By Guest Contributor Aaminah Al-Naksibendi, originally posted at Anishinaabekwe
Note from Cecilia, owner of Anishnaabekwe: This is a guest post by Aaminah Al-Naksibendi. She is a Michigander, mother, daughter, sister, artist, writer, activist, truth teller, rebel and NDN. I asked her to write a guest post because of my utter exhaustion around what happened to me this week. So I thank her with all my heart for helping me to speak and share this story when my voice is drenched in sorrow, depression and dealing with the effects of racism in the 21st century.
I grew up in Michigan, adopted by a white family. As a young girl I attended NDN pow wows, African American cultural festivals and the Hispanic festival in our West Michigan city. My parents attempted to raise us with multi-cultural friends, in multi-cultural public schools, and attending multi-cultural churches. As a woman, I had a long relationship with a fellow NDN who had gone to school with and remained friends with my brother. We had a son together before we separated.
When my son was about 7 months old, I started dating a Zhaganaash man whose family lived in Benzie County, up just north of Traverse City. For many reasons, I was not really liked by his overbearing mother, but we attempted to build bridges and visited up there several times before we married in December and his family refused to attend and cut communication with him.
Needless to say, those visits up north were very uncomfortable in many ways. But one thing that was especially difficult for me was the complete lack of color. My fiancée talked about wanting to move up north. We loved the wooded areas, the idea of living just outside a small town, and the literally Crystal-like water of the lake – cleanest water I have ever seen. But the idea of being surrounded by only white people made me really uncomfortable. I wasn’t Muslim at the time, and I am pale (and as a baby my son was blond and pale too) so I was able to “pass” as white and no one recognized us as NDN. I didn’t experience personal racial attacks while visiting (except by my fiancée’s mother of course) and out in the community, though there was one time when a shop keeper asked my fiancée “what” I was and he answered that I was Irish like him. I do also recall overhearing jokes about Blacks, “wetbacks”, and NDNs. Even so, my discomfort stemmed more from the complete lack of color, and not being able to imagine raising my son not only completely outside his own culture, but also without the benefit of a multi-cultural environment and amongst people who were clearly hostile to people of color.
There was one time, only one, where I saw any other color in that town. It was when a Black girl accompanied a white foster family who was visiting the town on vacation. We ran into them when we went to have lunch in a little burger shack near the lake. The little blonde children of the family were in bathing suits, and the Black girl was in sloppy cut off shorts and an oversized none-too-clean t-shirt. When the family’s number was called to pick up their food she got up to serve everyone. I didn’t hear the mother or father say that wasn’t necessary or even thank her, and they certainly weren’t jumping up to help. I lost my appetite and that was the day I declared there was no way I could live there. My fiancée insisted that since they were only visiting their cabin in the summer, that family didn’t represent the year-round residents, but I will never forget what it represented to me. Between that and his family, I never again was able to bring myself to visit.
When my NDN sister Cecelia told me about moving up north, my first thought was discomfort but of course I didn’t want to spoil her plans with my misgivings so instead I congratulated her. I wanted to believe that things have really changed in the last dozen years and there would be more color in the north. Continue reading