Hello, yes, it is your favorite blogger Misty signing in to drop some education on you guys. 🙂 Today, I wanted to talk about stereotypes and social stigmas. However, despite what the (very funny) title of this blog suggests, I promise not to be a jerk about it. I was, admittedly, slightly irritated having heard people referring to me, in my Native regalia, as “Pocahontas,” and might have gone on a tirade about it, but I remembered that I just posted a bunch of verses about love on my Facebook, including, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). So, I’ll tell you guys what: I’ll bear with the people who made any and all offensive remarks toward me as a Native woman in love, as I have since the day I came out as an Indigenous woman.
“But Misty, what do you mean, you came out as an Indigenous woman? Weren’t you always Native?”
Yes. I’ve been Native American since the day I was born. My parents lived on the reservation, and I was born in a crummy little hospital indicative of the crummy little place I share as hometown with Kurt Cobain: Aberdeen. But the reservation, that’s something special, that’s as much a part of me as my blood and bones: the abalone, the seashells, the water and the wind and the waves, the green of the bay and the trees and the bushes lined with pampass grass and white lilies and wild roses and honeysuckle. The reservation, with its old growth cedar, with its sage, its sustenance, that’s where I’m from.
But, during the times in my life when I did not live in the Tribal community, I wouldn’t be recognized as a Native girl. I don’t have the qualities stereotypically and ideologically associated with the Indigenous: the high cheekbones, the olive skin, the dark, long hair. In fact, with brown hair and green eyes and skin just a shade lighter than Edward Cullen’s, you’d mistake me for a white girl most days, and I’d be unhappy about it.
See, my dad is non-Native, but my mom has Indigenous blood that traces back generations. I was enrolled in my Tribe when I was three months old, and have the tribal ID card and enrollment number to prove it – and people often do ask me to prove it. So, genetically, at the very level of blood, I have all the history of an Indigenous girl, but my outer shell would never show it. Hence why I “came out” as Native American to my friends. And still do, with new friends. Because I want to be recognized for who I am, and I don’t want there to be a lot of questions like “how much blood have you got” (which I think is rude), or, “but you aren’t really Indian, are you? Not really. Not really really. Really? No, but not really though, right?”
Yes. Really. Yes.
But believe it or not, there are social stigmas that come with being a First Nations woman. In fact, there are social stigmas that come with being a woman of color in general, and once people get over the fact that I am, in fact, Native American, and if they want to be around me, they’ll have to swallow it sooner or later, the remarks start coming.
I always thought Native Americans wore leather and spoke broken English, and you were just a really modern Indian. – one of my college roommates
I just worry that if you engage in your Native American spirituality, you’ll be lead into demon-worship and pantheism, because all Native Americans worship nature. – a friend of a friend
What’s that smell? Oh, it’s just frybread and alcoholism, we’re near the Indian reservation. – a person I’ve blocked on facebook
I thought Native Americans were mostly killed off. – an insensitive person
And, most recently, and perhaps most irritatingly,
Whoa, there, Pocahontas! – someone who saw me in my Native regalia.
Hello, yes, did you pick a good day to die?
See, because, below, you’ll see two beautiful First Nations women, both of whom have light skin, neither of whom are anything like Pocahontas at all.
Wait, so, because I’m Native American, you’re reducing me to a cartoonized version of a tale that was wildly exaggerated and exploited by settlers and pawned off as Native storytelling when even the drums in the movie are Western European?
This is the real Pocahontas
And this is me your friend Misty.
….and here we have Pocahontas…
and once more, your buddy Misty.
See, there are so many reasons why I am not her, and why calling me Pocahontas is disrespectful of the differences between us. I don’t even need to state that we were born in totally different centuries, on opposite sides of the country, to tribes as diverse in cultures and language as the many people in Asia who live and speak differently. It would be rude to call an Asian girl from China, “Mulan.” It’s also rude to diminish me into a stereotype.
But, all things said and done, it honestly isn’t a huge deal. This isn’t a make-or-break-it insult. This isn’t something that was said with the intention of offending me, and for the most part, I let it go. But stereotyping women of color is a huge problem in this country. It’s a problem that leads to othering, to assault, and even to violence.
My friend Jonathan, who I often ask to collaborate in blog posts with me because of his intensive study of intersectionality (he runs Feminist blog thefourthwavebegins.tumblr.com) remarks on the topic:
Stereotyping and fetishization is a way for racist patriarchal society to dehumanize people without actually saying “Group X are not people like us.” This can be especially harmful to women of color because they have limited representation in media in comparison to white women and even men of their own race. In that representation, women of color are often stereotyped with awful tropes such as Black women being strong and sassy and Chinese women being subservient lovers. This is called tokenism where one or two people of a minority are included in media to increase their diversity quotas but stereotypes are used so white supremacy isn’t challenged. The only way that stereotypes can be demolished at least in the media is by including men and women of every color and write those characters with every type of personality which reflects reality.
Yes! And this is so true – because not all Asian women are Mulan and not all Native women are Pocahontas, and if you continue to make us into stereotypes we become less than human to you. It’s a statistical fact that one in three Native American/Alaskan Native women are raped or experience attempted rape, more than twice the national average, according to the Department of Justice and a NY Times Article entitled, “For Native American Women, Scourge of Rape, Rare Justice.” In certain parts of Alaska, the rate of rape is as much as twelve times the National average, and part of this has to do with the fact that the Indigenous woman’s body is often seen as “up for grabs,” by those who would stereotype and fetishize Native women.
Obviously, March 7th of 2013 marked a huge day for Native Women, when the President signed the 2013 Violence Against Women Act with increased protections for Native American women. Said the President during the vigil and signing:
Tribal governments have an inherent right to protect their people, and all women deserve the right to live free from fear. And that is what today is all about.
The thing is, we all have to do our part, even if it’s just a little bit at a time, to get educated, to stop perpetuating stereotypes, to cease and desist with the appropriation and fetishization of the Native woman, and to respect all women and people of color for who they are, in their hearts, minds, souls, and personalities. A woman is not her skin color or whether she wears leather fringe or even her lineage. These things may be a part of her, but at the end of the day, all women, all men, all people, deserve your respect for who, not what they are.