Thursday, July 10

Arrogant

The week before Independence Day different media forums hosted a series of explorations into Patriotism. Specifically if Black Americans (I have avoided the over-used and irrelevant African-American title) have had enough time to heal so they can feel patriotic. One young, Black and presumably ivy-league educated panelist - in words dripping with condescension and after a too-long hesitation - answered a question put directly to her this way, "Do I consider myself 'patriotic'? This begs we define the definition of what patriotic means. If it means I can criticize and raise my voice against the flaws I see because my criticism might make things better, then yes, I am patriotic." I turned the radio off when a Black woman in her 60's called in and said she hasn't been able to hang an American flag from her porch until now, because a Black man is running for president.

I read editorials and blogs on the subject until I felt sick. "White guilt" seemed the desired outcome of each poorly directed discussion. A country founded on slavery obviously is not worthy of respect from her citizens. Throughout the guilt-generated attempts to appreciate Black American resentment of America, it was more than curious to hear nothing about the resentment potential in the Native-American populace. Slaves at least have a property value assigned to them; Indians on the other hand had a price for their head.

Who are these educated people who speak as if they have never opened a book? How very convenient to criticize the past applying current cultural norms! In anthropology, this kind of myopic outlook is termed "ethnocentrism": judging other cultures by the standards of your own, which you believe to be superior. This philosophy fueled and legitimized the aggressive colonization era.

Who are these people who are so unhappy in America 2008? They seem unaware of how ignorant they sound as they disregard world history. All countries and systems of government evolve. In Japan, people no longer have their heads whacked off if they look at the Emperor. It took India literally many thousands of years (some experts theorize caste systems were introduced as early as the Holocene) to outlaw their ruthless caste system. It is still not eradicated, but since introduction of the law in 1950 its influence is diminished to the point that the 1997 President of India belonged to a caste formerly considered "untouchable". New Guinea tribesmen have given up head-hunting, the Chinese don't cripple their daughters with foot-binding, fiefdoms are gone from Europe and in central Mexico, they no longer glut themselves in human sacrifice.

Basic human nature has a profound voice in this discussion; we like to have control over others. Every human society ~ given enough time and resources, will eventually break-down into divisions of power. Someone will assert authority over another. It won't be fair, it won't be right, but this is nonetheless the heritage we bear as a human family. The King feels justified in his dictatorship. The Chief lusts for more prestige than he has already acquired by birth or by force. Secret Societies lurk to defraud and disrupt for personal gain. And those who are privileged love to complain.

In my Native American Religions class at Phoenix College a few years ago, the Navajo instructor clumsily manipulated hate rhetoric every class session. There was exceedingly little about the great, spiritual identity of indigenous peoples, but bucket-loads of inflammatory, irresponsible "discussion" about the evils of America and White, Western European culture. I had never been in an environment of hate promotion before. At one point, I had the floor. I made the point that we weren't focusing on the real issue. We can't excuse the real tragedy of broken treaties and cultural assault; but we must not assume an easy arrogance about what was going on within the context of the times. What country in the world was safe-guarding human rights and cultural tolerance in 1860? While the correct ideal was outlined in our founding documents, we as a 19th century world were not prepared to mentally or emotionally embrace it. Changes, however, were definitely in the works. Society was indeed evolving.

Indigenous peoples everywhere are traditionally the first society subjugated by influx of a new, more powerful group. I looked at the Filipino boy in class, the Latinos, the super angry Black man my age who should know better - it was really about human nature. I asked them how far back did we need to go to feel "guilty"? The Filipino boy was hot about the indignities his parents suffered to acquire American citizenship, but it wasn't something that happened in his life-time of driving his own car, texting on his camera phone and attending higher education. He didn't know a thing about the crushing occupation of the Philippines
by Japan during WWII. He knew nothing of his own family history beyond their immigration story. Virtually everyone can trace their roots back in time to a period when their people imposed upon another.

P
ulitzer prize-winner Roger Wilkins wrote Jefferson's Pillow: the founding fathers and the dilemma of Black patriotism in 2001. As a civil rights advocate, former Assistant Attorney General to Lyndon B. Johnson and a Black man in America, Mr. Wilkins is fully invested in his definition of 'patriotism'. He proposes an interesting study of this country founded on slavery; that without it we could not have succeeded in achieving independence from the Crown. The luxury of slavery afforded their master's sons an elite education in a time when most people were barely literate in the known world. Wilkins offers that these exceptional minds, randomly gathered together at this exceptional blink in history, could not have forged the revolutionary social ideal of the American Constitution without the support, or the pillow of slavery.

Jefferson, like many of his Southern generation, inherited his slaves. Had he freed them, there was nowhere for them to go. They could not own land. There were no rights or privileges in place to protect them at that time. Because Jefferson was a land owner in the South (a qualification that required slavery to sustain), he had the education, means and status afforded him not only to the ruling class, but to devote himself wholly to the exercise of country-building. In creating the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (both documents which literally ignited a human fire for freedom around the world), fighting for the establishment of freedom of religion, public universities and all the other brilliant, before-their-time endeavors he and his Continental Congress colleagues managed to achieve ~ can we still remain so ungrateful? Their singular, hard-fought success is a miracle! There is no logical reason that they should have succeeded. Yet they did.

Because they did, we have the most ideal standard for ordering a society and encouraging individual and collective progress on the face of the planet. There is no other society at any time that began with these ideals and has successfully struggled to protect them as America has thus far. True, the system is flawed. There are corruptions and shameful inequities. But the ideal is perfect. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It is when we must add the imperfect variable of human nature to the amalgamation of inspired writ that the ideal becomes unattainable. This is not to say it is still not worth striving for and believing in. And above all, respecting.

I can be the most loathsome, animal sex offender and even kill a child in my depravity. All the physical evidence and eye-witness testimony possible condemns my criminal act - yet I am entitled to have an attorney argue in my defense, and a trial by jury of my peers hear the evidence in a courtroom sworn to impartiality under the law. America set the standard for seeking this level of fairness in a world which is by its very nature besieged by all things unfair.

Tell me again how you need to redefine 'patriotism'. Show me your suffering in America as you buy, sell, marry, work, play and pursue happiness in whatever manner you see fit. Don't point the finger at the past and make it your personal injury today; grow up. The world was a different place yesterday. It was - however unfairly to your modern, Western perspective, right in step with the social culture of the times in which it functioned. You can waste a lot of energy beating your chest about historical injustice. Read a book. You are not re-inventing the wheel by crying, "foul!" now.

You bore me with your indignation that the Founding Fathers owned slaves. You need to read the forcefully written clause Jefferson penned that he hoped would identify slavery for the gross evil it was and destroy it. You need to refresh yourself on the facts of what happened because he wrote that, and how Adams and Franklin begged him to accept compromise on this point, lest they lose the entire Southern delegation and their larger cause be lost. You ought to feel the pathos of that argument, so you can appreciate finally how good men, exceptional men - chose to overlook personal convictions on some points to achieve the potential to establish a more perfect union in the future.

You surprise me with how quickly you are willing to expose your lack of basic world history. After 9/11 and Oprah's furrowed brow looking into the camera asking, "Why do other countries hate us so much?", it irritated me how shocked people were that women were being debased in the Middle East. Some of the most unaware were women at my church, in Relief Society. I very much wanted them to have responded differently. It's not like it was a big secret. To me, it perpetuated the awful truth of Oprah's mental vacancy: they hate America because we are arrogant. We don't know other cultures exist, and we don't care all that much that we don't know.

As we appreciate history on face value, strange ironies emerge with a predictable breath of life. The American Indian Boarding School project was a hundred-plus year experiment in forcibly indoctrinating Native Americans into White culture. After the final Indian Wars, this was the alternative to extermination congress chose...both decisions were actually on the table. The motto: "Kill the Indian, Save the Man" is offensive to us today. But to 19th century Americans, many of whom did not accept Indians as human beings, the idea that these newly surrendered enemies of the state could be rehabilitated was considered logical and humane. Children were taken from their homes and shipped to far away compounds to live, learn and work in white culture. Crammed into triple bunk beds in military style barracks, they died by the scores from typhoid and tuberculosis. But - this was before the cause of contagion was known. Children were publicly humiliated for soiling bedsheets when they had never seen a bed before, or punished for speaking their native tongue. Out of the darkest places of this aggressive, intolerant policy, emerged shining stars: Olympic champions who represented the new, "heroic" American Indian to the world. Boarding school students who graduated and turned around to teach their own in new, more culturally revised curriculum so the students could understand illustrated by Indian student artists. Indians who went beyond trade avocations to actually attend universities. And finally, precisely because of the Boarding School experience, there were thousands of Indians fluent enough in English to accept the challenge as Code Talkers in WWII. Their contribution was no small facet in the turn of the war; in fact, it was crucial. Somehow we feel threatened to concede that good can come from bad circumstances. 

Some of us are too fixated on the past to be truly effective in the present. The sucker-punch of criticism does not define your interpretation of patriotism as much as it defines you as a person, surrounded as you are in the spoils of democracy. My love of country is no less legitimate because of the mistakes of her growing pains. I love America because she is rising ever closer to that original ideal the Founding Brothers envisioned. Her red, white and blue really does speak to millions around the globe of priceless, precious freedom. They feel this without the slightest clue to my interpretation of patriotism. They feel it because it is.

Before Obama was Frederick Douglas. Born a slave in 1817, his Master's wife taught him how to read and write. By doing so, she broke the law and risked her husband's wrath. He was the first Black American to be nominated for President of the United States in a major party's roll call vote at the 1888 Republican National Convention. Frederick Douglas was a great man, and a Patriot. Who are you?

* American flag photo by Asia Tanner Photography

2 comments:

Yaj said...

Publish this post Cindi!!

That's what you get for listening to NP ... um, never mind.

Your next post ought to study current forms of slavery and how very pronounced and practiced it is in "modern" Middle-eastern countries (heard of Darfur anyone?). Yes, if you don't submit to Islam (which word means "submit or die") you will pay a price to Islam - you will die or, if useful, die slowly as some form of slave until you are no longer useful.

Be sure to include a discussion on the Barbary Coast pirates*, who took white Europeans into Africa as slaves by blacks and were only stopped by WWI. Yes, history records more whites taken into slavery by Africans than Africans were taken into slavery by whites... But don't let the facts get in the way of some great Ivy-league patriotism!

Cindi, YOU are the man#!!

And - GREAT picture Asia!

Oh, and B.O+. is no more black than white, or white than black. I have noticed a convenient shade shift as the audience demands...

As to our great country - I notice that Isaiah got it right (5: 20) and even Nephi picked up on it!!

* The words from the Marine fight song, "the shores of Tripoli" regard the Barbery Coast pirates.

# To turn a phrase...

+ The only difference between Obama and Osama is the BS...

Anonymous said...

Do you have any other hobbies?