Friday, April 15, 2016

I have no words...

My last post was about the "greatest nation" rhetoric/propaganda that pretty much everyone who grows up in the U.S. is subjected to on a 24/7 basis. These sorts of notions come from the media, the institutions (schools, etc), political leaders and everyday conversations/interactions.

Everyone who lives here is subjected to them and...they're generally most influential on children (and adults) who are raced as white. The reason they influence white folks more effectively is because they (white folks)...as opposed to people of color...have few experiences or receive little information that counters this version of reality. It makes you feel taller when you're standing on the backs of others...especially when you pretend that the bodies aren't under your feet.

People of color who grow up here (and/or live here) are exposed to these same influences but they live lives wherein their day to day experiences provide them with evidence that the "liberty and justice for all" story is more hype than it is reality. Most learn quickly that the "greatest nation" fantasy often doesn't apply to them because they aren't raced as white.

The exchanges I excerpt here (below) occurred just a few days after I put up that last post. They took place on a facebook page that's associated with my local city council district (they call them "wards" here). The person identified as the original poster is a Native American woman who, along with some friends, had presented their objections at a committee that plans an annual celebratory parade that occurs here. It commemorates the "land run" that resulted in the formation of the city of Norman.


I was present at that meeting and those objecting to the parade's non-inclusivity and its insensitivity were respectful and polite and at no time did they tell anyone to not be "proud" of their ancestors (and the video that was posted also showed no indication of such talk).

Yet...notice how the commenter (assigned the number 2 on each of her comments) first claimed those who took land from the Native Americans "needed" that land and therefore they were honorable and brave, then she asserted that those objecting to the parade had no right to "tell non-indigenous people that we cannot be proud of our ancestors and our history", even though such a claim had never been made.   

1. Original post on facebook
(accompanied by a brief video not included here):
This is only a brief snippet of footage from the meeting we attended with the 89er Day Parade Committee. The Norman City Council will potentially fund this "celebration" of indigenous genocide and displacement using $5,000 of YOUR tax payer monies. The incumbent for Ward 6, Jerry Lang, stated that he "loves the covered wagons and horses" (not in this video, but at an oversight meeting). As a woman of color & especially as a native woman, it is terrifying to know that a person who promotes this degree of racial violence might be elected to represent me. We need this parade stopped, we need to make sure we don't support/elect folks like Jerry, & we definitely need to spend that $5k on something that promotes inclusivity and community. This parade certainly doesn't and we've been shouting it out for a decade so the time to listen and act is now!
2. Someone commenting wrote this: (name xed out)
xxx xxxxx: ….it is something to celebrate. This land was poor and many of the people who came here did so because they were desperately looking for a better home for their families. Those poor desperate people were not pathetic, they were brave and made what Norman is today.
1a. The person originally posting replied:
You do realize there were actual living breathing human beings here before the land runs, right? Just curious.
2.a First commenter responded:
xxx xxxxx: Yes, I'm familiar with the history, I have a PhD. in western history. A dissertation on the Montana tribes. All your points are well taken. My point is that you are not the only one who has a history. And, you do not have a right to tell non-indigenous people that we can not be proud of our ancestors and our history.
3. I commented with this:
Jeez...a Ph.D. in western history and you don't believe the victims of invasion and dispossession have a right to point out the behavior of non-indigenous people and their history? Wow xxx xxxxx...that's quite a viewpoint you've got going there. Being "proud" of folks who did such stuff and/or profited from heinous actions is a very very strange and sad position. Good grief.
2b. First commenter replied to my comment with this:
Come on...don't you get tired of the genocide crap? Did your people do this? Mine didn't. What do you think should happen next? Give all the land back? Bring back 1000s of Buffalo? Send the horse back to Mexico? take back the guns, the pots and pans? Send the invaders back to England?
Each time I revisit the writings of this white woman I'm stunned anew. "Come on...don't you get tired of the genocide crap?"...this coming from someone who claims to have studied history...suggesting that since this aspect of the past is unpleasant then it should be ignored. 

The callousness and the denial of suffering implicit in what she wrote staggers me...and I'm not a member of the targeted group. She's denying the horror of what was done by white people to a descendant of the victims. I can't to begin to fathom how crushing and painful that must feel for the relatives of those who were dispossessed and/or harmed.

If you're having difficulty comprehending the magnitude of how unfeeling this is...imagine that Germans were planning a parade to celebrate the anniversary of the stealing of homes and land and lives from Jewish people and relatives of the victimized Jewish folks voiced their concerns and oppositions to this. And...a German citizen responded with: "Come on...don't you get tired of the genocide crap?"

If you think that's not a good way of getting another perspective on what we white people did to Native Americans then I'll offer you the opportunity of becoming better informed. Here you can read about how Hitler was inspired in his approaches to genocide by the ways the white Americans had exterminated Native Americans and taken their land.
Wounded Knee victims and murderers, 1890

The "land run" in question occurred in April of 1889...the very next year...some 500 U.S. military soldiers slaughtered (by one estimate, other estimates place the number of dead at 300) some 150 children, women and men belonging to the Lakota Tribe at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Native Americans did not "give" the land to white people. It was taken from them by violence or threat of violence. And this white woman's response to these events is: "don't you get tired of the genocide crap?"

Two very common reactions to being faced with complicity in awful behavior...whether at the individual level or group level is to either deny its occurrence or to plead ignorance.

This woman is offering some additional reactions...she's not denying the atrocities or the theft nor pleading ignorance...indeed...she touts her extensive education regarding Native Americans. Instead she first says that some people benefited from the theft/atrocities: "Those poor desperate people were not pathetic, they were brave and made what Norman is today." Implying somehow that since someone gained that ameliorates or counters the horror of what was done to obtain those benefits.

Then secondly she signals her exhaustion over being reminded of the horrors by writing: "don't you get tired of the genocide crap?". She knows what happened, she is aware...but she's implying she's tired of hearing about it and asks whether others aren't tired too . Her 'people' aren't responsible (however she fails to identify who is responsible) and then she offers some extreme examples of remediation with the implication that attempts at atonement are too far fetched or impossible to even be considered.

Each time I revisit her statements I'm flabbergasted and at a loss as to how to think about them. Often when i return to trying to write this post I find that I don't know what to say because I can't wrap my comprehension around it. And that's just me...to even try to consider what her statements might feel like to Native Americans who are objecting to this "celebration" is beyond me. I cannot know what that might feel like...I do not comprehend...it is too much.

I'll have to sit with this longer and maybe then some greater clarity will be available. There's something about such brazenness that squelches my being able to even meagerly cope with it or coherently grapple with it in some fashion or form. I do know that her reactions frighten and sadden me terribly. 

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