Who's black? Who's white? Who's Cherokee?
Well, court documents say Baby Veronica is 1.2 percent Cherokee because her biological father, Dusten Brown, is 2.4 percent Cherokee.
Yet Amanda Clinton, director of communications for the Cherokee Nation, said Thursday in an email to me from Oklahoma:
“Being a citizen of the Cherokee Nation is no different than being a citizen of the United States. Dusten and Veronica Brown are 100% Cherokee citizens. In other words, you either are or you aren't. Blood quantum is completely irrelevant and does not factor into this case.”
Gee, all my previous email had requested was a confirmation, or a correction, on those reported Cherokee numbers for Brown.
And if “blood quantum is completely irrelevant,” does that mean anybody can be a Cherokee and get priority in adopting Cherokee children — and obtaining casino licenses?
Fortunately, Brown's Cherokee status didn't stop the S.C. Supreme Court from ordering Wednesday that Baby Veronica be returned to James Island's Matt and Melanie Capobianco.
Before Baby Veronica's birth, her biological mother, Christy Maldonado, chose the Capobiancos as her adoptive parents — and Brown declined to be part of the child's life.
As Maldonado persuasively asked in a Washington Post guest column that ran on our Commentary page Tuesday: “Why should a man who said he wanted no responsibility for his baby have more rights than I did just because he belonged to a tribe?”
And what difference should your “tribe,” er, race, make?
With forked tongue
OK, so white people broke plenty of treaties while inflicting devastation on American Indians, aka Native Americans, in the clash of civilizations that helped produce our nation.
OK, so there is ugly precedent for counting even a small percentage of racial ancestry as, in the Cherokee Nation's words, “100 percent.”
For instance, in the bad old “one drop rule” days around here, being even just a little black biologically made you all black legally. And being guilty of “miscegenation,” aka black-and-white procreation, made you a criminal.
That bigotry-driven public policy wasn't just unfair.
It was untenable: Even if being 1/16th black made you black in the eyes of the law, you still likely looked mighty white in the eyes of everyone else.
And the tragic tradition of race-based prejudices, injustices and resentments isn't all black and white — or red.
Long before DNA testing, some twisted folks conducted what they hailed as definitive racial analyses. From the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's Learning Site:
“After Hitler took power, Nazi teachers in school classrooms began to apply the 'principles' of racial science. They measured skull size and nose length, and recorded the color of their pupils' hair and eyes to determine whether students belonged to the true 'Aryan race.' Jewish and Romani (Gypsy) students were often humiliated in the process.”
That “educational” humiliation ultimately degenerated into mass extermination.
Who's your daddies?
Sure, pride in ethnic heritage can be a positive force — within logical limits that preclude abusing allegedly inferior “tribes.”
Still, fully investing individual and collective self-worths into race is a losing bet. So is imagining that you're “100 percent” anything.
No race has a monopoly on virtue — or evil. And nobody should take misplaced credit — or blame — for the race, or the family, they're born into.
Good news: In my lifetime, our melting-pot national family has come a long way from historic, stupid and cruel obsessions over who's what race.
Bad news: Lingering racial divisions were re-confirmed over the past week by conflicting reactions to the acquittal of a Florida man whom The New York Times called “a white Hispanic” in the shooting death of an unarmed, black 17-year-old.
But hey, our last two presidential elections were won by a black man who's half white.
Then again, who's counting?
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.