The (Racist) Lady in the Mercedes

Donna Akers

A few years ago I moved from Oklahoma to California with my husband, who had been transferred there for his job. One morning I went to the post office. Waiting in a line of cars for a parking space, I lucked out and got one near the door. When I pulled my van into the space, the Mercedes driver behind me honked—I ignored it, thinking that it wasn’t aimed at me. I quickly completed my errand and returned outside, when I noticed a slip of paper on my windshield. It read, “Go back to Oklahoma! We have way too many of you out of state people and foreigners/illegals here. You were not invited to live in California. I’m white—my family has been here since 1836—we have fought Indians, Mexicans, riots, earthquakes, depressions, wars. What have you and your family done to help California? Signed, one of many millions of Native Californians.”

Scratch the surface of the Becks, Limbaughs and other neoconservative talking heads and this is what you find: a stunning rewrite of history. Or at least that was what I thought when this happened in 1996. But since that time I have studied the narrative of U.S. history that all Americans are taught through public education and pop culture. This "Native Californian" was obviously motivated by hate, but how did she manage to twist the history of California to the point that white invaders were ‘Native’ and indigenous peoples (including me) were the interlopers? The answer lies in the propaganda that is taught as ‘truth’ in the U.S.—what I call the "myth" of American history.

In writing that note, the white American woman driving her Mercedes (and hating the nerve of the Indian woman with Oklahoma plates taking her turn for parking) felt free to give me a lecture about being "Native." Her family killed indigenous Californians, and this is a source of pride? The ultimate irony in all this is that I was married to a white man who brought my family to California in his job as a U.S. federal agent working for the Justice Department—what was then called the Immigration and Naturalization Service. He was sent to California to keep out all those “dirty illegals” this woman so obviously hated. But in so doing, he also brought with him his Indian wife and kids. Oh, but I forgot—she is the "Native."

—Donna Akers, Ph.D., is a Choctaw Nation citizen and a professor of Native American Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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1dandelioninthegarden's picture
Submitted by 1dandelioninthe... on
Dear Dr. Akers: When I read this I cringed. But it opens up dialog, discussion and voice. Thank you for having the courage to put yourself out there. Change is like birthing babies, it is painful and it takes patience and when that baby arrives it is a joyous occasion.

thechief's picture
Submitted by thechief on
after seeing a picture of Dr. Akers I wouldn't have even known she is native american. Especially in California. She's also married to a white man? I think she made this up. See, a white lady in a mercedes wouldn't do this to a real indian woman in a minivan because the white lady would know the indian lady would get out and kick her butt. I don't know how glen beck or rush limbaugh got mentioned in this article. If it's true it just seems like road rage.

forbiss's picture
Submitted by forbiss on
thechief makes the only relevant point: bypass beck&limbaugh...also the broad paintbrushing of neoconservatives...simply post the asinine note, cowardly placed while your back was turned...wait for comments.

peterbyrnes's picture
Submitted by peterbyrnes on
The depth and breath of ignorance and delusion is disturbing in this country on the topic of native issue and immigration. The sad fact is the only way many people in this country would have a different perspective than this woman is if they took it upon themselves to find out the facts. Our education system (at least when I was in school) was woefully lacking and bred just this kind of ignorance and arrogance.

rainy's picture
Submitted by rainy on
It's unfortunate but understanable that Dr. Akers was singled out in this drive-by writing, and by the mere fact that her license plate read "Native America," Oklahoma. I would like to share a personal story which is in-directly related to Dr. Akers' article in more ways than one. While living in Mississippi, I became acquainted with some white teen agers in the town of Macon, Mississippi, where I lived. One day two of these local white kids approached me with a request to assist them with a school project. Their project included an Interview, a question and answer section and a written dialogue with local Native Americans still living in Mississippi. Because I was available they approached me to help them with their project. One of the questions they asked went like this. Our Great Grandfathers fought the Indians and took them back to Indian country in Oklahoma, because they (the Indians) would not get off our Great Grandfather's land. "How did that make the Indians feel to be back in Indian country?" The white teen-agers actually believed their Great-Grandfathers always lived in Mississippi and that the Indians were the "Invaders." To make a long story short, I was insulted by their lack of intelligent questions and what worried me most was that they were still being taught the white version of American History. I actually knew the two white kids, as well as a couple of teachers in the all white school, (yeah, Macon is still segragated) and I told them I wouldn't help them unless they agreed to present their project from the Indian Perspective. They agreed to my request, but I never saw them again after they graduated.

cojee's picture
Submitted by cojee on
Dear Dr. Akers, On my father's side, I'm a fifth-generation Oklahoman, born on a cattle ranch near Enid. My maternal family, whose genetic makeup I cannot prove, has lived continuously in what was the old Muskogee Nation for at least three hundred and twenty-five years now. I grew up in Florida among my mother's people, who moved here from SE Alabama. I'm 64 years old. The only time I have ever been discriminated against was by a Californian from a sheepherding family, wouldn't you know. Ridiculous.

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