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In the Native American, we've spent over a century dealing with pretendians—pretend Indians. These are non-Natives who falsely claim a Native identity to order the win the personal and professional benefits that are available to us Indians. There are dozens of high successful pretendians working in academia, Hollywood, and the book world right now. Here's a Wikipedia article about the phenomenon: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pretendian

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It definitely is popular to claim Native identity. I wonder, do Pretendians often try to "act Indian" in a stereotypical way?

And it seems like just like the way hippie and New Age communities take up Native aesthetics because they associate being Native with possessing a mystical spirituality, anime fans are taking up Asian aesthetics because they associate Asians with what they see on the screen. I wonder how many Pretendians pretend so hard they end up genuinely believing they are Native.

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I think there are two strains of pretendians: the spiritual fakes and the leftist political activist fakes.

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So many people want to be something they're not. Social media has only exacerbated this culture. "Identity" has now become a badge to put on a social media profile. For those leftist political activists, it's the easiest way out from being a White person at the bottom of the intersectional stack. Well, second easiest, if you consider how many "queer" people that act exclusively straight.

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There also was the dude who wrote "The Education Of Little Tree" who was the author of "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and a speechwriter for George Wallace, to boot.

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Forrest Carter. Named after N Bedford Forrest, first Grand Wizard of the KKK. He was the speechwriter for George Wallace and wrote "Segregation today. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever." An awful human being in so many ways.

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This is a bit different, I believe. In the US at least, there are many of us whose ancestry includes minority Native American ancestors, and probably fewer in the US who have minority Asian ancestors.

Awareness of such ancestry could be suppressed or denied, if we feared being seen as wannabes.

On the other hand, there is pride in noticing hints of Native American ancestry in our features and outlook and customs, even if too small a component to really be fully welcomed into a tribe or nation. Marooned here in white world, while not being entirely that. That might sound self-pitying, but I don't mean it that way, because there are so many of us in this limbo.

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All too often, those "hints" of Native ancestry become the impetus for embracing a Native-only identity. Then, after that, the processs leads from a hint-Indian to a Native-only Indian to someone who begins to take jobs, opportunities, and distinctions meant for Native Americans. It's seductive. There are people who have careers as professional Indians but only have one 19th Century ancestor. These same pretendians have never lived in a tribal community, have no relatives in any tribal community, and have no formal relationship with any tribe. And, of course, there are many pretendians who have zero verifiable Native ancestors.

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Aug 2, 2023·edited Aug 2, 2023

My late aunt, may she rest in peace, was a closet pretendian. Despite a well-documented family tree which showed only European ancestry, she decided that our family records had been censored. The irony of her fantasy (*) is that, as she well knew, her great-grandfather (my great-great) had a real connection with Cherokee in NC during the 19th century. Precisely because he was a white man, he was able to be useful to them, both as a legal representative and by helping preserve a portion of their lands with a bureaucratic sleight of hand. (**)

I can’t question my aunt now, but I do wonder why she cared so much. I know she always longed to escape from her home town. But perhaps all of us have a spark of “otherness” within us which makes us draw back from our community, saying, “I am different from the rest.” We puzzle over our alienation; what a relief it would be to find a rational explanation. “Aha,” we say, “it’s my Indian/Jewish/Black ancestor!”

For most Americans, it ends with a harmless fantasy. However for a pernicious minority, the fantasy must be affirmed, and as Sherman Alexie pointed out, this minority takes jobs and positions away from Native-only Indians.

My understanding of the difference between a “hint Indian” and a “Native-only Indian” came from contrasting my aunt’s fantasy with the strong connections my half-Chinese daughter has to her father’s extended family. She is part of them, and while the blood relation is one component, a far more important part is the interconnected relationships. Were a third or fourth cousin,a complete stranger in all but blood, to claim a share of the family inheritance, they’d be (politely) shown off the premises.

(*) one DNA test in the 1990s found my aunt was 9% indigenous American but another test was inconclusive, and my DNA is 99.9% British/Scottish/Irish despite a family claim of being descended from French Huguenots.

(**) William Holland Thomas can be googled. Note that he was very much a 19th century white man, ie no better than he should be. And maybe his daughter, who never really knew him--when still a child, she was sent to live with relations after he went insane late in life--was worse on account of her fabrications. But they’re both dead and gone and I won’t apologize for either of them.

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I appreciate that pretendians who try to usurp what is not theirs must be as annoying to deal with as other thieves.

But I am talking about something different, never living on a reservation, nor involved in any Native community, nor any formal claims, yet always feeling this connection to the earth: If someone asks me directions, and I reply the east side of a street, and they look at me in confusion, then I figure they have no Native American ancestry, while I have some. That is, N, S, E, W has always rooted me in the earth, which I attribute to my Native American portion ancestry, just as much as I attribute the wry humor in our family to our English side and resilience to our Latino side. (We mongrels have a long list of ancestors to thank for this or that.) My granddad who looked very much Native American, though only 1/4 or 1/2, was even much more oriented toward the earth than me and valued that. Here's my genuine question, which I've often wondered: For granddad & me to attribute that earth-centeredness to the portion of our ancestry that's Native: Is that pretendian, or genuine, or some innocently mistaken place in between, would you say?

Your response to this would give me lots of food for thought.

By the way, I really liked your book Ten Little Indians, and attended one of your book signings years ago.

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No offense to your own sense of Native-ness, Dr. Huber, but as far as I'm aware of my family history I'm as white as one can get and I give directions based on compass points because those are absolute rather than relative. That way I don't have to clarify "my left / your left" or deal with the question of what direction the person I'm speaking to is traveling (e.g., if someone is traveling on a particular highway, they need to turn south to reach my house, regardless of whether they are traveling eastbound or westbound).

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Far be it from me to prohibit compass directions to anyone on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, religion, creed.... all the demographics.

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That "earth-centeredness" you speak of exists in every culture and theology worldwide. It's universal. But each culture has its own earth ceremonies and those ceremomies are related to specific geographies. I'm a Spokane Indian because of the specific landscape that has been home to my tribal ancestors for at least 15,000 years. And there are specific tribal stories and songs and history that are a part of me. It's the specificity that matters.

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Thank you. That makes sense to me. All distant human ancestors were necessarily earth-centered or perished. Those that kept certain aspects of that knowledge and practices longer appear now to be more earth-centered than the others who lost it or disown it, such as "thoroughly modern Millie" or "better living through chemistry" or those peoples who intermarried and migrated so frenetically and far and wide that we lost, neglected and forgot all of our older, earlier cultural heritage. Too much present and future-focused, and not enough past-focused to learn from our ancestors.

I appreciate your thoughts! Subscribing.

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Interesting. Mainland Chinese give directions in N/S/E/W rather than turn right/left. Me, I’m grateful for the built-in compass in my car

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>it is impossible to change your race because of the systemic inequalities inherent to being born into a certain race

Good to know there were no systemic inequalities around being born as a certain gender in history.

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Aug 2, 2023·edited Aug 2, 2023Author

Oh, there were definitely systemic inequalities around being born non-binary in history. Just look at non-binary icons like Joan of Arc and Louisa May Alcott! For some reason, people keep misgendering them as women. What a travesty. Everyone knows women can't be powerful and revered figures, only non-women can be. People need to stop erasing non-binary and transmasculine people in history.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/joan-arc-portrayed-nonbinary-new-production-londons-globe-theatre-rcna42968

https://unherd.com/thepost/new-york-times-claims-louisa-may-alcott-was-trans/

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Aug 2, 2023Liked by Sheluyang Peng

All of this is incredibly sad. My heart breaks for anyone ashamed of themselves for their race, gender or whatever. But we've all been there to some degree. Growing up I was told that I should get a tan all the time. I'm as white as paper and physically can't tan. I am almost albino looking but it's just what I am.

I just wish there were enough adults around to say that stereotypes exist but they aren't something to aspire to or change yourself for. Everyone is unique. No one fits perfectly into a mold and that's a good thing. You can be a feminine man or a masculine woman. You can be a quiet Italian. You can be a loud Japanese woman. Life is diverse and that's why it's so beautiful. Chasing after a fantasy of who and what you are leads only to misery. Finding peace with who and what you are, and appreciating the differences of others, is the key to peace and happiness. Maybe someday we'll get there.

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A lot of what we're seeing today comes from the idea that kids know best. Even though all of us can think of the ridiculous beliefs we had as children that we no longer hold today. So now some adults, instead of telling their kids that they'll grow out of it, will let their children have full control, even when kids often make reckless decisions.

And especially in the social media age, kids are more depressed than ever. No longer does a teen compare themselves to their peers, but social media has made them compare themselves to very-edited highlight reels from the whole world. No wonder so many teens have body image issues and become depressed. Instead of accepting who they are, they want to chase a fantasy.

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"A lot of what we're seeing today comes from the idea that kids know best."

The irony being, from what I can tell of Asian mores, kids do most definitely not know best.

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Iirc kids have always thought they knew best. In some generations, adults agree with them. This rarely works out well

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Aug 2, 2023Liked by Sheluyang Peng

Excellent post. Keep up the great work.

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Aug 1, 2023Liked by Sheluyang Peng

Excellent writing! Quite enjoyable, and oh so true...

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Aug 2, 2023·edited Aug 2, 2023

1. *cough* Rachel Dolezal. *cough* Jessica "La Bombalera" Krug *cough* Raquel Saraswati. *cough*

This is probably racist, sexist, and violates the rights of the gay community, but all the examples given are of females. Not sure if there is any conclusion to be drawn from this.

2. Has anyone tried to actually go to Korea or wherever and try this? I imagine that actual Korean people would think a non-Korean person who claims to have wholly or partially changed their DNA to Korean DNA and that means that they get to be treated like long-lost Koreans had lost their minds somewhere in the process.

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I agree that most of the examples of this seem to be women, but there are examples of men doing it to. Thinking particularly off the top of my head of Ward Churchill: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ward_Churchill#Genealogy

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Michael Jackson?

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Yikes, this article is so exclusionary and invalidating to trans-Asians. Your rhetoric is violent and hateful, you need to check your cis-racial privilege! Trans-Asians are Asians! 😚😚😚😚

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I could see this going either way. On the one hand, the right is very much poised to shut this down as an extension of the backlash against transgender movement and the left will want to shut it down as part of cultural appropriation. On the other hand, I could see someone making an app that takes your picture and "filters" your selfies to look like another race and it goes viral.

I can feel their pain. I was born into the body of a handsome white man. But I've always felt like I was supposed to be a *very* handsome white man.

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What may happen is that the right might use transracialism to attack transgenderism. Basically force the left to explain why someone can be a different gender but not race. Would also help build support in minority communities, especially Black communities, offended that someone could try to identify as them.

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Ah Liam, we are an afflicted class, are we not?

I'm just tired of 24/7 race, gender etc. Either we're Americans in the same boat or we this noble experiment will dissolve into tribal warfare. No other nation has made the progress we have. But no other nation is so wont to throw it all away in paroxysm of race obsession. Can we please stop?

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As someone who's never identified with either of my races, I've always found the concept of wanting to be another race (in today's day and age where explicit racism is increasingly growing unacceptable) as strange

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Aug 2, 2023·edited Aug 2, 2023

While I'm not sure I would call it "strange," I do think it should severely challenge the narrative around racial "privilege." There are easily two dozen or more nationally-profiled cases from just the past decade of American academics, actors, political figures, business leaders, etc. claiming to be non-white who were revealed to be white by all conventional definitions, which probably suggests there are at least a couple orders of magnitude more people doing it without detection since it's very rare that someone's self-identified racial ancestry is not accepted at face value. (Notably, in many of the cases where these people are exposed it only happens because they tick off an authentic member of the group being impersonated.) However, I would be curious to know if there is any documented instance of someone in the US born post-1955 being outed as "passing" as white, as I'm certainly not familiar with any.

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It would be amazing to ask *why* a Western white person would want to be another race in the first place--be it a person from several decades ago or a kid claiming to be transracial today. I guess it would just boil down to loving a stereotype or having delusions that someone comes from a bloodline they probably don't.

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"It makes sense that most “transracials” are identifying as East Asian. When I think about how many non-Asians in America perceive East Asian people like myself, certain stereotypes come up: quiet, shy, introverted, bookish. In short, the same traits an introverted teenage girl that spends all her time on the internet would have."

Maybe. However, bear in mind that while normies may associate Asians with being shy and bookish, those who became entranced with some idealized version of Asian cultures via anime and such may have very different stereotypes about Asians!

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Aug 10, 2023·edited Aug 10, 2023

In 1959, John Howard Griffin, a white man, stimulated the melanin in his skin to pass as Black (called Negro at the time). He did this by taking methoxsalen and spending hours under an ultra-violet (UV) lamp with the guidance of a dermatologist. Then he visited several states in the South of the USA, observing segregation and writing the book "Black Like Me."

Methoxsalen has serious side-effects that would prevent any self-respecting doctor from prescribing it for elective, cosmetic reasons. Still, I'm surprised that we haven't seen a trend of off-label use.

I've read much of Griffin's book. He seemed to consistently be treated as a Negro by the whites, yet there were times he couldn't blend in among Blacks. He needed guidance on how to conduct himself, plus his appearance seemed a bit off. Not surprisingly, there's more to being Black than just skin color.

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Suprised you didn't know and I'm far from happy to report that, that they absolutely do in fact have “race-affirming surgery” or “melanin replacement therapy”. Here's the British guy who had a series of surguries to become Korean: https://news.sky.com/story/oli-london-british-influencer-defends-identifying-as-korean-after-surgery-to-look-like-bts-star-12344765. And here's the German woman who took melanin-enhancing drugs that turned her skin black: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/5925643/controversial-german-model-martina-big-who-turned-herself-black-accused-of-lying-about-her-age-as-school-pics-emerge-suggesting-shes-40-not-29/.

As an African-American, I wasn't particularly offended when Rachel Dolezal did this a few years ago. I do draw the line at drugs and surgery for minors, the same as I do with transgenderism. Do I need to "affirm" anyone in either case? For me, depends on the context. I don't think people with 100% European ancestry should be allowed to take advantage of any programs that are designed to assist black people, to the extent that any survived the recent SCOTUS decisions, and I don't think that biological males should be allowed to play girls' and womens' sports, or change in girls'/womens' locker rooms, etc., but if someone of European ancestry wants to ID as black, or a biological male wants to ID as a woman, I'm willing on a personal level to respect their decision by referring to them as such.

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Pretending along with a lunatic asylum resident who thinks they're Napoleon never helped a soul. How is this any different?

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If I encountered a lunatic asylum resident who thought they were Napoleon, yes, I would call them Napoleon. I'll leave it up to their psychiatrists to determine how to go about curing them of that affliction, I wouldn't presume to know.

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Millions of East Asians have had surgery to remove epicanthal folds. It is not "race affirming surgery", but it is entirely about the same kind of racialized beauty standards you described here...

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They are still identifying as Asian, so it's not the same. These RCTAs want to identify as a whole different race.

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