I'm Not 100% White. Honest Injun!
A heap big personal discovery.
When I was a child I became curious, as children sometimes will, about my family history. Although my grandfathers were dead, my grandmothers were alive, and I asked them what they knew about our origins.
The answer: not much. But they provided me with a few names, enabling me to draw up the rudimentary beginnings of a family tree.
Later, I spent a good deal of time in the New York Public Library’s genealogy room, trying to trace my ancestry back from those names. (There was no Internet then.) I didn’t get anywhere with my father’s side of the family – his parents were Poles who’d fled Europe during World War I – but I was able to follow a couple of lines on my mother’s side back to colonial Virginia and Pennsylvania.
It was fun. But nobody else in the family cared. And then life came calling, and I put away all my findings in a folder in my parents’ basement.
Fast forward forty years. Recently a relative dusted off that folder, picked up where I left off, and has nailed down a lot more information about our ancestry than I ever imagined possible. She’s traced some lines back to fifteenth-century England. I knew I had English, Welsh, and Scots blood, and that some of my ancestors were French Huguenots, but I didn’t know I was part Dutch. I’m even descended from Italian Protestants (!) whose flight from Catholic oppression led them, over a couple of generations, to France, Britain, and eventually America.
But the biggest news (so far) came just the other day. Did you ever hear of the Nansemond Indians? Me neither. When English settlers founded Jamestown, the Nansemond Indians were their neighbors. At first, relations weren’t exactly chummy. But there were exceptions, one of which was the marriage, in 1638, of a settler named John Basse to the daughter of the tribal chief, no less.
Follow their line for several generations and you arrive at one Nancy Jane Bass, who married a fellow named William Colwell. In 1841, these two had a daughter whom they named Celestial, of all things, and who grew up to marry one William Frank Hines. One of their sons, Charles, fathered a daughter named Ruth Elizabeth Hines, who was born in 1898 in South Carolina and who, as it happens, was my maternal grandmother.
In short, if you go back far enough – eleven generations, to be specific – I’m part American Indian. Sorry: native American.
Yes! Really! At first I was stunned. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this new bit of data explains a lot. In fact, it explains everything. Not to go into too much detail, but, hey, my life hasn’t been all that easy. There have been some rough patches. I’ve always worked hard, but sometimes I haven’t made nearly enough wampum. All these years I thought it was just, you know, the way life is for pretty much everybody: you win some, you lose some. You have fat years and lean years. If something bad happens, you should pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. But no! Now I realize it was all racism. All these years, you white people, with your white privilege, have been conspiring to keep me down.
The more I think of it, the more enraged I get. You filthy Europeans came to my land, my paradise, my Eden, where the red man lived in harmony with the noble elk and hawk, and in brotherhood with plant and tree and stream, and forced me to study your history and literature, your math and science – white man’s culture! – and thereby denied me the knowledge that would otherwise have been mine, like how to carve a totem pole or make turquoise necklaces. You stole it all from me, while infecting my pristine continent with cholera, diphtheria, malaria, and the plague.
Let’s face it: you bastards have been my oppressors ever since I was a little papoose! You dragged me out of the wigwam into your concrete jungle! You pushed your evil firewater upon me! (And all this time I thought it was my fault that I drink too much.) Now I realize why, when I was a kid, I enjoyed wearing moccasins! I could still be wearing them now – but no, you forced me into your own uncomfortable, constricting footwear and made me tread your hard pavements when I could have been walking in the sunshine of the meadow and the shadow of the forest!
Of course, I realize now that I’ve been all wrong in my political views – specifically, my foolish disapproval of identity politics. So here’s a message to all of my redskin brothers and sisters, far and near, whom I may have alienated with my opinions: we bury hatchet! We smokum peace pipe! We go on warpath together against palefaces!
To put it a little differently, so that you lousy whites will understand: I’m a twofer now. I’m no longer a gay white male, that lame excuse for a subjugated minority. I’m a bona fide person of color – a gay native American male – and therefore a double victim, being persecuted from multiple directions. It’s called intersectionality, you creeps, and I’m putting you on warning: the resistance starts now. Deal with it!