EDITORIAL: Coconuts and apples

by Jun 4, 2018OPINIONS





“Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”-Rosanne Barr tweet, referring to former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett.

“You know, Ivanka, that’s a beautiful photo of you and your child, but let me just say, one mother to another, do something about your dad’s immigration practices, you feckless (expletive)! He listens to you! Put on something tight and low-cut and tell your father to (expletive) stop it.”-Samantha Bee speaking on her television show, referring to Ivanka Trump.

We have been reminded of the cutting, hurtful impact of words in the mass media recently. Two highly-rated, popular comedians, have had to walk back statements that were, it seems, intended to make a political statement by way of making a “joke”. One of the comedians, Rosanne Barr, paid the price of losing her job and the jobs of several others, as their parent company shut down the reboot of the “Rosanne” sitcom.

When I was being “reintroduced” to the Tribe after a long time away from Cherokee, a friend told me early on that I should expect a good amount of “poking fun” and “name-calling” if I was to be welcomed and accepted in the community. He said I would know how readily I was being accepted by people in the Tribe by how much “ribbing” I got from them. Since then, I have heard that from many more of my friends and associates, and I have taken a whole lot of ribbing. Good natured, of course.

I was once told that Indians can’t be racists, since they are a minority.

By definition, racism is “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior” (Google).

The definition doesn’t specify the size or population of the race, only that it identifies itself as superior to others of a different race and communicates that mindset hatefully. Where being racist for a race would be challenging is if most of that race had a varied or mixed racial make-up. Hmmm…

To chase a quick rabbit…the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, by its own sovereign law, recognizes all members with a blood quantum of 1/16 (and in some cases 1/32) as fully Cherokee Indian. You are not a part member of the Tribe.  You are a full member of the Tribe with all rights and privileges of a tribal member.

Now, there are 15,690 members documented as members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. There are 317 listed as full-blood (blood quantum is 100 percent). A total of 78 percent of the remaining full blood Eastern Band Cherokee Indians are age 50 or above. That means 15,373 of us are less than that. It means that 97.9 percent of us have the blood of another race running through our veins, if I did the math right.

Many in our culture believe that enrollment by blood quantum will eventually lead to racial extinction. Logic dictates that as more of us intermarry outside the race, blood quantum will drop below the accepted percentage. The only choice would be to move the quantum lower. Eventually, it would be immeasurable. It is interesting to note that at least one tribe has taken this so seriously that they have started giving a history and culture test as part of their enrollment process.

We have reason to be proud of our heritage as Eastern Band of Cherokee tribal members. Not just the blood of our ancestors, but the history, language, and culture of our people make us who we are. Some wear it in clothing, tattoos, and piercings. Some speak it and write it. Some cook it and carve it. It is called living your culture. We do it in many ways. None of us do it the same way because no two of us are alike.

It is when we judge how others celebrate and live their “Cherokee-ness” that we sometimes find hurt and hate. Terms like “coconut”, “apple”, “Oreo”, and “white Indian” are some of the derogatory words used to describe people who have been judged as having the blood or the skin of a Cherokee, but not the heart or the life of one. Making fun of someone, for some circles in our community, is a cultural norm. Differences between “light-hearted” teasing and veiled contempt are very hard to determine. There is a fine line between good-natured kidding, and racial bullying and bigotry.

A beloved elder once tried to address an incident of hateful dialogue between two tribal members by kindly explaining that hurting each other because of the way we choose to live out our heritage is not the Cherokee way. Respect and courtesy for one another is high on the list of what it means to be Cherokee among our elders. Bullying and bigotry are products of another culture, even when they are used to “defend” Cherokee heritage.

It is important for us to look within ourselves and search our motives when we are doing things in the name of our people. When we stand up for our culture and heritage, we need to make sure we do so in a way that reflects the values that our ancestors held dear, or we become hypocrites and dishonor the very culture we are trying to uphold. Foul language and name calling are not signs of power, but of ignorance.

I used to love to debate when I was in high school and in college. It didn’t matter whether it was a formal setting or a group of friends, I loved to explore issues through the tool of debate. I would often take a side that I didn’t necessarily agree with, just so I could engage thought processes with others. I knew the moment my opponent started name-calling or insulting, that I had him on the ropes. When we run out of reason, we often turn to hateful speech to feel like we have something over someone else.

Cherokee people have a history of being a fun-loving, jovial community. We like to have fun and laugh with each other. We also have a history of high regard for people of our blood, of our community. Our ancestors would not have been pleased that we laugh at the expense of hurting others. And, when it comes right down to it, speaking of calling people names because of their racial makeup, who among use has the right to cast the first stone?