Ancestry, Identity and Cultural Appropriation: Why Saying “I’m Part Native” Doesn’t Cut It
First I need to preface this by saying if you are Gujarati or Wolof and find error with what I post I am more than open to changing it, just send a message. I’d love some input.
I’m heavily mixed-race. You cannot tell by looking at me but that’s another discussion for another time. Usually, I avoid disclosing my BQ because it is irrelevant to the topic at hand but in this case it is necessary to do so indirectly. Below is an abbreviated family tree that shows both birthplace and ethnicity of my non-mixed grandparents and great-grandparents (i.e. It shows direct descent and no aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.)
In short, the most prominent backgrounds I have documented blood relation to are (in descending order) Cherokee, Kalderaš Řomani, Scottish, Gujarati, Wolof, and German.
I was raised in a trilingual household with heavy influence from both my paternal and maternal grandmothers. Because of this I was raised trilingual in English, Cherokee, and Kalderaši řomanes and deeply imbedded in both cultures.
The only things I have from being Wolof and Gujarati are a few recipes, heirlooms and a few customs but none of them are prominent enough for me to identify as Gujarati or Wolof in good faith.
I am Cherokee, and I am Řomani. I’m mixed-race and very white-passing.
To go running around in the kurta my grandfather wore to his wedding (one of the heirlooms) while covered in henna for a photo shoot to make me seem ~exotic~ or to make a painting and market it as “Authentic Wolof Art” just because I have Gujarati and Wolof ancestry would be inappropriate and unacceptable. I was not raised in those cultures, I have no idea what it’s like to grow-up as a member of either group. If I were to pull this distant blood-line out of my ass as a cheap defence if I paraded around making an absolute mockery of myself and the cultures I claim to be proud of, it’d be an insult to members of the cultures, myself, and my family.
So when you think about saying “Don’t fucking tell me what to do, I’m part native american” think about those of us who grew up raised in the cultures, maybe think about stating your tribe of ancestry, and don’t say “I’m part Native American” maybe say something along the lines of “I’m descended from [Tribe] and admittedly know nothing of the culture. I’d like to reconnect and I’m sorry my attempt was uninformed” or SOMETHING that isn’t confrontational and reeking of entitlement because let me tell you, a lot of us will help you reconnect to your culture if you are humble and respectful about it.