Which Tribe Are You From?

There is another stereotype that persists about men with long hair, and it may be the one I mind the least: men with long hair are Indians—at least, some of them. The perennial image of the "savage" is a bare-chested, face-painted, hair-flowing-out-behind-them-as-they-chase-you-with-a-bow-or-spear "injun." We are treated to such a visual mock-up courtesy of Hollywood, which revels in the false dichotomy of cowboy "good" and Indian "bad." Some modern treatments, such as Dances with Wolves, have nobler intentions in their portrayal of the Native American, but fall hopelessly short of the reality.

Such as it is, men whose hair happens to be dark and long, and whose complexions happen to be of a burnished hue, are easily identified by even the most thinking of liberals as "our Native Brothers."

In college, much was made on the campus of my higher education of "diversity," a term I was used to and even embraced due to the secondary school I attended. South High—now closed—is my alma mater. It was the Port of Entry, which meant that all students moving to our state from outside the country attended South. Thus, we had a great many ESL (English as a Second Language) programs. Caucasian humans were in the vast minority, and every year the school featured a cultural week in which Vietnamese, Laotian, Tongan, Samoan, Chinese, African American, Hispanic, and Indian cultures, etc., were asked to participate in assemblies and the like. So, when my fellow Humanities majors were agreed that higher education could not possibly be "higher" unless we illuminated the strength of diversity, I was embroiled in the affair without any fuss.

I’m not certain whether the activities and "pow-wows" were ever sanctioned by the college. It would have suited the temperament and sensibilities of the organizers better if the mucky-muck administrators who glad-handed any politically correct demonstration were unaware or even against the events. The Establishment was forever the enemy.

Though I have generally always been a rather independent fellow, deliberately defying the social mandates of "correctness" specifically because they were social mandates—like wearing a tie—I nonetheless became a party to the diversity awareness our college of beloved humanities—mostly English punks—decided to promote. As I recall, there were a number of lists, petitions, that one could sign, calling for reformation of one thing and another. Colleges are always a hotbed of change and idealism, and this is largely a good thing. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to attend one of these functions where I did not see Mr. or Ms. Activist seeking approving looks from his or her constituents. It is a look that is altogether the same as a young boy or girl looking to his coach or parent for approval for a homerun or good grade: acceptance, it is the most deleterious motive for becoming involved in social activism. A colleague suggested to me that if someone’s initial motive is so self-serving, big deal, the individual will become aware of proper attitudes toward racial and social harmony. He’s wrong. The same argument for adopting the ideals of a crowd can be applied to any political or social movement—think of Hitler.

But defy these idealists at your peril. To walk by the tables and not sign, or stop and listen, or shout a greeting and vocalize support—Hazzah!—was to incur the derision of the enlightened few. It was from two of these so enlightened individuals, one of whom was a proud card-carrying member of the ACLU—and she let you know it, that I received a rather dubious invitation.

As I sat in the cool environs of Orson Spencer Hall, the seat of the English Department, discussing with my fellow bards how we could educate and inform the student body, "Shirley" (we will call her) turned to me and said, "Would you be willing to wear your native dress?"

I looked at her quizzically, unable to speak, mostly because I was suppressing laughter. Finally, I stifled the chuckles back and said in my best Southern drawl, "Why, whatever do you mean?"

Smiling amiably, Shirley came on undaunted. "I think it would be a show of pride and ethnic diversity if you were to attend tomorrows function wearing your native dress."

"I see," I said.

"By the way, which tribe are you from?" Shirley prepared to make a note of it on her legal pad.

"Van Halen," I proclaimed.

Unamused, she tapped her pencil and looked at me over the rim of her glasses.

"I’m sorry to disappoint you, Shirley, but I’m not Indian."

Thus it was that I saw for the first time in my life the actual, bone fide dropping of a jaw. I’m not sure if it was because Shirley realized she was, at least this once, wrong, or because she was clever enough to realize what sort of prejudice she has just demonstrated toward me as a male person who just happened to have long hair.

"Shit," she finally said.

I took that as an apology, and we continued with our designs to enlighten and inform.

Back to: Non Fiction

Read the Vox Columns