Safe-Tan

Finally finished with my Olympics. I don’t need to carry my heavy backpack and chalk box to the training facility anymore! Even though there are small regrets, I’m still very happy. I am grateful to all my teammates’ hard work and the directions from my coaches, it is thanks to all of you that I can grasp this medal in my hand today. And now… time to explore Brazil!
—  Tan Jiaxin on her weibo

Being Native American/American Indian/First Nations in North America is terrifying.

I was a small, red tanned child when my father moved us to Oklahoma, after his retirement from the Air Force. I’d been born and raises in an area that was predominantly Asian, Black and Latino. Minorities everywhere in a community where being white was rare, and unusual. My white neighbors were a strange novelty to me and my brother, and we thought nothing of it. To us, that was the way things worked and we had no need to question it. We were safe with our tanned skin and dark features.

Then we were enrolled in school in Oklahoma. We’d never seen so many white people in one place. There were maybe three black kids and one Asian kid in the whole school, and we were so confused. However, the white kids seemed to accept us as sun tanned members of their ‘caste’… at first.

Then I had a school project. It was heritage week, so I asked my mom for help. I was sat down and had our nature explained to us. We were part of a minority group, Cherokee on my father’s side, Cheyenne on my mother’s, and we looked it. Mom said I should be proud and never forget, she told me bits of our people’s histories (and being six and easily scared, I only got the nice bits. Living off the land, myths and legends. The nice parts before the Trail of Tears, reservations, and cultural erasure)

Proud little me went into school, stood in front of the class. and announced my heritage…

and they hated me. word spread through the school like an infectious disease. no one would play with me. not even the black or Asian kids. White kids were nicer to them than they were to me. they shouted “go back to the reservation”– I’d never stepped foot on one– and I remember going home in tears and curling up on the couch, telling my mother that I didn’t want to be native. I wanted to be white. I wanted to be liked. I hated myself and my history, and my ancestors.

I stopped going outside. I did everything I could to lighten my skin. I read magazines in the library in desperate hopes of finding a way to pass for white. I got sick as often as I could to avoid school.

My parents, seeing how miserable my brother and I were, brought us home to California. We were returned to the school we started at.

but it was too late.
my experience in Oklahoma scarred me. I sobbed openly when my skin started darkening again.
I was seven.
A black girl came up to me. I remember her sitting next to me, putting an arm around my shoulders, asking what was wrong… and I cried harder and explained what was wrong.

“ look at me. I’m black and American Indian. Do I look like I hate you? I’m sitting next to you and hugging you and I think you’re cool. its okay. you’re going to be okay.”

I’m 27. I remember her, remember Oklahoma, remember the fear. I’m proud of my people again, I get excited when my skin darkens and you can see my heritage better… but the words of those Oklahoman kids still rings in my ears. there are times when I’m still scared… but what I hate more than anything is the way native people are ignored in the media.

bad things happen to us and people brush us off. they like our casinos, but not the people. we got the vote last and we were here first. we get snubbed by health care, welfare, assistance programs, schools… our history month is the same as the one in which the celebration of the eastern seaboard natives provided white men with food to make them stop robbing graves.

racism is very real and native Americans are a huge victim of it, especially small children. stop American Indian erasure. stop violence against us. save the first people on the continent. save little children from the fear of racism and shame of their skin. please.