I’ve been thinking about this since Tuesday night when the commercial first aired in 6 major markets, and I have concluded it is time to weigh in and to tell my story.
I’m a bit unsure when talking about all things Native American. Although it represents one quarter of my ethnic makeup, I spent the first third of my life completely ignorant of that fact.
I was adopted in 1965. In the sixties, adoption agencies were in the habit of passing children off as all white as long as they looked the part. My adoptive parents, who are all the family I’ve ever needed, by the way, were told I was French and Scottish. I was matched with them because my dark hair and eyes were like my adoptive father’s. A few years later, we were given a blue-eyed, red-headed baby, my beloved baby bro, because my mother had red hair and blue eyes. Fashion wasn’t the only thing that was matchy-matchy in 1965.
It wasn’t until I was a young adult looking for information about my first parents that I heard my birth mother* was half Native American. It was so strange to discover that I wasn’t the race I grew up believing I was. Honestly, I was thrilled, but I also felt cheated and very confused. After much thought, I decided never to tell my perma-parents because I was afraid it would be too disorienting for them. I knew they loved me and I loved them and that was enough.
(*I’m aware that term has fallen out of fashion, but she’s been that to me my entire life, and I consider it a title of honor.)
Maybe because I didn’t tell my parents or perhaps because I found out so late, I’ve always felt shy and hesitant and maybe a little defensive about that part of my ethnic heritage, like I don’t have any right to get upset or personally offended when Native Americans are being discriminated against. So it’s taken me a bit longer than it should have to be ready to stand up and be counted.
Before posting an opinion, I wanted to be better informed, so I read up on the origins of the term “redskin.” Did you know that when it was coined, the term referred not to the color of the native people’s skin when they were alive but instead to the fact that after they were murdered, their bloody skins were delivered as proof of death to collect a bounty? Me neither. Yike. Even after the murder-for-profit practice was discontinued, the term was and is still used as a racial slur. This doesn’t seem like a term our society should be keeping alive, much less celebrating on banners and sweatshirts and team paraphernalia. It’s an embarrassment to the whole country.
“Because this team is using a racial slur attached to our nation’s capitol, it makes it quite clear that we are not a post-racial society.” – Barbara Munson, Wisconsin Indian Education Association
The National Congress of American Indians has done a really lovely job with this commercial. If you want more information about the issue, I recommend you read the National Congress of American Indians’ letter to the NFL players, signed by 79 tribes and organizations. If you agree that the “R-Word” should be banned from professional sports and want to be heard, the website below lists a few ways you can get involved.
EPILOGUE: I got my DNA report from 23 and Me, and my portion of Native American is so tiny it’s not worth mentioning. I didn’t see that coming!