I’m Going to Talk About Race

This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.  I love to talk about race.  This is one of my favorite things to talk about.  However, those conversations are usually personal and in sync with the person that I am talking to.  That’s different than writing a blog post and putting it out to a world of strangers whose perspectives I don’t yet know and whose reactions I will not be able to predict.

So, I’m just going to talk about it from my personal perspective.  This is not going to be a political diatribe or a repetition of right-wing or left-wing talking points.  I don’t watch Fox News or CNN and I don’t support the Republicans or the Democrats.  Let’s make that clear.  In the immortal words of Malcolm X:

“I’m not the kind of person who comes here to say what you like. I’m going to tell you the truth whether you like it or not.”

So, what is the truth about race in America?

I grew up in a rural community in the foothills of the North Cascades, in the woods, in the Wild West, the so-called “frontier”.  This place was situated in a valley with a Native American name, on a river with a Native American name, but was essentially segregated.  It was a 90%+ white community with a small population of Natives, a small population of Mexicans, and almost no Black or Asian people.  There was an Indian Reservation (the Upper Skagit) in my back yard, essentially, I could walk through the woods and cross a creek and a couple fields to get there.

My family was thoroughly mixed.  I learned that both my parents, all 4 of my grandparents, and those of the 8 great-grandparents that we knew anything about, were all from different ethnic or racial groups and mixtures.  While most of these were so-called ‘white’ or European, I also had cousins who were Mexican, and an aunt, uncle, and cousins who were Natives.  There were Native people on both sides of my family.  I learned that while my Father identified himself as ‘white’, no one who looked at him ever did.  Kids around here usually thought he was Mexican (incorrect), Middle Eastern (partially correct I suppose), or part-Black (turns out that was also correct).  My grandfather and his uncle, sisters, and mother were all dark-skinned.  Grandpa told me a story about being kicked out of whites-only housing in Massachusetts.  I learned more about this later, but as a kid I already knew things were complicated.

I also learned that the so-called ‘white’ people in my part of the world were actually all from different ethnic backgrounds.  Some were Scandinavians, some from the British Isles, some Dutch or German.  Their ancestors did not come from the same places, speak the same languages, or hold the same religious beliefs.  They often killed each other in the old country over these differences, and even here in the ‘new world’ they had killed and persecuted each other.  The Irish and Mediterraneans seemed to have gotten it the worst, and Mom was part Irish while Dad was Mediterranean.   However, I also learned that more recently, they had decided to band together, call each other “white people” and team up against the other guys.  I heard every racial slur you could imagine on the playgrounds in Sedro-Woolley when I was in Kindergarten.

Then, in the 6th grade, I read a book called The Autobiography of Malcolm X and I learned the story of the African-Americans in this country.  I learned about Africa, and about the trans-Atlantic slave trade, about plantation slavery in the south, about the dehumanization, theft of names, rape, brutality, and murder of that system.  I learned about the Civil War and Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow, segregation, and lynchings.  I learned about Marcus Garvey, the American prison system, the Black Power, Black Supremacy, and Civil Rights movements.  I wrote a book report about it.

So, now I felt like I had the full story of race in America.  What I had learned in my little, rural, white town was that America was a war zone between 4 groups of combatants:

  1. The people who were here first
  2. The people who came to take the place over
  3. The people who were brought as property
  4. The people who came later to get their own piece

In other words, there were:

  • The Natives
  • The Colonists
  • The Slaves
  • The Immigrants

This was how I learned about America.  This was what ‘race’ meant here.  It meant these 4 groups were forever destined to antagonize and kill one another until one of them won.  And, depending on what team you were born on, you were supposed to believe your team was destined to win and pursue that by any means necessary.

But, what that narrative left out was the story of PEOPLE LIKE ME.  Mixed people.  You see, I could understand the story of the Natives, both because I was part Native in my blood and my family history (my Grandmother’s grandmother was supposedly a daughter of Sitting Bull, while my aunt, uncle, and several cousins were Native), but also because of cultural exposure (I spent a lot of time on the Rez, had a lot of Skagit friends, read books about Indians, and my Dad had even lived in a teepee at one point).  I could understand the story of the Colonists because some of my family had come from that (my Dad’s mother had paperwork tracing her family back to John Alden, a famous Mayflower crew member and leader within the Plymouth Colony) and we were very familiar with tales of religious and political persecution and taking refuge in a new land.  I could understand the story of the Slaves because I knew about the ugly things that were done to them in history, the ugly things that were said about them every day in my community, I knew the pain of specious and arbitrary discrimination (through my own personal and family experiences), and I knew the beauty of their culture (through the African-American music and TV shows I grew up with).  I could understand the story of the Immigrants because that was our primary family narrative: we were ostensibly Greeks who had come to Ellis Island seeking refuge, had our names changed, and been thrown into this mess.

I was something that the racist version of America’s story left out, or actively lied about and tried to destroy: I was a member of a New Race.  I could empathize and sympathize with all of the racial groups in America, either because I had direct heritage from them, or because they made up my family & friends, or because I was raised with elements of all their cultures.

I went through my life with this awareness, and it has informed how I have interacted with and related to others.  I have learned much more about all these stories, and the stories untold.  I have learned that it is much more complicated than my childish understanding of ‘native’, ‘colonist’, ‘slave’, and ‘immigrant’.  I have learned that there are good people and bad people in all those groups, admirable ideas and wrong-headed ideas, that their histories and narratives are all quite complex, as are their relationships with one another.

I can, and will, talk a lot more about race in future blogs, but this is where my understanding starts.  I know that race is a made-up concept based on accidents of geography and physical appearance, and is sometimes created or manipulated by outright political agendas.   I also know that race is real, because the consequences of life and death are real.  I know that race can be an excuse or justification to cause bloodshed, but also that race can be an avenue to understanding and common ground.  I know that racism is a disease that America and the world will suffer from until we learn to eradicate it.  I know that no American can be truly ‘healthy’ until they are able to confront this soul-sickness (it will plague your mind and your emotions, and thus degrade your body).  I also know that people like me, the New Race, are the key to curing this illness and healing the Human Race.

Published by nicnakis

Nicholas |nik-uh-luhs| n. a male given name: from Greek words meaning "victory of the people" John |jon| n. a male given name: from Hebrew Yohanan, derivative of Yehohanan "God has been gracious" Nakis |nah-kis| n. a Greek family name derived from the patronymic ending -akis (from Crete) Amha |am-hah| n. an Ethiopian given name meaning "gift", from Geez Selassie |suh-la-see| n. Ethiopian name meaning "trinity", from Geez

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