What's Offensive?

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    I was told that saying “Black Indian” is offensive to some people. Is it? If so, how should I approach a situation where I may have used “Black Indian” to describe someone with African American and Native American Ancestry?

    Personally, I refer to myself as a “Black Indian” because I have African and Native American ancestors and I want to always honor both bloodlines.

    Also, if there are other things that may offend some people, please share your thoughts. Thanks!!

    Erica Lewis:confused:


    No problems here hang in there, sometimes it’s petty, sometimes not but we all define ourselves the way we are most comfortable. hang tuff!


    I think many Indian people in the South would find it very offensive to be referred to as a “Black Indian”. Most Southern Indians have been fighting for MANY years to not be classified as Black by the state and local governments, and many would not care to be referred to as anything other than Indian.

    Does this mean that they don’t have some African ancestry, in some cases? No, but not everyone is necessarily ready to acknowledge it. In addition, is is often possible for a member of any of the various Southern tribes to show non-Indian ancestry (White or Black), and yet for ALL of his grandparents to have been considered Indian in the community. So if he says he doesn’t have any Black of White ancestors, he isn’t necessarily trying to deny anything, he is just stating the facts as he understands them.

    I would exercise some degree of restraint in the use of that term if you don’t want to be offensive, particularly to folks you don’t know well.

    I think it speaks very well of you to have asked for input on this issue, which can be a very sensitive one in many areas of the region.

    Coharie Roy


    Thank you for the courage to voice your concerns. I must admit that you have more courage than I.

    I was offended when I first saw you use the phrase several months ago (and I did see it immediately – but, wimp that I am, I said nothing). And, I’m ashamed that I’m offended. I could go along with what I’m supposed to feel and just bite my tongue and pretend that I’m not offended. But that doesn’t sit well. Or, I could tell you that I’m offended by the phrase and cower before the avalanche of accusatory wagging fingers pointed directly at me chanting, “racist, bigot, hypocrite, ….” But the real truth is, is that on one level (my “gut” level), I am offended, and on another level (my rational “head” level), I’m not offended.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I hold inherently self-contradictory views.

    Maybe an excerpt from a post I made on a genealogy board on one of my lines might help to explain where I’m coming from. Another poster on that genealogy board named Jaki (who describes herself as Black and who also has Brewingtons in her ancestry) took all my relatives (and by association, myself as well) to task for “denying our Black ancestry.” Now, Jaki’s charges were essentially true. And yet at the same time, they were not true. The truth is, is that publicly, very few Coharies will acknowledge Black ancestry, but privately, we all acknowledge that we must have had some Black ancestors, otherwise, there’s no way to account for the African features amongst a significant of us.

    Anyhow, here’s my post in response to her charge.


    “You too have done quite a lot of research on the Brewingtons of Sampson County. I also agree with you that we may never find out how all the pieces of the Brewington family puzzle fits together. There are simply too many gaps in the records. But I’m determined to keep trying.

    “As to the problem you have with the exclusion of relatives with black ancestry, please temper your judgement with the knowledge that antebellum times were quite different than times nowadays. And I do mean nowadays. I personally felt the sting of Jim Crowism as late as the early 1960s while in Junior High School. I shudder at the social coping mechanisms Indians, Free-Persons-of-Color, and Free Blacks had to create in order to survive the crushing colossus of slavery, and its abominable offspring, Jim Crow. Slavery corrupted christian morals and perverted every social relationship families, neighbors, and ordinary people have with one another. Thus, I don’t easily judge any of my ancestors for not only doing what they had to do in order to survive, but doing whatever was necessary in order to give their children a better opportunity than they themselves had. I regret it, but I don’t judge it. Now, Mr. Enoch Emanuel, in collecting the genealogy of what would become the Coharie Tribe of Indians, calculatedly placed an asterisk next to each and every white ancestor, and deliberately excised out of his booklet, each and every person with black ancestry. He was coping with the social times he lived in during the 1910s; the apogee of the Ku Klux Klan. Now, from the luxury of my time here in 2002, I can afford to wring my hands and shake my head at how much genealogical information was thus thrown forever away. Information perhaps linking [my] Hannah and [your] Rachel. Alas, because of Mr. Enoch Emanuel, we may never know. And I sincerely regret that.


    I want to be clear. I do not deny my Black ancestors. Neither do I deny my white ancestors. And I certainly don’t deny my Indian ancestors. The truth is, is that even though I see myself as Indian, I have in fact the blood of all three races flowing in me.

    But the crux of the matter to me is this: I believe a person is whatever he or she genuinely thinks he or she is. And, while a person can acknowledge and respect other contributions to who he or she is, you’re still PRIMARILY what you genuinely think you are; be it white, black, or red.

    I remember once about four or five years ago, I was on vacation near Pocomoke City, MD, on Maryland’s eastern shore and I happened upon a pow-wow. Well, I parked the car and walked down to the city park where the pow-wow was being held. When I got there, I was offended by what I saw. What I saw were about one or two hundred white people dressed in Indian costumes dancing and drumming and participating in a pow-wow. Somehow, it struck me as quite unfair that these white people should want to “horn in” on being Indian, when they were clearly primarily white… when they would resume being white come Monday morning when the men and women went back to work and their children went back to school. I felt like they were stealing a part of me.

    It seems to me that you choose to be what you genuinely are and you stick with your choice through good times and bad. Forever. That you don’t re-invent yourself to suit the current zeitgeist (spirit of the times). I have been Indian my whole life. Never anything else. So have all the Coharie. During the good times and the bad (and let me tell you, there were some very very bad times. Times when it would have been much much easier to have been not-Indian. But we never said that we were anything else).

    So, even though I acknowledge and respect ALL my ancestors, I will not (like many modern married women do nowadays who choose to carry two last names) hyphenate my heritage. I am an Indian. I’m not a black Indian. I’m not a white Indian. I am an Indian. Period.

    Please don’t let what I say, bring anybody down for wanting to find your Indian roots. I’m all for finding Indian roots. I support any and all who endeavor to find their Indian roots. My only objection is the phrase, “Black Indian,” or, “White Indian,” or, “Hispanic Indian,” etc., etc.

    Well, I sincerely hope that I haven’t offended anyone here by being as honest as I have been. If I have, I sincerely apologise. And if my offense was too egregious, then I submit myself to the tender mercies of our host, Linda, to either banish me or to otherwise take whatever corrective action she sees fit.


    p.s.- Forest is right, this IS a very sensitive subject.

    p.s.s. – Erica, I hope we’re still friends.


    Forest brought up a good point in saying most Southern Indians have fought not to be classified as black.

    For many generations,it seems VA held that sword of intermixing over the tribes’ heads.If they got too “black”,there was always the possibility of termination.

    It did happen in 1812-13 with the Gingaskin of the Eastern Shore.They’d mixed heavily with African-Americans and

    VA terminated them.The remnant was absorbed into the local black community.

    I’d also read in Rountree’s book on the

    Powhatan of one of the Mattaponi factions (Upper or Lower,I’m not sure which one) who sent a black schoolteacher back to the state.

    Having read of this schoolteacher incident,although I’m part-Mattaponi, when I came to VA in 2002,I was afraid

    to approach some local people who may have been Mattaponi or married to one

    because I wasn’t sure of Mattaponi attitudes towards blacks.

    Now that I’ve heard about Plecker and

    have seen the mixed ancestry (African and European) in VA Native Americans,

    past and present,I have a different perspective on the schoolteacher incident.

    It probably was just one more attempt by the Commonwealth to deny VA Indians

    their right to call themselves Indians.

    Forest’s quote,”…he isn’t necessarily trying to deny anything…” reminds me of

    2 situations I encountered in FL during the late 70’s and 80’s.

    I worked real estate back then and there were many foreign-born Hispanic

    customers.Because of my mixed appearance,many folks weren’t quite sure

    where I was from.(Most of the US-born blacks there looked more Africanized than

    myself.)My Central VA twang didn’t help

    matters either!

    My broker’s wife shook me up one day

    by asking,”Who in your family was white?”I mean,I knew I was partly European,but who the white folks were or

    where they were from I couldn’t say.

    I also registered voters.FL at that time had a 3 tiered racial classification system for voters: white,black,or other.

    Many Hispanics and Caribbean islanders

    didn’t want to say they were “black”,no

    matter how they looked!2 or 3 race riots in the 80’s didn’t make it any easier to admit one’s “blackness”.

    We even had one case where 2 Afro-Chinese people came in to register.They had East Asian features,kinky hair,and their skin color was “jet-black”.My r.e.

    broker wrote them up.I noticed that he wrote them up not as “black” or “other”,

    but as “white”.I ’bout near had a fit!

    Like Erica,I have no problem thinking

    of myself as AA,triracial,mulatto,mestizo,

    Black Indian,or whatever other label my

    listener understands.

    From the other posts on this thread,

    looks to me like everyone’s right.



    I do appreciate all comments so far regarding this sensitive topic. Personally, I did not know that this topic was soooo sensitive. Quite frankly, I am disappointed that not all people of African and Native American ancestry embrace both bloodlines. I think that it is a beautiful thing to accept and honor your ancestors.

    Now I see why my family and locals from Clarksville, VA embrace their “Blackness” more than their “Indian Blood” because being “Black” is more acceptable.

    Again, I do not want to offend anyone…but I will ALWAYS EMBRACE BOTH BLOODLINES…..I am Black AND Indian…PERIOD.

    I will not automatically call other people Black Indians unless that person does not have a problem with that phrase. And for those who do get offended, I will not tell you what I think you are because that is not my place.

    Erica Lewis

    Black and Indian forever!:(


    I’m a smarta$$ so I approach things a little differently. I wear a red/white/black necklace. When asked about it….. and I often am asked…… I do not hesitate to explain the truth about the triracial nature of colonial Va/NC. It has opened up communications with many wonderful people but occasionally there is someone unreceptive. They will inevitably say something along the lines of, “I can see the white and maybe the indian but what about the black?” My reply is, “Well, I haven’t proved the black but I’m trying to.” Then I grin and walk away while the confusion sets in with them….. like why would anyone want to be black?? 😉

    Obviously, my point is that if I found a black ancestor, I would embrace him with the same love that I feel for my white, ndn, and mixed-blood ancestors. I am what I am and I am proud of who my people were….. whoever they were.


    Hello All, and well said,we all need the room to speak our minds and say who we are.

    Like I said I don’t have any problems with people defining themselves how ever they feel best.

    Tough well we’ve all had them and we all have to stand tall, if you don’t like how other people define themselvs then”go have a beer”, I have often said that Iam a born again heathen, that I might be ethnically challenged or Iam not a full blooded white guy, truth is , “who cares”,!

    One intersting thing happened to me lately,” I have come to the conclusion that Bill Cosby has some African American in him because”you can see it in his eyes”!

    For what it’s worth, have a great DAY!


    I’m trying really hard right now not to be shocked. Somebody please, please tell me what on earth is wrong with being Black? Don’t you all know that we are all genetically linked to the same female (DNA) in Africa? I am so distressed over why this is so serious among you. Some one close to me recently said that tri-racial people are truly unique in that God/Great Spirit/ or what ever you wish to call the Creator had a reason for creating us. Now, if we all agree in the omnipotence of the Creator, how can we question the Creator’s purpose? We are truly people of the world. All nations of people from all the major land masses (Africa, Asia, Europe) What else is there? We can feel comfortable at any gathering of any people any place on the face of the earth by the mere fact that we have some distant links to one another. I understand the concern over our recent devastation to our recent history, but is it about where we have been or where we are going? How can I say that I do not deny my ancestors and that I am honoring my ancestors if I feel offended to be associated with any of them? I was not raised in the European tradition or the Native American tradition or any tradition from any African country. But my lineage is of all three. I honor them by the mere fact that I am walking and living an upright life and trying to be woman of dignity. The only reason I do not do the happy dance over being part white is because of the shame Europeans have brought upon themselves through their continued global devastation! Forgive me Creator, but all of our people went through hell and high water during their time. We could not fathom the grief, pain, horrors witnessed and suffered by both Natives to America and those stolen away to America for the mere commercial gains of others. How dare we deny them their rightful place in our hearts, minds, and lives?! How dare we!!!? They made us! They MADE us. Whether willingly or forced, or contrived. They made us. We are who we are because they WERE. ALL of them were. One life is not greater than another.


    Saponi 1


    This topic is very, very complex and probably has more to do with a sincere desire to perserve Indian Culture, and Heritage than anyone having anything against black people. In terms of numbers American Indians are between 2-4% of the entire US population. If we are overwhelmed by those claiming other dominant races, we continue to diminish in numbers. It was not until the 1920’s that Indian people actually ‘became” US citizens,

    our dances, ceremonies etc were outlawed even in recent decades. So while it is easy to automatically believe it is about racism–I would ask that you maintain an open mind learn about the policies that have lead to this very complicated situation.

    Because of the prevalance of the One Drop Rule many people continue to use this updated mentality to categorize people. In the past any acknowledgement of the ‘black’ became a penality, a reason to deny indian people the right to vote, attend certain schools, etc. In colonial times it also was an excuse to enslave people of Indian ancestry particularly if they could not prove descent from a Free Indian female. Families and communities have been divided over this very issue. Tribal groups have been denied recognition because of this very issue. Again, through time and patience you will come to understand more of these complex issues. I am not asking you to agree, I am suggesting that it is not a simple answer and perhaps is is best to reserve judgement as you learn…


    I do understand quite fully how association with Africans was used to denegrate Native Americans in years past by Colonists and later by mainstream white America to strip them from participating in the formation of an emerging new country that would become a world leading nation. I also take your suggestion at reserving judgement, but are we to continue this “internalized racism” in 2005? that was imposed upon two different sets of people by an oppressor so many, many years ago? How would any of you feel if I said that I was offended to be called an Indian African? Should I feel offended that Hispanic people just start talking to me in their native tongue, or come to the issue with more wisdom? (in this day and age, my hispanic brother could be trying to save my life). I understand the history. But I am not willing to perpetuate it. Yes, Natives were and are great people from whom so much can be learned. So were and are Africans. My daughter’s ggggrandmother was said to be a full blood on her father’s side. If she were alive today am I to believe that she would deny her because of her African mixture or embrace her as her own? Another thing, do Natives (those who are mixed) feel the same way about their white blood? Or just sour about the Black blood because of its negative implications brought on by Europeans to gain and maintain control over this country? Why are we buying into this? I know a woman whom I really admire who was raised Black but looks VERY NDN. She does not want to be associated in any form with Natives. Does not acknowledge any mixing, even though it obvious to me. When I see her I think she is a beautiful woman. I see the mothers of this ocuntry in her eyes. Denying any part of who you are is just sad and I think a little silly. I am sorry that I feel this way, but I do. Just feel that we let the oppressor win over and over again, and he’s really no longer trying hard. He did such a great and devasting job that we have now internalized the evil and just keep it going among us ourselves. Again, forgive me everyone. I pray for others and for myself to be lifted from this.



    Erica, you really started something here. I know I am a bit fired-up, but I re-read some of the posts and I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for your openness. I have to remember that people come to terms with a great many things in different ways and in their own time. Peace.


    vance hawkins

    Erica, others —

    This is a topic I wish we could deal with as humans better than we often do.

    Yall’ve brought up some interesting concepts.

    I agree with Dreaminghawk — I might be triracial but can prove no African ancestry. A photo of my great grandpa Jeffrrey Hoten Richey makes it appear he “might” have a little Negro blood (maybe an 1/8th, not a lot, but he has the wider nose — he had the following surnames runing through him — Richey, Wayland, Wood, Dickson, Hamilton, possibly/probably Gibson and Stuart/Stewart), but I can’t see it in any other photo’s of other ancestors. But it wouldn’t bother me one way or the other. I have relatives tho that would go berserk if they knew I just said that. But some would accept it. Dad said when he was a small boy growing up on a farm in rural Oklahoma an Old Black man lived with them and helped them work the farm. Dad said he slept in the smoke house. Now this was during the Dust Bowl and Dad’s family was very poor. He said they ate cornbread and pintos every day (some days that was all they had), and if they had meat (often they didn’t) it was almost always a squirrel or cottontail or a cat fish they shot or caught themselves. He said they made their own beef jerkey, would put a little in their pocket, be gone half the day walkin’, lookin’ for game, and the most common thing they got was squirrel and cottontail. In htose days everyone hunted daily and all game was scarce, not like today.

    I also agree with Saponi 1. I hate that so called “one drop rule” with a vengeace. That is where if someone has one drop of Indian blood they say “I’m an Indian” and they’ll ask you “which part of you is Indian, your hand, your foot, your teeth?” Well if it were in my teeth I lost it when I got ’em pulled — false teeth are no race at all. Maybe I’m raceless, by the one drop rule if that drop of “my race” was in those teeth.

    I can’t go around sayin “I’m Indian” when in truth I’m 1/8th or 3/16ths at the most. I know grandma looked full blood (as did her brothers and sisters) but she had to have some white blood (possibly a little Black through her dad, Jeffrey Hoten Richey), so I’m not gonna say I could be as much as 1/4th Indian — I couldn’t be.

    However there is a grain of truth that people have distorted in that one-drop rule. There is a continent full of Black’s (Africa) and a continent full of Caucasians (Europe) but the 2 continents full of Indian’s are no more. To be “part-Indian” is rare.

    One person on another board kept trying to tie my ancestors (Woods) with theirs, however mine never lived where theirs lived (they were claiming Cherokee heritage). And it is such a common surname. I kept telling them “no” and that I didn’t think my Wood’s were their Woods — that I didn’t even think that mine were Cherokee. I couldn’t get through to them until I said they lived near where the Monacan were before they ever lived near the Cherokee. Well this person got mad at me and said — “Oh you didn’t tell me you were Black. The Monacan’s are Black. If you’d said that earlier I wouldn’t have thought we were related — I’m White.”

    Well this idiot who was trying to prove he was Indian finally says he’s White . . . that’s the one drop rule, ain’t it? I wanted to punch him in the nose — he used the possibity of “Black” ancestry as an insult, not in any objective honest way. My Cherokee is through the surnames Brown, Black, Guess, not the other surnames I’d mentioned to him. I didn’t tell him there are Wood’s in Indiana who are surprized when I said I was looking for possible Indian ancestry in them, thinking they were 100 percent Caucasian. They said it was possible tho.

    Things have changed a lot, but I guess we still need to keep changin’ until “race” can be dealt with as mature people should be able to do it.


    quest for facts

    HI everyone,

    I am biracical….ndn and white..I have searched my family tree far and wide and to this day I have found no indication of any African blood. In the early 1700’s my family was having to prove their “whiteness” which to me was downright ignorant. It appears what I have in my lines are “well off: white planters marrying ndn women or mixed blood women by the late 1700’s it looks as if in some of my lines not a single full white or full ndn existed. I am proud to be who I am Indian and White and I don’t have a problem being called a White Indian. I have met whites, blacks and indians that I have no desire to be around. People should be judged on their actions not their race or God Forbid skin color. There are many people who are indian by race but their hearts are not indian. So what are they? It’s that way with every race. There’s good and bad. In the south though in the old times it was rough being black so it is understandable that people would try to erase that part of themselves. Today within my family we have triracial people. My neice who is biracial married a triracial man this was fine with us and she has some wonderful children. But in the last few years we all have started having a problem with him. We have got him out of jail several times and now he’s in there again…..as far as we are concerned he can rot there this time. My husband and I are not shelling out anymore money to get him out. Most of the time it’s just being in the wrong place at the wrong time or being with the wrong people. He is getting close to 30 and it’s time to learn to pick your friends with more wisdom. Every time i get him out i hear I didn’t do it Ms. Linda I was just there. He gets off but you know enough is enough maybe staying there awhile will teach him a lesson….the point I was trying to make is people regardless of race should be judged by their actions…not skin color. Liars are liars whether they are white, black or red. Rapist are rapist whether they are white, black or red. And if you are stupid you are stupid whether you are white, black or red…and a racist is stupid in my humble opinion..



    Well now I’m really confused. 😉 All of the Monacans I have seen look mixed with a whole lot of white. Odd that a remark was made about them being Black. I wonder how they’d respond to that. I got the impression that I was too black to belong and I’m not even brown myself. I don’t know. I’m sitting here laughing about it. But, glad to hear your sentiments Vance and Linda. To me, and I know we all have different views, you guys are on the money. That one drop rule is interesting too. I think I mentioned it earlier that I went to the Bureau of NDN Affairs years ago to begin my self-search and I was told that I was probably not a descendant, rather a result of mixing between slaves and slave holders. I was basically turned away because they thought I was after some federal money for college tuition. Little did they know that I had no idea that there was anything in existence prior to them telling me about it. They said that I had to prove 1/4 Native blood to get any money (What money!!??? not my purpose!). BUT, if I was one drop Black anywhere in my lineage, I would ALWAYS be black no matter how blond and blue eyed and white skinned I might ever be. I got on the bus and went home VERY confused. WHen I got home it dawned on me that the federal governement was trying to tell me that I could never get rid of my black ancestry, BUT on the flip side as generations went by if I became less and less NDN through any kind of racial mixing I would no longer be NDN??!! It would be washed out. How hipocritical. So, I just gave up completely until I found this website through my precious daughter’s request for further knowledge about her Mongolian spot. One thing lead to another and I’m back on track to finding Saponitown!

    Hey, my mother’s good friend just got her papers from a tribe in Virginia after having a DNA test and supplying old photos, etc. She said she wanted to do it before it was too late for her, but that she did not need the research and that the oral tradition was enough for her. She did it for the doubters.


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