I am my brother’s keeper. Part 3. Black and Native.

Note: Part 1 was published on May 18, 2020. Then the story was interrupted by the tragic killing of George Floyd (Part 2 posted on 5/27). Now, back to the original story noting the involvement of the Indigenous community, and many others, in the Black Lives Matter movement.

In all my Daughters of the Dream posts, I comment through my African American lens. That is who I am. That is how I identify. In truth, however, my maternal side of the family is primarily Native; members of the Chickahominy Tribe of Virginia. I have known this all my life, but it mostly went unacknowledged. The federal government did not recognize the tribe until 2018. But more importantly, in many ways, it was also unrecognized by my family.

Big Mama and Papa Joe. separate pics side by side
The author’s maternal grandparents, Dora Adkins Charity and Joseph P. Charity.

Using Ancestry.com, I watched the evolution of the racial identity of my maternal grandparents. On early census documents, my grandmother was noted as Indian, full-blooded as the saying goes. My maternal grandfather was noted as Mulatto, which he was by the definition of that term, mixed Indian and white. Then they both become Mulatto, along with their children, of course. Subsequent census documents list them as colored, then Negro, then black.

My mother and her siblings were raised as African American. Perhaps my grandparents had internalized the negativity the white, dominant population associated with being Native. The only time I can remember my mother celebrating her Native heritage was when she casually commented one Thanksgiving that there was no need to observe this holiday (even though she did). “It was just the beginning of white people taking Indians’ land,” she said.

Now, I have started the journey of celebrating all of me.

Chief Stephen Adkins
The author with Stephen Adkins, Chief of the Chickahominy Tribe of Virginia

Just as I would not overlook a racist image of an African American or a racist comment about one, I am becoming more attuned to my Native roots and culture.  For years, I have recognized the racism in the names of some sports teams. But when conversations turned to looting following the murder of George Floyd, how many of us thought about the original looters — those who took the land of the Native peoples in this country?

Native and black, they are both a part of who I am.

But what about those identities that are not a part of you or me? Just because it is not our identity, racism cannot be ignored. Racism hurts all of us. As Martin Luther King said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” The racial mosaic of those who continue to march and speak out against police brutality and racism, six weeks after the murder of George Floyd, gives me hope. An increasing number of Americans seem to believe — truly believe — we are our brother’s keeper.

8 Replies to “I am my brother’s keeper. Part 3. Black and Native.”

  1. Tamara, My great-grandfather in NC was rumored to be Native American. It was never discussed, but whispered among family members, hush-hush. My sIster worked on our genealogy and could find nothing. 🙁 He was supposedly Cherokee or perhaps from the Tuscarora tribe.

    Teresa

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  2. A few thoughts in no particular order: How interesting that you can follow the Native American branch of your family tree and learn more about your Chickahominy ancestors. You’ll have to share more of your family’s story with us. Your mother’s remark about Thanksgiving certainly enabled me to see that holiday through different eyes. I’ve always seen it from the Mayflower point of view.
    Thank you for the link to the article in the Wash Post. During a trip out west about 30 years ago, we drove by Native American homes and saw theIr poverty for the first time. I’m going to make a wild guess and assume that it hasn’t improved. I will be more aware of the AIM, thanks to your link to the article, but I have also been more aware due to the higher number of Covid cases among Native Americans.
    Your last line is hopeful, and I believe the majority of the people in the US are beyond ready to see the end of racism. I’m glad you’re feeling that same hope.
    Thank you. Keep writing….

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  3. Tamara, your posts always give me something to think about. This post was your Mom’s comment about Thanksgiving. This would have been during your childhood, right? In this summer of statues coming down – Columbus included – I’m finding out that objections to these statues are not a new thing. But this summer it seems that everything has reached critical mass. I’m trying to find and read the books that help me understand what was not in our history books.

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    1. Hi, Fredrica, thanks for your comment. I do hope that the posts provoke new thinking and new actions. Yes, I recall my mother making that comment when I was in junior high/middle school. I did a blog in the summer of last year called a Primer on Racial Healing. In that, I cite some books that you might want to consider adding to your reading list. Take care. Tamara

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      1. Thanks,Tamara. I knew you had posted a list, and figured I’d just go back through the posts until I found it! Are there one or two books that, in your opinion, are essential reading for those of us who know that the events of this summer are cataclysmic, and we need to know how to be our best selves.

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