Born in Baltimore, MD and raised in Raleigh, NC, Stepha Murphy was attending UNC-Chapel Hill when she was scouted for modeling during her third year of college. This was also the same time she experienced racism and discrimination from people whom she called “friends”. She and her partner Ben then moved to New York to model professionally. After being sexually assaulted at knifepoint (the culprit went unpunished) coupled with having an abusive manager, Stepha and Ben decided to form a band and model on her own terms. They have since moved to Los Angeles and are releasing their third single in August, as well as garnering modeling/branding opportunities and shows. While their journey has been crazy, Stepha would not change it for the world. Check out Stepha’s band here.
My name is Stepha Murphy, I am from the a ni sa ho ni (The Blue Clan) of the Cherokee Nation on my father’s side, Apache on my Mother’s and African American descent. Due to slavery, I’m not sure what countries my African American ancestors came from originally.
Growing up, I was always aware of both sides of my heritage but I never delved too deeply into them. In school, all of the white kids would blurt out that they were 1/16th or 1/32nd “Indian” in History class. Yet, these were the same kids that would make fun of my sisters and me on the bus, say racist remarks and physically abuse us. I remembered thinking that they were distinctly using my identity, that they found to be exotic, for convenience and then throwing it away. I think my formative years were when I realized that in this country one of my identities was deemed a myth while the other was a hardship.
It wasn’t until I got older that I started delving more into my Native culture and being proud of who I am, instead of ashamed. With this came an entirely new set of issues. People would ask me what I was all the time. I would answer, “Native and Black” and I would constantly get the same reactions. Either people would say, “You don’t look Native!” “I thought you were part Asian.” or “You’re Indian? That’s so unique”. These infuriate me because we look all sorts of ways, there is no mold that you have to fit into to identify or be part something. Also, we aren’t extinct, despite the overwhelming effort to make that a reality. I became woke, and sometimes wished I could go back to sleep.
Eventually, I moved to New York and started modeling professionally and subsequently formed a band, Uruguay, with my partner. Within the modeling industry, I have faced my fair share of atrocities with racism, sexism, and identity. There are only three other Indigenous models that I know of and being black lessened my opportunities within the industry substantially. I can’t count how many times people have said, “You’re beautiful for an ethnic girl but we aren’t looking for any more ethnic girls right now,”.
Even if it’s telling my story so that other Black and Native girls and boys know that there are others out there like them, it makes a difference.
It wasn’t until I started doing music that everything has seemed to come together. I see the adversities that my heritage brings forth. I can’t trace my complete heritage back as far as I would like because of slavery, my people have been victimized and still are and instead of being addressed we are ignored, stigmatized and underrepresented! However, our music group is starting to gain more of a platform and with that, I have the power and responsibility to enact some change. Even if it’s telling my story so that other Black and Native girls and boys know that there are others out there like them, it makes a difference. I am making my voice heard and putting a big jilt in this homogeneous white culture. I am standing up and refusing to roll over as an ultimate form of power that I personally work hard to practice daily. I am proud of my African American and Native American heritage, I would not trade being me for the world. I don’t care what other people have to say, what they see, or what they put on me; it won’t stop me. My ancestors were strong. They beat all the odds and survived, through me. That’s what I bring to the table. So above anything else, I am a healer, a warrior and a force of nature!
Stepha Murphy’s story is featured as part of our Native Max Afro-Native series, a space on nativemax.com dedicated to the Black and Native narrative. Read more stories and information here. To submit your story, email us at nativemax(at)gmail.com.