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Radmilla's resonance

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Radmilla Cody
  • Radmilla Cody

A lot of the idiocy I’ve experienced as a biracial woman has resulted from people smooshing together my two cultures — black and white — and ignoring the fact that I have any Caucasian heritage. I’ve been asked for the “black woman’s opinion.” (I missed the memo where I was elected as the representative for all African-American women on Earth, but cool, thanks for the promotion!) I was told by a professor that I would like a particular graduate school (ironically enough, it was Brown University) because of the opportunities afforded to minorities. (Yes, she did!) I’ve had more than one person, all too recently in fact, say, “Well, whatever” when I corrected them and said “I’m biracial, not black.”

No, it’s not “whatever” and before I get any hate mail, this is not to say I am not immensely proud of my African-American heritage. My mother is beautiful, proud, strong, and intelligent and she raised me right. She also raised me alongside my white father, who is awesome, fierce, funny, and kind. (You’d think they were paying my rent, wouldn’t you?) I say this to explain: I am made of two cultures. Both are equally important to me. You don’t discount a race just because you can’t easily see it. (Okay, I’m light-skinned so you can see it, but you get the point.)

Now. THAT intro is to explain why I so enjoyed hearing Radmilla Cody speak and perform on Saturday at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians & Western Art (500 West Washington Street). Cody, also biracial, appeared at the museum as part of Red/Black: Related through History, an exhibition open now until August 7 that explores the interwoven histories of African-Americans and Native Americans. (David Hoppe gave the exhibit five stars. Read his review here.)

Cody, who is Navajo (Diné) and African-American, was crowned Miss Navajo Nation in 1997. Her achievement — and it truly was considering but one of the skills contestants had to master was communicating fluently in Navajo — was marred by assholes who considered her ‘halfness’ as bringing shame upon the crown. The Eiteljorg screened Hearing Radmilla, a documentary about some of the controversy that followed her reign. At one point in the film, numerous letters to the editor were flashed across the screen with hateful phrases like “ethnic genocide” that made the audience gasp and murmur. During the Q&A following the film, I identified with Cody speaking of healing herself after being called the N word as a child. That she has overcome so much — the Miss Navajo backlash, domestic violence at the hands of her now-ex-boyfriend, and incarceration as a result of his illegal activities — and still possesses such a visible, beautiful spirit is a testament to her strength.

Cody, recently named one of NPR’s 50 Great Voices spoke at length during her concert about being an advocate for domestic violence prevention. Before and after, she sang in Navajo, the heady timbre of her voice accompanied only by the drum she played. Visit her website at http://radmillacody.net to hear her sing and perhaps order one of her four CDs. While you’re shopping, remember your favorite biracial blogger, eh?

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