Monday, October 08, 2007

Nature or Nurture: What makes a Redbone

The nurture vs. nature debate is one the online Redbone-identified community dealt with ten years ago, at length. After vigorous research and debate, most of us concluded that there really isn't a cultural difference between people who might be called Redbones and their neighbors. There is no line separating the two.

This conclusion was met with stiff resistance by several writers in the Starks-DeQuincy area who repeatedly insisted that there was "something special" about the Redbone culture in that area. Because of my affection for those writers, I took them at their word on the subject. Later, in my several opportunities to visit in southwest Louisiana, I concluded that "something special" was more about family bonding than anything else. A lot of extended families still living in a more rural setting have that "something special."

I approach the conversation of nature and nurture in a more political context. Do the people who are likely to be called Redbones form a class? The answer is yes. Whether acknowledged or not, when you can be categorized by the population in an area with or without your awareness or consent, you belong to an identifiable class. In the case of our cousins in southwest Louisiana, that class is called Redbones.

In East Texas, there lives a huge number of potential Redbones who are not Redbones because they are not necessarily included in that class. My Droddy cousins in East Texas do not identify themselves as Redbones. They are adamant about it. No one assumes anything about them because of where they live or whether or not they are dark, or because of any association with a particular family name.

By genealogy, they are as Redbone as anyone in Starks, being descended from Redbone royalty: Ashworth, Perkins, Drake, Bunch and Dial/Doyle. So what? They have very few political, cultural, or social ties to southwest Louisiana. I do not consider them Redbones. And if it was so important to Austin and Owen not to be called Redbones that they were willing to shoot people, I am not going to push their great-grandsons and daughters in East Texas on the subject. They have a stronger argument as to why they're not than I do that they are.

So, that's why I don't think it's just a matter of bloodline. If you live in southwest Louisiana and are blood, you're going to be identified as a Redbone whether you participate in that decision or not. If you live anywhere else, being a Redbone is a personal choice of identity. I probably annoy a lot of people in the simplicity of my conclusion, but that's what I believe. No, where I annoy certain people is with my insistence that the class of Redbones who are likely to be identified as Redbones whether they think of themselves that way or not outweigh the interests of those Redbones who are self-identified Redbones who live in places not affected by the discussion.

There is a strong sense of community among our people in southwest Louisiana. I think it's based mostly on the interconnectedness of the various family clans which are continually reinforced through family reunions, weddings, funerals, and church and school activities. These ties have been continually reinforced for 200 years. Those people are as tight as any group that does not define itself separately from the surrounding culture can be.

Larry Keels gives Don Marler way too much credit when he says the movement towards claiming the word Redbone was started by him [Marler] to advance his own little point of view and sell books. I had embraced the word a long time before that. I've been calling myself a Redbone since the early 70s when I came to the conclusion that being part Indian was not in itself satisfactory. I wasn't just a native American in some abstract sense. I was born to a dark people who lived a very simple, subsistence life style, and who were rich in cultural warmth. They were an in-between people, born on this continent with no memory of a before. We didn't remember being Indian and we didn't remember Europe. I felt a very special pride in the idea of being a bridge group between the two. I was in Alaska about this time, and I was accepted completely by the Athapascans in the interior of Alaska as a Redbone, and they got it completely.

And a lot of other people born after WWII have come along the same path. I didn't need Marler to give me cover for calling myself a Redbone. My pride comes from my own experiences and memories of growing up in a special place being raised by special people.

So there, nature or nurture? It's a false choice and has nothing serious to add to the overall discussion, but is one of those personal meditating points which shapes a person's overall point of view.


fragileindustries said...

See my comment on Who Are My Mother's People? It isn't a matter of nature or nurture, but proud claiming, to me. There's no name for my goulash, but I'm grateful to all my ancestors and find it quaint that there could ever be shame or one-upsmanship about being the product of the unique blends to which this amazing country and frontier history gives rise.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Starks, LA. The surrounding areas seemed to look down their noses at us, but they didn't have what we had... everyone was family. I think that is the difference here. You felt safe among your peers because even though you may scrap with them yourselves, they were there beside you for whatever reason. I can spin all of these romantic ideas about "family" but I think it goes deeper than romance. I think it's something that hits the nerve of necessity. You watch my back and I'll watch yours. You defend your family to the hilt. You do whatever it takes to make them safe and secure. You are just there for them. They are family. Maybe it's just their nature to nurture their own.... but they are true. Come against one, come against 'em all. Although I don't speak for ALL Starks Redbones, because they are as different as anyone else, I speak as a representative from Starks, knowing how it is... You can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country outta the girl...

bevAnnie aka bev jackson