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!).
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.
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.