Thursday, January 22, 2009

ADOPTING ACROSS RACIAL LINES - Barbara Bearsinger Part 3

I asked Barbara, after reading a couple of articles written by adult trans racial adoptees who felt angry at their parents, whether Barbara's daughter had ever mentioned any similar feelings. Here is her answer:
"My daughter hasn't really said anything much to me about the differences in our races -- in the main, she actually views me as "Native American", i.e., not very different from her.

In that regard, I've found myself in a strange kind of dichotomy at times. When we were involved with the NA cultural organization I mention in my write-up, there were members who were full-bloods, members who were half-bloods, and members who were of lesser blood degrees as well as various sorts of mixed-bloods. This mattered to some members in the sense of defining "how Indian" someone was. The government perpetuated this categorizing by setting up a lot of its programs for NAs based on blood quantum -- a person had to have at least 1/4 NA blood to be eligible for some of the programs. The tribes traditionally didn't think about their members that way, but they've had to in our lifetime because of the government. The effect has been to create a kind of subtle internal discrimination amongst tribal members who often view full-bloods as the REAL Indians. We had several full-blood members, and oddly enough, I was picked up as a friend and included in their camaraderie more often than most of the mixed-bloods who were part Indian and part white. Mind you, I have NO NA blood. But I was raised on reservations, and even though I didn't personally live under the same conditions of hardship and deprivation that most reservations-dwellers did/do, the common ground of knowing reservation life mattered more to the full-bloods and inspired more trust and friendship, than did the fact of whether or not I had any NA blood.

So from that standpoint, my daughter saw me mingle comfortably, and this afforded her the opportunity to mingle more comfortably, etc. So in her view, she doesn't really see a racial difference between us.

On a broader level, I can tell you that a lot of NA tribes -- maybe most -- don't feel it is a good idea for their children to be adopted out to white people. And it's mainly over concerns the children will lose their heritage. There is some foundation for that concern on beyond the fact that the children will be raised far from their native people. White people historically have taken NA children away -- to boarding schools, into home service (as maids and what not), with the express purpose of stripping them of their "Indian-ness". They were shorn of their hair with no regard for the fact that hair and how it is worn is a sacred expression ... punished for speaking in their native language, etc. I saw the native language thing myself when I was in first grade -- the teacher washed out the mouths of 2 Navajo kids for speaking to each other a word or two. Being NA was viewed as being "dirty". Very similar in many ways to how African Americans have been treated, but a lot of NAs think the African Americans had it better because at least the white man let them be African American and didn't try to make them white!

And I've read about NA kids who were adopted by whites and grew up disdaining their adoptive parents because those parents treated the children as if they were white and ignored the obvious. A lot of white people try to express their lack of racial prejudice by pretending that they don't "see" any difference between themselves and people of color. But there IS a difference. Pretending it doesn't exist is false. The Real Thing is to know and acknowledge the difference and yet not see "different" people as LESS than we are (as whites).

With regard to Indians, this stuff isn't something that folks in the mid-Atlantic states are likely to know much about, because the tribes there were so overcome and decimated that little of their own culture and traditions is left. My daughter's tribe -- the Rappahannock -- are extremely disorganized. They are trying to re-learn anything they can about their own history and customs. I nearly broke down in tears when I saw their "museum" -- it was a little shack, populated with toy bows and arrows made in Japan, and presided over by their Chief who was wearing a full-feather Plains Indian head-dress that had nothing whatsoever to do with his own people. And somehow maintaining a kind of broke-down dignity. They are in no position to prevent their children from being parceled out to anyone who will take them when it comes to adoption.

Your daughter is going to receive love and joy in your arms. You will look at her color and see the beauty. You will give a damn about her heritage and make sure she knows it -- both the pluses and minuses, so that she grows up relatively savvy about her country and people, their achievements and their needs. You'll make the effort to learn and fix some Ethiopian dishes (I love their flatbread, by the way, and the meat dishes to dip it in). If their culture contains myths and stories from times of old, you'll probably read those to her along with the Three Little Kittens and Cinderella. She is going to grow up very well rounded, I think, knowing she is both loved and respected. Such an upbringing doesn't give a child any reason to turn against a parent of another race.

Throughout history, races have adopted from each other (sometimes by stealing children but that's a different ballgame) without any particular problems arising from that, but I think in today's world we are so much better equipped to give children their true heritage than could ever happen before. The fault lies with those who don't think it is important and don't do it.

Hugs On Ya,
This concludes the two part (which turned in to three part!) series written by my friend Barbara Bearsinger. Thank you for taking the time, Barbara. I'm sure many will read this and learn a lot, either presently or in the future when I've stopped checking for comments. It's the kind of essay that will stand the test of time, I'm sure and I'm proud to be the blog host for it!

No comments: