Hello. My name is Johnny. My question is that my parents are both half native, but don’t look native and I do. So when I tell people my race the say ‘cool’ but when they finally see my parents, they tell me in just black and white. What should I do?
Hey there. Thanks for writing in.
Most everyone in America confronts the issue of race at some point, and it is not at all unusual that you’re questioning what race means for you. This can be even more complicated for indigenous youth due to our history with the founding of this Nation, the impacts of assimilation, boarding schools, historical trauma, and blood quantum laws (having to prove your ‘Native-ness’).
If you’re feeling alone in this matter, let me reassure you, you’re not. My experience as an educator, in life, and the amount of questions we receive on identity, tells me we all at some point contemplate what role race and identity plays in our lives, especially during the adolescent years when you’re trying to figure it all out.
As you walk through life, you may discover that some people are more comfortable discussing the complexity of racial identity than others. Perhaps this is due to them asking the hard questions you yourself are asking and taking the time to contemplate your interpretations.
Be gentle with yourself and others as you come to realize that everyone sees life through their own filter based on their own personal readiness. Meaning we all experience (even exact situations) in our own way. Just because you’re able to ask yourself the hard questions, doesn’t mean others are ready to do the same.
Here are a couple questions you may want to consider as you further develop your understanding of what it means to be you:
- Does the way others define your race impact the way you define it?
- What would help you to know and feel closer to your Native heritage?
- What are your goals in understanding your identify?
- For example, is it to learn how to personally cope when others call you ‘just black and white’. Or, is it to be at peace with having people make judgments based on your looks? Or, is it to know that others can’t rock you from your understanding of who you are?
Finding your comfort zone with race among your peers and family may take some time. As you continue to sort through the complicated issue of racial identity, you can count among your tools your self-awareness and willingness to ask the tough questions.
Good luck Johnny. Thanks for writing in.