Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Some Random, Insomniac Pungency

My grandfather was born on a reservation.

He was addressed at work as "The Indian", rather than by his Christian name

As he married a Caucasian woman and their son, my father, also married a Caucasian woman, my physical features are Caucasian.  This is aided somewhat by some bloodline dilution back in the early 18th century when a Finnish settler realized that Shawnee women were rather desirable.  While I was taught to hunt and fish and track by my grandfather, have sung the "death song" for my father, and am immune to high cholesterol and the effects of poison ivy, I am a rather typical middle-class white.

This doesn't mean I've surrendered that portion of my identity, though.  While I do not look like the Lone Ranger's buddy, the one he would often send into town in order to get beat up, my world view is not entirely that of a middle-class white.  I intellectually grieve for the historic realities of my inherited culture and am sensitive to how invisible the aboriginal people of the United States have become, especially ironic in these days of heightened racial awareness and the political power that comes with claiming victimhood.

I'm disquieted when a white person corrects me when I use the term "American Indian", as happened the other day.  While it is preferable to refer to an aboriginal person by their tribal name, if it is not known, then A.I. is the accepted nomenclature.  Depending on my mood, I either find it amusing or infuriating when it is "whitesplained" to me that I should be saying, "Native American".  That term was invented to assuage white guilt and is also linguistically inaccurate.  I don't suffer from the former and find the latter to be illogical, which is a far worse trespass.

Imagine what it's like to sit with fellow Christians and listen to them prang on about "diversity" without them ever mentioning any race other than "white" and "black".  [Although I was amused that a rector in my diocese did not know what a "West Indian" is, so it appears that even these limited terms may be of a shallow definition.]  Imagine what it's like to know that fellow Episcopalians don't even realize that there is an entire diocese the size of New England that stretches across four U.S. states that supports a collection of Navajo [and also some Ute, Paiute, and Pima] tribe members who are communicants of the same church. 

Seems odd, doesn't it?  Especially for a church that prides itself on racial relevance.  It's almost as if this racial awareness and sensitivity is some construction of artificial virtue designed to be a tool for self-importance and bragging, best employed at cocktail parties.  Nah, that's not possible, is it?  That doesn't sound like The Episcopal Church of the 21st century.