In this excerpt from a longer manuscript titled Indian Ice: Indigenous Witness, Muscogee writer and professor Dr. Deidra Suwanee Dees gives a glimpse into her experiences growing up biracial in the South, a region that views race mythically, literally, and figuratively in terms of a black-white homogeneity.
Bronze Images: Negotiating Identity in the South
by Deidra Suwanee Dees
I looked into the mirror today, smiling for a change, wondering what it would reveal. I noticed the ripples in the bronze-colored wrinkles beside my eyes delineating the signs of wisdom that only age can bring. As I work on my master’s degree at Ivy League Cornell in Ithaca, New York, it is 1998 and the mirror conveys to me I will turn a year older this season, 37. It is a reminder that I have traveled a long way from the reluctant womb that was a receptacle for my entrance into the South, the reluctant womb that turned away from me because I was a biracial birth following painful years of childhood neglect that ended in abandonment. Because I did not have a fit mother as many other Muscogee children had in our rural community of Uriah, Alabama, I’ve been coerced to find things out on my own that I otherwise would have known. I find myself realizing I’ve spent all my life doing this . . . and wondering if I’ll spend however long I have left doing the same thing. How beneficial it would have been had I been taught the necessary life skills that come from a proper Southern woman, skills I’ve had to scratch and claw for – by humiliating trial and error – struggling and fighting every step of the way; indeed, fighting at times against the womb that bore me.
Anticipating an answer from the mirror, I asked, “How can I comprehend this all?” If I die like my vanilla-skinned daughter Selena in a deadly auto-train accident, or if I die like my chocolate-skinned daddy in a tragic head-on truck collision, what will be the moral of my story? That I scratched and clawed for nothing? That my bronze-skinned life was worthless and good for nothing like the biological one who bore me used to say?
While these are plausible considerations, the mirror reveals there is a force inside me—a strong life force—that compels me forward, and even fancies at times bronze images of being somebody, images of me rising above what Southerners see as unattractive mixed-race skin. The mirror shows me reflections of greatness, which I have relegated to a cry for significance from my inner clay-stained child, the one who was neglected, abused and rejected; the one who, because of this, can never be whole. I have become strong – my bronze skin taut – by learning to live with the ever-present anguish of not being whole, while whole people have passed me by, enjoying their wholeness, unaware of my fragment.
Dr. Deidra Suwanee Dees is the Director/Tribal Archivist for the Office of Archives and Records Management at the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. In her cultural work with students from all over Mother Earth, she taught English Composition and English for Speakers of Other Languages at the University of West Florida and Pensacola State College, and she teaches in the Native American Studies Program at the University of South Alabama. She served as the Associate Editor of The Jaguar Journal at the University of South Alabama. Her writing has been featured in Absorbing Destruction: Poetry by Ten Women and The People Who Stayed: Southeastern Indian Writers After Removal, and her chapbook, Vision Lines: Native American Decolonizing Literature, explores decolonizing methodologies from a Muscogee woman’s perspective. Her writings about the Native American experience are published in journals including the Birmingham Arts Journal and Postcolonial Text: Research Journal on Postcolonial, Transnational and Indigenous Themes.