In looking to the United States’ history as a nation of genocidal power over the original Nations (Native Americans, the Tribes, Indians, First Settlers), Robert Jensen asks how we can just so easily rub aside our murderous past? Especially as this murderous past is not *just* our past, but – I add – a part of our very current DNA.
How does a country deal with the fact that some of its most revered historical figures [Washington, Jefferson, T Roosevelt] had certain moral values and political views virtually identical to Nazis [in desiring all ‘R*dsk*ns’ to die]? Here’s how “respectable” politicians, pundits and professors play the game: When invoking a grand and glorious aspect of our past, then history is all-important. We are told how crucial it is for people to know history, and there is much hand-wringing about the younger generations’ lack of knowledge about, and respect for, that history.
In the United States, we hear constantly about the deep wisdom of the founding fathers, the adventurous spirit of the early explorers, the gritty determination of those who “settled” the country — and about how crucial it is for children to learn these things.
But when one brings into historical discussions any facts and interpretations that contest the celebratory story and make people uncomfortable — such as the genocide of indigenous people as the foundational act in the creation of the United States — suddenly the value of history drops precipitously, and one is asked, “Why do you insist on dwelling on the past?”
This is the mark of a well-disciplined intellectual class — one that can extol the importance of knowing history for contemporary citizenship and, at the same time, argue that we shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about history.
Our past does not just lie in our past, but it is a part of our national character, and as long as we can spin it so that we are a benevolent and graceful people, then we can continue atrocious acts of imperialism and genocide throughout the world (what is The War on Terror if not a small-scale act of genocide being perpetuated against Muslims and Arabs?).
This off-and-on engagement with history isn’t of mere academic interest; as the dominant imperial power of the moment, U.S. elites have a clear stake in the contemporary propaganda value of that history. Obscuring bitter truths about historical crimes helps perpetuate the fantasy of American benevolence, which makes it easier to sell contemporary imperial adventures — such as the invasion and occupation of Iraq — as another benevolent action.
Very simply and close to home, how can we continue to live as if nothing horrible actually happened between the White structure of the US and the various indigenous tribes and nations? If we can come to grips with this, maybe then “illegal” immigration won’t be such a bother*. To further this: how can we now go about and trivialize their histories by naming professional and collegiate sports teams after them? We profit from their misery and then offer that somehow we are “honoring them”? Imagine Henry Ford had killed my great-grandparents and all of their brothers, sisters, and cousins some eighty years ago because they were standing in the way of progress. And now his company wants to introduce the Dye brand of luxury cars?
If the Native tribes say that we are dishonoring them, than we should probably listen to them. If not, we are triply dishonoring them, first by the initial act of dishonor, then by not listening to them, and third by being racist enough to not consider their opinions about themselves as being even equal to our opinions of them.
But then again, isn’t that what White Supremacy is? We know what’s best? Our views of history are better than what actually happened? Is Rush Limbaugh now the Official Spokesperson for White History, then?
Update: Clarification on any perceived anti-Thanksgiving bias and a chance for action here.
*As it is, many White opponents to immigration contend somehow that the European settlers had broken no laws in emigrating to what is now the US. I guess the universe doesn’t have laws? Let alone, the Bible that they were supposed to follow? But this absurdity and logic FAIL demonstrates the reality that laws benefit those who write them. If only those Injuns had lernt to read and write some laws, then…