Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Race Issues: Just This Week

Twice I have married "white" men, meaning the kind who "passed" or would have had to a hundred years ago, but in the lingo of the times back then would have been referred to - and denigrated - as "breeds". Or put another way, as proud as my own family of origin is of its origins on this continent nearly 400 years ago, we're definitely in the category of new immigrants. Primarily northern European. White. Blond, blue-eyed. Can't tan even when it's popular. Get skin cancer and that pesky Scandinavian allergy to nickel.

Of the two husbands, the native ancestry was treated differently. In the first case, it was the dirty little family secret, still denied by some.  I was told it gleefully by my fiance Paul (now Sr.) as a way of demonstrating his credibility as a liberal, back in the 60s when the country was mostly trying to abolish Jim Crow laws, which had little or nothing to do with our native Americans. Because it was a dirty little secret, proof had to be presented while at the same time hidden. It was in the family bible, in the lists of marriages and births through a couple centuries. A French fur-trapping ancestor "took himself a wife". Being a "heathen" her name was not allowed to be recorded in the bible, and the marriage likely was only recorded to give inheritance legitimacy to the couple's offspring. To differentiate, every other marriage was listed along the lines of "George married Elsie Smith" and where and when.

The bible disappeared, a minor scandal involving a branch of the family who wanted to review it, especially comparing family ancestry records. It is presumed they less-than-accidentally swapped the copy they left behind with the "true" copy in the family. The only history left is the whispered stories and the presumption of this however-many-greats grandmother being from some Canadian tribe since that was where the ancestor (male) was at the time. I have seen an old family portrait where the mom in the family was indisputably native American/Canadian, unless you're from the part of the family that manages to refuse to see it.

In the second case, I have always knows Steve is part Cherokee, 1/32 in fact, enough to be included in tribal rolls should he wish. He does not. A great-grandfather provided a lot of oral history to him, including tales of "The Trail"passed from his own mother. Steve was raised white, identifies white, and unless he told you otherwise, and if for some reason it mattered to somebody, is white. Spiritually his beliefs come close to native beliefs, which seems to be the only bit of that part of his heritage he truly values.

Our various children know what is discoverable about their heritage. Nobody seems to care, beyond bringing it up casually in conversation once in a while, given about the same importance as "we used to live in that state", or perhaps a bit more when who can tan and who needs more sunscreen comes up.

I have for years not thought about my own "white privilege" as I have gone about my life. Years ago I started hearing tales of people being pulled over by the cops for DWB, but having no experience nor referent for it, filed it away back in the "it's unfortunate but rare" part of my brain. Probably right next to Tooth Fairy stories. Recent news has made that impossible for me to keep myself unaware of the racial disparities in this country. Even moving to Arizona have made me very aware of my need for extra identification as I go out and about, especially with a name easily assumed to be hispanic, and even more especially travelling anywhere close to our southern border. I store my original birth certificate there, keep on hand not just my drivers license but my voting card too. If I want to fly again I'm gonna have to dig out documentation of my name change, paperwork I hoped to never need again.

Returning to Good ol' Minnesota, liberal bastion of blue-state hood, that racial awareness hasn't gotten tucked back in a neglected corner somewhere. Let's start with Sunday night. Actually, it was Monday morning as Steve and I were heading home from the hospital, the eastern sky just beginning to tinge orange on the horizon. It was one of those emergency runs, the upshot likely being gallstones. His, not mine. More tests necessary. We dumped everything we were carrying into the hatch of the car as we left the hospital, and I idly wondered if that was actually wise. Even more so as the flashing red and blue lights on the police car across the street lit up his u-turn  as he suddenly became interested in us. A quick check of the speedometer showed I hadn't exceeded the 25 for this Wisconsin town, and I imediately pulled over, hoping we merely needed to clear its way for some important business.

Turned out we were that business. Now I'm very aware of the location of my ID and trying to figure out what is the safest way to ask the officer exactly how he would like me to dig it out of the back of the car without threatening him. Of course, being white, and perfectly sober and polite, I wasn't really concerned. But I was really aware.

Turns out, once I asked if there was a problem, he kindly pointed out that my lights hadn't been turned on, and suggested perhaps we had just left some place really well lit? Yep, the hospital parking lot. Once the lights were on and my apology offered, we were free to go.

But had we been black?

This morning Steve and I were again in the hospital, this time waiting for one of those tests he needed. So was another guy. He should have kept his mouth shut. He started bitching about "Black Lives Matter" (out of the context of TV Olympics coverage I should add), went on to liking Trump, and I started thinking I was absolutely not going to be able to continue to sit in the waiting room to keep Steve company no matter how much he might need my emotional support and how much I wanted to be there with it. Lucky for all of us he was called back for whatever his own procedure was. A scene was about to be caused. I had already warned Steve I needed to leave and why when the ignorant jerk was pulled out first.

Mother would have been so embarrassed. I wouldn't have cared.


Anyway, the test results will have to be read and "they will call you." Meanwhile Steve is tolerating a fat-free diet fairly well for a few days.

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