Over at Racialicious I responded to a blog entry titled Culturally Clueless FAQs—Number 1. The subject was whether the black agenda encompassed the agendas of other minorities.
You can read my response there, but I basically said that blacks, Indians, and other minorities should support each other. Someone named Jess came back with this response (slightly edited for clarity):
It's a tad dated now (I think it was written in 1965 or thereabouts) but it is salient that for Native people, the struggle would not (by definition...almost) be for equality within the society. But to prevent colonization by that society.
Black people in that sense (and I am paraphrasing Deloria here) are colonists as well, even though they weren't put in that position voluntarily.
Obviously (I hope) I don't think the lines are cut and dried all the time and everywhere, as the history of Oklahoma (for instance) illustrates. But for the most part, you are going to end up with very different sets of interests and goals viz. American government, society and culture.
Black Separatism: Deloria's Prescriptions to African-Americans
Some paraphrases of Deloria's position from this page:
The black effort to integrate/assimilate will not succeed, and blacks should not want it to.
Instead of pursuing legal enforcement of integration, Deloria prescribes that blacks should seek cultural-political-social and economic independence.
According to Deloria, blacks should retribalize themselves as a separate people with a separate land and a separate nation.
Hence Deloria felt the two minorities had little in common. Which is why the Indians saw no need to participate in the civil rights movement. In fact, Deloria said blacks should stop trying to integrate and should seek their own independent tribal identity like the Indians'.
Dated or wrong?
This isn't just a "tad dated." It's more or less plain wrong. Here's why:
1) Although racism persists in America, blacks are more well-integrated into society than anyone would've expected in 1965. And it would be hard to argue that this integration has been a huge failure for them. Barack and Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell, Tiger Woods, Condoleezza Rice, and (for better or worse) Clarence Thomas, anyone? In 2009, is anyone seriously arguing that a black nationalist type of position is the best or only solution for blacks?
2) Indians are also more well-integrated into society than anyone would've expected in 1965. I don't know what the percentage was then, but something like 70% of Natives live off-rez in cities and suburbs today. They're going to the same colleges, working the same jobs, using the same technology, and enjoying the same entertainment as everyone else.
You can see this play out in various ways. On the trailing edge, dozens of Indian languages are dying out, unfortunately. They're having trouble surviving in the "English only" environment. On the cutting edge, Native youths are immersed in hip hop culture just like black, Latino, and other ethnic youths. Like other next-gen groups, they have everything from rappers to skateboard artists.
In '65, the post-WW II era was only 20 years old. The termination and relocation era of the 1950s was only 10 years old. Indians were still relatively segregated and could envision staying that way.
Just as a lot changed from 1921 to 1965, a lot has changed in the last 44 years. (Most of Racialicious's readers were born, for instance.) Mass media--television, computers, cellphones, etc.--have brought American culture into every corner of the world. How are Deloria's Indians going to maintain their separateness when they're a few clicks away from e-mails, text messages, social networks, iTunes, and video games? Today's Indians aren't watching Martin Luther King Jr. on grainy TV sets, they're listening to Kanye West on their iPods.
I'm not saying it's good that Indians are becoming more like everyone else. I'm all in favor of their maintaining their separate identities, values, beliefs, cultures, and languages as much as possible. But I think the battle to be truly separate is over and both Indians and blacks have "lost." Never again will they be independent the way Deloria envisioned them.
Deloria has a point, but...
I think one of Deloria's points is sound: that Indians have sovereignty, treaty, and land issues unique to them. But I also think he was looking at a limitless sort of future in the 1960s. Change was in the air and it looked as though Democrats would control the federal government indefinitely.
In that atmosphere, it was relatively easy to say, "We have our agenda, you have yours, and never the twain shall meet. Let's fight our separate battles and achieve our separate goals in 10 or 20 years (30 tops)."
Now we've endured almost three decades of conservatives dominating our government. Indians can't get a budget increase or win a Supreme Court decision if their lives depend on it (which they sometimes do). In that kind of "survival" mode, Indians and other minorities have a lot more in common than they used to. Legislation and court decisions that champion corporate rights over individual rights hurt everyone (except the power elite).
If you're not convinced, check out Obama's 2009 budget. I imagine there are some items that pertain specifically to sovereignty, treaties, and land rights. But the priorities for Indian country in 2009 are the same as for every other minority: jobs, healthcare, education, and law enforcement.
I don't know what the Indians' priorities were in 1965. Or what Deloria thought they'd be in 2009. But I wouldn't be at all surprised if the top priorities for Indians in the 1965 budget were jobs, healthcare, education, and law enforcement. These are perennial concerns for every disadvantaged minority.
The bigger picture
I also think Delora missed an overriding point. Let's assume he's right that inner-city poverty isn't an Indian issue and land-into-trust decisions aren't a black issue. I'd still argue that if we change the American mindset from one of selfishness and greed to one of tolerance and inclusion, everyone will benefit. If we make America a more caring and compassionate society, everyone will benefit.
Take the recent battle over Proposition 8 in California. Gay marriage affects only a small number of people, so does that mean it isn't a black or Indian concern? No. I'd say it should interest these minorities even if they don't consider it "their" issue.
If we legalize gay marriage and nothing bad happens--as it surely won't--it'll push the cultural dial a little further to the left. People will think, "Hey, this multicultural stuff really works. Now that I actually see 'gay culture' in action, I realize my fears were unfounded.
"Since gay marriage and a black president haven't destroyed the Republic, maybe we should address other items on the so-called liberal agenda. For instance, global warming and universal healthcare. Or inner-city poverty and sovereign treaty rights. If we finally address these things too, maybe they'll also turn out as well as progressives predict."
In that sense, I'll continue to maintain that one minority's battle is really everyone's battle. This goes beyond any particular cause to the overall goal of realigning the country's values. When we achieve gay, Native, and black rights, America becomes more diverse and multicultural. Then we all move forward together.
For more on the subject, see Culture and Comics Need Multicultural Perspective 2000.
P.S. Nothing in this essay is meant to exclude Latinos, Asians, or other ethnic groups. We could plug in their names and issues and make the same sort of arguments.