The Institutional Racism Against Black Indians

Julianne Jennings

Black Indians are constantly confronted with the fact that they do not fit any of society's stereotypes for Native Americans. Those stereotypes are imposed by both whites and sadly, other Indians. This lack of understanding of another nation’s history has interwoven ignorance thus extinguishing fact. Nevertheless, despite their own distortions and mutations of the past, it is interesting to note how the right to remember or forget are not going unnoticed; where personal biographies have intersected with historical watershed events (i.e. slavery, blood-mixing, cultural blending) is now producing historically-conscious discourse about race, racism, and who is a “real” Indian.

Raymond H. Brooks, 72, Montaukett Nation, Long Island, New York, was made furious from a recent posting he read on Facebook. The post read, “My good friend is a real Indian because he lives on an Indian reservation and the government gives him money. That’s how you can tell who a real Indian is.”

Those who hold the power, get to set the rules; and according to Brooks, “Our tribe had its status taken away in 1910 because a New York State county Judge Abel Blackmar said, “We were no longer a tribe because we had intermarried with blacks and whites. And that when he looked around the court room, He didn't see any Indians” The tribe has been fighting to get their State recognition restored ever since. You can go to the tribes website and read their history and what is currently happening with their Bill (montauktribe. Org).

Brooks continues, “Some ‘full-blood’ or near ‘full-blood’ don’t recognize us as being Indian. They themselves hold a stereotypical view of Indian, and much worse, some “mixed” Natives don’t recognize each other as being real Indians. It isn’t just government that labels us, or the miss-informed Non-Indian, but we who label each other.”

The Harford Courant story, “Of Blood and Citizenship” (July 27, 2002) supports Brooks’ assertions when former adjunct professor, Delphine Red Shirt, of Connecticut College, stated “What offends me? That on the outside (where it counts in America’s racially conscious society), Indians in Connecticut look more like they come from European or African stock. When I see them, whether they are Pequot, Mohegan, Paugussett, Paucatuck or Schaticoke, I want to say, “These are not Indians… there are no remnants left of the Indigenous Peoples that had proudly lived in Connecticut. What is here is all legally created. The blood is gone.” Red Shirt ignores the history of slavery and its impact on the eastern seaboard. She fails to understand that culture is not biological. Red Shirt is using federal criteria to measure authenticity by blood degree and has come to see this as a natural way of interpreting the world.

Red Shirt has absorbed an institutionalized racial ideology into her thinking and is applying it to the rest of us. Blood quantum will guarantee physical and cultural extinction. “Culture,” is the evolved human capacity to classify and represent experiences with symbols, and to act imaginatively and creatively; and the distinct ways people living in different parts of the world classify and represent their experiences. We are no longer the Indians that you read about in text books, with long, black, straight hair and dark piercing eyes, hidden deep in the forest like mythical creatures from a golden past. We are a people who have overcome an identity imposed by Christianity and racial folk myth. Enlightenment theories about race, first introduced by Carolus Linnaeus, asserting that groups of humans, defined by physical appearance, are superior or inferior to other groups of humans are false. Although biology plays a role in obvious, superficial phenotypic traits, such as skin, hair and lips, they are tied to genetic markers that we can use to sort people into ancestral groups. However, the only alleged racial difference is one of gradation (melanin production), and so there are no biological lines between races. Rather, people occupy many locations on a spectrum of skin shades, from very light to very dark. Similar variations also exist in hair types and facial features. Once we recognize this fact, biology remains continuous and replicates itself in future generations. Thus, “any system of racial classification based on visible traits must be imposed upon nature by us.

Intermarriage with blacks and whites created a unique multiracial Indian community, where a pattern of selectivity with other mixed blood Indians developed, usually in isolation from the glaring eye of the “other.” Nowhere was there a blending of Native American and African people clearer than in Massachusetts. “Black historian, Carter G. Woodson discovered an 1816 report by the state senate that listed Black Indians among most Massachusetts Indians. In 1919, Woodson interviewed many of the black Indians and found they could trace their ancestry to the famous Massasoit”

Mashapaug Pond, located in Providence Rhode Island was also a community of mixed race Indians, with surnames, Jennings, Waldron, Green, Butler, Craighead and Williams to name a few. Many of these families have remained in contact with one another and are often seen at local gatherings and powwows. This practice of clanship was perceived by outsiders as a dilution of blood and culture instead of an assimilation into a new Indian way of life, without loss of traditions. What Westerners fail to understand is that Native political and social organizations are founded on kinship, locality, common experiences and the permeability of other cultures.

Employing discredited biological over cultural definitions of who is an Indian and who is not is an assault on our self-determination. We have endured 450 years of forced assimilation which included slavery and post slavery intermarriage, making our walk one of plurality. We are therefore all multiracial. Blood mixing is also believed to be the reason certain phenotypes (physical characteristics) common within Native people also occur in African American populations.

The 2000 U.S. census reported that black Indians represent 182,494 of the total population. However, researchers say as high as 90% of the African American population may be mixed with Native America descent (Census 2000 Summary File 2 (SF 2) 100-Percent Data). Today, Native Americans are the most heterogeneous group in the nation. We are people who are piloting a daring break from the oppressive social constructions of race, and are legitimizing a long neglected history through self-liberation and discourse.

Race can no longer be seen as something biological, but a social phenomenon based on ignorance, instead of what we have always been as human beings. Adaptable. As tribes become increasingly blended, new criteria for membership must be redefined, otherwise, they face shrinking populations and stricter federal court scrutiny of tribal laws. It is essential that tribes begin eliminating race as a criterion for membership as a means for cultural survival, and foster new racial boundaries in an age of self-determination.

Julianne Jennings (Nottoway) is an anthropologist.

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wovokanarchy's picture
When an anthropologist starts to question a bona-fide like Delphine Red Shirt over her views concerning the legitimacy and questions of individual claims of Indigeneity identity we know we as First Nations are in big trouble. Delphine's work and experience speaks for itself. She displays all the ''culture markers'' anthros like Jennings like to throw around in their attempt to legitimize one's claims of Indigeneity. Do any of the individuals who claims ancestral ties to the tribes listed speak an Indigenous language, practice their cultural specific ceremonies ( and not the ones stolen from the L/D/Nakota Sioux so many are now using as ''evidence'' of their Indigeneity), practice their cultural specific subsistence practices??? I doubt it very much. When one comes across individuals who suggest it's ''culture'' and not ''blood/genetics" that determines Indigenousness one usually hears New Age language employed in their arguments. The real racism is when anthros like Jennings accuse individuals like Delphine whose experience of Lakota kinship,DNA, culture, language, and phenotype are all reduced to the description of a ''stereotype". Is looking in a mirror or one's children or grandchildren an act of ''stereotypical behavior"? Maybe Jennings needs to read Delphine's brilliant book,'' Turtle Lung Woman's Granddaughter'' if she's looking for a hardcore ''cultural" narrative. During slavery blacks' reproduction experience was highly promoted and enforced to increase the slaves whereas American Indian lives were exterminated and replaced with the white settlers and blacks. This is historical revisionism in pure myth and smacks of pure opportunism in search of rights or casino revenue. If a mosquito bit a full-blood it would most likely have more Indian blood than all the individuals now claiming Indian ancestry.
Wanbli Koyake's picture
Hau mitakuyepi, Greetings my Relatives, Wopila cicu mitakuye, Giving Thanks for my relative Julianne Jennings and her writing about The Institutional Racism Against Black Indians. First of all it’s difficult to write of such things from the perspective (the scientific perspective, language, written language, system of knowledge, culture) of the originators of all the isms we face in Life now –sexism/ageism/racism/speciesim. By nature, this merchants’ language (English, the default language of our globalized existence) valorizes the accumulation of wealth to the point of greed. The words we write, especially published texts, are customarily regarded as our own personal intellectual property. The more you’ve written, copyrighted “own“ the “wealthier” you are as a writer and can be ranked hierarchically which places you in direct competition with the people you have the most in common with –other writers. Competition in any wasicu marketplace is cut-throat. Most often, the most ruthless, the most illusioned, the lightest-skinned –who also seem to be the slowest, weakest, and laziest– rise to the top! That’s just one microcosm, one racist/speciesist compound industrial complex. Factor in the whole of wasicu/greedy civilization and the dynamics of such a system become exponentially insane! For the Speciesism alone, we have become so far removed from Life that we can barely recognize ourselves, let alone our relatives, the rest of Life. Not an easy thing to take on, Racism; I’d say practically impossible for the compound physical/psychic trauma that such social constructs (man-made monsters/giantisms) inflict on both, victims of racism and their racist perpetrators. Fortunately for Original Peoples we are new to this Greedy Way of Life, so we aren’t as invested, generationally, in greedy thinking as our less fortunate relatives, the westernized Peoples of the World. We can count the number of generations we have lived under Greedy genocide and oppression on one hand. On the other hand, our poor lesser-pigmented relatives, the White Peoples for example, have lived for countless generations as the Human Race. We “know” another story. We must be responsible when referencing our ancestors’ Lifeways because they are often hi-jacked and put into service supporting greediness; but especially because we are prone to encrusting Life with our modern anthropocentric –greedy– values. Nowadays, the Lakota word Wasicu has been racialized to mean white people. It’s original meaning is Fat Takers and describes behavior not being! We must remember that we are made crazy by greedy genocidal globalized western civilization. Bad as that sounds, we blessed at the same time to have an alternative –alternatives!– because Lifeways are Of Life, there are infinite kinds of Lifeway. The Original Peoples of the World know there is no one way. Race/Racism is a One Way kind of thing. Lifeway is a multitudinous thing, even in Lakota Lifeway, there have always been as many “ways” as beings/Peoples in Life. Lifeway developed out of our Ancestors recognition of the Kinship of All Life. We descendants are barely relearning to live intimately with all Life Forces, as younger kin to all the non-human kindred (seen and unseen) of Mother Earth and Father Sky. Living by Lifeway is almost impossible because nowadays we live such insular lives –we disassociate ourselves from Life– due to the abstract nature of western “culture”. There is the difference in Lifeway perspective and Wasicu perspective. The wasicu perspective, many of us know, is distorted by greed, which necessitates dehumanization and disrelation from all life in order to exploit the power and wealth of Life. Lifeway necessitates humanization and kinship in order to make and sustain relations with All Life. The biological, cosmological, truth of our kinship with Life is within our physical, psychic, being. We are microcosms of the Cosmos. We are Peoples –Everything, Everyone! It is a crime against Life that we are miseducated to know ourselves as superior or inferior in Life– Life is not a competitive event for the accumulation of wealth and power! There’s enough power to go around, Like Life, it’s limitless. More power to the wasicu! With Power comes Kinship Responsibility –they gotta learn and Life will teach them. Hohecetu wowapi na wicoiye Mitakuye Owasin, My words and written words are true! All my Relations
Wanbli Koyake
LONE WOLF's picture
Wunee Keesug! Wovokanarchy , Nuttusawesse Raymond H. Brooks it Englisha, Nuttusawesse Nquit Muckquashem Ut Nahaganseck Good day ! Wovokanarchy , I am called Raymond H. Brooks in English . IAM called Lone Wolf in Narragansett . I am Montauk/Narragansett / Brothertown Indianand a member of the Montaukett Indian Nation of Long Island. I read your rather scathing review of Institutional Racism against Black Indians I wish to speak for myself not for my tribe or other native Americans abut my feelings of your review and some very important things you have not taken into account. You say Americans Indians were exterminated and replace with White and Black slaves. To Exterminated means to KILL COMPLETELY - DESTROY COMPLETELY. The colonizers and their descendants did try that. but We are STILL HERE, And I include myself and my tribe and many more Natives like us That are'nt Federally Recognized. Many Black lives were also terminated because of the coming of the Europeans During the Middle Passage , During Slavery and after Slavery due to racist groups. If you want to talk EXTERMINATION and the proper usage of the word, Let's talk about the History of African Descendents that no longer exists because of the African Middle Passage. Their Cultural Identity was Exterminated. Their Native African tongue was EXTERMINATED THEIR Families and knowledge of the tribes they came from was EXTERMINATED. They do not even know the region of the 61 Countries in the continent of Africa that their descendants came from. All that was Exterminated because of Slavery. Native People Still can walk the land of their Ancestors. Black People cannot walk their African Ancestors Mother Land of Africa. We can only walk the lands with the ones that we share our blood lines with The Natives and the Europeans and the descendents of African Slaves that were transported to other countries The Americas, WEST INDIES and Europe and other countries they were shipped to during slavery. Granted many Native American tribes are Exterminated and Extinct. But we that are still here ! Have a language , A culture , a History and legitimacy Whether we are mixed or not! Natives that were displaced because of the atrocities of the foreign invaders are STILL HERE, They are the one that were not put on a Reservation and confined and controled by the US Government and issued identification numbers. The displaced Indians that never went to a reservation . Or those who had their Reservation land taken away from them or disenrolled because of Blood quantums Or Tribal Beauracy are Still INDIANS! I guess according to some people Indians were n't Indians before the White man put them on Reservations , what were they then? Indians with NO ID CARDS , No NUMBERS . Indians that respected the mixture In their blood . They did marry white and Blacks , it is only Institutionalize Racism That cause them to think with a white mindset. Yes! Some of us mixed Indians have to relearn our language , Our culture are ways. That was lost or taken from us because of white Supremacy. We Native People . We People of African Descent were forced to assimilate many of us into the White culture . Denied to speak our Native tongue and learn English Dress like the white man and act like him in speech and religion Also some Native Americans still retain their family name in their tribal language I don't know of any person of African descent that knows their family's Tribal name THAT IS EXTERMINATION. Mr. WOVOKANARCHY You say that "a Mosquito biting a Full Blood would most likely have have more Indian ancestry than individuals claiming Indian ancestry." I guess that Mosquito must follow the ONE DROP RULE. I would hope you and others like you who share your views would attend the 1ST GATHERING OF THE NATIONAL CONGRESS OF BLACK AMERICAN INDIANS SATURDAY , July 19, 2014 Plymouth Congregation United Church 5301 North Capitol Street , N.E. Washington Street , DC 20011 Aquene Kah Wunnanumaonkongash Peace & Blessings! Nquit Muckquashem Raymond H. Brooks
HontasF's picture
wovokanarchy, Are you not aware that there are whole tribes and of people of mixed black, white and NDN ancestry who do all of the things you are mentioning? Practicing their own subsistence practices, passing along their own culture etc etc. In some cases their ancestry and history is very very well documented. i.e. Look at most of the tribes in Virginia.
unitednatives's picture
As to the Cherokee 1/16: Cherokee Indian children full Blood were adopted an placed on the roll's as half or less so the White's adopting them could legally sale their land allotment before they were 18 years old, they could not sale full Blood Cherokee kids land by law. The vast majority of Cherokees have far more Blood quantum than their citizenship shows because of that historical fact they had to deal with. You may have Indian blood heritage but, there is no such thing as a White Indian or Black Indian!!! Your Cherokee or other!!!
andre's picture
Those who hold the power, get to set the rules; and according to Brooks, “Our tribe had its status taken away in 1910 because a New York State county Judge Abel Blackmar said, “We were no longer a tribe because we had intermarried with blacks and whites. Julianne Jennings, hit the nail squarely on the head. Great article. Andre Leonard,
Two Bears Growling's picture
Lone Wolf, You mentioned you didn't know of an African American who knew their original family name from Africa. I believe I know of at least a man who found out who he came from: Alex Haley. I very much enjoyed reading this man's books & watching the movies his books inspired: Roots, Momma Flora's Family & Queen. The books are a good deal different than the movies were I found. Names & events were changed or omitted. ................................................................................................................................. I can relate to Alex Haley in the excitement & joy he found once he did discover who his people were & where they came from. When one finally discovers their REAL ancestors it finally puts one a rest. Until that happens, one can feel something is missing in their life. The past DOES unlock ones present & future when discovery is finally made. You never forget that day when it happens. You no longer feel something is missing in your life. You feel complete & at rest within your spirit.
Two Bears Growling
licymann's picture
Miss Julianne Jennings article is well written but is also her personal opinion, perhaps based on her own life experiences which are unique to each individual. The issue of "black Indians" is very complex. I live in the Eastern part of U.S. I know Indian people with black blood as well as Indians with white blood. These Indians are born and raised in their homeland, their native roots are strong and deep in the land itself. They belong to tribes, they speak their Native languages, their practice their ancient ceremonies and they identify themselves by their Tribes/Nations. Yes they are Indians with black blood, or white blood and there is not shame on that, its part of their tribal history...the history that helped shaped this country. I have never witness one of this tribal people (Indians with black or white blood) feeling mistreated because of the color of their skin, in the contrary, Indian people in the Eastern part of our country are proud warriors, traditional dancers, language teachers, medicine people, singers, story tellers. They are not black Indians...they are Indian people. I am trying to understand the term of "black Indians" because you are either an indigenous person who belong to a tribe/community or you are not. In the other hand I had seen African Americans as well as European Americans who may have some Indian blood BUT have no connection to a tribe/community. Individuals who never experienced or learned about pow wows growing up, never spoke the native language of the land or tribe they "claim" to be, individuals who have no other relatives involve in our Indian community, individuals that know not Indian leaders within our communities or have no involvement in any political decisions....when these individuals suddenly arrive into a ceremony or a pow wow, where everybody knows everybody and they feel as if they had been "rejected" it may not be because they are "black Indians" or "white Indians" it may have nothing to do with the color of their skin but because of their lack of cultural knowledge or perhaps the fact that they have no connection to anybody in the circle. Also the biggest problem with this article; it does nothing to positively push the conversation of race relations forward. It makes broad statements about "institutional racism" by other Indians and so called stereo types...what stereo types Miss Jennings?
LONE WOLF's picture
With ALL respect , Licymann . I have to disagree . On the subject of Blaxk INDIANS , Of course An INDIAN is an INDIAN , But those of African Native Blood. Have a bond that they honor and respect because of the struggles and atrocities committed By the Invaders against both their Blood heritages . And at tribute their survival to both groups None would be here with out the Other . So it is a from of respect when they. Address each Other as Blaxk INDIAN in honoring that kinship , or when some one makes a racist statement about their dual Heritage . I am sure you Know of the John Milton Earle Report of the 1961 Report of the INDIANS of the Commonwealth . In it he Writes of the admixture of African and INDIAN blood and some White blood as Well, But he difiera the African blood as predominante in the TRIBES . of course their aré deficiensies inhis Report and alto that he difines a Misc. But the town histories and the US FEDERAL CENSUS always put the Natives Down as BLACK, Mutalto , AF . Or White , In the STORy, " THE ATTEMPTED ABDUCTION OF ANGELINE PALMER OF AMHERSR, Ma , it says , Angeline was rescued By Jennings , FRAZIER AND JACKSON and they tookher to an Aunts House in North Amherst, Ma Colrain Huldah Greene Who was Nipmuck and But list her in the STORy as AFRICAN AMERICAN , Also Jennings was Also married to a Nipmucj in1866 Augusta Gigger of the Hasanamicos band of the Nipmucs So Racism has always Been with us when it comes to recognizing Who we aré . As for sterotypes , Yes ! That is still with us, when I was dancing at a Powwow This young boy approached me with his Father as I was standing By a vendors table after dancing and said to his Father " LOOK! Dad a Real INDIAN," I Took offense at it But the Vendor Took even moré offense because he was of European and Native ancestry. But his skin was White and said to me so. The Father a d son could hear, " They see you with Brown skin and BLACK hair and call you a real INDIAN . And he said to the Father and son Just because my skin is White and I have Red hair doesn't mean I am not INDIAN, I am INDIAN ALSO! Your experience at Powwows is quite different than mines , Many times Ihave heard racist remarías based upon the color of skin or features by the public and Natives against Natives as Well. And it isn't always that mixed Native people not of that tribe aren't welcome because they don't Know the Language or culture or history, Sometimes a Group has their own tight knit Circle and sometimes outsiders aren't Allowed. As for Language Many TRIBES in the Northeastand esle where aré going thru A Language revival. Many still don't Speak their Native tongue But ONLY Know a few pharases. Language and culture aré learned , Some that have live on a Rez have more of an opportunity than those that don"t , we are all one no matter our geographic We all live on Mother Earth, The biggest PLUS of Julie Jennings article Institutional Racism against Black Indians is that it does Recognize the problem of Racism and doesn't hide the truth about it, I could give a lot more accounts about racism and stereotyping but I would only be saying what people already know but don't want to admit, Racism is not going to disappear completely. And no matter if you just define yourself as Native , People are going to distinguish you by color or feature That is why we have eyes and the brain isn't going to say a African Native American isn't mixed or European Native American isn't mixed or that a Full Blood who looks like the stereotypical Native isn't Full Blood, We mustn't hide from our differences but accept them and respect them.
LONE WOLF's picture
Hello! Two bears Growiing, true enough that Alex Haley knows his original family name nit that is only One out of millions of African Americans and people of African decent across the Globe who does , thei could be more but more likely Millions of African blood don"t know theory family name or origin , He probably doesn't know his African language unless he took a course in it beside a. The words he already knew like " KO" for VIOLIN and " KIZZY for YOU STAY HERE! " We are talking about the Masses Two Bears Growing , who don't know their history. language and culture and family origins, Yes ! I can relate to that feeling of finding your. Ancestors all except my African Ancestors , they will always be a Spirit that I won't, meet until I cross over and join all My Ancestors, Thank you for your feedback,