Full Blood, Verifiable Native American: A Weird Experience at Trivia Night

In baseball, blood quantum, jacoby ellsbury, joba chamberlain, kyle lohse, stump trivia by Adrienne K.26 Comments

(Jacoby Ellsbury via Boston.com)

Every Wednesday (well, almost every Wednesday) for the past year and a half, a group of my cohort-mates and I have played trivia at an Irish pub in Harvard Square. It’s our weekly tradition, and we’re pretty good. Like we place first, a lot. But that’s just an aside. 😉

Anyway, in the course of our trivia history, there have officially been two questions about Natives, and we have officially gotten both of them wrong. Quite embarrassing, considering we have not one, but two Natives on our six-person team. (The first one was asking which state has the highest number of Natives, and they said the answer was New Mexico, but I still assert it’s Alaska. or Oklahoma.)

The question this week was:  

Name two of the three Native Americans currently playing professional baseball.  

But the announcer added this clarification, “We’re talking full blood, folks. Real, verifiable, Native Americans.” He then repeated the question, adding “full blood” to the description.

As my team looked to me, it took me way too long to think of Jacoby Ellsbury–the athlete crush of many Native women–but then I had no idea about the other two. We ended up putting Shane Victorino of the Phillies, who’s Native Hawaiian (it should count!).

Turns out the other two are Joba Chamberlain (Ho-Chunk), who plays for the Yankees, and Kyle Lohse (Nomlaki) who plays for the Cardinals. 

When the host read the answers, he said, “Ok, so we were looking for two full blood, verifiable Native Americans who are current major league baseball players. And sorry, whoever put ‘Johnny Trueblood’, that doesn’t count. (everyone laughs)” He then gave the correct answers, with tribal affiliations, and moved on.

I was pretty taken aback by the whole exchange. It’s amazing to me how ingrained the blood-quantum narrative is in our society, to the point that it’s perfectly acceptable to differentiate based on blood in a trivia game. I just want to put this in perspective a little bit, so let’s pick a setting where African Americans are sorely underrepresented, like, say, the US Senate. What if the question went like this:

“Name 3 of the 6 African Americans who have been US senators. We’re talking full-blood Black folks guys, real, verifiable, African Americans.” 

Sorry Barack Obama, you wouldn’t count. and then there was the whole “Johnny TrueBlood” comment too–what if someone had just made up a terribly stereotypical and borderline offensive African American name, and put that as an answer? Would the host have read it out loud? Would the audience have laughed?

The hilarious part of all of this is none of the three Native players named are full blood. They’re all mixed. but they are all “real, verifiable” Indians–citizens of their tribal communities.

(Joba and his dad)
 (Kyle Lohse)

Interactions like these make me so angry, because they continue to reinforce the colonial concept of blood quantum (“how much” Indian you are) as the only method of determining a “real” Native person. Blood quantum was introduced by colonial powers as a method of erasing Native people–“breeding out” the Indians until they no longer existed. This is not a concept that comes from within our communities or traditional cultures, and it’s frustrating how much it still dominates conversations in Indian Country. These players are “real” Indians. But, according to Stump trivia, the only “true, verifiable” Indians are full-bloods.

No one in the bar would have looked at our team and realized that there were two Native Americans sitting there, since we’re both light skinned and have light eyes. As long as these conversations continue to dominate the narrative of Native identity, we will never be seen as Indian–despite our cultural, community, and family connections, not to mention tribal citizenship. And that sucks.

  • That really sucks, and you’re completely right. I think it would really help the host if he read this post.

    As a Yankees fan, I was aware of Joba. Obviously I’m no Red Sox fan, but hellloooo Jacoby Ellsbury.

    (Also, you’re probably right about Alaska or Oklahoma. I bet the host was just going by the state with the highest number of members of federally recognized tribes, which is misleading.)

  • I definitely agree with your connections. I’m sure you have been victim to the phrase “Really? How Much?” in response to someone finding out you are Native. At least, this has been my experience. I usually respond with an explanation about how most people don’t even know what Native folks in the U.S. look like, so it is difficult when the whole blood quantum thing comes into play. There is no “scale of Indian-ness”. These conversations I have with people I meet, even with my own boss, usually conclude with an agreement of, “well yes, I guess people do expect to see feathers or something because of the media”, and I feel good because I’ve taught someone something. When confronted, people do accept the fact that some native folks have light skin even if they are “full-blood”(or verified or whatever odd thing they want to call it). It doesn’t mean that people are ever going to look around and recognize Native people in a crowd. And that does suck.

  • In addition, Jacoby is HOT.

  • If you go by US Census data, I actually think it is California that has the largest American Indian population by self identification. I don’t know what that translates into for number of people that are federally recognized, but then again that cycles back into the issue of what does it mean to be “real” Indian.

  • Rob

    The question of which state has the most Natives depends on how you define “Native” and whether you use 2000 data or more recent estimates. A quick glance at various reports suggests California (which would’ve been my guess) was first in 2000. But Oklahoma may have taken the lead recently. Arizona would be a close no. 3 and New Mexico a distant no. 4. Alaska isn’t in the running.

  • B

    We ended up putting Shane Victorino of the Philly Flyers, who’s Native Hawaiian (it should count!).

    Nothing substantive to add here, just a small correction from a Philly-area resident: Shane Victorino plays for the Philadelphia Phillies, not the Flyers (which is the hockey team).

  • @B: oops! I’ve posted a few times about the Flyers, must have been on the brain. I’ll fix it right now!

  • Hi, for African Americans it’s the complete opposite. Regardless of how mixed we are, we are still labeled and seen as just black, especially if we are darker of skin.

    My family and most of my friends have ancestral roots that include African, European and Native American, but many times that part of us is dismissed.

    One day I hope to see all these codes of color disappear and to see everyone call to them and embrace and preserve cultures from everywhere.

  • I totally agree with you but I ave to say that I’m not surprised in the slightest. I’ve been made to feel completely inadequate when I mention my Cherokee heritage simply because I don’t ‘look’ Indian, and can’t draw a family tree of my lineage – never mind that the Cherokee side of my family was irrevocably sundered by both the Trail of Tears and the subsequent ‘civilizing’ of those in the family who chose to stay in the East. I still get told that I should ignore that part of my family because ‘It’s not like you’re a REAL Indian. I mean, you don’t have an Indian name or anything.’ It still hurts, every single time.

  • I find it interesting how you mention how the whole “full blood” thing is used in colonial mindset.

    Thing is, there’s really no such thing as “pure blood” with any ethnic group even outside the US. Best to always go by what the person self-identifies and how much they connect with their own cultural background and/or upbringing rather than mere appearance. In my own country, I did personally experience how hurtful it is when people look down at me or deny my cultural and ethnic background just because I don’t look like that or I’m not “pure blooded”. Unfortunately it seems few people understand this.

  • I think that your community is pretty open minded. My husband is a Native American. I’m not. And his family considers me “that white girl”. I have many other friends who are Native American, since I live near an popular college. Even listening to them, they talk about their own tribes having different rules. Some accept all people with any amount of percent. For others, if you aren’t “full blood/pure blood” you aren’t apart of them. Still, other tribes are okay, as long as you grew up on their reservation. So, really, many times, people are just repeating what others have explained.

  • seems also like there might be something going on with the fascination or trivia-worthiness of Natives playing that quintessential “all american” sport of baseball, with regards to assimilation and such.

  • My apologies – I am actually the person who edited that particular question, and took my language direct from this particular page:
    The actual verbatim question:
    2) Sports Q) There are currently three verifiable full-blooded American Indians active in Major League Baseball. Name two for full credit (+2 for all three). (There have been 50 in the history of MLB)
    I do indeed apologize for the wording of the question, for rather thoughtlessly furthering a hurtful and insensitive concept. Will definitely be more conscientious of this in the future – thanks for pointing it out.

  • Mike, I really appreciate your comment and clarification, thanks so much for letting us know. I think I’ll be sending an email to the Baseball Almanac…

    but really, thanks.

  • I’m not trying to be rude, but speak for yourself. Half is just that HALF. Barack is bi-racial with a white mother so shoving him in the “black” category only on primarily is disrespectful. So before you start preaching that we are all the same we have to see the social implications, and consequences of giving half white children full privileges of people of color. Think about it. In the black community all of the leaders, politicians, celebrities, and high society are all of a brighter hue than the rest of us due to racial mixing, and a preference for whiteness. To whites half-white child is less of a threat than a child who is less white. Whites pass on privileges to their half white children. The issue is that those privileges can only be expressed around the not so white members of that particular group with the ending result being not so positive for the rest of us. I hope that provides a good explanation. There is nothing wrong with being full-blooded so why do folks demonize it? We are not all mixed. The comment wasn’t offensive even if it was a black person.

  • What if someone had just made up a terribly stereotypical and borderline offensive African American name, and put that as an answer? Would the host have read it out loud? Would the audience have laughed?
    In my heart, I say yes.

  • yes, this is hurtful. it seems people who are not identifiable or are not enrolled argue this issue.
    i think it’s different for everyone. 30 years ago, no one wanted to
    be Indian. today, lots of people have an ancestor in truth or not.
    census data states there are 2.4 million natives and about the same
    enrolled; a tiny percentage of approx. 204 million americans. so
    being “native” is more valuable than ever today as it is a dying/blending race.

    to some who are cultural, know some language, practice traditions,
    socialize with natives, are enrolled, know lineage and history it can
    be a tough pill to swallow when someone whips out their CDIB and it
    says 5/253 and has no idea about anything but benefits for school or
    healthcare. i guess, one can only argue for the skin they are in. I
    guarantee you, people continue to be racist against an identifiable
    native in some parts of the country and some lighter skinned/eyed
    natives will never know what that’s like. I wish the best for all as there are hurtful and difficult sides to this coin.

  • I hear you! And I think this is very well-put. I don’t believe that these people realize they are being racist, but that is ridiculous considering the questions they were asking! If you can give me the name of the pub I would totally send one of my infamous letters. Even if it was only for fun, these guys need to hear this… then again, maybe especially since it was for fun.

  • ACP

    Thanks for posting this. I’m sorry that you have that experience and I’ve had ones all too similar. Also, the “how much are you?” questions. It’s hurtful when people make ignorant and oblivious comments just because they haven’t thought about how it might make someone else feel. It’s unfortunate that checking your privilege was not mandated by law!

  • This is the continuation of a posted comment by me “theone”

    Please understand that I am not trying to say “we are all one, there is no substantive difference between us” because I know that to also be bullshit neoliberal multicultural bullshit that obfuscates the issue when it comes to holding oppressors accountable to specific demands for redress from the oppressed and cessation of ongoing oppression.
    I just want you to understand the depth of my disappointment in this language being used yet again and hope you will consider my argument. Also, the fact is that there are millions of people with both well documented (as if that makes it official) Native and African heritage for which your experience and argument is even more hurtful because of the disenfranchisement and disowning they have experienced from organized Native American society in the name of “cultural purity.” Yet another effect of appropriating white supremacist rules and a reason why we should examine the damage done by our efforts in the “Oppression Olympics
    The game of, “my genocide was worse than yours” robs all oppressed people of agency by putting them in a position of having to defend the authenticity of their oppression rather than fight it. My best friend beautifully examines the psychological effect of this phenomenon in her article “Slaves making slaves: a ?uestolove mixtape”.
    For a more elegant examination, please read Andrea Smith’s “Heteropatriarchy and the ThreePillars of White Supremacy”

  • Hey,
    I love this blog so I’ll hope you will forgive and read the two consecutive long posts. I read this post with a furrowed brow, however, because something else struck me as a product of internalized colonialism. The use of the “it wouldn’t have happened if it were a black person,” hurt me on a number of levels and I will tell you why. Full disclosure: I am a black queer woman and black feminist.
    I read this post with a furrowed brow, however, because something else struck me as a product of internalized colonialism. The use of the “it wouldn’t have happened if it were a black person,” hurt me on a number of levels and here’s why. The whole idea of comparing oppressions makes me shudder. This is especially true when someone is trying to vet the oppressive nature of a particular situation by comparing it to black hypothetical subject. “See how racist/sexist/oppressive this is, they wouldn’t dare do this to a black person.” I understand that your point was to show that the act of reemphasizing blood quantum as the standard for “real” Native American status was inherently racist and problematic in that it seemed to fall below our baseline public sensitivity to racism but, I don’t think you took into account how the comparison reproduced the racism by making blacks and the black experience of oppression the lowest common denominator against which other oppression is “verified” as either acceptable or not as if there is an acceptable form of oppression.
    Instead of holding white supremacy accountable, it shifts to a game of strategically moving one’s culture on a hierarchy of oppression on the backs of other oppressed people. In this case, it is done to bolster the argument that Native Americans are actually oppressed because they have one-uped black people (the oppression standard) in what they have endured. It does not, however, substantiate that all oppression is bad or that the oppressions of two different communities are or can be linked. This type of race to the bottom is exactly the language that was produced by and is controlled by white supremacy.
    This type of race to the bottom is exactly the language that was produced by and is controlled by white supremacy. Just look at any 19th Century Race Classification Chart and it becomes clear that this language is an artifact of preexisting attempts to divide, classify and conquer. We were meant to see ourselves and other oppressed people on this spectrum, to internalize it. From there, we cannot organize collectively against genocide nor can we recognize the myriad efforts of oppressed people throughout the history of western imperialism and colonial genocide to resist this forced apartheid of our struggles for the same things.

  • So much is identifiable and I relate to so much already posted..but it does depend on the hue and how you’re treated for those that can’t pass or intermingle in Cosmo areas where there are less natives, (& you more than likely get pushed into the Latino, Hawaiian label) unlike in Oklahoma where racist whites quickly know if you are native and want to know what tribe you being to etc., etc., that is something that only you know how it feels if you have experienced it first hand, like the other reader posted, that is something that the lighter/fairer, complected people won’t fully understand. It is challenging when couples and families put a lot of thought into marrying and having children with people from other tribes and you actually have to think about if your kids are 3 or 4 different tribes and due to dual enrollment issues for many, kiddos may not get counted appropriately. Then again, another item to give thought to as I recently took on job that deals with about 80% research scientist and biologist – they don’t understand as they say.. “blood quantum” is not real, from a biology perspective.. you can’t split blood like that they say, they say it is scientifically impossible..etc.. etc.. its very interesting when you get that aspect of it? Just 2 cents from the peanut gallery.

  • It’s troubling, too, that Native Hawaiian doesn’t count. How does this cat think Hawaii became part of the US, anyway? Trivia, indeed!

  • I think that it’s valid to feel that lighter skinned native americans don’t know the full experience of being discriminated based on what they look like, but there are other struggles that occur when people are constantly trying to rob you of your identity, and it’s inaccurate to say that lighter skinned native americans don’t experience racism. I was at a sleepover when my friends father called me a squaw and made a joke. My sister was denied a scholarship from a town because as one of the people deciding the award said, “Oh, she’ll get her college paid for anyway, she’s an indian.” People of color need to stop buying into this system of classification and, especially in the native community, need to work together instead of tearing each other down. We already have to defend our heritage to others we shouldn’t have to defend our heritage to each other. When people say things like “You just claim your native American to be fashionable it doesn’t just hurt that person or just the lighter skinned native americans it hurts the entire community. When we do things like that we are being racist ourselves.

  • Hi,

    A couple of things to start with:
    First of all, I really enjoy and appreciate this blog. Thank you! Second of all, I think this particular post is a valuable one, and by no means am I calling that into question.

    That said, I feel like this section of the post, “…it took me way too long to think of Jacoby Ellsbury–every Native woman’s athlete crush…” is pretty heteronormative, and I worry that it erases the presence of queer Native women and their desires. I’m definitely not disagreeing with mentioning Jacoby Ellsbury as someone who is largely crushed on by Native women, but perhaps the word is “many” and not “every.”

    Thank you. And thanks again for the work that you do!

  • Thanks Sarah, I appreciate you pointing that out, and I’m sorry. I changed it to “many.” Sometimes it still amazes me, as someone who tries very hard to acknowledge power and privilege, and even studies gender and sexuality, how ingrained heteronormativity is in my own experiences.

    Thanks again, I’ll do better next time!