Thursday, March 3, 2011


Here is one of those little human interest stories that I rarely if ever write about. A few years ago a young woman won "The Ms. Navajo " Beauty pageant on an Indian Reservation. Only problem is and there would have to be some kind of problem or I wouldn't be writing this...She's wasn't a full blooded Navajo!

The beautiful Radmilla Cody, 35,(shown above) a Native American Music Award-winning singer and anti-domestic violence activist,is the woman I was speaking about. The daughter of a Navajo mother and an African-American father,Radmilla Cody was raised by her grandmother in the Arizona Navajo community, initially speaking only the Navajo language. In 1997 she was crowned Miss Navajo Nation, sparking controversy from some members of the Navajo tribe who refused to accept her.

As one disapproving letter to the editor of the Navajo Times put it, "Miss Cody's appearance and physical characteristics are clearly black, and thus are representative of another race of people. It appears that those judges who selected Miss Cody have problems with their own sense of identity."

The only reason I bring this up now is because Ms. Cody is the subject of a 2011 documentary, "Hearing Radmilla",that will be airing on PBS. It not only tells her particular story, but it discusses the larger story of African-Americans and Native Americans ,The two most oppressed minorities in American History.

In a 1920 edition of the Journal of Negro History,Black Historian Carter G. Woodson (The founder of Black History month) observed, "One of the longest unwritten chapters in the history of the United States is that treating of the relations of the Negroes and the Indians."

"Red/Black: Related Through History," a new exhibit at Indianapolis' Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, illuminates this rarely told story. Since the first arrival of enslaved Africans in North America, the relationships between African Americans and Native Americans have encompassed alliances and adversaries, as well as the indivisible blending of customs and culture.

Like All of us , Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, Native American...Ms. Cody's story is not just her
personal journey, but also the story of her people in the last half of the twentieth century to the

"Growing up, I was taunted at school with racial slurs and would come home in tears. My grandmother would be there, waiting to console me. She always said, "Let 'em talk. You are a Navajo woman. This is your land. This is how I raised you. You be proud of who you are." Every time, that's what she would say."

"I spent more time in the Navajo community growing up because my grandmother raised me. When I would come into town in Flagstaff, Ariz., to see my mom, who had black friends, and my dad's relatives, I was in the black community more. I went to high school in Flagstaff, and one day a friend was wearing a T-shirt with a big "X" on it. I said, "That's cool! I should get one that says 'R' for Radmilla!" I didn't know anything about Malcolm X. He told me to join the black student organization. I had a lot to educate myself about and embrace, because I come from two beautiful cultures." she said

She elaborated further by discussing her other heritage-"In the black community I also had my challenges. I was always told, "You think you're cute because you got that long, fine hair," and I would have to stand up for my Navajo side because of stereotypes placed upon the Navajo. When I'd go back to the Navajo community, I would have to stand up for my black side because of stereotypes. "It was a challenge sometimes, but I've gotten past the initial state of frustration and just use those opportunities to educate people and let people know about my culture as a Navajo woman. I think this exhibit at the Eiteljorg Museum is a wonderful opportunity for people to gain some understanding about black Natives. We exist, we're here, and through this exhibit we have an opportunity to be acknowledged and recognized."

If you don't live in Indianapolis and can't see the wonderful exhibit at the Eiteljorg museum, please make it your business to check your local PBS listing for "Hearing Radmilla"...It's an excellent biographical and historical piece.

1 comment:

Arlene said...

I'll look for the broadcast. This looks interesting. I am reminded of Zora Neale Hurston's 1927 writing:
I am colored and I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances except to say that I am the only Negro in the USA whose grandfather, on the mother's side, was not an Indian chief.

Hair and skin tone were very important when I was growing up and I'm finding that even with the huge selection of hair available today and all kinds of skin treatments, many black women still have unresolved issues. My how things change and yet stay the same.


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