October 13, 2013

Indians don't fit American myth

Guilt And The Conservative Antipathy For American Indians

By T. SteelmanOn this Columbus Day, I asked myself why some of those whose ancestors come from Europe have so much animosity towards the people who already lived here? The Republican party and conservatives seem to have a big problem with American Indians; their lifestyle, their religion, their traditions, their culture. Just this year an American Indian girl was fined for wearing a feather in her cap. It was discovered that South Dakota was kidnapping American Indian children in an attempt to keep them from their culture. A so-called “Christian” televangelist told us to repent for our ancestors. Another “Christian” sued Oklahoma because of an American Indian image on his license plate. The Supreme Court decided that a Cherokee child’s American Indian father had no parental rights. Even a movie was attacked for depicting white men slaughtering Indians–can’t have folks see the truth, can we? Even several Republican women voted not to renew the Violence Against Women Act because it would extend protection to women on American Indian reservations.These examples are a small subset of the examples anyone who knows Indians could provide. They're enough to confirm the thesis of conservative antipathy toward Indians.

Now we get to the crux of the matter. Namely, why?David C. Williams of the Indiana University School of Law and author of In Praise of Guilt, has a theory. He points out that the United States came into being only through taking the sovereignty of the American Indian tribes. This doesn’t fit with the American myth.The United States has always insisted that it rests on the consent of the governed. According to our national mythology, America was “born liberal,” isolated by the ocean and created by a self-governing citizenry. But in fact America’s territorial sovereignty is the result of conquest. And that reality plays out in the legal approach to reparations because American judges have to develop an account that makes the conquest seem legitimate. Otherwise, because their own power arises from conquest, they would be forced to declare themselves illegitimate.Americans do not like guilt. We have a self-image that includes our being fair. Our exceptionalism implies that we always do the right thing. And, if we don’t, we make reparations. Like we did with slaves or the Japanese that we sent to internment camps during WWII. But the idea of our nation being founded on theft, murder and marginalization of its original inhabitants just doesn’t sit well with us.Comment:  Shaping our self-image includes encouraging Halloween costumes and Indian mascots. We allow these things because, whether consciously or unconsciously, we want Indians "kept in their place." Which is out of sight on a reservation, or--better yet--safe in the romanticized past.

What we don't want is real live Indians in our face talking about oppression and injustice. So when they pop up to remind us of the broken treaties and stolen land, we tell them to vanish. "You lost, what's past is past, get over it."

For more on the subject, see What Conservatives Consider "Objective History" and Conservatives Use "Language of Savagery."

Below:  "God Bless America" and "Positively No Beer Sold to Indians."

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