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Toya: Vote for character, not color


My heart sank when I saw the headlines about Barack Obama not being ''black enough'' for some people, with the comments credited to black people. My mind raced with questions like, ''How is 'black enough' defined? Is there then a state of being too black? Who is asking these questions and for what purposes?''

Then I see Doreen Yellow Bird's column about being ''Indian enough.'' She commented, ''I have asked some of the same questions, except about being Indian or 'Indian enough.' For Indian people, we range from almost full blood American Indian background to 'couldn't tell that person is Indian.' Being 'black enough' or 'Indian enough' usually refers to your experience in Indian country or black America. In Indian country, if you are light-skinned with shades of blond hair, you can be discriminated against by your own people because you are 'different.' The irony is staggering, when you consider it is some of those same differences that cause discrimination by non-Indians.''

We sort of know where Indian country is, starting physically with our home reservations and extending to our human networks off reservations. But even this is incomplete. Now we ask, ''Where is 'black' America?'' Whatever you say it is, couldn't that be a stereotype and not reflective of all blacks? There is no single black, Hispanic, Indian, white or any other race definition relative to color, income, social standing, political party, liberal or conservative stance, height, weight, body type or hair style.

We look at race like we're all purebred with long pedigrees. In reality, we're all mixed. Look at us! We're all part of the human race. We come in all shapes, sizes and shades. Talk to us! Our race or skin color do not determine if we are liberal or conservative, smart or not, rich or poor. There is no groupthink. Our brains and our hearts are not led by skin color.

Whether it is valid or not, race seems to enter our discussions regardless of the subject matter, be it education, productivity or patriotism. Some examples:

A tribal college president was quoted in American Indian Report as saying, ''Mistrust of education is rife among Native Americans. Education was used to force assimilation in an organized government fashion. There's that whole Great White Father myth that we live with, and educated Indians are sometimes seen as thinking they're better than reservation Indians.''

So, educated is less Indian and uneducated and poor is more Indian? Reservation Indians are not educated? I don't think so.

Roland Morris, a full-blooded Anishinabe from the Leech Lake Band of Minnesota Chippewa, an officer of the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance and a board member of the Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare, said: ''Native Americans are not more needy than anyone else. In fact, Native Americans are just as good, just as evil, just as productive and just as nonproductive as any other people.''

American Indian writer Sherman Alexie stated: ''The best way to honor Martin Luther King Jr. is to honor the United States. Don't be afraid to be patriotic. We have been amazingly successful in holding together this random assortment of people. It's bizarre, but we do it.''

The sweeping term ''Hispanic'' obliterates the vast cultural differences within that community. Columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. bravely expressed his disagreement with groupthink advocates when he wrote: ''Confession time. I've never been much of a fan of the National Council of La Raza. I've always considered the group too corporate, too cautious and too consistently out of step with the views of average Hispanics on issues such as school vouchers and bilingual education. Besides, there are times when the organization seems a subsidiary of the Democratic Party, an alliance that has only served to marginalize it.''

We come from different backgrounds and have different views, but we have similar goals. As Indian people, we come together to understand each other to address and solve the terrible conditions on some of our reservations. We seek consensus on how to proceed. This is what our forefathers did within the Iroquois confederacy and what the All Indian Pueblo Council did in New Mexico. It is also what the colonies did in Philadelphia in 1776.

We still have people encouraging others to vote for or against people based on their race, color or gender instead of their character and what they can do for America. I am surprised when activists believe all members of any ethnic group or race should think the same way and vote the same way. Those that don't think and vote as they ''are suppose to'' are told they ''just don't get it'' or ''don't understand'' or aren't really ''black enough.''

How irrelevant this is. If I vote, or don't vote, for Barack Obama or any other candidate, it won't be because of the color or perceived color of his skin. It will be because of his ability to address terrorism, health care, education, the economy, illegal immigration, energy, and the issues that Americans face. My vote will go to the person of character with conviction.

We're all for education and the environment and all against terrorism, so the devil will be in the details of the candidates' positions. How will he continue keeping terrorists from bringing their violence to American soil? What policies will the candidate promote that will sustain our economic growth? Will the candidate support the Patriot Act? Will the candidate address the persons in this country illegally? Will we get true health care or will it be another Hillary fiasco? Will we get a better plan for Social Security than President Bush's? Will the candidate support the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act or is there a better idea? Will we work toward a colorblind society or go back to quotas? I want to know how their words will translate into a better life for all Americans, or if they are just posturing for political purposes.

Don't let anyone tell you that you are not ''Indian enough'' or ''black enough.'' Let's not confuse the fringe with the mainstream. All Indian people do not think the same. Neither America nor Indian country is a society where human beings are reduced to identical units. When deciding your next vote, take a stand and support what is good for all America and all Americans.

Ron Toya, Jemez Pueblo and director of Tribal Government Institute Inc., is based in Albuquerque, N.M.