exactly that

Over at Shakesville, Elle did a rather nice post on the use of an appropriated image by the Navajo Trucking company.

She pointed out that the woman depicted had blue eyes, and continued to list off some reasons why an image of a supposedly Navajo woman w/ blue eyes would be used.

The OP itself had little to no problems.  Rather, I felt that Elle even pointed out some things that I didn’t think about, if you follow her links.

What really irked me, though, were the comments.

That’s really appalling. And for the record, as far as I can tell, no part of that image remotely resembles anything Navajo. I grew up in the Southwest (although I am not Navajo or Native American at all), so I can usually recognize the appropriate cultural markers.

That woman has features that look very European, and northern European at that; I doubt she has any Navajo ancestry, and if she has any Native American ancestry it’s not particularly apparent in her phenotype. 

She doesn’t look like she’s Native American to me, the only part that kinda makes her look Native American are the generic headdress thing and coils around her neck. 

That woman doesn’t look vaguely Navajo to me and I’ve never even been to the Southwest. What she *does* look like, especially with the particular hue of those blue eyes, is an actress from an old Western movie.

Yeah… nothing about her looks even remotely Navajo.

I grew up and currently live in a town that is a “sister city” to the Navajo Reservation. I teach many students from the Navajo Reservation. I assure you, that woman does not look Navajo, either in physical attributes or attire.

Not one of these people commenting are actually Native or speak from the voice of someone inside the Navajo Nation, or any other Native Nation.

Fine, this woman pictured doesn’t look like the stereotypical “Native” or “Navajo” woman.  She doesn’t possess the traits that people who admittedly are not Natives themselves deem appropriate to be authentically native.  She has blue eyes.

She may or may not be Navajo or even Native at all.

But how many times in the lives of a Native American is that person told, “Huh.  You don’t look Native”, or “You’re not Native, you are too white”, or “There is no way a Native has blue eyes” (tell that to my Uncle, who has a higher “blood quantum” than I do, but happens to have blonde hair and blue eyes.  I dare you to tell him he isn’t Native)?  It makes me simultaneously angry and sad at the same time that people who are not of Native ancestry would have so much gall to tell someone else exactly what a Native looks like.

Never mind that Native tribes from all over North America had their Nations torn apart by settlers.  That everyone from the French to the Mormons decided that Natives must be civilized, having their women married off to white men in an effort to make their children look better.  That for years European traits meant that you would be allowed to work or wouldn’t be branded a “lazy Injun”.  That only w/ the popularity of Casinos has being Native even had the semblance of being acceptable (unless someone wanted fish or tobacco).  That even among our own tribes racism has crept in to divide us among ourselves b/c of the governments racist “blood quantum” and “rolls”.  Some families having “more Native” looking traits, and some having “better” blood than others.  Some tribes have naturally whiter skin than others due to the location of their peoples, and some tribes have people that have stereotypical European features b/c they have been systematically bred throughout the years for Their Own Good.

But leave it to people outside of a particular group to tell the members of that group what is and is not acceptable.  How many people have been asked, no, ordered, to prove their heritage b/c they don’t Look The Part?  How many people have been asked for some kind of certificate or form of ID to prove that they are in fact of the background they say they are (and don’t give me any white person Mayflower bullshit, I am not interested in more White Privilege)?

The audacity of some to decided what a person of a certain race or background should or should not look like angers me in ways I can’t compare to other feelings I have had.  If I hadn’t been in the middle writing a piece on my own experiences being told that I was both too white and just a dirty Native I wouldn’t even have the frame of mind to call this shit out in a reasonable manner.  The myths and stereotypes surrounding North American First Nations (b/c I can’t speak to the experiences of First Nations or Aboriginals of other regions) people are damaging, even w/in the tribes themselves, and it is long past time to put it to rest.  If this kind of shit can pop up even in a space that is devoted to making sure people have a safe space from sexism and racism and homophobia then I feel like it is hopeless to even bring it up to the rest of the world.

Think about that the next time anyone out there decides that they want to tell this Native and her Native daughter that they are in fact not Native Enough.



Comments on: "She doesn’t “Look Native”…" (24)

  1. I’m native. I look, depending on who you ask, Italian or Spanish or maybe some Brazilian European hybrid. But no one ever guesses that I could be native. I’m just “exotic” looking in the ways we deem culturally acceptable. Dark enough to be interesting looking but not dark enough to be threatening. A passable other with a very white name.

    But nope. I am Cherokee, mixed with enough European to make me blend. The Cherokee women in my family married Europeans rather than be marched off to Oklahoma. They did what women for eons have done, they made the best deal they could with their oppressors in order to retain some control of their lives.

    My kid looks like a Viking, with reddish hair and blue eyes and skin the color of paper. But he’s native. My brother and cousins- blonde and blue eyed. But they are just as native as I am with my black hair and brown eyes (and my type O blood and my weird triangle feet and the thrifty gene). My mom used to joke about not being able to take me to a reservation cause they might decide to keep me.

    But I am native. Regardless of looks or blood quantum or reservation. Though often it feels like a silly story I tell people instead of a hard lived truth. That’s what othering does. It makes us feel distant even from our own genetics.

    And that isn’t uncommon. I’ve read that in the Dominican Republic, people keep trying to claim that they are native to excuse their darker skin rather than admit that they might have some African slave ancestry. For them, it’s better to them to claim membership in a slaughtered history than one that is still oppressed.

    (And the only other thing about me that isn’t straight acceptable white European (Irish, French, English and German) is my Hungarian side. Grandma doesn’t talk about it, cause she married into a super waspy family, but I am pretty sure that Hungarian is actually Roma. One more instance of an othered woman marrying “up”)


  2. I want you to know that I read your comment (and this post) and took them seriously. I didn’t mean to spark a “she doesn’t look native” thread (tried very hard to avoid such language in the post; as the niece of two green-eyed, fair skinned African Americans, I’ve heard comments my whole life about them and perceptions of them). Sorry I wasn’t there to de-rail that (or that even when I popped back in, I left it to you to deal with!)

    • Oh! elle! I appreciated the way you handled the thread. I hope that you know that my comment wasn’t directed at you at all, nor this post, but rather the overwhelming way the comments came at me.

      My racial identity is something tricky for me to navigate, b/c of the whiteness of my skin and the Native background in which I was raised. It cuts very deeply to me, and I try not to take it personally, but when your identity is challenged your whole life, it is hard not to. I can tell you understand.

      I so incredibly appreciate that you took the time to comment. Thank-you. I know that ‘Liss, and so many of the contributors at Shakesville are very mindful of such things. We all have areas we can learn about, I just sometimes forget that even the most safe of spaces can provide opportunities to point out such things, and as hurtful as it feels, it is helpful for me to do so, even if there is backlash.

      • No, you were very clear, here and at shksvl, that the issue wasn’t with my OP! Still, I wanted to let you know that I saw your comment and took it to heart, that I thought you made an excellent point, and that I should’ve acknowledged it–at the very least to show support and respect.

  3. I want you to know that I read your comment (and this post) and took them seriously. I didn’t mean to spark a “she doesn’t look native” thread (tried very hard to avoid such language in the post; as the niece of two green-eyed, fair skinned African Americans, I’ve heard comments my whole life about them and perceptions of them). Sorry I wasn’t there to de-rail that (or that even when I popped back in, I left it to you to deal with!)

  4. More proof that “post racial America” doesn’t know how to handle it’s mixed-race reality.

  5. I am Native! I am Ojibway/Anishinaabe and PROUD of it!

    I am mistaken for Latina and one time someone thought I had Black roots.

    Thank you for writing this. I am actually wanting to write something like this on my blog as well. About “you don’t look Native.” Next time someone says that to me I will say, “you don’t look ___________.” It is racist to say that we don’t look Native. It is hurtful as well because we are the invisible minority with numerous prejudice and stereotypes. I have had so many people label me as white and yes I am French, German and Norweigen – not white thats a wall, thank you very much. Because of annihilation, genocide and colonization I strongly identify with my Ojibway/Anishinaabe roots. Geez, I maintain a blog and work in a Native organization, thats how strong my connection is. I have been denied opportunity in other communities of color because they think I am not Native enough – again annihilation and genocide right in my face. I am so sick of it. It happens in Detroit because the issues here are Black and White and Natives are the invisible minority here. Most people forget that Michigan is Ottawa, Potawatomi, Fox, Kicapoo, Ojibway/Anishinaabe territory. This is colonized territory and we forget everyday about the Native people here. I am strong in who I am and will continue the work here despite racism from both sides.

  6. Thank you for this! I missed that thread on Shakesville.

    I’m Native Australian… green eyes, skin that varies depending on the time of year and sun exposure. I’m sick to death of being told I don’t “look Indigenous”.

  7. […] Babble who is an Ojibway/Anishinaabe sister inspired me to write this post. She wrote a post called She doesn’t “Look Native”… which is amazing and I recommend that you read […]

  8. Hey, I’m just a random lurker coming over from womanist musings but wanted to say thanks for this post! I always feel guilty claiming my native ancestry because everyone rolls their eyes at black people who say they “have indian in their family.” I’m proud of being black and I wish it were socially acceptable for me to be proud being native too.

  9. Thanks for stopping over!

    The truth is that most people of Native Ancestry are mixed race now. This is not a coincidence, since the government instituted the Blood Quantum policies that were pretty much a racist program designed to wipe out Natives. It is all a matter of the luck of the draw genetically speaking, as to which traits are going to present.

    I want to do a project to display pictures of people who claim and identify as Native to help debunk the stereotypes of what a Native “should” look like.

    I have written a longer and more personal piece (that I have been working on quite some time) that is too big for this blog.

    Thanks for delurking, and I hope you will come back sometimes.

  10. […] She doesn’t “Look Native”… « random babble… (tags: race history culture nativeamerican) […]

  11. Melissa said:

    I totally understand what you mean but at the same time you have to realize with your white skin that you and your daughter will not be susceptable to the kinda racism that natives face. Will you be pulled over by cops? Harrassed by cops? Passed over for jobs? Likely not. If I saw you on the streets I would assume you were white. Not saying that you shouldn’t embrace your Native heritage, please be proud but do be realistic.

    Also I think there is something wrong with having a white looking Native woman representing Native women (speaking of the image you wrote about). You have to realize that at some point in history and even today being dark is frowned upon. I think images like that send out the wrong message to people who are dark and told they aren’t pretty enough because they are dark. If I’m not mistaken this caused a lot of issues in the black community. You have so many dark black women but yet all the models and images are of mixed raced or light skinned black women and that’s simply crazy. By the way I’m of Creek descent.

  12. Melissa said:

    Hope I didn’t step on your toes!

  13. No, I probably won’t be pulled over just for driving, but that doesn’t erase my heritage, or the fact that I experience it in my own way. You idea for me to “be realistic” is all well and good until it actually erases my experiences, and those of others in my family. While I might not suffer in the same ways it is naive to pretend that bi-racial or mixed race Native Americans don’t indeed suffer as a result of their mixed race heritage in ways unique to other PoC. As I have mentioned, I have been subjected to racism on both sides of my mixed race heritage, and it doesn’t make it any less hurtful or real. You also have to remember that part of my lighter skin is both a trait of my Northern tribe, and a result of the years of systemic racism that led to my people being forcibly “bred” with white people in order to lighten us and dilute our heritage. My point is that you can not assume that someone is white or not what they claim to be based off of your held stereotypes or beliefs. It doesn’t make your points less valid, because they are, I will not face the same racism that someone with obviously darker skin will. But there is a whole different kind of racism inherent in beliefs like yours that I should just smile and go along with my perceived whiteness.

    I am well aware of the ways that the varying degrees of skin pigmentation affect the lives of people who are black or brown. I am not that naive. I don’t fully think that the woman in the image should be held up as the epitome of what a Native woman would look like, simply that the sentiment that “she doesn’t look Native” is racist in and of itself, because, honestly, the luxury of “looking Native” (and it is, if you ask some racist ass holes who think we Natives get a slew of advantages from our “blood quantum” privilege) is a rare thing, with the way we have been treated for centuries.

    This isn’t the oppression olympics, which I detest, because frankly everyone loses and the prizes suck anyway. It’s not a question of who suffers worse racism. I am asking people to expand their minds and not make racist assumptions base on stereotypes. Truth is, many people in my family look just like me, but have far higher “blood quantum” than I do. And people with less look “more Native”. The point is that you can’t possibly guess who is and isn’t Native anymore by appearance. I am making the case for allowing mixed race/heritage people to set and define their own identities. You should not be allowed to take that away because you think I am being unreasonable. If you read through the archives I take great pains to acknowledge my privilege.

    It’s not stepping on my toes. Just think about how many people’s identities you might be erasing (people who had no control over what happened to their blood lines) by asking us to be realistic.

  14. Also, you don’t know the racism I have personally faced. Just the knowledge that someone comes from one of those “dirty rez families”, which in a small town like I grew up in, everyone knows. I would politely ask that you not dismiss that as well.

  15. Great Article! The woman who wrote those things is just stupid…I have a little bit of Native American in me on my dad’s side, and I’m totally into the culture and religious beliefs. Whenever I show it, I secretly fear I am being judged because I’m white…but whatever, the prophecy of the Whirling Rainbow states that “the third generation of the White Eye’s children will grown their hair and speak of love as the healer of the Children of the Earth. These children will seek new ways of understanding themselves and others. They will wear feathers and beads and paint their faces. They will seek the Elders of the Red Race and drink of their wisdom. These white-eyed children will be a sign that the Ancestors are returning in white bodies, but they are Red on the inside” at least that’s what I read in Sacred Path

  16. […] but for most mixed race people, there isn’t anyone. If we embrace one aspect of it, we don’t look Native enough, or they don’t look the right kind of Asian, her eyes aren’t slanted enough, or his […]

  17. Marguerite Thibaudeau said:

    This is so sad. Being Indian is not about looks, of who thinks who should be. This is all racist stereo typing as to what a Indian should be, based on colonialism and European racism. The statement “All My Relations” is the foundations of our teachings, we are all related. I have been on the other end of this spectrum. I am a mixed blood, with no papers. I walk this path, and our own people have adopted this attitude to control and manipulate the haves and have nots. Mind you these people have been put into this situation due to financial survival. I try to walk this path in a good way, I try to treat people with respect, i do not question how Creator decided how I would look, This is all part of my journey. How can someone who is not Indian decide who is, and how can someone who is Indian decide from a picture who is. The teachings of the 7th fire says it all. We better stop ripping each other apart, we have work to do, and Creator determines who is and who isn’t in the end..

  18. rebecca gonzales said:

    I can relate to many of the comments made on this post. When I was born the nurses said to my mother, “My, what a beautiful Spanish baby”; in lieu of “Mexican” due to the year (1961). I had black hair, dark eyes and high cheekbones; the product of a Choctaw father mixed with Scots-Irish, Black Dutch, British with a last name which was descended of the Moors from Spain. My mother was German, Cherokee and Irish. All of my life I have struggled with my identity yet have felt closest to my Native roots. I’ve been mistaken for Latina, Brazilian and even Asian. I’ve also heard heartless comments like, “you don’t look Indian” as well as racial slurs, “did you grow up in a teepee?”. I wondered why my daddy looked different than most of the other daddies in the small Missouri town I lived in. Both of my parents struggled with their identities and for the most part hid their Native roots. Such were the times for them to assimilate in Oklahoma and Arkansas during the Great Depression. This confusion passed down to me and I have struggled with it. My choice of career is as a multi-cultural counselor. I attend powwow’s every chance I get (and dance) and do my best to live my life with Native ancestoral values. Still, there are days when I look into the mirror and see the light olive skinned woman with green-hazel eyes, freckles, black hair with silver/white streaks and wonder who she is.

  19. […] blood until he researched for his Twilight role). To secure the cred of the makers of the film, so that we all know that not only do they look Native, but that they are indeed Native. To secure the racial and ethnic integrity of all the actors, […]

  20. Thank you so much for writing this! I’ve encountered that dreaded phrase my entire life. Friends and coworkers have told me I don’t look Native, but look more Armenian than anything else, as well as hearing it from family. It’s pretty easy to get discouraged and down on yourself or your heritage. Granted I’ll probably never know the discrimination and racism my relatives have encountered, it doesn’t ease the pain of rejection. It saddens me that anyone should have to go through racism and such, really, but that’s a whole ‘nother ramble. Knowing that other people deal with this phrase makes me feel a little better, granted sad that others deal with it. Keep your head up.

    -Signed, A Pale Olive-faced, Native Quebecoise

  21. Thank you for writing this!!! Growing up I always heard the words you don’t look native( I grew up in AZ)… I am half native mix(predominantly mic mac) and white. I have medium skin tone, dark hair and bright blue eyes. I was told for years that I couldn’t be native because I have blue eyes… I let it get to me for a time, then I came to realize that it didn’t matter what others thought. When I go to powwow here on the east coast I look around and I see many elders with blue eyes, lighter skin. Many of these same elders tell me that at my age they looked just like me… I walk 2 paths and I am proud of it! I am raising my sons to be the same way!

    -signed they call me Straight Eagle

    • @Straight Eagle:

      You don’t have to thank me.

      It is how we see ourselves that matters.

      Blessings and love,

      ~ They named me Sky Woman (Gijigokwe), and I never stop reaching to be just that.

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