sides of the racial divide.
Not the least of this is the "you don't look Indian" remark, something that happens a lot to those of us with lighter skin. When the members of my Seminole family used to come together for reunions, the skin colors of the 25 or so people who showed up—all of us closely related by blood—went from very light to as dark as Michelle Obama, a product of the tribe's long history of intermarrying not only with other tribes but also with whites and blacks.
Appearance is often a poor judge of someone's racial background. Take the Dawes Rolls, for instance. These were established by the government in the late 1800s to determine who among the "Five Civilized Tribes" were Indian and, therefore, entitled to an allotment of land. (These allotments were a means of breaking up the tribes and grabbing "surplus" tribal land. Nearly three-fourths of the land in Indian hands prior to 1887 had been expropriated via this means by 1935.)
The determination of whether somebody was an Indian or not for the Dawes Rolls was accomplished in many instances by a white bureaucrat sitting at a table and looking at the person for half a minute. Thus were families split up. Sometimes brothers and sisters with the same father and mother were categorized differently, one an Indian, another not. It was just one more pernicious practice of a pernicious law.
Historically, there have been two different rules for Indians and African Americans. For the latter, it's the "one-drop rule" actually codified into law at one time in Louisiana. Any African American blood at all and you were black. For Indians, something almost opposite has been the case. If you weren't a full blood, then you were not viewed as a "real Indian." Half breed was a common perjorative term even for people quite a bit younger than I. During my 16 years in the American Indian Movement, I probably had to explain a couple of hundred times why my phenotype doesn't match what most people—both Indian and non-Indian—think my genotype should show.
But looks are far from the only issue.
As Watanabe points out in her video, mixed-race Americans—even when they are the same mix—are affected quite differently by how that mixed racedness is seen by people we come into contact with. Although there are stereotypes specific to our groups, we're unique. The various cultures of our ancestors plus our everyday life determines that uniqueness. We're blended, but even among people of the same blending, how prejudice against mixed-race people plays out is not one-dimensional.
Watanabe's video offers people who want to confront their prejudices with an upbeat lesson on how to get started.