Finding out my father lied about his heritage has forced me to radically question who I am

My father was Susquehannock, a forgotten Indian tribe from Pennsylvania. He grew up in inner-city Philadelphia but moved west and met my mother. She has a bit of Indian blood (an eighth, a 16th, a 32nd?) from her father’s side, but otherwise she is broadly European. As a child, I clung to the extra few percentages she provided because people always reminded me I was not white. If I couldn’t be white, it wasn’t enough to be half-Indian for me either. Indianness gave me legitimacy. But still, many of my childhood memories bear the stain of the innocent cruelty of other children. They called me Squanto and my sisters Pocahontas, threatening to give us pox-laden blankets, promising a new Manifest Destiny, or Trail of Tears. They included me only to play cowboys and Indians – and always obliged me to lose.

This cruelty didn’t stop with children. I remember the second-grade teacher who inspected my hands to make sure they were clean, and who sent and resent me to the bathroom throughout the year to clean them. I remember scrubbing my hands before school to the point of bleeding to avoid these inspections. And when there was not cruelty, there was the general racial illiteracy of well-meaning adults, including my own family.

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