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For those lucky people who have been given a true sense of their family history my story may seem quite unusual. However, today families ar...

Thursday, August 3, 2017

REPARATIONS

This is a tough topic for me and has painted a large portion of my life.  I cannot explain the responsibility I feel to at minimum discuss my historical past, and how knowing and witnessing this past will in some way help.  Maybe it just helps me, I don't know.  But, I feel compelled to express my view of reparation.

I am American, British, Irish, Scottish, German, Swiss, French, Native American, Scandinavian, Portuguese, Spainish, Sardinian, West African, and very far back Turkish, Greek, and finally Neanderthal.  You know what....that pretty much covers the world.  I am earth, yet I am not just one of the above, so am I nothing?
On one hand my ancestors served, on the other they destroyed.  So...what does reparation mean to me.  What do I claim as my heritage?  Does only royal ancestry count?  I have been told by certain genealogist, yes…but alas, they are dead wrong.

I’ve been seeing something within the Native American community that concern me, that I see as the continuation of a pattern of destruction and suppression. Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of postings, with pictures, by people who claim Native American heritage (the “Diluted”), who are subsequently accused of not looking “native” by others who fear that their Native American heritage is being stolen (the “Purists”).  Purists condemn anyone who claim native heritage without having been raised on a reservation, or has diluted blood (e.g., less than 80% native blood). This does nothing for the Native community as a whole, except exacerbate the pain and emptiness which already burden Purists.  My question to Purists is, “Do you really want to use the same tactics used by the Aryan Race to destroy and suppress ‘mongrels’?  The same tactics used by White Supremacists?”  Please....no....
I understand why tribes have to have regulations for membership in a tribe, because of recognition from the US government.  That does not have to influence treatment of those who just want to celebrate their heritage without affecting tribal recognition, I know that can be a gray area sometimes, but again, a small minority. 

This behavior is similar to what happens in the black community when someone with "light" black skin color dares to claim his/her black heritage even though s/he had a white mom or dad.  In the 1800's, such were listed on the census as "mulatto."  This was and has never been viewed as a positive term. It was often used to suppress, even within the black community, traumatizing those who were ostracized by the very people who should have embraced them.  Many in the black community viewed mulattos as “privileged,” because they could frequently pass as white. Some mulattos could and did advance themselves with the help of white privilege.  Would they have been better off staying within the black community?  Should they have stayed within the black community and accepted the shame and isolation of that choice?  Why should Purists force a choice upon mulattos that they themselves need never make?  

How do we heal inter-communal racism? Black, red, yellow…. It might be helpful to first remember that there are no absolutes, only shades of gray, exemplified by my own ancestry.

On my mother's side (which is predominantly from the south and southwest), I cannot find one direct ancestor that fought for the south in the civil war, nor owned slaves, not one, yay, right?  BUT, on my father's side, not only do I have direct ancestors who fought for the south and owned slaves, I also have two Native American chiefs (Werowances) whose progeny owned slaves (and possibly the chiefs as well).  (Yes, Native Americans in the south sometimes owned slaves!  I can delve into this for pages, but let's stay on point.)

Also on my mother's side, I have a direct ancestor who, in his time, was a well-known buffalo hunter in Kansas.  He massacred an amazing number of buffalo.  It hasn't been proven yet, but his grandfather was adopted and was believed to have been Native American.  

Whites who hunted buffalo and owned slaves.  But also whites who didn’t own slaves. And Native Americans who did own slaves!  Who the hell am I?  Do I celebrate my white ancestry and feel ashamed of my Native American ancestry? Or do I feel ashamed of them both? How should I reconcile such surprising discrepancies?  This is where, for me, reparation is important.  I learn about all of my ancestry.  But more importantly, I honor all of my ancestry – the good and the bad and, more frequently, the grey. I think that it’s okay to feel a connection to my Native American ancestry even though I look and am predominantly white.  I do not take anything away from anyone (including Purists) by doing this.  I serve the buffalo by showing their beauty to others in pictures on my Facebook page and elsewhere.  Someday I hope to put my hands on a buffalo and weep. This will heal me and maybe even the buffalo.  Or maybe just me, I don't know.

Elsewhere, I honor my West African heritage by referring to my black friends as “my brothers and sisters,” and by acting as witness to and shining the light on racism through Facebook posts and discussions with those who don't get it.  Does this very small part of my DNA come from one of my slave owning ancestors?  Probably.  I honor all of it.  I acknowledge the beauty and pride in us all and in all the heritages we represent.  I do everything I can to keep them alive regardless of the comprise in my own ancestry.  Do I do enough?  Probably not, but I will continue to honor and support every one of them in any way possible to help heal racism.  It takes nothing away from anyone to do so.  How about you?

I understand the desire to hold one’s heritage close, within one’s heart.  That is not permission, however, to push others away from their desire to also honor history – history that is shared by both Diluted and Purists.  Yes...you can share.  I know, there will always be those who will try to use "heritage" to their advantage.  But, really...what can they gain? They are a very small minority.  Should we let this small minority deepen racial wounds? Why, when there is support and healing to be gained by including everyone in honoring your heritage?  I'm not here to tell you what you should do.  But I do urge you to consider your own role in this spectrum. And I encourage you to share in the comments the ways in which you act to help heal these old wounds.

I started writing this article the day before reading about the UN announcement last year (making the rounds again on Facebook) about it's findings on US Slavery Reparations.  Serendipitous this would find me right as I was finishing the article. It's important to note that the UN just had recommendations, no "orders"...... 
“a formal apology, health initiatives, educational opportunities…psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer and financial support, and debt cancellation.”
 Washington Post article 2016

An amazing hero, Peter Norman showing what reparation is all about.  Peter Norman

Clearly, this won't happen.  Here's a little history on slavery reparation for more in-depth reading.








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