The Irony In The Fight Against Racism

The Irony In The Fight Against Racism
Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

Racism is a frequent topic these days, what with Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin running on the republican ticket and officers of the law frequently equating skin color with a need to die and be arrested (sorry, did I get that out of order?). There’s a strange thing about discussions of racism in this country that is often overlooked, and that’s that racism seems to have become about three individual groups: African-Americans, Middle Easterners, and Latinos/as.

But those aren’t the only races in this country, and they aren’t the only ones who face racism on a daily basis.

I was buying a pack of cigarettes today when I glanced down toward the roll-your-own section and was greeted by a plains Indian chief, headdress and all, adorning a package of “Red Man” chewing tobacco. Red Man. I suppose that’s honoring us, right? Like the Washington Redskins are? As usual, racism against the native population goes unnoticed, unacknowledged, and outright ignored.

How ironic is that? In terms of this government’s history with my people, and by extension the rest of the tribes, “civilized” or not, we come out the worst. To this day, they have many of us rounded up and sectioned off. To this day, people mock our tribal traditions during Halloween parties and then have the gall to say “Oh, but we’rehonoring you, and I’m a 16th Cherokee on my Mom’s side anyway, so that makes it okay!”

Oh, don’t get me wrong, lots of people acknowledge this when it comes to light. When there’s a slow news day and the Redskins happen to be playing, there may be a piece aired about a protest. There is a wonderful story about a man who one year was screaming at a protester in full, incredibly offensive regalia, and then learned the error of his ways and came back looking like a normal person the next year and apologized.

People can and do learn, but too often that goes unacknowledged, and more so, nothing truly changes. Our nation’s capital’s football team is still a racial slur. There are still mascots across the country that pat their hands on their mouths and do the “ay-yuh-yuh-yuh” that some movie or episode of the Simpsons taught them once upon a time.

The $20 bill still carries the image of a genocidal president whose genocide regularly goes unmentioned. For those of you who never learned this in history class, Jackson signed the Indian Relocation Bill into law and forcibly removed thousands of people from their homes and forced them to march to Oklahoma. The Trail of Tears killed tens of thousands of people, of mypeople, and we get road signs on the side of the road and passing apologies occasionally from presidents, if even that. Obama was the first sitting president to even visit any of the tribes, if that gives you an idea of how ignored we are.

This was our country. It was literally stolen from us. Worse, we were made historically into a savage, evil people who raped and pillaged and endangered the poor, innocent pioneers who just wanted to settle the land.

Now, I’m not denying that there were plenty of tribes that made folks ‘circle the wagons,’ but the Cherokee weren’t. We had language, we had civilization, art, architecture, cities…. We had what passes for faith, though it was mostly in nature and human beings. We signed treaties with the first Americans. We saw the future and decided to work with the people instead of war with them. Four other tribes decided the same. We were each betrayed, and to this day we are used for amusement.

We don’t even garner enough respect to be acknowledged half the time. It’s why we’ve had to forcibly take up arms against the U.S. government more than once (see: wounded knee part deux, Alcatraz occupation). We have to go to such extremes to get noticed, and we didn’t get that damn apology until Obama signed the “Native American Apology Resolution” into law in 2009. For perspective, Reagan apologized for the internment of Japanese-Americans in 1988. But hey, they still haven’t officially apologized for slavery (though there were two resolutions in 2008), so maybe our government is just kind of racist and terrible in general and way too late in trying to make up for it.

Categories: Commentary