I didn’t know what to write this evening, so I started poking around looking for material. One of the tag words I look for sometimes on the WordPress site is atheism. I looked at it this evening and I saw something that really upset me.
I was adopted as an infant. For many years, all I knew of my birth family was from a one page description the adoption agency gave to my parents. By the way, this terminology confuses the non-adopted. Mother, father and parents, without any modifier, means my adopted parents. People who are raised by their biological parents often get it reversed. They call my parents my “adopted parents” and my biological parents “my parents.” Mother and father are the people who raised me. Those other people… well, let’s say they did me a service.
There wasn’t much on that sheet of paper. Height, weight, age, etc. for my biological mother and her parents, a list of my “ethnic background,” French, English and American Indian and Scandinavian. One day, I would find out that the Scandinavian was a lie, as was all the information about my supposed biological father. Apparently, there had been more than one man the only thing she could be sure of was that he played guitar – but now I’m getting ahead of myself.
My mother was an enlightened type of woman. She was familiar with most of the pop psychology of the day and up to date regarding many social issues. Like many people who raise children from other cultures today, she felt that I should learn about “my” culture. She tried to get me interested in things about Indians. Of course, that wasn’t my culture. Don’t we contrast culture with nature, culture being the acquired portion of being human? My culture, my real culture, was white, suburban and Dutch in origin, with a healthy admixture of Anglo-Saxon (whatever that is) and Jewish culture.
So my mother, trying to be a good mother, thrust on me all sorts of garbage about Indians. I would be lying to not say that sometimes I fell for the romanticism of it. I love taking walks in the woods, like who doesn’t, but somewhere in the back of my mind something would whisper to me, “You belong here.” Call me “Dances With Squirrels.” I love North America and in the days before I finally embraced rationalism I liked to imagine that I had a “connection” to the land. But much of the time, too much of the time, Indian “culture” just looked hokey. Eventually, I would come to realize that this was because it was a sterilized pastiche of native North American cultures, with plains tribes standing in for hundreds of very different groups of people, feathered headdresses and brave warriors on horses. As I got older and more knowledgeable, it started looking stupid.
My mother would gladly tell everyone that she adopted a part-Indian child. It’s only been within the past decade or so that she’s finally come to understand how much that embarrasses me. A Wampanoag woman with whom she worked wanted to teach me about “my culture.” I didn’t want to be taught but I did accept a subscription to Akwasasne Notes. This newspaper, put out by the Mowhawk people from a community on the U.S. – Canada border, would come to have a formative effect on my intellectual viewpoint. On an emotional level, it wasn’t hokey and it didn’t make me cringe.
Eventually, as I entered college, friends and acquaintances began to get more sophisticated. They started accusing me of lying. They would say, “Native Americans hate it when white people claim to be part Indian.” Or even worse, “What? Are you going to tell me that you have a Cherokee grandmother.” When people asked me what my ethnic background was, I started to say, “French and English” and leave out the rest.
Anyway, this is getting longer than I wanted it to become and I still have a lot to say, but I’m not angry anymore; I’m tired and want to go to bed. I highly doubt that that outspoken atheist would have found a choir singing “Trust the Lord” comforting no matter how beautiful the music. And the video, with its stereotypical imagery of plains Indians, made me cringe.
Update: I’ve apologized to Daz for misrepresenting him.