My Family, Cherokee?

In my family we used to have a tintype picture of my great, great, great grandmother on the wall. It’s been lost since my grandfather moved into his nursing home, but what I remember is a rather homely Native American woman in a shawl.

“She looks like Cochise, don’t she?” my grandfather, her great-grandson, used to say, meaning she was ugly and built like a man. She was ugly, but she was ours. According to our family lore, she was Cherokee, and she hid in the woods with white friends after the Cherokees in East Texas lost the battle at Tyler and were all marched into Oklahoma at gunpoint.

Of couse family stories get embroidered. Who knows what tribe she was for sure.

My family was lucky. We hadn’t suffered racial opression in at least 4 generations, and thanks to my dad, a ginger, I came out paler than most bed sheets.

But it always struck me that we technically weren’t /really/ white by the standards of the South. Even I, the youngest in our family, was still 1/32 whatever the hell our ancestor was, so under the old laws miscegenation laws of many states there could have been… issues.

I was privileged to look white, and as a child back in days of yore, I never paid any price but strange looks from neighbors if I mentioned my ancesty. But it struck me odd how casually racist my uncle was. Was it a form of self defense, or did he really not understand that during his own lifetime a state or two eastward he could have been tarred and feathered for marrying his wife, had they known his heritage? It took me a long time to realize that he didn’t understand that, under the laws he himself favored, he wasn’t white.

For me, my distant ancestry whatever it is, never hurt me. Many white people in the US claim native american blood now, whether or not they had a tintype photo on the wall. People don’t get strange looks from the neighbors for claiming it, either.

But for countless others in my country and my state, they are disadvantaged by their ancestry and the color of their skin. The playing field in my country isn’t even, and that isn’t moral.

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