Benefits

By Talon Ducheneaux

“The following was written in direct reaction to a situation faced a few weeks ago, without much edits or grammatical hesitation in order to keep the reality flowing.” – Talon

So I’m running some errands around campus for my summer work-study job today, and this Caucasian guy (I only point his identity because he felt the need to point to mine) comes up to me and asks for two dollars for some food. I apologize, as I don’t have anything on me and need to get these errands ran. He yells over to me as I’m walking away, “I’m Native too, man! And I don’t get ANY benefits! I’m 60% Native even and I don’t get ANYTHING! This person I know is 2% and he gets benefits! It’s #$%^ing insane!” I stopped and looked at him, listened to him as he finished his rant, and walked away with a boa constrictor squeezing my chest.

Get out of here with those ignorant stereotypical colonized claims! I grew up with family that dealt with injustice and anything but “benefits” – not even really much “aid” to get them to the point where they could be receiving “benefits”! My family busts their @#$% every damn day just to live. My parents are on their separate journeys in this phase of life today and as of recent, we may
not see eye-to-eye, but I’ve seen them persevere through injustice and hatred throughout my whole childhood. My father, who busted his ass to get a Ph.D. – overcome obstacles of low expectation, and then be told he was “pissing away his Doctoral degree” when he returned home to help (if anyone says something like that to me when I return, btw, we ain’t relatives anymore). I watched my father ask for hotel rooms and hotel suites, be told “we’re out of those” with 4 cars in the driveway, and then receive a surprised “Oh! DOCTOR Ducheneaux! You know, something may have opened up!” Because like the late-Tupac Shakur stated, “I don’t care if you think you’re a Doctor, Lawyer, Black, African American, WE’RE STILL THUGS TO THESE MOTHER%#@ERS!” (“… than what’s happening here – another quote from Tupac Shakur).”).

I’ve been through it, denied past guidance counselor’s discouragement towards applying to UPenn with statements of “Are you sure? It’s really hard and costs a lot of money.” Past the colonial savior complexed “assistors” who only wanted to benefit and exploit my story – who consistently assumed that I didn’t have what it takes to be intelligent/sound/present intelligently and appropriately – people who’d ask for my voice and then assume that I didn’t have the talent or skill to give it. The only “Native” themed scholarship I even received was one two-year writer scholarship that I busted my ass on the essay for, and one for being valedictorian (that I almost didn’t even receive or know about). I received help and assistance along the way, but it was never due to my identity or Indigeneity.

I’ve busted my ass and still have been hungry, went without, and wronged. I’ve sent money back to my in-need mother, knowing that I can’t even help that much from afar but can only say “I love you” and hope that she’ll be alright and continue to be as strong as she is. I’ve been in the situations out here where I’ve had to tell my brother to wait until the next checks come in from working so that I can replace the shoes he’s had holes in for months. I’ve exhausted myself broke because we’re still in this struggle together. I’ve had to say my prayers from afar, smudging where the city allows me to without assuming I’m getting high so that I can wish my fallen relatives a safe journey to the other side, and for my newborn nieces and nephews to have a great start to theirs. I’ve had people come to me only to use my identity and struggle as a mere translator and storyteller for places they’re too afraid to step inside of. I’ve had people see me at events that I’m speaking at, with looks of “should he be here?” to then come up to me after I use my voice with proper colonial handshakes and statements of “Oh, Mr. Ducheneaux, you did a great job over there!” I’ve been put on the spot to speak in place of my culture and community in situations where I PAID THE TUITION to learn instead of having to be the spokesman token for those professors who truly don’t get it yet and may never get it, even when that’s their focus of teaching.

I’ve experienced and witnessed myself and my relatives around me face the consequences for things that never even were due to them. Poverty and neglect that can be traced back to being the indirect and easy-to-justify-and-escape colonization and genocide done onto Indigenous peoples across the planet. I’ve seen then, me and the youth around me, be critiqued, ostracized, and demonized when all we did was deal with and try to do what we thought was right and better for ourselves and our communities. People who didn’t go off rez for long to help home, only to then be discouraged and told that “they didn’t make something of themselves”. People like my father, who were told that they were “wasting their careers and degrees” when helping home. People like me, who were told that we then “turned our backs on our communities” by taking the long, lonely, and nomadic journey that would eventually lead to bettering situations for people like us in the future. Everyone, and every situation imaginable, seemingly never good enough for whoever felt the need to criticize and drag down more.

That’s the things we overcame and still overcome. With the PTSD symptoms still shaking off of our bodies and mentalities (“That’s just a bump from the other room, Talon. Not another party or fight.”), we broke and continue to break apart and decolonize these oppressive symptoms. So to that guy today, and to everyone else who thinks that by having this identity we somehow “get a pass” and “receive massive benefits” – go to our communities. View what we have. Walk in our shoes, on our grass, on our dirt, with our “red skin” as a barrier from the privilege you’ve received as a white male, then come back to me and pretend to talk that shit with a straight face that portrays something you still believe in. I doubt it. It’s impossible anyway, I know that. The only reason I wasn’t “hostile” back to you, nor even raised a finger back, is because who matches the police description here? I have a family to help, a community to show my light to, relatives and friends to show my love to, and I know it’d be harder to do that in a cell or in death, because let’s face it, I’m red and I’m “hostile” right? Ain’t too bright of a chance they’d see me as the one in the right, unless I somehow manage to pull out my Ivy League ID in record time (but hopefully my wallet doesn’t look too much like a weapon). With ALL OF THIS (yes, I realize it’s a lot to read, but hey, it was a lot to experience! And more!) I still have to retort calmly back to you and back to everyone giving me that oppressive force. “Benefits” my ass.

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