RACISM AND PRIVILEGE IN IDENTITY
Saturday, August 22, 2020, 3:30 p.m., Sunday, August 23, 2020, 10:05 a.m., & Tuesday, August 25, 2020, 11:30 a.m. (via Zoom).
This set of ‘Reading & Discussion’ will discuss the excerpt below from an article from Slate magazine, “Why do So Many Americans think they Have Cherokee Blood?” and a related video from the U.S. Library of Congress “My Grandmother Told Me We Have Indian Blood: Memory, Heritage & Native American Identity” (jump ahead to minute 31:00 of the video and play at 1.25 speed – https://youtu.be/RXsbN3nBndI?t=1860).
“Groups such as the National Congress of American Indians worked toward the self-determination of American Indian nations and also tackled the problem of false claims to membership. According to the work of Vine Deloria, one of NCAI’s leading intellectuals, “Cherokee was the most popular tribe” in America. “From Maine to Washington State,” Deloria recalled, white Americans insisted they were descended from Cherokee ancestors. More often than not, that ancestor was an “Indian princess,” despite the fact that the tribe never had a social system with anything resembling an inherited title like princess.
So why have so many Americans laid claim to a clearly fictional identity? Part of the answer is embedded in the tribe’s history: its willingness to incorporate outsiders into kinship systems and its wide-ranging migrations throughout North America. But there’s another explanation, too.
The Cherokees resisted state and federal efforts to remove them from their Southeastern homelands during the 1820s and 1830s. During that time, most whites saw them as an inconvenient nuisance, an obstacle to colonial expansion. But after their removal, the tribe came to be viewed more romantically, especially in the antebellum South, where their determination to maintain their rights of self-government against the federal government took on new meaning. Throughout the South in the 1840s and 1850s, large numbers of whites began claiming they were descended from a Cherokee great-grandmother. That great-grandmother was often a “princess,” a not-inconsequential detail in a region obsessed with social status and suspicious of outsiders. By claiming a royal Cherokee ancestor, white Southerners were legitimating the antiquity of their native-born status as sons or daughters of the South, as well as establishing their determination to defend their rights against an aggressive federal government, as they imagined the Cherokees had done. These may have been self-serving historical delusions, but they have proven to be enduring.”
- Smithers, Gregory D. (2015, October 1). Why Do So Many Americans Think They Have Cherokee Blood?, Slate. Slate Magazine: Washington, D.C. Retrieved August 18, 2020 from: https://www.fgcquaker.org/news/outgoing-epistle-2020-virtual-pre-gathering-friends-color-and-their-families
- U.S. Library of Congress (2017, March 1). My Grandmother Told Me We Have Indian Blood: Memory, Heritage & Native American Identity, U.S. Library of Congress. U.S. Library of Congress: Washington, D.C. Retrieved August 18, 2020 from: https://youtu.be/RXsbN3nBndI?t=1860
Zoom connection information for this event is URL: https://zoom.us/j/92398341668 | Meeting ID: 994 4553 2926.
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