Circe Dawn Sturm

National Endowment for the Humanities Resident Scholar


Claiming Redness: The Racial and Cultural Politics of Becoming Cherokee

 In 2000, the U.S. Census revealed a phenomenal increase in the total American Indian population, a growth of 647 percent over forty years. This startling jump cannot be explained by natural processes such as birth and death rates. Instead, it appears to be dominated by what Circe Sturm calls “racial shifters,” individuals who have changed their racial identity from white to Native American. A disproportionate number of these racial shifters, Sturm has found, are Cherokee.

In Claiming Redness: The Racial and Cultural Politics of Becoming Cherokee, Sturm investigates the motivations and rationales behind this choice to move from a powerful unmarked social position to a less powerful one. She is focusing on “shifters” who base their Native American identity on a belief in ancestral blood ties that have been denied, sometimes for generations.

“I want to understand the deeper social and cultural values that lie behind this racial movement and why so many Americans, from so many walks of life, are now finding such deep personal and collective meaning in the process of claiming redness,” Sturm states. “This is something people were not so willing to do forty years ago, and the fact that they do so now, I believe, reveals much about contemporary race relations in the United States.”

Sturm finds that this unexpected social movement also exposes serious questions about “our vocabularies of difference,” and contends that words like race, culture, and ethnicity are now “imprecise and even redundant.” In an era of neo-liberalism professing a multicultural neutrality, these terms can serve to gloss over unique historical and political forms of oppression and have become, in fact, “power evasive.”

“What I am arguing is that neo-liberalism offers a thinly veiled racism of a new variety, one in which such claims can be made without being questioned, one whose very emphasis on culture, class, individualism, and choice paves the way for race shifting by denying the persistence of racism as well as the meaningfulness of race at all.”

Affiliation at time of award:
Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology and Native American Studies, University of Oklahoma

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