Wednesday, January 21, 2009

ADOPTING ACROSS RACIAL LINES - Barbara Bearsinger Part 2

Here is the continuation of Barbara's piece on trans racial adoption, specifically in the Native American and African American communities:

"It was a good thing that our daughter learned to accept all of herself and value all of her background in our home. The outer world was not so kind. As a child of color in a predominantly white town – and the only child of color in her school – our daughter was subjected to some truly sad experiences. Other children didn’t want to be friends with her. Teenage boys who rode her school bus got our phone number and called her up to say filthy things – to a 9-year-old little girl!! -- until “Mama” found out what was going on and put a swift stop to THAT.

It’s ignorance. And irrational fears born out of ignorance.

There was a time in the past of all of us – way way back for most, not so far for others, and sadly still too near at hand for some – when strangers were to be met with suspicion and fear. Specifically, the strangers who looked different by color, who spoke a different language and wore clothing and had customs that were unfamiliar. When a group of “us” encountered a group of “them”, who knew what “they” might do? In the far distant past, life was precarious enough without weird-looking and weird-sounding people coming along to hunt and fish the same grounds and make the game even more scarce than it was. And who knew for sure that they were even people, the way We were People? Opting for common sense, we ran them off, or they ran us off, preferring to be safe rather than sorry (if possible).

Racial and cultural prejudices are nothing new. They are as old as human experience, and fundamentally they came out of the need for survival and self-preservation. In other words, there was a time in the history of the world when such feelings were literally instinctive and necessary – they were GOOD because they kept us safe from others who might be, and probably were often, enemies.

Those times are gone for the most part, or should be gone. Certainly, in developed nations, we don’t need to fear each other for reasons of color and culture, as there is enough to go around. The United States, in particular, is a country in which all races and cultures have joined together for the benefit of all. While this doesn’t work perfectly in all places at all times, it actually does work pretty well and every generation contributes to making even more improvements.

Fortunately for my daughter, I fell into an opportunity to make a contribution in the community that was of immense help to her. I had been somewhat involved in the Native American Rights Movement, and my background came to the attention of someone in the school system who called to ask if I’d be a volunteer resource person for the county schools in the area of Native American culture and history. I agreed to give it a try.

This endeavor involved going into classrooms and talking about Native Americans, answering questions and the like. It was an easy job – what child isn’t interested in “the Indians”? As I had lived longest among the Western Apache and still had many friends there, I chose to specifically represent that tribe and usually showed up at the school wearing a long, colorful “camp dress” as worn by Apache women, and carrying on my back a cradleboard with a little “baby” strapped inside. I brought with me items from several tribes: pottery, baskets, drums, a turtle shell rattle, a Kachina doll. My talk delved into the traditional past of these tribes, and included what goes on with them in the present day.

The first school I was invited to was the elementary school where my daughter attended. I made a point of asking how many children in the class knew they had Native American blood, because I was aware that many white pioneer families in the area had intermarried with Shawnee and Cherokee people in the past. Although the children didn’t identify as Native American, to a practiced eye the Native American characteristics were often evident in the shape of cheekbones and eyes. One by one, the hands would go up until it was clear that roughly a quarter of these children had some Native American blood, albeit far back in their genealogy, and knew it. Then I mentioned my daughter and told them about her tribe. It was a wonderful opportunity to use their natural interest in “Indians” as a means to point out that we all have tribal roots of one sort or another and that all groups of people have interesting and delightful things to share.

The added benefit was an increased respect for my daughter among the other children. The rude behaviors toward her stopped and her time in school became a much happier experience.

I feel we were very lucky that this particular school opportunity came up, but there were other activities that we sought out which were of equal benefit to her development. We were able to establish contact with a Native American cultural organization in the Washington, DC area, and through that association our children were able to participate in pow-wows and overnight camping with Native Americans of many tribes who traveled to participate.

Now grown, my daughter proudly identifies her mixed racial heritage and takes her own daughters to pow-wows.

Raising a child of another race certainly isn’t as easy as raising a child of one’s own background. One has to work a little harder to give the child a strong sense of his/her own genetic identity and place within that sphere while at the same time ensuring that the child feels 100% a member of the family, regardless of racial difference. Unique challenges are presented, but the opportunities far outweigh the concerns, and in the final analysis a well-blended family represents the most important thing of all, the one thing we all have in common that stands above the differences: our humanity. "

Thank you SO MUCH, Barbara, for taking the time to write down your thoughts and experiences to share with us.


Michelle J said...

Thanks for sharing Barbara. I'm not even adopting, but I loved reading your story and felt I learned a thing or two as well.

Calmil2 said...

Excellent! Thank you. Harmony

Catebb said...

Barbara, that was beautiful. Thank you for sharing that glimpse of your family journey.
PS thinking of you :)