Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

Of Skittles, Hoodies, and Cell Phones

By:  Julia Good Fox

I am skeptical at times, but probably not as much as I ought to be.  Skepticism is a necessary skill in navigating the United States maze, but it is my fate to be hard-wired with an unfortunate tendency to periodically keep a codependent relationship with society at large.  I still have to get schooled in recovery tactics by the more savvy members of my family, circle of friends, and Tribal peoples.

Yet, I am not completely clueless.  Off hand, I am skeptical of the following:

    • People who claim they do not see skin pigmentation.


    • Policemen who wear military haircuts.


    • Legislative activity in Florida, Arizona, and the other states.

Florida and its NRA-sponsored “Stand Your Ground” law is receiving a lot of ink lately.  Florida aside, who cannot recognize the fear-mongering of the NRA since its founding in 1871?  Who among us was not immediately suspicious when news about the killing of high-school student, Trayvon Martin, began to filter out?  When we learned more about the “investigation” immediately following this killing, who among us did not shake our head and think, “why do I expect any differently?”

Of course there is more than a response of skepticism and suspicion to this tragedy.  There is the resolve to not devote too much time to cynicism.  There is the collective grief of parents, of mothers, epitomized by Sybrina Fulton when she told the country: “Our son is your son.”

The killing of Trayvon has sparked a national conversation about Florida and the NRA.  It is another reminder about the fear of a black planet, which is so intense that a teenager wearing a hoodie, carrying skittles and iced tea, and minding his business while talking to his boo on the cell phone- was shot down.  Predictably, there are the usual suspects in this case: ignorant pundits, sell-outs, and clueless officials.

For those of us from certain communities and families, this killing is no doubt triggering our own conversations about public safety (as in, how to be safe from the public), parenting, and memories of those whose deaths were never investigated or were done so weakly.  Perhaps we are even thinking of youngsters who “died” in police custody, one of whom I am thinking of as I write this column, or of those who were brutalized by the police, not because the victim was Indian, but because the police were not and could get away with it.

Trayvon’s death has me thinking of the parallels between so-called “at risk” communities, such as those between African-American populations and Tribal Nation citizens, and how the category for “at-risk” is code for be careful out there, because the odds are stacked against you.  In these post-Ghost Dance days, diverse skin pigmentation is present among our collective Tribal citizens, so we can see the differences in the public’s treatment of us based upon our skin color. For instance, even though I suffer under the delusion that I can pass for non-brown, I do know that the closer I get to the border towns, the less gracious non-Indians treat me.  Because we are proficient in the U.S. code of skin color, we sometimes send the lightest-skinned Indian inside the store to ask for directions (We also have to contend with a society that tends to believe that skin pigmentation equates “Indian-ness,” a notion that is completely off-base regarding Tribal citizenship).  For us, the at-risk category extends to the health of our environments and the resiliency of our efforts at self-determination surrounded by a population who, after all these centuries, still do not “get” Tribes.

While thinking about Trayvon, we also acknowledge the gender-aspect of color as it relates to us, or our Tribal members, or our family.  As I become older, I understand more about the difficulties my brothers encountered, and I now wonder how well prepped they were by our mother, and our uncles, for life within a society whose adages of the Golden Rule, or Hard Work is Rewarded, or Obey all Laws and You Will Have Nothing to Worry About do not automatically apply to brown people.  As parents, we do our best to impart street-smarts to our children, but there are those of us who would be negligent if we did not give advice or suggestions about how to best navigate an environment in which Whiteness is still widely held to be the golden ticket.  I am full of outrage when I think that we cannot always protect our children and young people from the anti-Brown predators and ideology out there.  I am angry when I think of how “brown” continues to be codified as a criminal activity.

Travyon Martin’s parents have graciously encouraged us to be in solidarity with their grief.   Solidarity is a form of knowledge with action.  Although certainly I wish for no more similar deaths for American Indians (or those from any other populations), it is my hope that we, too, remember to take to the streets next time one of our own is killed in suspicious circumstances, that we bomb the airwaves and internet, and that our Tribal representatives and leaders speak up loud and often against this travesty.