I keep being told I’m White. Capital W White. I have been reading about what it means to be White, and sometimes… I think… I Am. Other times, I’m not so sure. But it is what I’ve been given. Whiteness.
There is a truth to it. I have in my life gained unearned access to privilege. Not from riches or accumulated wealth, but from the Benefit of the Doubt, from the ability for my Lies to be Believable. I will likely inherit debt from my parents. I am not that kind of White. But I am light-skinned. You don’t have to look close to see my tattoos. My dad and His Mother were a little less White. They tanned deep in a ruddy sort of way. My Nanny was only half White. I don’t mean the kind of nanny you employ. I mean the kind of Nanny who refused to live on The Rez so she wouldn’t be controlled by the Feds (particularly the Department of the Interior and their subsidiary the Bureau of Indian Affairs – a thing that could never be created today, but persists like a dilapidated apartment complex): Dad’s Mom’s Mom.
But I certainly am White by all measures of the colorimeter. My mom was born of Duncans and Blacks and Hawkinses: English and Scotch as far as I know. Red-haired or Red-bearded blondes and brunettes. There are rumors of French Indian, like the rumors of Elizabeth Warren’s native-hood. Unverified.
On some holidays, I got to see Nanny sitting, drinking Coors Light and watching Wheel of Fortune. I barely remember her face. I’m not sure if she ever walked. That was my Native Ancestry. My daddy says Nanny knew Bonnie and Clyde, but only because she had a crush on Clyde and thought Bonnie was a Treacherous Bitch. I got to attend 1980s Pow-Wows in Claremore, Oklahoma, but only as a White Boy. I never got to beat the Drums. I never learned the Dances. I still don’t know if we went so we could experience my ancestry (Cherokee – the “white indians”) or if that was the only thing to do on a weekend in Pryor, OK.
But I keep being White like I keep being Male: I don’t have any argument with it. It’s mostly True. I make sperm and children, I make freckles and burns, but I’m not sure I can claim all of It. But, I can claim it more than the Alternatives.
All of the things I did as a child in Oklahoma, beating a Tom-Tom, chanting Cherokee Songs in my Elementary School Spring Sing would certainly be seen as “Red Face” today, though I was told it was honorable. I’m not sure if it was or wasn’t, but if it was disrespectful, the Indians who attended and gave Their Prayers before the Christian Prayers didn’t announce it. Could they have?
I am White because despite marrying a Brownish Latina who was similarly not wealth-disposed and has questionable ancestry, including Spanish, Italian, African, Cetchwa, and Japanese, and having a child who gets to inherit this Confusion, I can now claim as much intimate knowledge of her experience as I can the Cherokee Dancers.
I wonder if my son is White. I don’t know how to answer this question. He is eight, and I don’t want to burden him with his Whiteness, or his Lack-There-Of. He is pale-ish sometimes and less at others. His Uncles and Aunts are All-Shades of blackish and whitish, and I don’t want to take that innocence away. I don’t want him to see Uncle Monte and Uncle Idrissou any differently, but I know he will be taught to do that. Maybe he should be.
I will be there to give him the Doubt that he deserves.