A Coast Guard air/sea rescue helicopter loomed over the speakers' podium at my high school Silver Anniversary Gala, and I was glad. I was always at sea in high school. I was a minority student, connected only mysteriously to the great white world beyond. True to my minority roots, I'd scammed my way into our $60-a-head gala in the Hall of Science at the Museum of Science and Industry with some cock-and-bull story about writing a newspaper piece. I couldn't have paid my way in like the normal people did because I wasn't normal, whether the normal people knew it or not. The normal people all around me, hundreds of them, dressed in tuxedos, evening gowns, and their business best, were mostly people who 100 years ago would have been called "the talented tenth." Nowadays, when they're labeled at all, they may be called the "black bourgeoisie" or "buppies," and they are the truest and most confusing proof I have ever faced that the American Dream, whatever it's good for, isn't just dreaming.
More than 20 years ago, when I and most of my sensible friends back in high school were assiduously smashing the state and seizing the day by "whatever means necessary"--taping red fists to our high school windows, yanking fire alarms to make school strikes unanimous, buying pot cheap and selling it dear--one of these normal people asked a white friend of mine between revolutionary actions, "What are you marching for, anyway?"
It was an unusually honest question. Most of us middle-class kids, black and white, had given up on knowing each other, though we had a neighborhood if not a world in common. We were the children of the first racially integrated neighborhood in Chicago, a neighborhood that many white Chicagoans still wouldn't visit on a dare. After all the hugging and screaming that had accompanied my neighborhood's integration when I was in diapers, no one was interested in talking about race anymore except when they shouted about it. Dialogue didn't exist. Twenty years later I've begun to understand why.
What happened to us kids who'd been lifelong friends until puberty, who then drifted into separate black and white worlds, was mystifying, archetypal, deeper than words or thoughts could tell. Race in America is so elementally confusing that there may have been nothing sensible we could say to each other, except the things we said: "Hi," "'Bye," "Be cool." We'd gone to the same grammar schools and birthday parties all our lives. We'd played Spin the Bottle together and shuffled each other into dark corners to the beat of the same slow songs. Though we middle-class kids of different races were seldom still friends once puberty had forced its definitions upon us, we'd remained friendly. That, anyway, was nice to know.
It still is. The night before our Silver Anniversary Gala, celebrating the school's founding 25 years earlier, my Kenwood High class of 1971 had its first ever, much looser reunion in a Hyde Park motel. Our reunion motto was as anachronistic as our common memories: "Marching to the Beat of a Different Drummer." Whether the motto was a nostalgic token of the trouble we'd so famously caused our keepers and ourselves, or only an explanation for why our first reunion was on our 21st anniversary, was a question no one asked, and no one cared. Our reunion was a hoot from start to reluctant stop, even though after 21 years we still hadn't much to say to each other. We were still giddily glad everyone was so friendly.
As I said, I was a typical minority student. We white kids made up about a quarter of our school's population. Yet we were the only reason the high school was built. Yet it wasn't our school. This gets confusing, because I'm beginning to talk about race.
Our Kenwood high school district--now celebrated by the African American elite of Chicago for being "Committed to Excellence in Education for 25 Years!"--was lopped out of a much larger Hyde Park high school district after the big school turned black. Many impeccably liberal white families were making the heartbreaking moving-van trek to Evanston by the mid-1960s, as their children graduated eighth grade. To stanch the dripping that would undermine integration, some leaders angled to create a magnet high school; others advocated carving the big Hyde Park campus into several intimate, specialized schools, one of them a haven for middle-class kids. But finally, after years of dialogue and screaming, Hyde Park High was formally abandoned by the neighborhood of Hyde Park. Our new, much smaller school district, to no one's surprise, corresponded quite tidily to the patrol zone of the University of Chicago's campus police.
Everyone understood that our new school existed first and foremost to preserve, protect, and educate a critical mass of white kids; without white kids, the university's frontiers on the changing south side were as good as lost. The U. of C. had already invested heavily in neighborhood stability--in the 1950s and early '60s, it spent $30 million of its endowment on, for example, buying and bulldozing old buildings where too many poor blacks lived; it spent millions more to buy out extortionate landlords who threatened to "turn" their buildings immediately if the university didn't buy on their terms.
But the policy was more nuanced than it sounds: blacks who weren't poor and scary were welcome to live in the neighborhood. Since much of the best housing stock in Chicago available to blacks in the 1960s was in Hyde Park and adjacent south Kenwood, well-off blacks were virtually steered into our new gerrymandered school district, where they benefited from it without discrimination: property values, like middle-class values, were defended for these blacks as for whites. So things became even more confusing: though race had made necessary the campaign to "save Hyde Park," after initial success the campaign's foundations ceased to be racial.
The way of the neighborhood was summed up by Second City's founding wits, soon after they dropped out of the University of Chicago and just before urban renewal drove them out of Hyde Park, in a locally famous sketch. They sang that Hyde Park was the place where "black and white unite to fight the lower classes." That's how it's been ever since, ever more successfully, from the days we children of the class war first looked bewildered upon each other, and aspired to burn it all down.
The emcees of the Silver Anniversary Gala introduce themselves from beneath the helicopter. They're Kenwood alums, though not from the pioneering classes I know, a handsome man and a handsome woman who have both become TV anchorpeople. They welcome us, and each other, and the volunteers who've made all this possible, and the principal of the school, now called Kenwood Academy. They regret that Mayor Daley is unable to be with us tonight, but direct our attention to the "Mayor's Proclamation" on the first page of our programs:
"WHEREAS, Kenwood Academy has a distinguished history of both diversity and excellence as a public school in Chicago; and
"WHEREAS, Kenwood's accomplishments are especially noteworthy in light of the financial challenges confronting our public school system; and
"WHEREAS, while Kenwood has access to community resources, it continues to have many pressing needs. Currently, the most critical of these needs is appropriate computer equipment to enhance both administrative management and student achievement; and
"WHEREAS, on May 9, 1992, Kenwood Academy will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a festive fund-raiser at the Museum of Science and Industry; and . . . " so forth. Mayor Daley's is the only request we will receive all evening for more money. When his father broke ground for Kenwood High School 25 years ago, we students were accumulating, year by year, in an old grammar school next door. As construction continued and we piled up, our old school was surrounded by mobile classrooms.
We went to gym at the Hyde Park Y, played ball in Farmer's Field. Eventually 1,100 of us were banging around in a grammar school built for 550 little people, so our lockers lined every stairwell, and our water fountains watered our knees. The new building was finally ready for us when the original freshmen had become seniors and I was a junior.
Our first year in the new building was doubly memorable. First, the engineers were still figuring out how the thing worked: clocks often ran backward, or forward at an hour per minute; squawk boxes, fire alarms, and motorized classroom partitions, and sometimes all of the electricity in the building, randomly went off and on, and on and on; doors mysteriously locked or unlocked; men with ladders clomped into classrooms to bang on things and shout through ducts at each other; windows fell out. There was a splendid chaos surrounding our first year in the new building, chaos only sporadically interrupted by organized education.
Second, there was a revolution going on, and our cushy new building actually encouraged us to feel alienated and restless, bereft of our old school's familiar challenges. By Christmas, pockets of whining and open rebellion had broken out. Soon history and war overswept us, in the form of strikes, sit-ins, Chicago Police Task Force paddy wagons hauling kids off to jail, preposterous local "SDS membership lists" supplied to what we could only facetiously call "law enforcement agencies." Government assassinations, secret wars, Kent and Jackson State all brought history home to us that year, and Hyde Park mothers by the score descended on the local precinct house to spring us before we got booked.
The principal who had created Kenwood High School--who had assembled a gifted and eager multiracial staff glad to be part of such a bizarre place at such a bizarre time--took refuge in venerable Board of Education folkways to meet every crisis. She squeezed her way out of every tight spot we put her in. For a taste of the times: I recall how contemptuously she dismissed student assertions that our school guards carried guns; a year and a half after her denials were accepted, one of those unarmed guards shot and killed a 21-year-old just inside the school's front door.
After our first rambunctious year in the new building, the principal determined which student leaders were to be bought off with tuition money to attend alternative schools; which ones were to be thrown out like yesterday's news; and which ones were to be, yet more insultingly, ignored. She had the power; everywhere the counterrevolution was triumphant, and only the most deranged idealists and nihilists among us were blind to the way the wind blew. We agitators who were still in school respected our principal as a consummate slickster, and hated her all the more for it.
So it was unsettling to hear that our festive fund-raiser at the Museum of Science and Industry had called her back from her California retirement. But I wasn't surprised--she had, after all, survived when all of us tried to do her in, and had run the school well for 20 years. I watched like a cat watching a canary as the emcees introduced her. Loud applause, even cheers greeted her, and people started standing up for her as they clapped. It was appalling. Was forgiveness this cheap? Was the hold of history so faint?
I had a moment of afflatus as I watched the well-dressed multitudes of normal people greet her. It was clear that most people just wanted to be happy that night. Many no doubt had no idea what the fuss was once about. But some knew. An old teacher of mine, long through with teaching and now able to afford an impeccable tuxedo, slouched into his small talk as he sat with his back to the stage, ignoring the applause. Others too--old parents and students, local loudmouths, longtime teachers--also ignored it. Yet my old teacher was smiling. The principal was smiling. Almost everyone was smiling, whether they stood or sat. We were celebrating the Silver Anniversary Gala as one hell of a lot of water over the dam, most of it long gone now. A haunted feeling came over me that perhaps I'd thought about all this a bit much for these past 20 years.
Our old principal told us in her brief remarks what a pleasure it was to be retired, and free to speak her mind exactly as she wished. Having said that, she didn't speak it but thanked us and sat back down. All of our conflicts were old, old news.
I had that haunted feeling again a little later, when I tried to talk with my companions at table about race. We'd just been reminiscing about the great sit-in where 22 students got arrested, and none of us could now remember what for. The other people at table had been a year behind me in school, but I was pretty vague on the whys and wherefores too. Then I brought up what a blast my class reunion had been the night before, and I mentioned that we still hadn't much to say to each other across the impassable racial divide, yet it didn't matter.
No one said anything. It was the first time all dinner that no one spoke. It was as if I'd just started blabbing about dirty underwear. At last someone merciful said, with apocalyptic finality, "It's like the Rodney King thing," and the silence thinned.
I'd been horribly inappropriate. I felt awkward and self-conscious still. That's the feeling I remember best from being a minority kid, feeling that at any moment I might do something that I didn't even know was dumb, because in some mysterious way for no good reason at all I'm not like these people, though I know these people are, underneath something or other, just like me.
I have a dream. I dream that somewhere, someone will want to talk about their dirty linen with me. I dreamed it that evening as my self-consciousness dissipated: I imagined being with some other addled victim of all that we are--Madonna, say--and saying to her, "Say, Madonna, what is it about you and underwear, anyway?" and hearing her answer me.
But my daydream cheered me up as soon as its nonsense was clear to me: I realized the odds were dollars to doughnuts that Madonna too would look at me like I'd asked her a very dumb question. The things we're queasiest about we can't talk about, or we'd have sloughed off the queasiness centuries ago.
And then something else began happening to me. Again I looked over all the beautiful normal people in their finery, and recalled my classmates reunited the night before. The white kids who'd come had turned into diffuse white grown-ups: one was a boat bum/oceanographic researcher, another managed a bookstore. Some were raising money, others babies, or both.
The black kids who'd come were more straightforwardly mothers and doctors and such. In fact, there were more doctors among them than I could count. There were more genuine make-your-mom-proud, all-American success stories among my African American classmates than I have ever seen this side of Winnetka.
More than 20 years ago, these very same people were the kids whose feelings I hurt by avoiding school dances. All the white kids did. Back then these had been the student government officers, the Junior Achievers, the glad-handing natural salesmen, the normal kids. These were the people who, because their world was good, were hurt and offended by my alienation from their school, their world. These were the people to whom I couldn't explain how weird I was afraid I'd feel if I went to their damn dumb dances, and couldn't dance, and couldn't talk, and couldn't connect over the invisible divide.
Can I explain it yet? No. But back then, when someone asked me to explain, I suppose I just glared at them, like they'd asked me an inappropriate question.
And now, for the first time, I imagine feeling different. So many of my thoughts seem unnecessary here in the Hall of Science. I think about how much I've thought about race, ever since those long-dead days, and contemplate this crowd of happy people who are thinking far different thoughts. It crosses my mind in a queasy way that things might not be worth thinking about so much. Thinking about things less, I might see less to think about. Society's problems seem unsolvable, impossible, like the Rodney King thing; but I'm just a person like these people, who don't make it look so very hard or bad to be human.
Thinking about the racial divide can bridge it, or broaden it. I say this because, strange as it will sound by now, I've had good black friends ever since high school, and I've seen what happens as we become friends. We cease to be colors.
I think the problem isn't finally just about race, it's about all the labels created by bewilderment, the labels that differentiate other people from me: Woman, Black, Fundamentalist, Suburbanite, Jerk. As lives emerge from underneath their labels, I forget to read the labels, and find my friends.
I spot an old friend cutting through the crowd. He came to the reunion last night all the way from Tahiti, where he's the boat bum/oceanographer. He's another white kid, and he's pulled off a glorious trick to fit in with the museum crowd tonight.
"You did it! You really did it!" I laugh, admiring his jacket and chutzpah. He's dressed like a Hollywood yachtsman, with a yellow ascot fluffing up from his collar and three stripes of gold piping stitched to the sleeves of his blue blazer.
"This is the U-505 submarine commander's uniform," John replies. "I couldn't resist."
He hadn't brought a suit--he doesn't have one in Tahiti. But years ago he worked a student job here at the Museum of Science and Industry, which inspired his plan for dressing appropriately tonight. He knew that the weekend staff at the museum tended to be people like he once was. So he came over early on Saturday afternoon to beg one of his peers for the loan of a tour guide's blazer and tie. He found a properly whimsical guy with no problem. Once down in the laundry room, John fell in love with the uniform, modeled on a World War II German commander's regalia.
John and I haven't seen each other in 20 years, but we have more in common now than ever. When he was first casting off into the South Pacific, I was going into self-exile in France, where my skills at not feeling like I belonged seemed more purposeful somehow. When that wore thin I'd started wandering east, and made it halfway across Asia before I was heartsick enough to turn tail for home. As a traveler in faraway worlds I had felt, for the first time in my life, a sense of belonging. The other misfits and whimsy-wanderers from Europe, Australia, and the Americas, straggling along the overland trails before and behind me, were there just the way I was there, for reasons that, mutatis mutandis, resembled mine. For the first time in my life I had found a community containing people like me. If it weren't for the limits of alienation as an ethnic identity, I might be a traveler still.
John and I sat up past sunrise that Saturday night swapping the stories and consolations--recognitions--that travelers offer each other all over the world. We recognized each other at once as people we would have recognized anywhere, though when we'd last seen each other we'd been just a couple of muddled white boys. It turned out we'd both hung our hammocks in the jungle palapas outside of Palenque, and swum in the same Chiapas rivers and waterfalls, along a bend of the Gringo Trail toward Guatemala.
John said he left Hyde Park because "I couldn't keep growing in a place where I didn't belong." And that was why I moved to the north side, though I couldn't have said so at the time, and not everyone would have felt that way. The most precious thing I learned from traveling for two years, apart from what I learned to feel, was that there are at least six billion authenticated ways to work this deeply goofy world, and if you think your way is better than someone else's you're even crazier than they are.
John left my place to go back home as the sun came up. After we hugged good-bye he said, "You know, after all these years being gone and out of touch, I was afraid nobody'd be left. It's really great to see someone who can really see me."
I feel the same way. It's actually our own lives that we see in each other, but that's a quibble, which I suspect comes from thinking too much.
Our Kenwood Academy Hall of Fame is to be inaugurated tonight. Our first 14 Hall of Famers are described, introduced, and applauded; most are here with us, and one by one they gather along the length of the stage. Three were chosen from our first two graduating classes; in an embarrassing show of hands we see that a scant half-dozen graduates from Kenwood's first class have shown up tonight. My class is a bit more abundant, but not much. The classes below ours, who came through when the turmoil of the times had subsided, are better represented here in the Hall of Science, and in the Hall of Fame, too.
My God, there's a ton of doctors in the Hall of Fame! And a fair few musicians, social-service professionals, and enterprising entrepreneurs. It's fun to bask in their glory, though the sullen minority kid in me has begun to gripe, "Yeah, right, lookit who's recognizing their own. Just lookit!" Look at all these well-dressed doctors and businessmen, affirming what works, what's always worked in America. What made America great.
So what's wrong with this picture? Not one of the kids who used to beat me up in gym class has showed his face. No one's gotten out of jail for our reunion. Only one of my old barricade-buddies is here--but he's a tenured professor now, so maybe he shouldn't count. Most of the kids who were alienated back then still think the cord's cut, and haven't come. Plenty more couldn't afford to. It's odd to watch the ramifying fissures of the class war cleave deeper now than our familiar race mess--which tonight is effortlessly avoided. It's odd to realize how my reunion resembles every other reunion in the history of the world.
We always thought we were so different.
The night before, toward the end of my class reunion, I had a fun conversation about race with a woman who complained that growing up in Hyde Park had misled her. She said, "I thought that people everywhere were just normal, like here, but they're not. Those people up there are racist, and I wasn't prepared for that." She was talking about a north-side school where she is taking graduate classes.
What happened? Well, she explained, for example there was this white guy that she and another African American were doing a project with, and the white guy always got his numbers wrong, but he wanted the two of them to "report" to him even though he was incompetent. "And he's always jumping on me for being half an hour late, and the other guy for being an hour late, and so I said, 'Didn't you take your minority-cultures class?' And he says yeah. And I say, 'Then you didn't learn anything in it,' since, you know, what's the big deal anyway? We always show up."
I got excited. "Yeah, he's supposed to expect you to always be late because he took a class in school. Right. See, the code for white people is, if you don't come when you say you will, you're not respecting him. He feels like you're flipping him the bird every time you come late."
My reunion mate sat silent, wonder-struck. A smile grew slowly over her face. "All this time I've been dissing him," she said with a truly touched grin. "I never had any idea."
It's a bit awe-inspiring to me that almost every class in her school could be titled "White-Guys-in-Neckties Culture," and yet basic lessons like this one are extracurricular. Obviously, most students are presumed to know these things already. It's our presumptions that most often get us in trouble.
I keep saying that we're all the same, and yet something's weird. That's the crux of it. What's fundamentally weird is that, as we all give ourselves to our respective, respectful hyphenated-American studies, we forget what everyone knew and said before honesty became politically incorrect. The great consolation of every hyphenated-American who arrives bewildered on these shores is that, to put it baldly, at least he's not black.
He doesn't know any blacks. He's never heard of black doctors. He doesn't know what Hyde Park is. He's barely heard of racial equality, for all the spew about international workers' solidarity that's been drummed into him if he's Polish, as my people are. For many hyphenated white people I know, being any kind of white means, before anything, being not black. A good Pole would sooner go back to Poland than imitate a black man in any recognizable way. And he might try to punch me back to Poland if I remind him that "Slav" is the root of the word "slave"--no matter that most blacks don't know that. All this denial, projection, and tragedy is deep in the roots of America, and when we pretend it's not so, we're just being silly.
On the other hand, being black, back when I was in high school, came down to a comparable sense of being not white: not Beaver and Wally, not wasted away to pasty gray skin and soul. To sum up the two stereotypes quickly, being black, back when I started thinking about this stuff, meant being shiftless and spontaneous (so much so that blacks must be controlled), and being white meant being a walking, robo-beeping dead person. Young white people wear blacks' shoes and styles in order to look alive. Black people wear whites' shoes and styles, the styles people get buried in, in order to make a living.
These stereotypes, as my Silver Anniversary Gala illustrates, are idiotic. But they show how we don't--can't--live in autonomous majority and minority cultures. African American culture, whatever it is, is defined in essential parts by its divergences from perceived white culture. White culture, whatever it is, is defined in essential parts by its distinctiveness from perceived black culture. If I'm feeling lazy, I feel like a no-good . . . and I get the hell out of bed. Or I don't, and suspect what I am. An old friend of mine--blond, blue-eyed--years ago was bent on self-destruction, and he found buying drinks and friends in south-side blues bars to be a most efficient, direct route to doom. One of his playmates said admiringly, "I gotta hand it to you, man, you want to be a nigger worse than any white man I ever knowed!" What did he mean?
What is black culture? What's white? Whatever else they are, if anything, they're two snakes eating each other's tails, forming a circle. Neither is itself but with its other. And all told, I'm coming to think that neither needs to mean beans to anyone with other things to think about. That was the final haunting I took home from the museum gala, which came into my heart while I watched a crowd of elegantly dressed men and women do the power glide.
It's a dance step everyone does in sync. I first heard of the power glide at my reunion, the night before. Feeling at this stage of my life much less like a half-dead honkie than I ever had in high school, I'd staggered out to the dance floor to join in. I never did figure out what they were doing, and didn't have as much fun as I tried to look like I was, and stopped before the music did, and nobody cared.
Tonight, it's a little different. The fast beat of the music is banging around the high railings and banners and F-104 Starfighter above the museum's main entrance where we dance. Above it all, a vertiginous lintel scriven with names of dead white men tops the lobby walls, and trails around the far curves of the museum wing toward the other large wings, stretching the long dead names entirely around the huge museum ceiling. I don't recognize a lot of the names, I suppose because it took so many, who are so long gone. I look back to the dance floor. The women are all in sync, mostly dressed to kill. The men are too, though there's fewer of them. Like a Broadway chorus, they're lined in ranks of ten or a dozen people to a row, lots of rows, tapping, clapping, dipping and spinning to one time, all in step. A couple of minutes into the music, John runs out to join the front line, his ascot flapping loose over his shoulder, the gold braids on his sleeves sparkling like the ladies' dresses. He dips and claps and swerves to the beat with all the others.
Where the hell did he ever learn to do that? How did he hear of it? But it's not so surprising, as it turns out. Traveling can be an awful lot like arriving.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Madeleine Avirov.
A caption on screen reads "Nam Kiwanuka, @namshine."
Then, it changes to "Observations from a blue-eyed Ojibway."
Nam says HUMOUR CAN GO PLACES, SAY THINGS
THAT ARE OTHERWISE OFTEN BEYOND
AUTHOR AND PLAYWRIGHT DREW
HAYDEN TAYLOR DOES JUST THAT IN
HIS MOST RECENT COLLECTION OF
THE BEST OF, FUNNY, YOU
DON'T LOOK LIKE ONE,
EXPLORES THE CONTOURS OF BEING
MIXED-RACE, OF INTERRACIAL
RELATIONSHIPS, AND THE
COMPLEXITY OF FEELING CAUGHT
BETWEEN TWO WORLDS.
DREW HAYDEN TAYLOR JOINS US NOW.
A picture of the book appears briefly on screen. The cover features a picture of Drew posing outside a teepee.
Drew is in his late forties, clean-shaven, with short blond hair. He's wearing a gray shirt with a native design.
Nam says WELCOME.
Drew says BUENOS DIAS, COMO ESTAS.
Nam says WE'RE ALREADY LAUGHING.
SO, IT'S GOING TO BE A VERY
WE'RE GONNA SPEND THE NEXT HALF
HOUR TALKING ABOUT THE BOOK,
BUT WHY DID YOU FEEL AT THIS
POINT IN YOUR CAREER TO RELEASE
A COLLECTION OF YOUR ESSAYS?
The caption changes to "Drew Hayden Taylor. Author 'The best of funny, you don't look like one.'"
Then, it changes again to "Greatest hits."
Drew says WELL, THIS BOOK IS A COLLECTION
OF FOUR EARLIER VOLUMES OF
FUNNY, YOU DON'T LOOK LIKE ONE
AND I WROTE THESE AT A TIME WHEN
THE EXPLORATION OF VARIOUS
NATIVE TOPICS AND VARIOUS
NATIVES ISSUES WAS COMING TO THE
AND ONE OF THEM BEING THE
CONCEPT OF IDENTITY.
AND HAVING GROWN UP ON THE
RESERVE LOOKING THE WAY I DO,
AND THEN COMING INTO THE CITY
WHERE THE DOMINANT POPULATION
HAD--HAS A PERCEPTION OF WHAT
NATIVE PEOPLE LOOK AND ACT LIKE,
AND THE FACT THAT I DIDN'T
BELONG--I DIDN'T FIT INTO THAT
PERCEPTION, IT ALLOWED ME THE
UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY BACK THEN IN
THE '90S AND EARLY 2000S TO
WRITE ABOUT IDENTITY AND THE
PERCEPTION OF NATIVE PEOPLE, POP
CULTURE, ALL THESE DIFFERENT
AND IT WAS A REALLY BIZARRE
THE VERY FIRST ONE I REALLY,
REALLY TACKLED WAS CALLED
"PRETTY LIKE A WHITE BOY."
BECAUSE A WHOLE SERIES OF
ISSUES--OKA HAD JUST HAPPENED
AND--PEOPLE WERE TALKING
ABOUT NATIVE PEOPLE BUT
OFTENTIMES NOT IN THE MOST
POSITIVE WAY AND IN THE MOST
SO, I JUST WENT HOME ONE NIGHT
AFTER AN ENCOUNTER WITH A TAXI
DRIVER; I SAT AT MY COMPUTER;
AND I DID SOMETHING I VERY
I NEVER WRITE AT NIGHT BECAUSE
MY MIND GETS GOING AND GOING AND
GOING AND IT GETS TOUGH FOR ME
TO SLEEP, BUT I HAD ALL THESE
THINGS IN MY HEAD.
I SAT DOWN; I JUST--IF YOU'LL
PARDON THE EXPRESSION--VOMITED
OUT 54 LINES OF ANNOYANCE,
ANGER, OBSERVATION INTO ONE
I REMEMBER ON MY COMPUTER AT
THAT TIME, ONE PAGE WAS 54
AND I WOULD START IT, ...RANT.
END IT, RANT...
NO STRUCTURE, WHATEVER.
WENT TO BED, GOT UP THE NEXT
MORNING, READ IT OVER AND
THOUGHT, "THERE'S ACTUALLY
IT HAS NO STRUCTURE, NEEDS TO BE
PUT TOGETHER, AND FILLED IN."
AND I ENDED UP SPENDING ABOUT A
WEEK WORKING ON IT, AND IT ENDED
UP BEING "PRETTY LIKE A WHITE
BOY" WHICH IS ONE OF THE THINGS
I'M MOST KNOWN FOR
20 YEARS LATER.
IT'S BEEN ANTHOLOGIZED TO DEATH;
IT'S TAUGHT IN THE HIGH SCHOOLS
AND UNIVERSITIES BECAUSE IT'S AN
EXPLORATION OF IDENTITY, RIGHT?
MAINLY MY STANDARD JOKE BEING,
"I'M HALF OJIBWAY, HALF
CAUCASIAN, SO TECHNICALLY THAT
MAKES ME AN 'OCCASION'."
OR AS I LIKE TO SAY, "SPECIAL
OCCASION, IF NOT A MEMORABLE
WE'RE GONNA TALK ABOUT THAT
ESSAY IN A LITTLE BIT BECAUSE I
ALSO CAN IDENTITY, AS YOU CAN
Nam says BUT DURING THE TIME THAT YOU
STARTED WRITING THE ESSAYS AND
NOW, HOW MUCH HAS CHANGED OR HOW
LITTLE HAS CHANGED BETWEEN
CANADA AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLES,
Drew says I THINK THERE'S--I THINK THERE'S
MUCH MORE OF A BROADER
ACCEPTANCE OF THE--THE MANY
DIFFERENT FACETS OF THE NATIVE
I REMEMBER BACK THEN IN THE
'90S, THEY WERE DOING A
PRODUCTION OF--I THINK IT WAS
THE ECSTASY OF RITA JOE
AND I REMEMBER I WENT UP TO GIVE
A LECTURE, AND A LOT OF THE
ACTORS UP THERE, SOME OF THEM
NATIVE ACTORS, WERE COMMENTING
THAT THE DIRECTOR ALL WANTED
THEM TO DYE THEIR HAIR BLACK.
AND I JUST REMEMBER BEING VERY,
AND I SORT WALKED IN AND THE
DIRECTOR WAS IN MY LECTURE.
AND I STARTED TALKING ABOUT
THE--THE MULTIFACETED DIMENSION
OF THE ABORIGINAL COMMUNITY.
AND I THINK--I WAS TOLD
AFTERWARDS THAT HE SORT OF
DROPPED THAT REQUEST.
SO, THERE HAS BEEN PROGRESS ON
ONE LEVEL, BUT THERE IS STILL
THIS ANNOYING LITTLE BIT
OF--I'LL SAY IGNORANCE ON--ON A
NUMBER OF DIFFERENT ASPECTS OF
SO, WITH SOMETHING LIKE THIS
WHERE I APPROACH POLITICALLY
VOLATILE TOPICS IN A HUMOROUS
AND IN SOME CASES
TONGUE-IN-CHEEK WAY, I THINK IT
SORT OF HELPS BUILD THAT BRIDGE
BETWEEN ISSUES THAT ARE
IMPORTANT TO US AND ISSUES THAT
THE DOMINANT CULTURE SHOULD BE
Nam says WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BIGGEST
MISCONCEPTION THAT PEOPLE HAVE
ABOUT INDIGENOUS CULTURE?
Drew says OH, THERE'S A WHOLE BUNCH OF THEM.
ONE IS THE FACT THAT--IT'S
IT'S A--IT'S A CONTRADICTORY
ONE IS THAT THERE'S SO MUCH
GOVERNMENT MONEY BEING PUMPED
INTO NATIVE COMMUNITIES ALL THE
THAT WE'RE ALL RICH; WE'RE ALL
WEALTHY; WE DON'T PAY INCOME
TAX; ALL THESE DIFFERENT THINGS.
YET, ON THE OTHER HAND, THERE'S
THIS OTHER PERCEPTION THAT WE'RE
ALL POVERTY STRICKEN AND, YOU
KNOW, LIVING TRAGIC EXISTENCES.
AND BOTH ARE INCREDIBLY
I LIVE ON MY RESERVE; I PAY
A VAST MAJORITY OF NATIVE PEOPLE
IN TODAY'S SOCIETY BOTH ON AND
OFF THE RESERVE PAY INCOME TAX.
AND THERE ARE--WHAT IS THERE?
330 NATIVE COMMUNITIES ACROSS
CANADA--AN ODD NUMBER LIKE
THAT--AND I GET ASKED ABOUT
THIS, AND I ALWAYS TALK ABOUT
YOU TAKE 330 RANDOM SMALL TOWNS
ALL ACROSS CANADA, JUST PICK
THEM OUT, AND YOU'LL RUN A
SPECTRUM FROM POVERTY STRICKEN
TO MIDDLE CLASS AND WELL OFF.
AND IT'S THE SAME WITH NATIVE
MY RESERVE IS FAIRLY MIDDLE
SOME RESERVES ARE POVERTY
AND SO, IT'S SORT OF EDUCATING
THE PUBLIC THAT THERE'S AGAIN
THAT BROAD SPECTRUM.
Nam says AND WHO SHOULD EDUCATE?
DO YOU THINK IT'S THE MEDIA?
LIKE, YOU KNOW, WHY IS THIS...
Drew says OH, EVERYBODY.
EVERYBODY IS RESPONSIBLE FOR
Nam says MM HMM.
Drew says I DO MY BIT THROUGH WRITING,
MEDIA DOES IT BIT--DOES ITS BIT.
YOU KNOW, PEOPLE IN THE STREET
TELLING STORIES OR TALKING ABOUT
NATIVE PEOPLE SHOULD DO THEIR BIT.
EDUCATION IS A RESPONSIBILITY OF
EVERYBODY, NOT JUST A HANDFUL.
Nam says AND DURING--LOOKING BACK IN THE
BOOK, ARE ANY TOPICS THAT
YOU'VE--HAD A COMPLETE 180 ON,
THAT YOU THINK YOU APPROACH
The caption changes to "Aboriginal like me."
Drew says OH, THAT'S REALLY INTERESTING.
I'VE NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT THAT.
I THINK THERE'S MORE INTERESTING
TOPICS THAT HAVE COME UP THAT
NEED TO BE EXPLORED.
WHETHER I'VE DONE A 180 ON SOME
OF THEM, I'M NOT SURE.
THERE'S COMPLICATED STUFF THAT
I--I HAVE TROUBLE DEALING WITH
THAT I DON'T KNOW WHAT MY
I ENVY PEOPLE WHO--WHO KNOW
WHERE THEY STAND IMMEDIATELY.
LIKE A GOOD EXAMPLE IS WHAT'S
HAPPENING--I THINK IN--I THINK
IT'S KAHNAWAKE WHERE THEY'RE
GOING THROUGH THE PROCESS OF
KICKING NON-NATIVE PEOPLE OFF
THE RESERVE WHO HAVE MARRIED
AND THEY'RE SAYING, "IT'S OUR
RIGHT TO DO THIS; YOU CAN KICK
THEM OFF," ALL THAT SORT OF
AND IT'S BECOME A DIVISIVE
AND I CAN SEE BOTH SIDES.
AND I AM SITTING THERE GOING, "I
CAN SEE BOTH SIDES."
I WANT TO BE ALL WELCOMING
'CAUSE THERE'S--A LOT OF MY
RELATIVES HAVE MARRIED
NON-NATIVE PEOPLE, AND THEY'VE
BEEN WELCOMED INTO THE
BUT ALSO I CAN SEE THE COMMUNITY
WANTING TO SORT OF MAINTAIN
THEIR CULTURE; THEIR STANDARD.
SO, IT'S--THERE ARE TOPICS THAT
ARE VERY, VERY DIFFICULT
TO--SORT OF FOR ME TO SAY, "THIS
IS RIGHT; THIS IS WRONG."
AND AS WE GET--YOU KNOW, TIME
PROGRESSES, NEW ISSUES ARE
STARTING TO ASSERT THEMSELVES.
RIGHT NOW, ONE OF THE
INTERESTING THINGS THAT'S COME
UP IS THE CONCEPT OF--HAVE YOU
EVER HEARD OF THE TERM "SKIRT
Nam says NO.
Drew says IN A LOT OF TRADITIONAL
CEREMONIES, ESPECIALLY FOR
WOMEN, THERE'S A--THERE'S...A
WAY YOU SHOULD DRESS.
YOU SHOULD WEAR LONG SKIRTS,
ANKLE LENGTH, AND HAVE A--JUST
A--YOU KNOW, IT'S A PROTOCOLS.
AND IN SOME SITUATIONS, SOME
WOMEN SHOW UP IN SHORTS, IN
JEANS, WHATEVER, AND SOME OF THE
ELDERS HAVE--AS THE TITLE
SUGGESTS, "SKIRT SHAMING."
THEM--HAVE CHASTISED THEM FOR
DRESSING INAPPROPRIATELY, HAVE
NOT ALLOWED THEM TO PARTICIPATE,
HAVE EXCLUDED THEM, HAVE
PUBLICLY EMBARRASSED THEM IN
THAT PARTICULAR SITUATION
BECAUSE THEY'RE NOT WEARING THE
AND I THINK--THAT'S AN ARTICLE
I'M WORKING ON RIGHT NOW.
Nam says THAT WOULD BE VERY INTERESTING
SO, I WANNA TALK ABOUT YOUR
ESSAY THAT WE WERE TALKING ABOUT
BEFORE, AND THEN I WANNA READ AN
EXCERPT FROM IT.
DREW SAYS OK.
Nam says AND YOU WRITE...
A quote appears on screen, under the title "Pretty like a white boy." The quote reads "Yes, I'm afraid it's true. The author happens to be a card-carrying Indian. Once you get past the aforementioned eyes, the fair skin, the light brown hair and noticeable lack of cheek bones, there lies the heart and spirit of an Ojibway storyteller. 'Honest Injun,' or as the more politically correct term may be, 'honest Aboriginal.'"
Quoted from Drew Hayden Taylor, "The best of funny, you don't look like one" (2016).
Nam says HOW MANY TIMES IN YOUR LIFE
WOULD YOU SAY YOU'VE BEEN TOLD
THAT YOU DON'T LOOK ABORIGINAL?
Drew says OH MY GOD, I JUST CAN'T GET INTO IT.
EVEN AMONGST NATIVE PEOPLE.
Nam says MM HMM.
Drew says I WAS AT A--I WAS AT A WRITING
WORKSHOP IN WINNIPEG.
AND THERE WERE THREE NATIVE
THERE WAS ME THE PLAYWRIGHT;
THERE WAS A LOCAL POET; AND A
AND WE ALL GOT UP, AND WE DID
OUR LECTURES, AND THEN WE ALL
WENT TO THREE TABLES, AND WE
ROTATED WHERE WE DID SPECIFIC
DISCUSSIONS OF OUR WORK AND THEN
OPENED UP FOR QUESTIONS.
AND I REMEMBER I WAS AT THIS ONE
TABLE, AND I WAS TALKING, AND
THERE WAS THIS COUPLE AT THE END
OF THE TABLE--NATIVE COUPLE--AND
THEY WERE SITTING SIDE BY SIDE,
AND THEY WERE WHISPERING TO EACH
AND I KEPT TALKING THEN I OPENED
IT UP FOR QUESTION.
AND THE MAN PUT HIS HAND UP AND
SAID, "SORRY, I HAVE A--MY
YOU SAID YOU WERE NATIVE?"
AND I WENT, "YES."
"AND THAT YOU LIVE ON A
AND I WENT, "YES."
"AND THAT YOU HAVE A STATUS
"CAN I SEE IT?"
Drew says SO, I TOOK OUT MY STATUS CARD; I
PASSED IT TO HIM.
HE AND HIS PARTNER ARE LOOKING
AT IT AND THEY HAND IT BACK, AND
THEY SAID, "YOU KNOW, WE WERE
TRYING TO FIGURE THIS OUT.
WE THOUGHT MAYBE IT WAS ONE OF
THESE RESERVE ADOPTION THINGS
WHERE YOU'RE SOME WHITE PERSON
ADOPTED BY A NATIVE FAMILY OR
Nam says BY ANGELINA JOLIE.
Drew says THERE YOU GO.
Nam says OR MADONNA.
Drew says OR MADONNA.
Nam says OK, I'M A PERSON WHO'S
MIXED-RACE, WHEN I GO BACK HOME,
EVERYONE'S ALWAYS TELLING ME
WHAT I'M NOT.
Drew says YEAH.
Nam says THEY SAID I'M JAMAICAN; THEY SAY
MZUNGU IS LIKE THE N WORD, BUT
IT MEANS "WHITE."
AND THE WAY THEY SAY IT, IT'S
LIKE--THEY OBVIOUSLY KNOW THAT
YOU'RE NOT WHITE.
Drew says IN OJIBWAY IT'S "ZHAAGNAASH."
IT MEANS "WHITE PEOPLE."
Nam says YEAH SO, THEY'LL SAY EVERYTHING
THAT I AM NOT.
AND THEY TELL ME--AND IF I SAY,
"I'M AFRICAN; I'M UGANDAN."
THEY'RE LIKE, "NO, YOU'RE NOT."
DO YOU EVER GET INSULTED BY THAT?
Drew says NO, NOT ANYMORE.
LIKE, I'VE REACHED A CERTAIN
POINT IN MY CAREER WHERE MOST
PEOPLE KNOW ME, KNOW MY WORK,
AND KNOW THAT I SPECIFICALLY
DEAL IN NATIVE ISSUES.
OCCASIONALLY, WHEN SOMEBODY'S
ANGRY WITH ME OR UPSET OR
WHATEVER, THEY OFTEN SAY,
"YOU'RE NOT NATIVE; YOU'RE NOT
BUT IT'S LIKE, YOU KNOW--AS I
SAID, I LIVE ON THE RESERVE; I
LIVE IN MY MOTHER'S HOUSE.
I GREW UP EATING BOLOGNA AND
I JUST LIKE--I REFER TO THE
TERM--I DON'T KNOW IF YOU CAME
ACROSS THIS IN THE BOOK--"AAA,
ABORIGINAL ANCESTRY ASSESSORS."
AND IT'S LIKE WHAT KIND OF
CREDENTIAL, WHAT KIND OF
UNDERGRADUATE WORK DO YOU
Nam says THEY SHOULD BE TESTING YOUR
HOW PURE IS THE BLOOD?
Drew says I KNOW, I READ--I KEEP
READING ABOUT THAT, AND THAT
WOULD SCARE ME.
Nam says DOES--'CAUSE I KNOW I'VE BEEN IN
SITUATIONS WHERE PEOPLE WILL SAY
THINGS LIKE DEROGATORY THINGS
AND THEN I'LL SAY, "WAIT A
MINUTE, I'M AFRICAN."
THEY'RE LIKE, "OH, YOU DON'T
HAVE YOU EVER FOUND YOURSELF IN
Drew says OH, CONSTANTLY.
Nam says--KINDA LIKE A CLOAKING
DEVICE WHERE PEOPLE...
Drew says I OFTEN SAY, "I COULD BE A GREAT
UNDERCOVER AGENT FOR
THE AFN OR WHATEVER."
Nam says YEAH, WELL PEOPLE JUST HAVE TO
THINK BEYOND--LIKE, LOOK BEYOND
THE COLOUR, RIGHT?
Drew says WELL, I ALWAYS TELL PEOPLE,
"EVERY OTHER CELL IS NATIVE."
BECAUSE YOU'RE HALF AND HALF.
Nam says I WANTED TO READ THIS...
Drew says BUT SOME OF MY BEST
FRIENDS ARE WHITE.
Nam says OH YEAH.
Drew says THEY'RE KIND, GENTLE
PEOPLE WITH INTERESTING
LITERATURES AND EXCELLENT
CUISINE AND HAD BEEN MALIGNED
FAR TOO LONG.
Nam says I WANTED TO READ THIS EXCERPT
'CAUSE I FOUND IT REALLY
AND YOU WRITE:
"WHILE IT IS TRUE BEING BORN
NATIVE IN THIS COUNTRY IS A
POLITICAL ACT IN ITSELF, THAT'S
ABOUT THE EXTENT OF IT FOR ME."
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?
Drew says WELL, BEING BORN NATIVE IN
CANADA WHETHER YOU LOOK LIKE ME
OR NOT, OFTEN TIMES WHAT YOU
DO--EVERYTHING YOU DO IS A
POLITICAL STATEMENT IN ITSELF.
WHAT YOU EAT, WHERE YOU LIVE,
WHO YOU DATE ARE ALL POLITICAL
AND AT SOME POINT, I HAVE TO
LIKE STEP AWAY FROM THAT GOING
SOMETIMES, YOU KNOW, I WANT AN
IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH A
POLITICAL STATEMENT OR WHATEVER.
IT IS WHAT IT IS.
AND, YOU KNOW, I WEAR--I HAVE--I
HAVE TWO INDIAN MOTORCYCLE
T-SHIRTS, AND I WROTE A NOVEL
ABOUT AN INDIAN MOTORCYCLE, AND
PEOPLE COMMENT ON, YOU KNOW,
THAT "YOU REALIZE THAT'S
CULTURAL APPROPRIATION; YOU'RE
MAKING MONEY OFF OUR NAME."
AND IT'S EVEN--NOT EVEN--I'VE
GONE THROUGH THE WHOLE THING.
AND I SAY, "WELL, LOOK AT IT
THIS WAY, I'M WEARING IT
NOW, LOOK--I TELL THEM,
DECONSTRUCT WHAT IRONY IS AND
DECONSTRUCT WHAT I'M DOING, AND
YOU'LL SEE THE--WHAT I'M DOING.
AND IT'S SO FUNNY, AND SO MANY
PEOPLE CAN'T ACTUALLY
DECONSTRUCT THE WORD "IRONY."
SO YES, THERE'S A LOT OF STUFF
BEING BORN NATIVE IN THIS
COUNTRY IS A POLITICAL STATEMENT
SO I OFTEN SAY, "I'M POLITICAL
BY BIRTH, NOT BY CHOICE."
SO--AND WHAT I DO, WHERE I GO,
WHAT I SAY SOMETIMES HAS
POLITICAL RAMIFICATIONS WHEN
IT'S NOT INTENDED, BUT, YOU
KNOW, BEING--BEING NATIVE IN
THIS COUNTRY IS FULL OF CHOICES;
IT'S FULL OF DECISIONS; AND FULL
Nam says WELL, I WANNA READ ANOTHER
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK.
Drew says IF YOU MUST.
Nam says IF I MUST.
WELL, THIS IS--OK.
Another quote from the book appears on screen, under the title "Caught in-between." The quote reads "While attending an Aboriginal academic conference, I happened to be part of an informal gathering where a friend of mine, in conversation with several other scholarly Aboriginals, expressed her confusion over white people's –or those we call the Colour Challenged- die-hard refusal to accept guilt or culpability for what has happened in the five hundred and sex years of colonialism. Basically, but severely paraphrased, she said, 'when are white people going to accept their guilt for what their ancestors have done? I don't think they seriously understand their responsibility.' Somewhere deep inside me, I could feel DNA picking sides."
Drew says ALSO PIGMENT-DENIED.
Nam laughs and says PIGMENT...
Drew says NOW, THAT LAST LINE,
IT SOUNDS LIKE
IT'S TONGUE-IN-CHEEK, BUT IS
THERE A PART OF YOU THAT FEELS
LIKE YOU HAVE TO PICK A SIDE?
THE THING WITH ME IS I GREW UP
WITH MY MOTHER AND MY MOTHER'S
FAMILY ON THE RESERVE.
I NEVER KNEW MY FATHER.
SO, I WAS RAISED CULTURALLY
OJIBWAY AND ANISHINAABE.
I HAVE NO CONNECTION TO MY WHITE
HALF OTHER THAN--OTHER THAN THE
PHYSICAL RAMIFICATIONS OF THE
BODY SITTING IN FRONT OF YOU.
SO YES, I SOMETIMES I WONDER
ABOUT THAT, BUT I--MY
ALLEGIANCE, MY KNOWLEDGE--LIKE,
I WRITE COMPLETELY INDIGENOUS
STORIES BECAUSE THAT IS THE
KNOWLEDGE I DO.
AND WHILE SOMETIMES I SIT
THERE--AS I SAID, I OFTEN SEE
BOTH SIDES OF THESE ISSUES.
The caption changes to "Picking a side."
Nam says MM HMM.
Drew says BUT I AM WHO I AM.
BUT I DID ACTUALLY EXPLORE THIS
TOPIC IN A PLAY I WROTE CALLED
WORLD CREATED BY A DRUNKEN
WHERE IT'S A STORY OF A
MIXED-BLOOD PERSON LIKE ME
LIVING IN AN APARTMENT IN
THERE'S A KNOCK ON THE DOOR; HE
OPENS IT; AND IT'S A BROTHER HE
NEVER KNEW HE HAD WHO IS WHITE
FROM HIS FATHER WHO HAD
DISAPPEARED BEFORE HE WAS BORN.
AND THE STORY PROGRESSES WHERE
THE BROTHER HAD TRACKED HIM DOWN
BECAUSE THEIR FATHER IS DYING OF
CHRONIC RENAL FAILURE AND NEEDS
Nam says WOW.
Drew says AND SO, NOBODY IN THE IMMEDIATE
FAMILY IS ACCEPTABLE, SO THE
FATHER CONFESSED IN INFIDELITY,
TOLD THE SON.
THE SON TRACKED--DID ALL THIS
STUFF, TRACKED HIM DOWN, AND NOW
WANTS THE NATIVE BOY TO GIVE A
BLOOD SAMPLE TO SEE IF HE MIGHT
BE ABLE TO DONATE A KIDNEY.
SO, IT BECOMES THIS DISCUSSION
OF WHAT ARE YOUR
Nam says MM HMM.
Drew says LIKE, IF--IF YOU AND ONLY YOU
HAD THE ABILITY TO SAVE A LIFE
FOR ONLY A--A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF
DISCOMFORT, WOULDN'T YOU FEEL
OBLIGATED AS OPPOSED TO BEING
OBLIGATED TO SOMEBODY YOU HAVE
NO CONNECTION TO, WHO ABANDONED YOU.
WOULD YOU FEEL--WOULD YOU FEEL
YOU WERE RESPONSIBLE FOR THAT
SO, AS I SAID, I PLAY--I PLAY
DEVIL'S ADVOCATE WITH THAT, AND
I TRIED TO MAKE IT A 50-50
Nam says DO YOU EVER HAVE ANY RESENTMENT
TO THAT OTHER SIDE OF YOU?
Drew says NO, I GET ASKED THAT, AND I
ALWAYS SAY IT'S HARD TO MISS OR
BE RESENTFUL AGAINST SOMETHING
YOU NEVER HAD.
YOU KNOW, LIFE GOES ON.
I HAD MY GRANDFATHER; I HAD--ONE
OF THE THINGS I LIKE SAYING IS I
COME FROM BOTH A BIG FAMILY AND
A SMALL FAMILY.
I COME FROM A BIG FAMILY BECAUSE
MY MOTHER WAS THE OLDEST OF 14.
WHICH IS WHAT HAPPENED WHEN YOU
DIDN'T HAVE THE INTERNET.
SO, WITH--WITH AUNTS
AND--MARRIAGES, I HAD SOMETHING
LIKE 20 OR 22 AUNTS AND UNCLES.
AND I LOST COUNT AT ABOUT 20 OR
22 FIRST COUSINS.
BUT AT THE SAME TIME, I COME
FROM A SMALL FAMILY.
IT WAS JUST ME AND MY MOTHER.
AND MY MOTHER BLAMES THAT ON THE
FACT THAT WHEN I WAS BORN, I WAS
11 POUNDS 13 OUNCES.
Nam says YOU WERE A BIG KID.
Drew says I LIKE TO THINK BOTH QUALITY AND
Nam says I'VE HAD TWO KIDS; THAT'S A BIG
Drew says I'M TWO KIDS.
ONE GIRLFRIEND SAID, "THAT'S TWO BABIES."
Nam says THAT IS TWO BECAUSE BOTH OF MY
KIDS WERE 5 POUNDS, AND I HAD A
BUT ANYWAY, SO YOUR FRIEND IN
THAT SAME CONVERSATION WE WERE
JUST TALKING ABOUT SAID IT'S
IMPOSSIBLE FOR INDIGENOUS PEOPLE
OR FOR ANY MINORITY GROUP TO BE
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THAT?
Drew says OH NOW, I WROTE THAT A LONG TIME AGO.
Nam says YEAH.
Drew says AND IT'S LIKE I'VE LEARNED A LOT
IT'S THE WHOLE CONCEPT THAT--AND
AGAIN, I DON'T KNOW HOW TRUE
I HAVE A LOT OF FRIENDS WHO ARE
MY PARTNER'S ACADEMIC.
AND THIS WHOLE DECISION THAT
LIKE RACISM IS ACTUALLY A SOCIAL
AND ECONOMIC THING RATHER THAN
AN ACTUAL RACIAL THING.
IT'S LIKE--YOU KNOW, ONE OF THE
THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT HUMOUR IS
RACISM WORKS FROM THE TOP DOWN,
YOU KNOW, THE POWER STRUGGLE, A
WHEREAS, COMEDY USUALLY WORKS
FROM THE BOTTOM UP.
I CAN--I OR PEOPLE OF A LOWER
SOCIAL ECONOMIC GROUP CAN MAKE
FUN OF THOSE HIGHER UP THAN US,
HIGHER UP THE SOCIAL POLITICAL
Nam says THE PEOPLE IN POWER.
Drew says EXACTLY.
Nam says YEAH.
Drew says WHEREAS, THEY CANNOT MAKE FUN OF
PEOPLE BELOW THEM BECAUSE THAT'S
SO--OR IF IT IS SO-CALLED
SO, THE VIEW OF RACISM IS SORT
OF--IT GOT REALLY KIND OF
INTERESTING BECAUSE AGAIN AS I
SAID, IT'S MORE OF AN ECONOMIC
OR A SOCIOPOLITICAL THING THAN
AN ACTUAL RACIAL THING.
BUT, ON THE OTHER HAND, I DO
KNOW PEOPLE WHO JUST HATE ONE
RACE, HATES ANOTHER RACE BECAUSE
OF THAT RACE.
SO, IT IS A VERY, VERY MURKY
Nam says AND ONE OF THE ESSAYS ALSO
TOUCHES ON THE POLITICS OF
Drew says OH YEAH.
Nam says IS THAT STILL A TABOO IN
The caption changes to "Colour-blind love?"
Drew says NOT REALLY.
I MEAN, I'M A PRODUCT OF THAT.
AND NO, NOT SO MUCH ANYMORE.
I MEAN, THEY STILL HEAR ABOUT
STUFF ABOUT--I HAD A FRIEND WHO
WAS DATING A NATIVE--SOMEBODY
WAS HALF DATING A NATIVE WOMAN
WHO THEN THE NATIVE WOMEN BROKE
UP WITH HIM BECAUSE SHE WANTED
TO HAVE COMPLETELY NATIVE
CHILDREN WHICH, YOU KNOW,
TO HELP PRESERVE THE BLOODLINES,
THAT KIND OF THING.
THAT SOMETIMES HAPPENS.
BUT I DON'T THINK IT'S AS MUCH
AN ISSUE ANYMORE AS IT ONCE WAS.
THE INTERESTING THING ABOUT ALL
THAT WHOLE THING IS HOW--WHAT I
FIND REALLY INTERESTING, HAVING
TRAVELLED THE WORLD, RIGHT--I'VE
BEEN--I SPENT SOME TIME IN
I SPENT SOME--A LOT OF TIME IN
INDIA, AND--AND PLACES LIKE
MEXICO AND STUFF LIKE THAT,
WHERE THERE'S THIS BIG--NOT
INTEREST, THERE'S THIS BIG, I
GUESS INTEREST, IN TERMS OF
LOOKING--TRYING TO LOOK AT
LIGHT-SKINNED AS POSSIBLE.
YOU GO TO INDIA, ALL THE BIG
BOLLYWOOD STARS ARE
YOU GO TO A LOT OF THE RESORTS,
THEY HAVE WHITENING CREAMS IN
Nam says YEAH, THAT CAUSE CANCER.
Drew says YOU CAN GO TO--YOU CAN GO TO A
SPA AND HAVE A WHITENING THING.
AND YET AS--AS CANADIAN NATIVE
PEOPLE AND GOING TO THESE
PLACES--WE'RE GOING TO THE BEACH
TRYING TO GET AS DARK AS
SAME IN MEXICO, RIGHT, 'CAUSE
ALL THE BIG MEXICAN STARS ARE
SO, I ALWAYS FOUND THAT REALLY
AND WORKING ON SOMETHING--YOU
KNOW, I USED TO WRITE
NORTH OF 60.
AND ALL MY FRIENDS WERE NATIVE
AND I WOULD GO--THEY WOULD
INVITE ME TO GO OUT TO
I WOULD GO TO THESE AUDITIONS
AND I WOULD SHOW UP TO AUDITION
FOR THE ROLE OF A 16TH CENTURY
MOHAWK WARRIOR GOING--LOOKING
Nam says AND THEY'RE LIKE, "WHO?"
Drew says AND...
Nam says "YOU'RE IN THE WRONG PLACE, BUDDY."
Drew says AND SO YEAH, IT USED TO--THERE'S
A FLIP SIDE HERE.
IN THE NATIVE--IN NATIVE ARTS,
THE DARKER YOU ARE WAS BETTER, RIGHT?
SO, I GAVE UP WANTING TO BE AN
ACTOR AND DECIDED I'LL DO THE
Nam says AND SO, ONE--ANOTHER TOPIC THAT
YOU TOUCHED IN THE ESSAY, YOU
WERE ON A RADIO SHOW, AT A RADIO
SHOW, AND THE HOST SAID TO YOU,
"WHY IS IT THAT NATIVE MEN"...
Drew says "WHY IT IS ALL NATIVE MEN WHEN
THEY REACH A CERTAIN LEVEL"...
Nam says "WHEN THEY REACH
A CERTAIN LEVEL"...
Drew says "OF SUCCESS AND AFFLUENCE
ALWAYS END UP DATING AND
MARRYING WHITE WOMEN?"
Nam says "WHITE WOMEN, YEAH.
I MEAN, IN THE BLACK CULTURE
TOO, PEOPLE HAVE BEEN ASKED THE
IS THAT A VALID QUESTION OR...
Drew says WELL, I GUESS IT IS.
Nam says YEAH.
Drew says YOU LOOK AT--YEAH, I'D HAVE TO
SAY IT IS A VALID QUESTION.
AND OF COURSE, LIKE, THIS IS ON
LIVE RADIO AND ALL OF A SUDDEN I
AM NOW RESPONSIBLE FOR SPEAKING
FOR ALL NATIVE MEN IN CANADA.
AND I STARTED LIKE HEMMING AND
HAWING 'CAUSE I'M TAKEN--I'M OFF
I'VE GOT MY CUP OF COFFEE HERE;
I'VE JUST GOTTEN OFF THE PLANE.
AND I STARTED DOING THIS--AGAIN,
THE SOCIALLY ECONOMIC THING
ABOUT, "WELL, YOU KNOW, THERE
ARE MORE SUCCESSFUL WHITE PEOPLE
THAN NATIVE PEOPLE AND MORE
SUCCESSFUL, I GUESS, NATIVE MEN
THAN NATIVE WOMEN, AND YOU
ALWAYS TEND TO END UP DATING
PEOPLE IN YOUR SOCIO-ECONOMIC
AND I JUST GOT REALLY, REALLY
AND SAID, "OR IT COULD BE WHITE
WOMEN ARE JUST EASIER TO FIND IN
AND I JUST REMEMBER--JUST
STARTED TO LOOK AT ME, AND I
JUST SORT OF WENT ON AND TALKED
ABOUT--BUT ONE THING--BUT ONE
THING YOU REALLY HAVE TO
Nam says UH-HUH.
Drew says IS YOU NEVER DATE A WHITE
PERSON AFTER LABOUR DAY.
'CAUSE IT'S NOT EN VOGUE.
Drew says IT'S JUST NOT DONE.
Nam says I DON'T KNOW WHY--I FEEL BAD
ABOUT LAUGHING AT THAT JOKE.
Drew says BUT WE CAN LAUGH AT IT
'CAUSE--'CAUSE WE'RE OPPRESSED.
Nam says WELL, YOU ALSO WRESTLE WITH THE
NOTION THAT BEING SUCCESSFUL AND
BEING INDIGENOUS ARE
IS THAT TRUE?
WHY IS THAT?
Drew says OH NO.
DID I SAY THAT?
Nam says YEAH, IN ONE OF THE ESSAYS.
OH AGAIN, THAT WAS 15 YEARS AGO.
Nam says YEAH.
Drew says IT DEPENDS ON YOUR DEFINITION OF SUCCESS.
Nam says YEAH.
Drew says YOU KNOW, THIS COMING FALL MY
29TH BOOK COMES OUT.
Nam says WOW, CONGRATULATIONS.
Drew says AND I HAVE LECTURED IN ABOUT
18, 19 COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD
ABOUT NATIVE THEATRE, NATIVE
SEXUALITY, NATIVE ARTS, NATIVE
IDENTITY, NATIVE HUMOUR.
ALL THESE DIFFERENT THINGS.
SO, I THINK I'VE REACHED A
CERTAIN LEVEL OF SUCCESS.
I REMEMBER--OK, IT'S COMING BACK
TO ME NOW.
'CAUSE THERE WAS A WHOLE BUNCH
OF DIFFERENT TOPICS ABOUT THAT.
THERE WAS A PERSON WHO ONCE SAID
BACK IN THE, I THINK IT WAS '70S
OR '80S THAT IF YOU HAVE TO BE
POOR--IF YOU HAVE TO--WHO IS
VERY--WHO HAD REACHED A CERTAIN
LEVEL OF AGAIN SUCCESS AND
AFFLUENCE WHO HAD SAID, "IF IN
ORDER TO BE INDIAN, I HAVE TO BE
POOR, THEN I DON'T SEE THE POINT
IN BEING INDIAN."
AND I REMEMBER TALKING WITH THE
WOMAN ON MY RESERVE WHO
BASICALLY--WHEN I WAS TALKING
ABOUT, UM, SOMEBODY WHO HAD
SAID--I THINK IT WAS THE ESSAY
WHERE I TALKED ABOUT THIS
WELL-EDUCATED WOMAN THAT HAD A
PROBLEM WITH ONE OF THE JOKES IN
MY BOOK ON
AND I GOT
A WHOLE BUNCH OF RESPONSES FROM
EDUCATED ACADEMICALLY INCLINED
NATIVE WOMEN TO COMBAT THIS.
AND MY FRIEND BASICALLY SAID,
YOU KNOW, "REAL NATIVE PEOPLE
CAN'T UNDERSTAND THIS--ALL THIS
WEIRD FUNNY TALK ABOUT THIS
AND REAL NATIVE PEOPLE JUST
ARE--YOU KNOW, ARE ACCUSTOMED TO
WORKING WITHIN THE COMMUNITY,
WORKING WITHIN THE LAND, DEALING
NOT WITH ALL THIS HIGHFALUTIN
AND I THINK THAT'S WHAT I WAS
SORT OF TALKING ABOUT.
BUT I THINK THAT PERCEPTION HAS
NOW OFFICIALLY--DOESN'T EXIST.
I MEAN, YOU LOOK AT THE SUCCESS
OF THE INSPIRE AWARDS, WHAT USED
TO BE THE CANADIAN NATIVE ARTS
EDUCATION HAS OFTEN BEEN
REFERRED TO AS THE NEW BUFFALO.
IT IS WHAT IS GOING TO
SURVIVE--WHAT IS GOING TO ALLOW
OUR PEOPLE TO SURVIVE INTO THE
IN FACT, I THINK IT WAS MURRAY
SINCLAIR WHO SAID ABOUT THE TRC
AND THE RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS.
HE SAID, "IT WAS EDUCATION THAT
GOT US INTO THIS MESS, AND IT'S
EDUCATION THAT'S GOING TO GET US
OUT OF THIS MESS."
Nam says SO, I WANNA FINISH THE
CONVERSATION OFF BY ASKING YOU
WHETHER YOU'VE NOTICED A GROWING
SENSE OF PRIDE IN NOT ONLY BEING
ABORIGINAL BUT RESPECT FOR
PEOPLE OF ABORIGINAL DESCENT IN
The caption changes to "tvo.org/current-affairs"
Drew says OH, I THINK SO.
I THINK THE MOVEMENT HAS BEEN
LOOK AT THE SUCCESS OF THE IDLE
OUT OF--OUT OF--I AM GOING--I
WAS GONNA SAY OUT OF NOWHERE;
THAT'S INACCURATE, BUT THE
SUDDEN EXPLOSION OF ABORIGINAL
I PARTICIPATED IN A ROUND DANCE
ON YONGE AND DUNDAS HERE IN
TORONTO, AT VARIOUS MALLS IN
PETERBOROUGH, ALL OVER THE
SEEING THAT KIND OF THING,
MOMENTARY, A FLASH--A FLASH
ROUND DANCE, ENOUGH TO GET
PEOPLE'S ATTENTION BUT NOT
REALLY CAUSING THAT MUCH
DISRUPTION, I THINK WAS
ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT, AND IT
SORT OF HAS WAKENED UP THE
CANADIAN POPULATION TO SOME OF
THE OTHER INTERESTING THING THAT
I FIND SO PROGRESSIVE--I'VE BEEN
TO AUSTRALIA A COUPLE OF TIMES
AND 10 YEARS AGO, 15 YEARS AGO
WHEN I WAS ONCE THERE, I WAS AT
AN INTERNATIONAL THEATRE
AND EVERY MEETING THEY STARTED
UP--THEY STARTED EACH MEETING BY
THANKING THE ABORIGINE NATION
TRIBE ON WHOSE LAND THE
CONFERENCE WAS TAKING PLACE ON.
AND I WAS SITTING THERE GOING,
"WOW, THAT'S INTERESTING; THAT'S
GOOD FOR YOU."
AND I REMEMBER WRITING AN
ARTICLE ABOUT THAT.
AND I CAME BACK, AND NOW
EVERYBODY DOES IT.
I WAS AT SOME FUNCTION
YESTERDAY--I FORGET WHERE I WAS
YESTERDAY, BUT OUT OF HAVING
NOTHING TO DO WITH NATIVE ISSUES
OR WHATEVER, SUDDENLY SOMEBODY
JUST GOT--THE PERSON RUNNING IT
GOT UP AND TALKED ABOUT, YOU
KNOW, "FIRST OF ALL I'D LIKE TO
THANK THE HAUDENOSAUNEE, THE
MISSISSAUGAS CREDIT ON
LAND WE NOW STAND."
AND I JUST--TEN YEARS AGO THAT
WAS UNHEARD OF.
NOW, IT'S--WHAT'S THE TERM?
AND I JUST THOUGHT, "NOW THAT'S
Nam says FANTASTIC.
IT'S BEEN SUCH A PLEASURE
SPEAKING TO YOU.
Drew says OH, YOU SAY THAT TO ALL
The caption changes to "Producer: Colin Ellis, @ColinEllis81"
Nam says WELL I DO.
JUST TO YOU.
BUT YOU'RE GONNA BE BACK
Drew says I'M ALL AQUIVER.
Watch: Observations from a Blue-Eyed Ojibway