Our Forgotten Allies: African Americans

Amy Moore & Mike Taylor

It was a chilly Massachusetts morning in the fall. Grandpa and I were checking out of the extended-stay hotel and the manager Darryl Robinson came to help us carry our belongings to the car. He was an older black gentleman; tall, with hands that had seen some hard manual labor.

“I am familiar with the apartment complex you are moving to. It is in a safe neighborhood. You will like it there. And Harvard is a very good university,” said Mr Robinson. “But where's all your furniture?”

“That's all we have,” I explained with a smile. “We'll survive.”

“But what will you be sleeping on? You have no beds.”

“Oh, I have a couple of sleeping bags in the car.”

“Well,” said Mr. Robinson, “the first thing Harvard students do is make a trip down to Ikea and buy all the furniture they need. But I guess you need to be rich for that.” He paused a bit and then added, “But what about your grandfather? He is a Native American Elder who worked hard all his life. You can't make your grandfather sleep on the floor!”

I smiled and shrugged, thanked Mr Robinson, gave him our new contact information and drove down to the new apartment with a few precious belongings in our car. The next evening a truck pulled up in front of our apartment hauling a trailer behind it. It was Mr. Robinson. He had two beds, two mattresses, pillows, comforters, a dining table, a study table, chairs, lamps, a toaster, blender, pots, pans—everything two Indians could possibly need in their small Cambridge apartment.

“Our hotel always has a surplus of such items,” lied Mr. Robinson. “All these are yours now. You can have them for free.”

We had a similar experience in Ohio this week. My friends and I walked into a Little Caesars pizza restaurant and asked for three hot-and-ready pizzas. The black woman who gave us the pizzas said, “There's no charge.” Then she saw the quizzical expression on our faces and explained, “You all are Native Americans, aren't you? I can tell from your long hair and what it says on your T-shirts. Indians are my favorite people. All pizzas are on the house.”

Whether we were in Massachusetts or Ohio or Texas or Maryland or elsewhere, black Americans have always gone out of their way to be extra nice and helpful to us. Intrigued, we used student subject pools and ran experiments to assess if African Americans were really generous toward Indians or if our experiences were an anomaly. We used games called dictator games and trust games from the field of experimental economics. The simplest possible description of the dictator game is that you give a person a token sum of money, like $10, and ask them if they would like to split this money with another person. If white people give more money to whites than they give to minority individuals, then you have a measure of prejudice right there. The trust game is a little more complicated than the dictator game. While details of our experiments are well beyond the scope of this essay, our findings show that, of all racial groups, black Americans are indeed the most gracious toward and most trusting of Indians. In fact, our experiments found that black experimental participants were more generous toward Indians than Indians were toward other Indians.

Most Indians know that the average German is far more knowledgeable about us than the average white American. We also know that Germans are considerably more interested in our culture than are white Americans. The Germans even enthusiastically learn our Native languages. We consider the Germans our allies. But we often forget that blacks have always been our strongest allies. Historically, black slaves allied with Indians. They fought wars with us and gave their lives for us. They protected Indian women, children and elders. They lived with us in our communities. But somewhere along the line, we forgot how allied we had always been with black Americans. Maybe this is a consequence of the divide-and-conquer policies of the colonizers. Maybe it is the brainwashing in our boarding schools. Maybe this is the result of negative impressions about blacks that we are constantly bombarded with by the American media. Maybe we are giving in to a colonized mentality and learning to hate our closest allies.

Whatever the reason, our leaders and our people seem to have forgotten that black Americans have always been our closest friends. Somewhere along the line, we too started being mean to blacks, like the rest of America. We started enslaving them, we kicked them out of our tribes, we kicked them out of our pow wows. And we started ignoring them, like the rest of America. But despite all that, black Americans still love us. They still value us. The Germans who love us live far away in Europe. Black Americans are the Germans who love us in our own backyard. Blacks also form a significant portion of the US population—12.6 percent—and that population will grow every year. Black-owned companies also offer potential economic opportunities to Native-owned businesses. At a time when most of America has started losing patience with us, Indians are still very special to most black Americans. So why are we not doing anything about the affinity blacks have for Indians? Maybe we should recognize these facts and forge new bonds with our old friends once again. Maybe it is time to renew our alliances with black America once again.

Dr. Amy Moore is a professor, currently on sabbatical, who is passionate about saving as many Native American languages as possible. Mike Taylor is a student in the Harvard University ALB program.


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bullbear's picture
Thank you Amy and Mike for sharing your experiences and message. I recall as an adolescent in the 1960's, my first real encounter with an African American. One summer afternoon while I was at my aunt's home on the Apache reservation which was near a main highway, the dogs started barking. I went outside and an African American middle-age man was walking toward our home. Upon arrival, he asked my aunt if we had anything to eat and said he hadn't eaten anything that day. My aunt, who always wore Apache camp dresses, quickly made a meal outside on an open fire. He told us he was hitchhiking back east where his family lived. After he finished eating, he said he had seen our wood pile and asked if he could chop for our stove. My brother and I piled the chopped wood near the house and were amazed at how fast he worked. He then asked if he could wash up and sat down for a little while longer under our big shady walnut tree. We all gathered around an old handmade table and sat on wooden benches. He spoke with my aunt and I was taken by his open kindness and wondered what his destination looked like. I had never been outside of Arizona or New Mexico. I still think about him and how all of us trusted one another and how we helped each others in an honest, respectful manner. Sadly, I think that the way African Americans are portrayed in the media as being inferior has carried over to other minority groups and we disassociate ourselves from them. We could all stand to be friendlier. A smile and helping hand also has a way of manifesting itself, perhaps more than we realize. I experienced it nearly fifty years ago and it continues to resonate within me.
Anonymous's picture
Indians were taught to hate blacks by the Whites, just as the White Cherokees do not want Blacks in their Cherokee tribe; just as the Seminoles do not want people to know Blacks fought in the Seminole wars in large numbers, that Black tribes are holding black powwows in New England States which Indians find disgusting.
chahta ohoyo's picture
oh, how i wish native americans would STOP ally-ing with, comparing their 'plight' to, and using treatment of black people in OUR country as a yardstick to measure our treatment by white society and the u s govt...black people are NOT from here...they have no inherent right to any of our lands...their problems are unique to them, as ours are to us....
chahta ohoyo
Anonymous's picture
In my sixty years on this planet I've made many African -American friends. I've also NEVER experienced prejudice or racism from any Black American. I know that the Cherokee protected runaway slaves and eventually incorporated many into their own tribal ways, but the simple fact of the matter is that African-Americans have been too busy being discriminated against to discriminate against us. I like to think that it's because they have more empathy for our circumstances than do most Whites. Either way, I only treat people the way I'm treated and I've NEVER had cause to treat an African-American poorly.
Anonymous's picture
Black America, please get off of this myth that so many of us have Native American blood ties. It's just not realistic! The numbers speak for themselves. Before the first enslaved Africans arrived here in July 1619, more than 65'% of Native American's east of the Mississippi were eliminated via contact with Europeans by way of Canada. The Algonquin, Seneca, Mohawks, Oneida and numerous other tribes were close to extinction due to disease, war with the French, starvation and loss of lands. Add in the Revolutionary War and the numbers grow even higher. This horrific spread continued south by eliminating entire tribes even as far as Florida via the arrival of Ponce DeLeon and other gallions of the Spanish influx and domination. The introduction of European diseases made another frontal attack making the cycle of genocide evenmore rapid. The Ais, Tequesta, Calusa, Creek, Timaquan, Apalachee and other Florida Tribes lost thousands. Cross tribal contamination hasten the southern attack by advancing into North Georgia, South&North Carolina killing many more thousands of Sisipahaw or haw, Sauk, Kickapoo, Cherokee and others. Enslaved Africans never knew anything about Native Americans. The escape of hundreds of enslaved Africans/Blacks did not make any galvanized relations between Blacks and Native Americans on a large scale. The Quakers, Calvanists and other anti-slavery Whites already had the market cornered. By the time of reconstruction, Native Americans were relegated to reservations and I assure you that their women did not leave the reservations in search of a Black stud or a Black community. Whites effectively, had infused in the minds of the remaining Native Americans that rewards were offered for the apprehension of black escapees being that the South was still under States Rights. Native Americans were in their own survival mode and many of their women were the property of white males who made sure they impregnated Native American women to bore their children who would be raised as white. This is well documented. Consequently, it was impossible for Blacks to have shared in the bounty of Native American culture the way whites did. Stop clinging to everyone else and adopt our own history. Remember, plantations were in the business of making profits and captive breeding, many of whom were bi-racial children who commanded higher profits on the auction block than did darker babies and children. These same mulattos/creoles or high yellow blacks were taught to inbreed with their own color and thus the history of intra-racial hatred. Native Americans did not play a large part in Black culture. Do your homework and contact the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Smithsonian. All of these Native American and Black American myths will be dis-spelled. There is only a 2-5% total population of African Americans who can trace bloodlines to some Native American tribes. The rest of the claims are pure rubbish and myths.
Anonymous's picture
Amen, it's bout time someone is saying positive things about African Americans, other than African Americans.
Anonymous's picture
As a mother of 5 Native/Black children we've been through it all, I guess. As a young teen I attended college programs (Upward bound) and met black girls who really stuck by some of us there, by our sides. I attended college and met my husband who was on TDY not too far from my home. In the military I never saw any signs of discrimination in the ranks. We moved to West Germany to his new duty station. We already had friends there who were German married to GI's. We met quite a few Germans through those relationships. We were invited to my friend Marion's friends home. Surprise! In their house it was decorated Native American style, American Eagles, bears and other animals, all the stuff we put in our homes.. They told us about their interest in Natives and they told us that the white Americans needed to follow the signs. What signs? The ones that said, "Yankees Go Home!
Anonymous's picture
In the 18th century, some Native American women turned to freed or runaway African men due to a major decline in the male population in Native American villages. At the same time, the early enslaved African population was disproportionately male. Records show that some Native American women bought African men as slaves. Unknown to European sellers, the women freed and married the men into their tribe. Some African men chose Native American women as their partners because their children would be free, as the child's status followed that of the mother. The men could marry into some of the matrilineal tribes and be accepted, as their children were still considered to belong to the mother's people. As European expansion increased in the Southeast, African and Native American marriages became more numerous.[17]
Anonymous's picture
It has always been the policy of this government to create an aversion in them Indians to Negroes.[20]