Why ‘Going Back’ From Where We Came Is Problematic For Many Mixed Americans, Like Myself
"Dear Mr. President, of mixed ethnicity yourself, of Scotland and Germany ancestry, because your ancestors were immigrants too, where would you 'go back' to?"
A few days ago my best friend, Rhonda Mitchell, a Quora writer, almost refused to answer a question: Why don’t descendants of American slaves ever return to Africa to live there?
But then she did answer it. And the racists attacked in droves. So much so that she asked Quora to cut off the comments.
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A few weeks ago, when Greenville, North Carolina, citizens milled around President Trump’s stage like goaded sheep, shouting, “Send her back” — referring to Rep. Ilhan Omar — my heart sank. The chant supported President Trump’s racist tweets towards our four new U.S. Congresswomen, #TheSquad (which my writing group renamed #TheHighPriestessessOfDemocracy), to “go back” to where they came from, and I couldn't help but hear echoes of the antebellum South:
“Go back to where you came from.”
“Go back to your banana tree, n****r.”
“Go back to your motherland, blackie.”
Go back. Go back. Go back.
As someone who identifies as Black Indian (i.e. an African American with American Indian heritage), while acknowledging my Irish/British/Scottish connections, where would I “go back” to exactly?
Dear Mr. President, please read a history book (but not from Texas).
My African ancestors were most likely enslaved tribal members of the Yoruba or Fulani nations of Nigeria. But as the saying goes, we didn’t come here on the Mayflower, and therefore were subject to sexual violations that produced the first mixed, or “bi-racial,” children. Consequently, my lineage could also be directly descended from the first “20. and odd Negroes,” Angolans who landed at Jamestown in 1619. Incidentally, 2019 is the unfortunate 400-year anniversary of those first enslaved Africans, but not the first African presence or visitors here.
My European ancestry, from what one DNA test shows, is British, Irish, with a (surprise) full-blood Ashkenazi Jew seven generations ago dangling on my tree. I know of only one family member who passed for white, but several of my grandparents’ census records racial categories go back and forth between white, Indian, Mulatto, Colored and Black — every 10 years their racial identity changed.
But my indigenous ancestry would prove the most problematic for “going back.” These bloodlines, tribal connections I’ve found in my research, Eastern Band Cherokee and Delaware Cherokee, Coharie and Choctaw, and possibly Meherrin, are the actual First Peoples of these lands before it was called North America. They met, traded with, married, protected, hid and enslaved Africans, birthing more mixed race and mixed ethnicity offspring.
Since American Indians were already here, for us the “going back” sentiment would quite literally be directed at, well, everyone else, including those North Carolinians at the Trump rally.
Let’s just make it plain, as the West Indian immigrants say:
The Mixed blood tapestry is the hidden story of America.
In 1854, 54 Free People of Color families were counted in the state census, an acknowledgment of people who did not, or could not, identify only as negro or white.
Yet fear of “Colored” people has led some whites to create and maintain a racist paradigm that umbrellas and protects said racism, prejudice, discrimination, violation, alienation, identity shifting and erasure politics. President Trump's offensive tweets, and many of his supporters’ obtuse comments, are indicative of the ignorance and victory narratives that America continues to prescribe in its history books which obscuring Black, American Indian and Mixed blood existence and contribution.
For example, the first man to die in the Revolutionary War was half Black. Crispus Attucks was listed as a Mixed blood of Wampanoag/Narragansetts descent; his mother was full-blood American Indian and his father was an African slave.
Subsequently, Mildred Loving of the landmark 1967 Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case, was not Black at all, according to her grandson, Mark Loving. He says that both Mildred’s parents were full-blood Virginia Indians. So why would her race be important to hide or obfuscate? Maybe because her ethnicity would open up the discussion for the practice of racialization? Or of the validity of Black Codes? Or unearth the 1924 Racial Integrity Act banning interracial marriage? This law was written by Virginia's first magistrate at the Bureau of Vital Statistics, Walter Plecker, a known white supremist who traded letters with Hitler about their “Jew” and “Indian” problems. Plecker’s Act championed, instilled and enforced the “white” or “Colored” racialized edict that separated whites from any person of color, erasing tribes, bands, castes, classes, destroying the status that Free People of Color communities, non-enslaved Blacks living alongside whites, held for so long.
But I digress.
Dear Mr. President, of mixed ethnicity yourself, of Scotland and Germany ancestry, because your ancestors were immigrants too, where would you “go back” to?
Today, in this country, as a Mixed blood woman in America, as a proud Black woman in America, and as a self-identified, blood descended Indigenous woman in America, as a Midwestern who is a granddaughter of some of the first Free People of Color to settle Indiana and Michigan, where I was born, if I could go back, would I get land and reparations? OK. Not the issue. Not yet.
Ultimately, as the middle child, if I were to “go back” to anywhere, I’d be retracing the Great Migration trail my people took and I’d land right back in Greenville, North Carolina, a state which gladly approved the federal “removal” of over 60,000 Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole and Creeks known as the Five Civilized Tribes who assimilated into Western culture. Those tribes owned Black slaves who walked with them on the trail, which meant the slaves were likely wives, husbands, relatives or mistresses, uncles, aunts or simply a tribe of Mixed bloods.
Where would any bi-racial or tri-racial person “go back” to? I’d like an answer. I’m sure the 42 million African Americans in this country would find the knowledge of interest. My 5.2 million American Indian cousins would probably like to get an official answer too, (just not necessarily from the Bureau of Indian Affairs).
If we’re comparing “go back” stories, my story is the truest American version.
And if President Trump can answer my question, then maybe I would make some different decisions about my natural inalienable rights. But right now, I’m with Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, Tlaib and Omar: despite Her many, many flaws, we love America.
And we’re not going anywhere.
Award-winning poet and educator Shonda Buchanan was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a daughter of Mixed bloods, tri-racial and tri-ethnic African American, American Indian and European-descendant families who migrated from North Carolina and Virginia in the mid-1700 to 1800s to Southwestern Michigan. Black Indian, her memoir, begins the saga of these migration stories of Free People of Color communities exploring identity, ethnicity, landscape and loss.