Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Of course you've by now become aware of my granddaughter, Rosie, and her dramatic introduction into our lives only a few weeks ago ... .

Here's beautiful little girl Rosie with her two sisters. It's not hard to see why she would have been confused about her identity. That's Rosie in the center. (see link - Creolebelle's weblog)

Been thinking a lot lately about a song I wrote many years ago that may have been prescient. It was about my racially mixed bloodlines. It was written at a time when the Black Revolution was raging and racial identity was critically important to all African Americans. It was the late 60s and early 70s at a time when I was living a painfully troubled life in the white suburbs at a time of tremendous social change. It was at a time we were one of only two families of color in the entire Diablo valley.

I was very active, politically, and battling my way through an identity crisis with a passion. There were days when I was not quite white enough in my daily suburban life -- and not quite black enough in my innercity and national political life.

Living on the bridge of racial ambiguity is something that my bright and beautiful young granddaughter has been spared. The implications of that keep me awake some nights ... wondering how she'll work her way through it. Signs are that she is resilient and ready for whatever lies ahead.

How is it to discover one's African American connections so late in life? She has been spared the pain of rejection and low self-esteem that has plagued so many. In her innocence she has been free to live without ever having to doubt her abilities or to be limited by the low expectations of others due to lack of understanding about the capacity of black or mixed-race children to learn and adapt.

This is the grandchild who finally escaped the binding restrictions of race. Rosie is a forerunner of what the people of the world will look and be like in some future day when all these ideals we pretend to strive so hard to live up to are finally achieved. Rosie and people like her provide hope for us all. She is proof that miscegenation does not foul the gene pool. To the contrary! Under the Mendelian Law of genetics, it is claimed that the hybrid is superior to those from which it sprang. Not sure that theory holds up for hybrid from hybrid from hybrid, but it sounds comforting to those of us who can no longer track our bloodlines with any degree of certainty. (Tiger and Barack?) This is surely a human construct that needs reexamination.

If there is a blessing in all of this it is that the year is 2008 in an era that is far more enlightened than those in which my children's generation had to forge their identity. Our children's Charbonnet lineage harkens back to the late 1700s in this country -- before the Revolutionary War and with a racial legacy that embraces French, African, Shoshone, Islenos (Spanish from the Canary Islands), and the Reid's line which is African, Jewish, Seminole, English, etc. David's marriage brought Filipino bloodlines into the mix - presenting beautiful mixtures of still another gene pool to the grandchildren they brought forth. I know nothing yet of Rosie's mother's racial makeup, but surely it adds still another element to this exotic racial jambalaya!

Meditating on all this -- wondering about the implications for Rosie in this entirely new configuration of her identity -- has brought me, finally, to the realization that it's all really crazy! Does my small Afro-centric art collection and fine library of black literature suggest more determination to identify than any real knowledge of or sophistication about the genre? Just an affectation, maybe? I truly don't know, but I think not. There's a resonance that draws me in ... .

Maybe our family has joined with all those other forerunners who've made racial designation as irrelevant as those little racial identity boxes that we ceased to neatly fit into decades ago. Since I couldn't find one labeled "Creole," I took to checking them all; even "other"! I suspect that Rosie's current status totally blows away the entire box and the paper upon which it is printed!

For my other beautiful grandchildren, Alayana and Tamaya, Kokee and Rhico, I'd guess that race may continue for a little longer to be little more than a political choice. At this point they appear to approach the question individually, and with variation; a freedom they're allowed; a freedom that Rosie, too, is also free to exercise. It's like the tradition of freedom of religion in our family. I once witnessed Rhico self-identifying as Latino, and it seemed quite proper at the time. After all, Greatgrandmother Victoria Morales Charbonnet was Islenos (Canary Island Spanish). It's a floating kind of thing that each will come to terms with in their own way if and when it matters at all.

However -- I still choose to live off my black edge. I still feel that part of my being viscerally -- with music and dance and - yes, politics, and wouldn't give up my African American identity if my life depended on it.

And maybe it does ...


There is no one else I'd rather be; despite all. It is my black life that is the source of strength and compassion. I'm sure of it. It is all of the pain of growth and lessons in forgiveness and atonement that provides the power that sustains me in these final years. Makes one wonder to what extent I was shaped by the black experience? It's in the humiliation, the pain, and the shared black rage that continues to fuel my work toward justice and fairness. It is whatever makes up the black sensibility that gives me this strong sense of connectedness with other people of color and that forms a deep grounding in aesthetics -- it's still with me in the sound of the drum. It's embedded in something as simple as clapping on the second and fourth beat because that's the rhythm of the African heart. Synchronized! Syncopated!


Will all of that pass into oblivion with me when time runs out?

Then the great question becomes, "what is shaping my children and theirs?"

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