Tag Archives: history

Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day in America.

At least it is in the blue states.  In the cities that try to make the streets safe for people instead of safe for cops.  In the jurisdictions overseen by the kind and conscientious instead of the hateful and fearful.

In the other places, the red districts, the small towns with cowboy-hatted bigots masquerading as a real government, today isn’t Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  It’s something else.

So it goes.

The US government gives us a Day for Washington, who created a legal process for recapturing human property in jurisdictions that had outlawed slavery.

A Day for all of the 45 men who have managed to become president, by whatever deeds, fair or foul, to share between them.

A Day for all the bluecoats, regardless of what they did or whether they wanted to do it, whether they were monsters looking for the chance to kill or were shattered inside by the first gunshot they were forced to fire.

A Day for all the bluecoats who died because one of those 45 special men couldn’t use their words to solve their problems.

A Day for workers, which most workers don’t have off, and specifically scheduled to undermine the legitimacy of the labor movement.

A Day for Jesus.

A Day for pretending that dangerous, violent, repressive religious extremists DID, in fact, receive a whole hemisphere of the earth as a present from their god, and the local native people were happy to be their magical savages.

A Day for congratulating all the above parties on how they totally 100% successfully created a great Enlightenment Eutopia.

A Day for Martin Luther King, Jr., killed by a “lone wolf” acting out the government’s wishes, for being audacious enough to dream of a day when his children could have white friends.

A Day to mark the beginning of a new Gregorian calendar year.

And, on paper, a Day for Christopher Columbus, a religious fanatic who stole things and people from dozens of foreign nations to present them as tokens of conquest to the architects of the Spanish Inquisition.

We’re supposed to feel grateful that the millions of people who were killed, raped, tortured, kidnapped, enslaved, brainwashed, imprisoned, disenfranchised, and stripped of their families, possessions, homelands, languages, cultures, and identities by the legacy of this “explorer” are allowed to share his Day of recognition.

Because that makes it all better.

Columbus Day is a recent holiday, created because a particular, influential group of male, Catholic Italian-Americans didn’t feel like they were getting enough white privilege.  They wanted someone who was like them to be upheld as part of the American identity.  They wanted recognition of Italian and Catholic contributions to the US built into the myths of white American national identity.

There is no holiday specifically setting out Irish or German or Welsh or French or Greek or Ethiopian or Congolese or Sioux contributions to American history.

There is no holiday celebrating a great hero of atheism, Buddhism, Protestantism, Islam, or Judaism for their contributions to American history.

There is no holiday celebrating the contributions of queer people to American history.

There is no holiday celebrating an American woman, or even ALL American women generally, for contributions to American history.

There is no holiday recognizing that the state machine of the US was built by black slave labor, greased with native blood, powered by the sacrifices of unpaid femininity, maintained by a constant ingress of disenfranchised and vulnerable immigrants, and run on tracks laid by indentured Chinese immigrants over land stolen from native communities through more than a century of war.

Bullshit excuses and band-aid solutions like national “observances” of a “history month” won’t cut it.

Native people have been victimized by the United States from its infancy.  It’s time for the government to take responsibility for that legacy.  It’s time to be honest about it.

It’s time for white Americans to learn that the history of the oppressed is the history of the oppressor as well.  It’s time to own it, to face what happened, and do better moving forward.

It is Indigenous Peoples’ Day in America.  Today.

What will tomorrow be?

“How do I explain this to my kids?”

People love to invoke terrifying conversations that scar children for life whenever progressives are pushing for changes that will improve the lives of marginalized people.  Over the course of my life, I’ve heard people object to same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting on the basis that they couldn’t explain it to their children.

This is manifestly bullshit.  If your kid comes home from kindergarten and asks you where Heather’s daddy is and why she has two mommies, you say “There are all kinds of different families– some people have a mommy and a daddy, and some people have two mommies, and some people have two daddies, and some people have just one parent.  People are all kinds of ways.”  Done and done.

But there are some things I shouldn’t have to explain to my kids, because they shouldn’t be real.  For example:

20 Things I Shouldn’t Have to Explain to My Kids

  1. Normalization of non-consensual touching.  Obviously this includes rape, but more often, especially in children’s media, it’s smaller things like kissing someone or tapping their shoulder over their objections, that are overwhelmingly dismissed as “teasing” but obviously normalize a lack of bodily autonomy.
  2. Deportation of unaccompanied child refugees.  Did you know that children as young as three years of age are expected to act as their own attorneys in deportation proceedings?  Disgusting.
  3. Islamophobic violence.  I don’t even know where to start on this one.
  4. Children dying of neglect or abuse, especially when the people who are supposed to protect children from harm in the worst case scenarios (cops, social workers, CPS, etc.) are aware of the situation and failed to act.
  5. The glass ceiling.  We’ve had MANY talks about this one in the last several months.
  6. The “gay panic” legal defense.  What.  The.  Actual.  Fuck.
  7. Police murdering young people of color in the street with apparent impunity.
  8. Body shaming.  Why is the episode of Phineas and Ferb about Candance body-swapping with Perry the Platypus called “Does This Duckbill Make Me Look Fat?”?  How is that child-appropriate, Disney?
  9. Cartoon misogyny and gender policing in general.  It is absurd that I have to point out to my children explicitly that non-femmefolk have eyelashes in real life.
  10. “Chief Wahoo”, “Chief Thunderthud”, and Tonto.  None of that shit should have happened.  None of that shit should be CONTINUING to happen.
  11. Blackface.  We recently looked up some of Bojangles Robinson’s tap dancing on YouTube and inadvertently opened a whole can of horrible racist worms.  Thanks, 20th-century America!
  12. Rooms full of old white men making decisions about children, women, and people of color.
  13. “Sundown Towns” and lynch law and slavery and the Back to Africa movement and everything else white supremacist society has cooked up to eliminate black people.
  14. Dr. Seuss’ political cartoons advocating the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans, and, in fact, Japanese and Japanese-American internment itself.
  15. Reservations, the Trail of Tears, extermination campaigns (aka “the Indian Wars”), Indian scalp bounties, buffalo culls, Philip “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” Sheridan, the Indian Removal Act, and the cultural holocaust (including residential schools and the Dawes Act).  Not a complete list.
  16. Accidental shooting deaths of children.  The NRA has successfully lobbied against parents receiving information about the dangers of guns at child well-visits, and apparently everyone is just okay with this even though TODDLERS continue to accidentally shoot themselves and their family members on a regular basis in this country.  I cannot with this.
  17. The criminalization of abuse victims who act in self-defense.  How am I supposed to raise kids who stick up for themselves enough but not “too much”?
  18. Companies paying millions of dollars to defend their right to destroy the planet on which all their employees and customers live.  WHAT.
  19. The Flint water crisis.  And, by the same token, Love Canal, Cancer Alley and whatever the next poisoned, neglected, and gaslit community is going to be.
  20. The pay gap, the second shift, and all that other bullshit that characterizes the price of living while female in this country of supposed liberty and justice.

Three Things to Do for Indigenous Peoples Day

if you need background on why Christopher Columbus doesn’t deserve celebration, click here for an approachable primer


Tomorrow, Monday October 10, is Indigenous Peoples Day.  If you’re thinking “Gosh, that doesn’t sound like a holiday one can or should observe by shopping the sales at the mall!” give yourself 10 points.

If you’re wondering what you might do instead, read on!

Research your local Indigenous people

Maybe you live in a place that was wrested from an indigenous group by force during a protracted military conflict, maybe you are living in your people’s traditional homelands, maybe you’re somewhere in between.  You can find out.

Research the ethnic groups and languages that were present in your area before colonial control solidified.  Learn about the history of those people, either before conquest or after.  Imagine how your area would be different if the cultural frontier had been more amiable.

Find out what indigenous people are doing in your area now.  Where is your closest reservation?  What issues matter to native communities near you?  How have their cultures influenced the dominant culture (consider language, cuisine, holiday and seasonal observances, etc.)?

Consume art about and by Indigenous people

On Youtube, watch this.

On Netflix, try Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Songs my Brothers Taught Me, or Strange Empire.

Read something.

Stand in solidarity with a cause that disproportionately affects Indigenous people

Donate or sign to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux against an oil pipeline that would threaten their water sources and has already destroyed a burial site.

Sign to support the efforts of the Gwich’in Nation to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Donate to the National Congress of American Indians, which recently won a landmark legal case against the Washington R*dskins concerning the defamatory nature of their name and logo.

Donate to the Endangered Language Fund to support research and revitalization of indigenous languages.

Sign to demand BIA recognition for the Celilo Falls (Wy’am) Indians, the indigenous inhabitants of the oldest continuously-inhabited human settlement in the Americas.

Urge President Obama to free Leonard Peltier.

Donate to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition to further their work pursuing reparations and peace after the horrors of Indian Residential Schools.

 

Of course these lists and suggestions are not intended to be authoritative or exhaustive– these are just some ideas to get you started.

 

“Hostile Indians”

Today I was reading an older article (2008) in Mother Jones about the racial context of the Second Amendment, and I was stopped in my tracks by this stunner of a paragraph, apparently written unironically.

None of this figured into Tuesday’s arguments at the Supreme Court. Instead, a majority of the justices, especially Kennedy, seemed to buy the story that the founders were inordinately concerned with the ability of early settlers to use guns to fend off wild animals and Indians, not rebellious slaves. (Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick counts pivotal swing-voter Kennedy making no fewer than four mentions of a mythical “remote settler,” who Kennedy suggested would have needed a gun to “defend himself and his family against hostile Indian tribes and outlaws, wolves and bears, and grizzlies.”)

Justice Kennedy doesn’t surprise me by this “hostile Indian tribes and outlaws” comment.  But for such a radically liberal publication as Mother Jones to use the phrase “fend off wild animals and Indians” is surprising.

This article is about white-on-black racism, its historical context, the implications of the legal system created by the Continental Congress.  That is very important to discuss, but surely we can find a way to do that without casually supporting the narratives that legitimize the Amerindian genocide.

In this one little paragraph, these two sentences and paranthetical quote, we hear Indians described as “hostile” (if defending your homeland from invasion by violent oppressors is hostility, why are the participants in the American Revolution remembered as heroes instead of dangerous aggressors?), and see them apparently unthinkingly categorized with animals twice.  They’re wild, they’re outlaws.

Nowhere in this piece of writing does the author show even the slightest effort to assert that, EVEN IF the framers of the US constitution had intended the second amendment mainly to allow frontier settlers to defend their illegitimate seizures and occupations with lethal force, that STILL would have been an inherently racially violent act.  Nowhere does the author push back on the narrative that white occupation of the Americas was a neutral or even heroic process.

I expect better than this from you, Mother Jones.

Let’s Talk About Race

We talk about race constantly with our kids.  We’ve talked about how race is a social construct that helps the dominant group to establish and maintain its boundaries based on perceived cultural or ancestral similarity.  We’ve talked about how the color of an individual’s skin doesn’t always track with their racial identity, and we’ve talked about how race is often performative, and we’ve talked about how race, like gender, is a convenient shorthand for social purposes but isn’t actually real.

But I still wasn’t expecting Númenor– catching a glimpse of How To Get Away With Murder over my shoulder– to come out with one of the hardest questions he’s ever asked.

“What are all the different races?  Can you make a list for me?”

Oh, child.  Oh honey, sweet, baby, child, with your lisp and your first loose tooth.

I know he wants to understand the world.  He wants a logical, discrete system.  He wants it to make sense.  But that’s not the way it is.

There are whole graduate-level seminars on this topic.  There’s no pat answer.  I don’t know how to render my response in small-child vocabulary.

I answered him, because the biggest single responsibility of unschooling is answering questions, but I wanted to think about my answer more, so I’m going to explore it here.

Hold on tight.

  1. Remember that race is a social construct, and as such it is different in every cultural context.  The racial categories in mid-20th-century London and the racial categories in rural Oregon in 2016 are not the same.  If you compared either of them to the racial categories of ancient Rome or late classical Maya, you would find almost no common ground.  The dominant group varies between places and times, and is always defining and redefining itself, and therefore constantly amending and adapting the divisions and stereotypes it practices.
  2. What racial categories an individual person’s brain is socialized to recognize is even more specific and variable than that.  Someone who grew up in a Tongan-American community in Portland might racially distinguish Samoan, Tongan, and Hawaiian people but be unable to distinguish between European origins, whereas someone who grew up in a white suburb of Chicago might lump Tongan, along with Kazakh and Han and Japanese and Maori, into the umbrella racial category of AAPI, but hold Polish people and Irish people in separate racial categories.
  3. Race isn’t idempotent.  In the 19th century, many light-skinned people were legally categorized as racially black in the American South (see the “one-drop rule”), but were able to migrate to states with less stringent legal standards and “become” white.  An individual’s understanding of and identification with different elements of their ancestry may change over time.  Mixed-race is currently the fastest-growing racial identity in the United States, which means an increasing number of people have two or more significant racial backgrounds.
  4. Some racial categories supersede others or rely on a secret code to make sense.  Mixed race people in the US who have significant black ancestry often experience the invisibilization of the rest of their racial background, as do mixed race people who “pass” for white.  The racial category “Hispanic” is a hot mess that cannot be understood unless you hear the racist dogwhistle embedded in it.
  5. Fiction muddies the waters.  American Indian characters have been played by Italian, Latinx, and mixed-race people overwhelmingly more often than they have been played by American Indian people.  American families of color on TV often have a striking and unrealistic similarity in skin color between members– actors are cast “Pantone-matched” between characters’ relationship partners or family members.  Mixed race people are cast to play a variety of races over the course of their careers.

What all of this means is that race could be as varied and as specific as to put practically every individual on earth in their own category, and this would be neither more nor less accurate than the “Mongoloids and Negritoes” system of Thomas Huxley, because race isn’t real.

We can talk about the racial categories I recognize, or the racial categories available on the US census (although their “mixed race” category has, so far, been an othering, invisiblizing sham), but neither of these would be a full and accurate list of all the races people can have.

The fact is that there is no system.  There is no list.  There is no rubric.  It’s all just layer upon layer of euphemism and inspeak, seeking to reduce humans to checkboxes in an effort to control them and practice social grouping.

And just like with gender, you can guess about someone’s identity by looking for their cues, but the only way to know someone’s race for sure is to ask how they identify.

On the Frontier

I remarked to Robert this week that Oregon will always be the frontier of America– wild, lawless, not quite part of the Union and not quite foreign, where cultures collide and there’s still far more natural than human on the horizon.

That Oregon is a refuge of weirdness is well-known.  There’s a whole television show about the quirkiness of Portland, which, believe it or not, is the actually the most Americanized, most assimilated place out here.  In the small towns, composed of farmers, ranchers, fruit-pickers, teachers, nurses, midwives, distillers, and store clerks, things are downright eccentric.

People are a little bit skeptical of strangers, like in all small towns, but they make an effort to be friendly.  When you are introduced to someone, you lean far, far out of your personal space, feet firmly planted, to extend an overbalanced handshake.  When you greet a friend, you raise your left hand and hug them across the shoulder blades from your right side, and the pair of you briefly create two cache-coeurs around each other with your arms.

We celebrate weird, here.

We go to the drive-in, and we shop at the farmer’s market.  We have a parade to celebrate flowers, and we drive 50 miles on the freeway as if it’s nothing.  We walk home in the rain and we travel to seek out snow and surf.  We know that the best watermelons come from Hermiston and the best strawberries from Hood River.  We watch the fields stream by out of the windows of cars and trains and buses and we know: that’s barley, that’s hops, that’s rye, that’s cabbage, that’s grapes, that’s green beans.  We speak Spanish and Chinook jargon and French.  We chop wood and haul wood and mill wood and burn wood and plant saplings and listen to the forest sighing in the wind and count the rings on our Christmas trees and always seem to have some pitch on our hands.  We are Facebook fans of that hideous airport carpet, that, ugly as it is, means “home.”  We vote by mail to protect the salmon, and we hold nothing more sacred than our own self-determination.

I’ve lived all over this state, and traveled even more of it.  I’ve tracked deer in the Wallowas, I’ve boogie boarded in Pacific City, and I’ve stared up at the stars on the Nevada border.  I know the sharp smell of an approaching thunderstorm in the high desert, and the gentle susurration of ocean waves on a sunny afternoon, and the chill of dew on prairie grass under my bare feet.

And I can’t imagine raising my children anywhere else.

Today is the third anniversary of the day we bought our plane tickets home.  My eyes sting with tears as I think about that– how long it’s been, how we’re starting to take Oregon for granted again, how Númenor and Ithilien don’t really remember living anywhere else.

The fact is, back east was too much for us.  Too much in our business.  Too much snow.  Too much traffic.  Too much crowding.  Too much America.  Too much pollution.  Too much conformity.  Too much erosion of the mountains.  Too much lime in the drinking water.  Too much fuss to vote.  Too much fear.  Too much civilization.

When I stepped off that plane and saw that hideous windmill carpet in PDX, I could breathe again.  As we drove through rainy, nighttime Portland, trying to find the food we’d promised our beleaguered toddlers who had just endured a three-layover cross-country flight, it all came back to me.  How to navigate Portland, and that we should be looking for a Plaid Pantry, and what it felt like to know you belonged somewhere.

The state of Oregon will be turning 147 years old this month.  But somehow, it still feels like a territory.  It’s a place of changes and contradictions and clashing cultures and weirdness, where the rules don’t fully apply.  And it is my home.

So thank you, Oregon, for flying with your own wings.  And thank you, fellow Oregonians, for keeping this place a weird and wild exception to the rules.

Life on the frontier is a perfect fit for me.

About that patriotic stuff

The word “patriotic” is an adjective used to describe things that are patriot-like.  The word patriot was loaned into English from middle French patriote, but its lineage can be traced back to Latin and Greek words for father, making the meaning of the word less about being proud of one’s homeland (or patria), and more about it being a feeling one has in conjunction with others who are of one’s father.  It’s about human relationships, common history, shared identity.

It’s not the opposite of “terrorist,” “godless,” or “anarchist.”

For European Americans, the 4th of July is a celebration of their people’s victory over their oppressive colonial rulers.  For people of African and Native descent, it is, at best, meaningless.

That’s patriotic all around.

After the Declaration [of Independence] there is a long list of justification given for why the colonies were declaring their independence from the control of England. And the 7th justification reads:
“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”

13 years prior, King George issued the Proclamation of 1763. In this proclamation a line was drawn down the Appalachian Mountains and the colonies were essentially told that they no longer had the right of discovery of the Indian Lands west of Appalachia. Only the crown could thereafter negotiate treaties and buy or sell those lands. This deeply upset the colonies. For they wanted those empty Indian lands and King George was “raising the conditions of new Appropriations of (their rightful) Lands.”

Justification 27, the final justification in the list, states:
“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

How can a declaration that begins by stating “All men are created equal” go on to include justifications that dehumanize the Indian tribes and peoples who were already living in this land? Clearly the founding Fathers had a very narrow definition of who qualified as human. Therefore they could state “ALL men are created equal” because they did not believe that the “merciless Indian Savages” who occupied the empty Indian lands west of the Appalachian Mountains were actually human.

— Mark Charles, Navajo scholar, “The Doctrine of Discovery: A Buried Apology and an Empty Chair

 

Given the current state of race relations in the US and the heatwave, I would like to remind people, especially white males and others with privilege, that there is much to criticize about this country, its history, and the conduct of its modern state.  Try to hear criticisms and anti-nationalist sentiments as an ally, or at least a neutral bystander.

The 4th of July isn’t for everyone, just as the Declaration of Independence wasn’t about the self-evident and inalienable rights of women, slaves, native peoples, and other marginalized people.  So don’t be an asshole to people who choose not to be excited about what is, in reality, a celebration for a small number of already privileged people that they worked up the courage to challenge a far-distant government for dominion over a vast and diversely-peopled continent none of them had any right to claim.

Have a safe weekend, everyone.

Ferguson

This is an article about the failings of the “objective” official report on the Watts riots in LA in 1965. I know this is old news, but read it.  This article is nearly 50 years old, and the parallels between the situation it describes and the situation this month in Ferguson are many.  Racism is not defunct– in many ways, things are worse now than they were before the Civil Rights Act, and in many ways, as you can tell reading this article with modern eyes, they are unchanged.

Police to Al Jazeera Journalist near Ferguson: ‘I’ll bust your head’

A former marine explains all the weapons of war being used in Ferguson

Why the Fires in Ferguson won’t End Soon

Finally, here’s an opportunity to teaspoon: http://www.change.org/p/national-action-against-police-brutality