Dear Internet,

I am a Native American living in Wisconsin. I enjoy talking about Native American cultural issues, but these days I find myself hesitant to answer the question, “How much Native American are you?” Complete strangers think it is okay to ask this question because it is “small talk.” Attempts to steer the conversation away politely results in further inquiries such as “Is your father Native American, or your Mother…?”

Truth be told, asking a Native American that question is extremely personal, not for the question itself, but for the follow up. “Oh, that is enough to get you benefits, huh? What kind of benefits to you get?” and the ever favorite “You don’t look Indian to me.”

I am tired of being judged! How can I politely tell these folks that this isn’t a polite question to ask. It’s no more polite than asking a black person how black they are, or a what percentage a Jewish person is. Attempts at saying “That is a rude question,” and “That isn’t a polite question to ask..” have resulted in defensive behavior in which I get accused of not participating in “small talk.”

Searching for Neutral Ground

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