Kandia Crazy Horse, age 45
WHAT MIX ARE YOU?
Native American (my Nation’s always been in what’s now Virginia & surrounding territory) / African / Scottish
WHERE DO YOU CURRENTLY LIVE?
IS THE COMMUNITY YOU LIVE IN NOW DIVERSE?
I live on what was Alexander Hamilton’s farm, also once known as High Harlem, and it’s a rapidly gentrifying area of Upper Manhattan. Harlem was originally built as a suburb for German emigres, but quickly became the Black Mecca of the nation. When I first moved to this neighborhood, it was majority black & Dominican - with some other groups from so-called Latin America mixed in. Increasingly, whites from richer areas downtown & Brooklyn are moving in & the local businesses are changing to cater to them as a result. There’s unfortunately still a lack of services & certain infrastructure present to support the population that has been here for many decades & it’s causing tensions.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I am from the South, Virginia & Georgia; I also grew up for a time in the Latino barrio of Washington, DC, Adams-Morgan, which was an island of Aztlan amidst what was then known as Chocolate City - before I moved to Africa. In the deep South with my grandparents, where I lived for 4 months each year, there were only our kin & other black folks. Prior to gentrification, Adams-Morgan was predominantly Latino with a sprinkling of black revolutionaries including my parents & their friends -- the area had been utterly changed due to white flight a few years before I was born -- and thus my first language was Spanish & my primary identity was Chicana or Latina. As a babychile, I literally thought I would grow up to be Chicana round about age 20 & look just like Frida Kahlo in the women’s dress from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico.
Then, between age 8 - 20, I moved to Africa, living in various countries from Bamako, Mali in the Sahel to Accra, Ghana; living in Francophone & then Anglophone Africa, where initially my mother was a U.S. Ambassador (the 3rd woman of African descent to be so named in American History), I socialized with the international set, many expats, & attended the Lycee Francais for 8 years; but I also always knew many native Africans from the given country we were based in, as well as became early on what they now term Afropolitan. I was like Lupita Nyong’o or Michael Kiwanuka before they existed, but that was extremely complicated because I was a black American of southern roots which always confused people (and still does).
So again, I grew up with many children from Central & South America, then from West & East & Southern Africa, as well as Europeans, before going to boarding school in New England -- the only place yet that I’ve experienced culture shock, amongst the Mayflower descendants & other Yankees. At the progressive and then private schools I always attended, I also knew the first publically recognized/free boom of biracial (primarily black/white or black/Native American/white but also some black/Asian due to the VietNam War which was still raging when I was born) kids that had a certain new style upbringing and access due to the Civil Rights Movement and, like me, being the first born of my family not under Jim Crow. I socialized with all of these biracial kids & tended to be their lone black friend, but I didn’t have the exact same experiences as them because I was darker skinned than my Afro-Native mother & grandmother -- not as obviously Creolized -- and because I was reared abroad rather than in the States belonging to the Links, Jack & Jill, summering @ Oak Bluffs & apart of other “Old Freedom Bourgeoisie” lifestyle happenings. So, actually, the majority of the time, my twin sister & I could only identify with our own circle of two.
HOW DID YOUR PARENTS MEET?
I no longer recall the details; but they were both 1960s revolutionaries from the South & pan-Africanists who had been living in Africa (separately, then together) since 1960. I always inquired -- before my mother went to the Spirit World -- & have repeatedly been given the answer that the sisters & brothers who cared about Africa and their progressive Third World coalition-building concerns back in the 1950s & 1960s were initially very few, so all the now famous people of the Movement -- most of whom my parents were friends with or knew from actions -- and my kin involved in the revolution were relatively tight compared to the apathy, disunion and mutual hatred of the post-racial black community today.
WERE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT OBSTACLES IN THEIR RELATIONSHIP CORRELATED TO YOUR BACKGROUNDS?
Yes, my grandmother (being redbone, Native American/African/Scottish) did not like my father, blamed him for the dilution of our blood/change of hair, stopped speaking to my mother for over a year when she cut her hair & etc…
HAS YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY ALWAYS BEEN SUPPORTIVE OF YOU BEING MULTIRACIAL?
Not entirely. My mother subsumed her Native identity under the black one dominating the 1960s, only to return to it before she walked on. Because of her color, she was always claimed by Ethiopians (Amharas) as one of them & she spoke fluent Amharic, lived in Addis Ababa etc. When I first moved to Mali, the natives there that were Fulani considered me one of them. I always knew I was Native from birth, but was not raised on the reservation & grew up abroad away from American culture point blank; so I have had to find my own way along the Red Road once I left home.
I now live mostly immersed in Indian Country, but I still honor my African roots as well as the Scottish ones via my music, which is Native Americana/Black Hillbilly/mountain music derived from the blend of African-Native American-Scotch-Irish in the Southeast where I hail from. There were some issues when I married my ex-husband, who is of Danish descent with some Albion contribution; but then again, I have always lived & socialized amongst an extremely diverse population & was educated with kids from France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain etc & I formerly worked at the United Nations -- so there would have been too much hypocrisy to completely condemn certain choices I have made in life.
DID YOU CELEBRATE TRADITIONS FROM BOTH SIDES OF YOUR FAMILY?
See above responses. We mostly observed southern traditions & then many diverse cultural practices from different nations in Africa, especially Yoruba (we were supposed to be born in Lagos & have dual citizenship) & Ashanti.
WERE THERE MULTIPLE LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD?
My parents were not raised with foreign languages (although my mother particularly gained knowledge due to her work, as well as being fluent in Amharic & Swahili) & my Native tongue has been dead for at least 300 years. Yet my sister & I were raised on foreign languages from the start; I have been educated / fluent in Spanish, French, and absorbed some Bambara, Arabic, Sotho, Twi, Tamashek, German, Turkish, Tsalagi...
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR CULTURAL BACKGROUND?
On most days, the Music, for music is my grand passion & the only constant in my very complex & turbulent life. All of these other aspects you cite, have waxed & waned or even been taken away from me, but the music has always remained no matter where I was in the world. No doubt, this has contributed to me becoming an artist. Even before I was a singer-songwriter, for most of my existence I have (only) made connections with people based on music. Of course, I do dress in Native American style adapted to my particular Taurean sense of adornment & love my regalia…& never turn down a chance to have some stone ground grits OR great frybread!
WHAT ACTIONS DID YOUR PARENTS TAKE TO TEACH YOU ABOUT YOUR DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS?
Even though my parents were upraised in segregated, mostly southern areas & culture, we were exposed to the whole wide world from the beginning. Aside from being deeply steeped in African history, we’d been to all the major & minor D.C. museums before we were 5 years old, and consistently exposed to many cultures beyond our multilingual education. My parents were in the Movement & traveled a lot, so we spent even more time with our southern grandmothers, learning our heritage & pre-1960s traditions. We were taken to marches, actions & diverse cultural events -- I first came to love bluegrass, mountain music & the Song of the Plains Indians from toddling after my mother at the Folklife Festival & similar programs.
DID YOU TALK ABOUT RACE A LOT IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP?
Yes, all the time -- it was the Revolution & then the long era of always trying to re-attain the Movement that had disintegrated
DO YOU IDENTIFY AS MIXED OR SOMETHING ELSE?
I identify as Native American. Ultimately, there’s not really such a thing as a “black Indian;” but due to racism & historical miscegenation laws, there’s a lot of blood quantum & enrollment issues that plague Indian Country unto this day. Still, I always honor all sides.
DOES RACE WEIGH INTO WHO YOU CHOOSE TO DATE?
Again, my ex was Danish-American. My preference has always been Native American men, but have only recently been meeting them in significant numbers, due to being raised abroad. At least since I was age 7 or so, there’s never been more than 1 or 2 -- African or black American - boys in any of my classes/grades, so dating black guys or only black guys has never been a luxury afforded me -- & frankly, the few black folks there were around, especially in boarding (high) school, mostly did not cotton to us having such a nontraditional, “weird” upbringing; they were not pan-African nor conscious nor what the millennials now call “woke” -- the black & Afro-Latino kids denigrated us for growing up in Africa, even at the heights of Native Tongues hip-hop/Acid Jazz/London’s second Summer Of Love/early 1990s Black Renaissance heyday.
With biracial black/white guys, I have always had to be just the friend, usually their only black girl-friend who their mothers tended to wish we would date but they all chose white women to partner with & have children with. I have dated an Aztec in the past.
WHAT DOES BEING MIXED MEAN TO YOU?
I was raised around a diverse set of cultures, never given the choice to just remain solely in the Black Community, so I just see the world always that way rather than being wed to blackskin chauvinism -- despite being born into the height of that sentiment. Ultimately, I am myself, with all the complexities that entails & I am starting to be middle-aged, so I am just becoming ever more deeply rooted in what that is.
DO YOU HAVE A LOT OF FRIENDS WHO ARE MIXED?
See above; due to my liminal position in society, I was privy to a lot of the issues & growing pains & internal self-hatred of kids from the boom of interracial marriage in the 1960s/Afrohippies/AffirmativeAction/growth of the black middle class. It’s all given me a unique perspective, as I have watched the post-racial viewpoint rise & lived amidst Obama America plus the social media debates of “mixed chicks,” “team dark skin vs. team light skin,” Black Women’s Empowerment, & seen the natural hair movement return. These gleanings have fed into my social choices & certainly informed my activism.
Yet I have really mostly learned from my own personal sojourn, as a child of multiple roots growing up on both sides of the Atlantic; being an Afrohippie & aging Deadhead who spent years on the road traveling between concerts & Coastopia; having covered the next wave of southern rock as a (black female) rock journalist & music editor in an extremely white male English-speaking field; and now abiding as a Native Americana/black hillbilly/Cosmic American Music artist in the country & Americana genres which do not generally accept black, Native, and other artists of color. I continue to be misunderstood & not accepted in different social/cultural scenes, and yet still I rise. And I Sing.
ARE THERE ANY COMMENTS YOU ARE REALLY TIRED OF HEARING FROM PEOPLE IN REGARDS TO RACE/CULTURE?
If I had a dime for every time someone non-black touched my hair growing up…& I wish that within Indian Country there would not be so much privileging of the white-passing over the black, considering that here in the East, most of the surviving nations are tri-racial & we need unity now in this era of Standing Rock - I have been part of the Dakota Access Pipeline & Algonquin Pipeline resistance for months, doing activism primarily in Indian Country all of 2016 -- more than ever.
Also: folks should stop telling me there are no/they never heard of a black country singer; I have recorded 2 country & western albums, Stampede & Canyons, & been writing lots of songs for the next few I hope to get a record deal for, including a song for our precious water protectors of Standing Rock - “Mni Wiconi (Water Is Life).” And I lead a diverse, black and white, Native Americana band called Cactus Rose that is based in Harlem - yes, Harlem-on-the-Range. I also associate with some of the Federation Of Black Cowboys members, who sometimes tend to be “Afro-Native” and includes some hillbilly musicians -- like my friend AR of Ebony Hillbillies.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM FOR THE FUTURE OF AMERICA IN REGARDS TO RACE?
I am for complete liberation of Turtle Island & all that entails.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO SHARE?
Just everyone -- but particularly my sistahs -- try to finally get over the hair; the battles waged over it are not productive & we have so many more important issues to tend to for our survival (although I understand that, as a woman, beauty is a central reality). I was born into “Black Is Beautiful” & believed that would never change, only to see the gains of that era whittled away bit by bit to the sad state today wherein black men & women are mostly at war with each other. None of this infighting has yielded ultimate positive results nor progress has it? We shall never return to some glorious, isolated City of Zinj -- I know only too well -- in the Motherland; we need to try far harder to all get along, never forgetting nor abandoning our Roots, yet all truly learning how to live & love together, as Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, & all my most beloved Bold As Love artists of the 1960s & 1970s strove to articulate.