“A Nation of Immigrants” and Passive Racism

#Charlottesville #Racism #Resistance

The acts of the white supremacist terrorists in Charlottesville VA this weekend, the notifications posted of more “rallies” planned by these terrorists, and the White House response to it―laying the blame equally upon those who were beaten, mauled, and killed―had me shaking in my shoes.

When I finally calmed down, I started wondering what actions I can take to create a better world. Some people seem to have figured it out. They’ve made speeches of condemnation and of unity; posted stirring remarks that are worthy of quotation long after today; demanded that the Justice Department investigate; and criticized the White House response. They’ve put the blame squarely on the shoulders of those it belongs to.

Citizens marched in solidarity in Charlottesville, created a yuuuge peaceful protest around Trump Tower in NYC. Veterans are banding together to protect the counter-protestors, in much the same way as they protected Native Americans at Standing Rock. People are sharing stories of friends and family members who have fought and died to defeat the Nazis and other racist/genocidal ilk. And they’ve set up a GoFundMe page for Heather Heyer, the victim of vehicular homicide.

Some of these are big things, some of them are small. All of them will have an impact on where we go from here, and make me proud to be an American. So the question becomes: big or small, grand or minuscule―what can I do?

The first thing I can do: I can tweet and re-tweet, to let others know they are not alone in their outrage, in their sorrow. Let others know that their actions are abhorred by the majority. I can encourage the groups that are active, and the people who are just beginning to see how deep this problem goes in our society.

And there’s another thing I can do. Because through all of this, all the condemnation of terrorism, all the support of the victims, all the voices calling for a swift and uncompromising statement from the White House―through all of it, I’ve noticed a strand of passive racism:

We are a nation of immigrants.”

It sounds like such a little thing, and I know what the point is. I know it’s meant as a show of solidarity. It’s supposed to shame the white supremacist terrorists whose ancestors, like most of ours, had the same dreams and goals as those who come today. Who came willingly across the seas, searching for a better place, a better life, a better day.

But it does so at the cost of those whose ancestors did not.

The “New World” was populated before the advent of Columbus. There were peoples here who were self-sufficient, who had complex religions, governments and languages, whose myths and histories were handed down through countless generations. Who had a connection to the land and a reverence for it that most of us are lacking today. The European invasion decimated these populations, forced new religions and languages on the conquered, dismissed their care of this precious earth. Those who did not conform were exterminated. There is a long and bloody history of abuse of these peoples.

They were not, and their descendants are not, in any sense of the word, “immigrants”.

There is another history, just as long and just as bloody, that the adage ignores: slavery. Men, women and children crowded into the holds of ships, treated like cattle, fed just enough to stay alive, and thrown overboard if they died of abuse, starvation or disease. Those who survived were sold to the highest bidder. And whether you call them slaves or “indentured servants”, these individuals did not come here willingly.

To call them immigrants denies their history in this country.

I objected to one Tweet and was told “nobody means any harm by it.” I choose to believe that, to believe that most people do not mean to harm. But it does harm.

If the objective is solidarity, this phrase accomplishes exactly the opposite. It makes outsiders of those who did not choose to come to this continent, and outsiders of those who fought and died to preserve their right to live freely, and who are now confined to the worst pieces of land our government could find. Land that’s been whittled down to practically nothing.

Yes, it sounds good in a tweet. Yes, it’s accepted by the mainstream. But systemic racism exists, and “nation of immigrants” is a passive yet destructive force within it.

So this is my first tiny step toward eradicating passive racism: trying to convince others of the harm inherent in this popular adage. There are quotes that sound just as good in a Tweet: “America is a melting pot.” “Lady Liberty welcomes all.” “America thrives on diversity.” Find one, or make up your own.

But please. No more “nation of immigrants.”

Not only does it hurt, it isn’t even true. And if we can’t stop telling our own lies, can’t recognize and fix our own passive prejudices―how can we criticize those who live by lies and prejudice?


Broken Treaties, Broken Lives – Part 1: Promises to Keep

When I started this blog, I had no intention of getting into current affairs or social commentary. Really. But recently, a couple of issues have changed my mind. What is a writer if she doesn’t write about what’s most important to her?

As you all probably know, the US has a very long-standing tradition of making pacts and treaties with Native Americans, and then ignoring those agreements when some new, “better” idea comes along. What you may not have heard is that the US Government is currently in the process of doing it again.

Not once, but twice.

The first of the new, “better” ideas to come along is the Keystone Pipeline (KXL). KXL is the brainchild of TransCanada Corporation, a Canadian fuel company that is currently in the process of extracting tar sands oil in Alberta, with the intent of transporting it via pipeline to Houston, Texas, to be refined. The US House of Representatives has voted several times to pass the project.

Proponents of KXL have assured us that many (up to a million) high-paying permanent jobs will be created in the US; that the pipeline will do no harm to the environment; and that KXL will lower American dependence on “foreign energy sources”.

However, TransCanada has already let it slip that most of the jobs created will be temporary construction jobs, and makes no secret of the fact that the refined oil will be exported.

And while the pipeline itself may be ecologically sound (I for one find that very hard to believe), tar sands oil is the dirtiest fuel known at this point in time, and I can find no public records of any plan for clean-up.

But that’s not enough to stop KXL’s proponents, and the fact that the pipeline, as currently planned, will cut diagonally through the Sioux Nation’s land doesn’t stand in their way, either.

The Yankton, Cheyenne River, Rosebud, Standing Rock, and other Sioux tribes stand in opposition to KXL. As reported by Indian Country Today Media Network, the Sioux Nation is working in conjunction with NOKXL Dakota, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Sierra Club, and many other groups and individuals, who promise “continued opposition … (we) will not concede lands to a foreign entity or compromise the climate for generations to come.”

The basis for their opposition is the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. Article 2 grants lands to the Sioux (about half of what the Treaty of 1851 promised them), and states it shall be for the “…absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians named herein.”

The Treaty of 1868 is irrevocable, and cannot be changed by the President, Congress, or Supreme Court unless it violates the Constitution of the United States. Therefore, if the Sioux do not want the pipeline on their land it, quite simply, should not be built.

Which brings us to the second problem, concerning the San Carlos Apache Tribe and the Tonto National Forest in Arizona. Slipped into the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act at the very last minute, was a provision to give 2400 acres of the Tonto National Forest to Resolution Copper Mining (commonly referred to as Rio Tinto), an Australian-English company. Rio Tinto plans to mine these lands for copper. This plan had been struck down several times in the past, which is why a certain Republican Senator (who didn’t get to be president) and his cronies attached it to the must-pass Defense budget.

The bill actually “swaps” those 2400 copper-rich acres for 5300 acres of sub-standard land. But those 2400 acres are considered sacred ancestral lands by the San Carlos tribe. Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler made this statement to Huffington-Post:

Since time immemorial people have gone there. That’s part of our ancestral homeland. We’ve had dancers in that area forever — sunrise dancers — and coming-of-age ceremonies for our young girls that become women. They’ll seal that off. They’ll seal us off from the Acorn Grounds, and the medicinal plants … and our prayer areas.”

The land swap includes Oak Flat, Devil’s Canyon and Apache Leap, where 75 Apaches were massacred in 1870. Popular history says that 50 of the warriors were killed in battle, while the remaining 25 ran their horses over the cliff to prevent being captured. However, the recently-discovered diary of one of the settlers of the area records that the 25 warriors not killed in battle were actually thrown over the cliff by local ranchers while the Army stood by.

But the facts of the massacre don’t matter. The wrangling around KXL is not important. What matters is the notion that Native Americans are somehow unworthy of being considered when their land and religious rights are being violated. That they are somehow lesser citizens, whose land should be forfeit in a way NOT ONE of those instigating these plans would accept if the land were theirs.

Have we learned nothing from history?

Have we not progressed beyond the “only good Indian” philosophy*?

How can people who huff and puff about religious freedom be so willing to ignore the religious beliefs of its first citizens?

KXL is a mockery wrapped in a lie, wrapped in the flag.

The RioTinto swap is a no-holds-barred land grab that I’m betting Congress thought no one would notice.

There’s little we can do but raise our voices and pens, sign petitions and write editorials. And hope that greed doesn’t triumph once again.


See the map of KXL here.

One of the petitions to oppose KXL is here.

A petition to stop the copper mining swap deal is here.

*The only good Indian is a dead Indian — Popular 19th century adage