Passing: Mixed Race and Disability Strategies of Resistance

Fall has come. Yesterday the temperatures fell to the mid-forties in the early afternoon, and stayed there. Rain fell heavily most of the day. In the evening, Jennie made potato leek soup, we built a fire in the fireplace insert, and after dinner, enjoyed “Autumn fruit pie” I bought at the Farmer’s Market.

Jennie spent much of yesterday at the Block gallery. She and the owner, with lots of help, had hung a show of her monoprints Friday evening. Yesterday was the first day of this weekends Open Studio Tour. I’m afraid the rain kept attendance down.  Jennie and I had the time and pleasure to sip coffee and listen to live Gypsy music in hte afternoon. The music was great fun!

My legs are weaker and more painful today. This should not be surprising given the weather, and my unthinkingly standing at a computer for an hour at the UVM library Friday. I was researching materials for my students, and myself. The foci of my search were issues of mixed race, and Indigenous voices in Transpersonal psychology. I did not have much luck as I perused the journals. I did better with mixed race when I turned to books available in the stacks. There appeared to be nada regarding Indigenous voices in TP, a sad, if not unexpected, outcome.

All this research got me tho thinking about the similarities between being a mixed race person and having a disability, especially if one of the races is Native American. I am where I am today largely because my parents and their parents passed as White, and I, in as much as I was able given the asymmetries of my body, passed as “normal”. Each of these strategies was highly successful in helping me maneuver in the dominant culture while encountering a minimum of prejudice.

Each was also highly costly. My family’s choice to pass meant we grew up surrounded by White culture, including it’s hatred of Natives, but not a part of the culture. We also were not part of Native culture, although my parent encouraged my interest in it and my work with elders. Thus, I am fluid in Americanized European culture and not the cultures of my Native heritage. Passing as “normal” also did great harm to my Polio body, as I overworked already severely damaged muscles and motor neurons.

To pass is to live a lie.( If one is passing in the face of genocide, passing may be a necessary lie. Given the enormous unemployment, domestic violence, and alcohol and substance abuse rates experienced by First Nations persons and persons with disabilities, one may imagine that here in the U.S., genocide continues in largely overt forms, and passing might just be a tempting, perhaps even necessary, evil.) Then again, Native people and persons with disabilities have rich histories of resistance, and passing, without assimilation, is an act of resistance.

Let us hope, and work, for a world, and a society where passing is no longer a needed avenue for survival.


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