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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Lexi and the One Drop Rule

     The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture is featuring Lloyd Kiva New, son of a Cherokee mother and Scots-Irish father, who led the way for young Indian artists to build on their ancestral culture, but not to be bound by it. New designed leather handbags with metalwork bearing traditional images that became all the rage in the fashion world-at-large in the 1950s. His screen-printed fabric designs reflected the Southwest, and he made sought-after dresses, shirts, even tuxedos from them. Some artists, buyers and curators at the time wanted Indian artists to stick with tradition and produce only what they deemed "Indian" art. New and his friends saw that as an offense against the spirit of the artist. 
     I suppose the Indian Child Welfare Act of the 1970s was a reaction against too-casual removal of Indian children to Anglo homes, but today it violates the human spirit, especially the spirit of a little girl who has been taken from her Anglo foster family after four years of belonging as daughter, sister, niece and grandchild because she is "1.5% Choctaw," and to some, "tribal identity" comes first even though her drug-addicted criminal parents relinquished custody. (Why did they not entrust her to the relatives in Utah who now claim her?) 
     What on earth does "1.5% Choctaw" mean anyway? Of her 100 immediate ancestors, was one full Choctaw and another one half? Or maybe three out of the 100 are half Choctaw? I'm old enough and Southern enough to remember the "one drop rule." That meant, if you had "one drop" of black (they used to say Negro) blood you were considered black. Segregated schools and back of the bus for you. And certainly no marriage to a "white" person. Related: Melanin Mysteries 
And for Lexi, whose last name ought to be Page, it means no more of the people who cared for you, taught you, gave you a community and loved you. Those are the necessities of the human spirit. She had them. Cram her back into an ethnic category, and you offend that spirit. And, come to think of it, the Great Spirit Who created her as a human being. 

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