Culminating from over a decade of research, personal interviews and photographic essays, the newly released book The Red-Black Connection, Contemporary Urban African-Native Americans and Their Stories of Dual Identity by Valena Broussard Dismukes deserves high praise.
Fifty two images, and narratives written by the subjects of these photos, fill the pages with personal and powerful insights into the world of today’s urban African-Native Americans. Their stories reveal the trials, tribulations and triumphs of their dual and sometimes multi-ethnic identities.
People from all walks of life, and representing tribes throughout the United States, share personal and sometimes painful stories. They remind us of the part of America’s history that is often overlooked, misrepresented, and continues to be a source of challenge for contemporary people of African and Native American heritage.
Dismukes captures the essence of her subjects in images that are much more than portraits. They are windows into the lives and souls of human beings. They are both visually striking, and infinitely personal.
Equally striking for the reader is the challenges many of these people have faced in discovering their heritage. For some, their Native American ancestors were still alive and a part of their collective experience, but not all of them chose to reveal their cultural identity. We are reminded that being Indian (or Black) was a distinct disadvantage in mainstream society – and still can be.
Many stories tell of familial efforts to erase the memory of both red and black heritage in order to assimilate into the dominant society. Others embrace both backgrounds with pride and dignity.
These are stories told from the inside. They do not hide the fact that there is division, strife and racial prejudice between the races, as well as kinship. The Native American community is often
divided from within, with full-bloods mistrusting half breeds and people of red-black heritage. The recent removal of the Freedmen from Cherokee tribal rolls is but one example of this.
What we learn from The Red-Black Connection is how and why this division takes place. We are given an understanding of the external forces that have pitted people against each other for centuries; an understanding that cannot be gleaned from history texts.
The Red-Black Connection also reveals the personal triumphs of those who have embraced their dual heritage, and have chosen to thrive. They have made their identity an opportunity to educate and motivate others, and to heal the past by embracing the present and contributing to the future. They are educators, healers, leaders, activists, and ordinary people, offering an extraordinary gift to anyone willing to accept it.
Among the pages of this book you will find descendants of Quanah Parker, Daniel Perry, and William August Bowlegs. You will also find narratives by people who have yet to discover the names of their ancestors. There are those who have been told they look too white to be black, too black to be Indian, and too Indian to be African. What one cannot escape is the knowledge that, in the words of Jack Forbes, Professor at UC Davis, “You can’t tell who people are by merely looking at them.”
In addition to award-winning photographs and moving narratives, Dismukes includes her own perspective on the issue of dual identity, and the responsibility and opportunity it presents to contemporary red-black people. The book also contains an honest overview of the history of Africans and Native Americans, an extensive list of additional resources, a selected list of famous red-black people, and one remarkable page of quotes.
This is not a book about Africans and Native Americans. It is a book by them. It is a work which anyone of multi-ethnicity can immediately identify with. The Red-Black Connection joins powerful images and remarkable stories to create a work that is inspiring, illuminating, and important.
(Author, photographer and educator Valena Broussard Dismukes knows the meaning of multi-ethnic identity. African, Choctaw, Scottish, Irish and French, Dismukes brought an understanding of and sensitivity for cultural diversity to her career with the Los Angeles Unified School District. In her new book, she brings forth this gift with masterful imagery and compelling honesty.)
Jan. 6-March 30, 2008
Red-Black Connection at Satwiwa Indian Cultural Center
A show of photographic art by Valena Broussard Dismukes
For information on the book go to http://dismukes.myexpose.com/
For information on Satwiwa go to www.satwiwa.org
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