Is it any wonder that most “Old Mix Americans” eventually declared their heritage under simplistic or ridiculous “race” or color labels?
If there was ever any doubt that in the USA, “white” has always been a social category masquerading as a legitimate biological category, consider the following:
Why are Americans who claim mixed ancestry always on the receiving end of vitriolic attacks from all sides?
When public figures such as Senator Elizabeth Warren or Johnny Depp mention, claim, honor (or trade upon?) their ethnically-mixed ancestry, all hell breaks loose.
The American right wing howls, because as the inventors of “identity politics”, their forefathers decreed that the world is divided between Black, Red, Brown or Yellow Asian, and White pseudo-scientific “races”.
In this universe of the far right, to be “Black” means a person must be descended from the slaves of “White Folks”.
This is of course a caste or social rank thing…
To be “White” in this conjured reality, a person needn’t be “White” per se, in the sense of actual skin shade. Being “White” means “not being provable or seen as descended from slaves“.
To be “Indian” requires a person to be frozen in time, to be a living relic of the frontier era and John Wayne films. Again, ethnicity is defined in terms related to so-called “White Folks”. “Indians” are symbols, icons. Their symbolic meaning resides in their having been “worthy adversaries” for “White Folks” to excel against.
The American left is equally blameworthy, projecting all manner of neo-hippy imaginings and spiritual nature longings upon indigenous peoples. This is simply an American version of what the great Palestinian writer Edward Said once described as “Orientalism”, in which the West projects its own innermost desires onto other cultures. Modern “Indians”, at best, are allowed to appear in films, media, and memes always mouthing wise platitudes about “The Great Spirit/The Environment/Mother Earth” and other suspiciously “liberal” concerns.
This tragic deformation of history and culture – and this reductive attitude to ethnicity – makes exceedingly coarse men like Donald Trump call women like Elizabeth Warren “a little Pocahontas“.
This state of play also makes the left (and many American Indians) scream “cultural appropriation”, when anyone seen as “white” claims indigenous ancestry.
This is because as stated at the beginning of this post, “white” is a social category rather than a biological or “racial” category. Racists only pretend that “race” exists in the scientific realm so they can act as Pontius Pilate, washing their hands of responsibility for the thing they’ve created to justify human wickedness.
Fake science becomes a sort of Deus ex machina.
“We didn’t invent race! Nature did. It’s not our fault nature made some races inferior to others.”
In the USA, Johnny Depp and Elizabeth Warren are both considered pretty much “white”.
BUT BECAUSE IT’S A CULTURAL OR SOCIAL CATEGORY, NOT A GENETIC OR BIOLOGICAL CATEGORY, believers in “blood” race categories get extremely angry.
Consider this from Wikipedia:
<In interviews in 2002 and 2011, Depp claimed to have Native American ancestry, saying: “I guess I have some Native American somewhere down the line. My great-grandmother was quite a bit of Native American. She grew up Cherokee or maybe Creek Indian. Makes sense in terms of coming from Kentucky, which is rife with Cherokee and Creek Indian”.
Depp’s claims came under scrutiny when Indian Country Today wrote that Depp had never inquired about his heritage or been recognized as a member of the Cherokee Nation. This led to criticism from the Native American community, as Depp has no documented Native ancestry, and Native community leaders consider him “a non-Indian” and a “pretendian”.>
What goes unsaid here is that Depp probably made no formal claims or enquiries about his folkloric indigenous ancestry, because he knows that he is not “culturally” Creek or Cherokee.
Are there plenty of “wannabe” Indians in the USA? Sure. But the more serious readers of history who note their indigenous ancestry are not the same as “wannabes” who practice a tawdry cultural appropriation.
And if self-appointed gatekeepers decide that “documented” indigenous ancestry is a pre-requisite for mentioning family folk memory, then half of Southern Appalachia will be forced to join the many multi-ethnic fools who claim “Scots-Irish” ethnicity. And many do.
Depp is correct (even if by accident) in noting the historical fact of a large indigenous presence in Kentucky, even after “White” colonisation. This writer has no idea whether Depp is aware of the likely “Black Dutch” Craft/Kraft family in his ancestry – people quite likely descended from German Sinti (Romani Gypsies). His ancestry is also rife with Baileys and Coopers, families also quite likely to have English Romani roots. This writer also suspects his Reno (Renaud?) and Whitaker people have roots in early mixed-ethnic Virginia and the Carolinas.
Whatever the facts of his ancestry, and whatever Depp’s motivations, he is quite correct in his assessment of the ethnic makeup of the old families of Eastern Kentucky, and it was the mixed-ethnic brown underclass traders, trappers, longhunters, and earliest squatters arriving in Kentucky and Tennessee from Virginia and the Carolinas who were most likely to intermarry with indigenous peoples.
American history is a mess. Anyone who wants a simple version wants a bullshit version.
#BeforeWeWereWhite #JohnnyDepp #KentuckyHistory