When I was in my early to mid twenties I was in a relationship with a woman who came from a very Southern white family (we’ll call her Sarah). They were cattle farmers, and their family had such deep roots in that area the road their farm was on was named for their family. Sarah had invited me to meet her family for the first time at the family farm which was currently being run by her brother. Before heading out to the country, which was about an hour’s drive from where we lived together, she told me “Don’t tell my family you’re Lumbee, everyone knows Lumbees are black.”  

The truth is, the request didn’t really phase me. We were already lying about the nature of our relationship, so what was one more lie to save her from family drama. And after the stories I heard from her childhood it was no surprise that her father would be wary of anyone he suspected of having black blood, even a drop. (But for the record, Lumbees are Lumbee.)

We arrived at the farm and her father and one of the farm hands met us near the cow pen. Her dad glanced in my direction but didn’t say a word and wouldn’t make eye contact. Just the occasional side glance. We started to walk the property as he gave us the latest gossip on the cows “that one’s been jumping the fence.” That was a sure fire way of being the cow that gets slaughtered to feed the family for the year, I was told. “That one likes to eat more than her fair share, but she gives a lot of milk.” As we walked the length of the land slowly making our way to the main house where her brother lived, he continued to ignore me. At one point I pointed at one of the cows and said “a calico cow!” He mumbled to Sarah “Wha’d she say?” because he also wouldn’t speak directly to me. 

We paused when we were almost to the house and her dad looked out on the farm, taking in the sunset. He took in a deep breath, with it seemed to be an appreciation for the land, his family’s legacy, and his pride. He let it out with a deep meaningful sigh and then suddenly turned his gaze directly at me. His eyes squinted as he studied my body, my face in a look I was all too familiar with. “What are you?” he said, staring directly into my eyes. I felt hot in the face, I was trying desperately not to react and my mind was very rapidly going between the truth, or something else…anything else. Just say something! I blurted out “I’m Lithuanian.” Surely he wouldn’t know what a Lithuanian looked like, and surely he would never have had the chance to develop an opinion on them as a people or culture. He continued to stare at me as if he was trying to figure out if I was something he should hate. He snorted, didn’t say a word to me and continued up the hill to the house. I looked at Sarah as if to say, “did I pass?” She just shrugged at me and we followed behind. 

We walked into the house which placed us in view of the open kitchen and living room. My eyes grew wide as I took in the decor which could best be described Native American Gift Shop. There were paintings of Indigenous people on horseback, pottery painted in the colors of the sunset, dream catchers, small decorative moccasins, and a small bowl filled with various stones and arrow heads. It’s hard to describe why, but I felt naked at that moment. Here I was lying about who I was, what I was while staring at the very things that people relate to Indigenous culture. Some of these things were similar to things my grandmother had in her home as a celebration of our culture. I was then hit with sadness, I wanted to be celebrated as much as these things were instead of being asked to hide. From that moment on it’s a blur, my mind was clouded by emotions as I went into autopilot mode. I’m sure we likely shared a meal together, I’m sure her father continued to ignore me. I don’t even remember the ride home, I’m sure it was in silence.