POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 18, 2013:
Baby Veronica & You:
"Primary colors" are not everything
I have a nearly eidetic memory of an afternoon from my childhood: I was watching a western on television during a brief stay in Oklahoma City.
After the show was over, I asked my granddad, who I was hanging with for a couple of days, if we could play "Cowboy and Indian" -- having been inspired by my movie.
My granddad, a superb ranch hand, a meat butcher, and a professional cowboy, told me that it might be a little hard for him since he was both the cowboy and the Indian. He was of mixed African-American and Native American lineage and had a pretty complex, really grand, multi-strand identity. And there are hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans and millions of Americans who are in the same boat -- including this writer.
I think it's in part why many people, including yours truly, get pretty confused about the Baby Veronica matter. Part of the haze comes from the seemingly eternal court proceedings, claims and counterclaims, invocations of the Indian Child Welfare Act, statements from Cherokee tribal court folks, and press pieces from Oklahoma and South Carolina -- the conflation of all this stuff and Tulsa World's maniacal coverage of the case makes my head spin.
I've got a small army of legal buddies. I've talked to a half dozen of them about the case. I'm especially grateful to a sketch briefing that Tulsa attorney/friend John DesBarres provided for me this week. But the legal vista, from my point of view, doesn't begin to illuminate the larger implications of the Baby Veronica case for adopted children, multiracial families, and the whole of family futures in our increasingly polyglot world.
About three weeks ago, Albert Murray died. He was an extremely talented writer, a jazz critic, and a contemporary and close friend of legendary black novelist Ralph "Invisible Man" Ellison -- a dude with Oklahoma roots. A man with a dazzling array of talent, Murray was a powerful advocate for a deeply pluralistic America, which he wrote about in his 1970 (still powerfully relevant fire-starter) book The Omni-Americans.
"The United States is not a nation of black and white people. Any fool can see that white people are not really white, and that black people are not black...," he wrote. America, he maintained, "even in its most rigidly segregated precincts," was a "nation of multicolored people," or Omni-Americans: "part Yankee, part backwoodsman and Indian -- and part Negro."
Some readers may know the Indian Child Welfare Act was crafted by Congress in the '70s in the wake of heavily documented, widespread adoption abuses. Native American children in huge numbers were being pulled from Native American populations and handed off to foster homes. There they were made "available" for adoption to mostly non-Indian parents. And the long history prior to the '70s, vis a vis Native American children and adults and the cataclysmic mess that slavery made of Africa-American families is so nasty that I really shouldn't have to speak of it. And the corpus of events here is especially evident to many Oklahomans whose older relatives and ancestors were the victims of a whole line of oppressive, near-genocidal practices that went to child welfare.
The Baby V case, in the judgment of many, is a complex application of the Indian Child Welfare Act, and it is easy, via the press coverage of the case, to see the elevated role that tribal organizations now play in the lives of Native American children who become "available" or are deemed "available" by often-provincial state courts. And it's important to know that while the Indian Child Welfare Act, as I understand it, leans heavily in the direction of placing Native American children in Native American homes -- it is not prescriptive -- other options are, in fact, allowed by the legislation and the procedures that govern same. Interestingly, though, another lawyer friend (sports writer/attorney M.J. Denman) tells me that all American adoptions routinely feature a set of inquiries ascertaining whether not the kid in question is Native American and will therefore be subject to the rules associated with the Act.
I'm not a lawyer nor a legal analyst, so I won't attempt to delve into the law dynamics associated with the Baby Veronica Case. No, this piece is about social policy and the underlying assumptions that play a heavy role in American adoptions and look to be in play in the Veronica case: specifically, that a White, Native American, an Asian-American, or an African-American kid is always better off with adopted parents or guardians that are a match from a racial /ethnic background. While there's a stout body of evidence about this matter from the social science literature, I'm going to confine this essay to a softer canvas.
New York, New York
Some readers may know that New York City recently completed the first round of a mayoral election that will replace the legendary Michael Bloomberg.
Last week, the apparent democratic nominee, Bill de Blasio, came from way back in the pack to secure the 40 percent share of support required to forestall a runoff campaign for the Democratic nomination. He did so, according to several observers, in no small measure with a widely watched campaign video shot with his African-American son -- it's important to note that Bill de Blasio is a white male in his late 50s married to an African American woman. In the event, de Blasio's 16-year-old son spoke about the impact of Mayor Bloomberg's infamous stop and frisk policy on his own life and its corrosive impact on the day-to-day life of some of his friends.
Mayor Bloomberg's stop and frisk policy is extremely contentious in New York City. The long and short here: stop and frisk, according to David Kennedy, a renowned police science scholar, and a chorus of his peers, is authoritarian and monumentally inefficient given its correlating effect on crime rates.
But I don't want to move too far away from my point here -- the kid's video helped his dad hugely, but it's also a highly visible signpost of how families in America are becoming increasingly hybridized and how it's possible for a white father to have an enduring, panoramic connection with his black son -- a son with a big afro and a vibrant connection, by several accounts, to African-American traditions, history, and enduring concerns.
The other obvious exhibit of the new American hybrid family and its emerging consequence in America is our president. He is, of course, half white, half African-American and was raised, for the most part, by his white grandparents. Anybody in America who believes that Barack Obama was somehow damaged by his polyglot, intensely pluralistic upbringing and multiracial relatives is smoking some really strange stuff. Interestingly, Baby V is half white and half Native American.
So, whatever the outcome of the convoluted Baby V case, we should bear in mind that the interests of a prospective adoptee child are complex, multi-tiered, and very demanding. And having a parent or parents who shares an ethnic or racial legacy is important, but far from an omnibus requirement.
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