CHEROKEE PEOPLE …

Mules are sterile.

Horses aren’t and donkeys aren’t. But when they (horses and donkeys) mate, they make a mule …and that’s where it ends. I guess that’s natures way of saying, “this doesn’t need to go any further.”

Nature or God or evolution or whatever you want to call it, tells us certain things loud and clear. Frogs and crocodiles don’t get down together. There are no “frogadiles” anywhere. To my knowledge, there are no dog/mountain-lion hybrids. Species breed within their species. That’s how you know they’re ONE species.

Where am I going with this?

One of the ways we know humans are all …well, humans …is that we can interbreed with any race. A white man and a black woman can produce children. An Asian woman and a Mexican man can produce a child. Any human, from any “race,” can reproduce another human …that will become a mix of those two races.

So, are humans really anything but ONE race?

As the story goes in my own family, my great, great grandmother (a Cherokee girl) was walking the trail of tears, when an Irish tavern owner, who’s tavern was just outside Nashville, bought her away from the tribe and married her. Then they produced my great grandmother, who married a man who’d been left (as a newborn) on the doorstep of some German immigrants inside Nashville. Those two produced my grandfather, who hooked up with a grocery store owner’s daughter (they stayed “hooked up” for the next 60 years) and produced my father …who married a preacher’s daughter (who’s great-grandparents had come to America as Irish, indentured servants to the transcontinental railroad) from Mississippi …and they produced me.

I married the daughter of a Mexican immigrant who’d produced her with an orphaned white girl from Clarksville, Tennessee. Because of some health issues, she and I couldn’t produce anyone (I guess that was nature’s way of saying “this doesn’t need to go any further), so we adopted a little girl from rural China. Then we adopted a little boy from Mississippi …who is 1/16 Cherokee, kind of completing the Cherokee circle. For the first ten days of his life, the Cherokee nation held the right to take my son away from us and bring him into the tribe. They chose not to …so now he’s being raised as a little white boy from Brentwood, Tennessee.

If you see my family, you will automatically categorize us as “white people.” We are anything BUT white people …and yet, we really couldn’t care less about whatever strains of humanity are flowing through our veins. Do those things make us, us?

Racism is the strangest of all ignorances. The idea that someone’s skin tone and physical makeup would make them inherently “something,” is akin to actually thinking girls with blonde hair are really dumber than the rest of us. And yet, I hear “blonde” jokes all the time …FROM BLONDES. I know it’s all in good fun, but it does speak to the fact that somehow we need “other” to make fun of.

We all have questions about the different races that we never say out loud. We all secretly wonder why people with black skin seem to have overall better athleticism than people with lighter skin. We all see the stereotypes of Asians playing violins and crushing math problems …literally on TV shows and in movies. Anyone who works in the entertainment business has heard all the “Jews run this town” jokes. And if you are raised white (or even just look white) you are deluged with white stereotypes constantly, both subtly and overtly. It’s just in the air; White Men Can’t Jump, the “white man’s” overbite (it’s a dance), “slow and white” (referring to white runners) and on and on and on.

Of course the granddaddy of all “white” bashing is the idea of “white privilege.” And to the probable shock of some of my readers, I do believe in such a thing as white privilege. Although I think of it more as cultural or majority privilege. The majority always has a certain leg up in society. That’s pretty simple math. The idea of America is certainly to level that playing field, so that my great, great grandmother (the Cherokee) would have as much privilege as my great, great grandfather (the Irishman). Something tells me, however, that neither of their lives carried much privilege.

This past week, we’ve been inundated with video clips and news reports of a United States senator getting a DNA test to prove she has some sort of genetic heritage. I’d like to say it has been the silliest thing I’ve ever seen in American politics …but after the last few years, I fear it doesn’t even crack the top ten. Taking DNA tests to prove our genetic bone fides is us continuing to wallow in tepid racism. Why does it matter if someone has Cherokee blood? Because everything has become about race again; who has the most oppression on their side; who came from the worst circumstances, etc. It’s silly and it should be joked about …often.

Meanwhile, while SENATOR Elizabeth Warren is squeezing out an oppressed ancestor, ten generations back, the rest of America is going to work and dealing with the immediate and not really caring what great grandpa was. Because we all know – in the now – that it doesn’t matter. The point is that we all came from somewhere. And we all got herenow.

All of our “racial differences” are actually “cultural differences” when you actually break it down. The skin actually means nothing. It’s just the covering. But I sometimes fear that what it’s covering is not yet illuminated enough to drag us out of identity politics once and for all. What made Martin Luther King Jr a timeless visionary and a true American hero was the fact that he saw beyond the colors. He saw that humanity was simply one great family with one great story and that the tribes we came from were ultimately incidental. In his view, if we could set all of that aside, we might be able to achieve great things. I guess we’re still not there.

In that spirit, I actually have a dream that one day my little “white” boy will not have to take DNA tests and produce ancestry charts to prove his “Cherokeeness” in order to be seen as “authentic” to anyone. And I hope his bloodline isn’t used as a qualifier to get him into college. Maybe one day he will just be seen as a “man” and be judged solely on the content of his character …although on second thought …never mind …I digress.

Maybe one day, my daughter will just be seen as Isabella …her own person …not just an Asian girl, with an Italian name, being raised by a Mexican mom and a white dad.

Maybe one day, all those DNA tests, that tell us where our ancestors migrated to and from, will be simple parlor games that mildly interest us, rather than badges of honor we have to wear like uniforms.

 

R

7 thoughts on “CHEROKEE PEOPLE …

  1. About 74,000 wars ago or so the super volcano known as Toba erupted and wiped out every living human species in the world except a tiny band who were lucky enough to be living in a sheltered rift valley in Africa. From this tiny group which was probably as few as 2000 individuals, and maybe even less, the entire human race is descended. The result of this genetic bottleneck is that we have less genetic variability across our entire nearly eight billion or so population, than between any two bands of chimpanzees in Africa. Our differences are so minute as to make them ridiculous to assess. Culture differences exist, yes, and maybe its time we stopped looking at genetic quanta and started looked honestly at which customs in the various cultures are good for us and which customs aren’t. We might actually get around to solving some of the problems of the world if we did.

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  2. Nailed it! And not to mention the fact that a large database of genetic profiles is being amassed. How might they be used someday? I really don’t have to do a DNA test. I know through genealogy what blood runs through my veins. I’m a 5th generation American and that is all that matters to me.

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  3. Regie, I’m playing catch-up this week, having been immersed in my own writing and the busyness of life. You are such a gifted writer. You lasso the news and themes of the day, mix them with your thoughts, then toss them out there with a common sense approach that makes me say, “Exactly!”

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