Today is a dull, gray, midwinter day, unseasonably warm in keeping with the last two years.
A group of us friends has been meeting to sort out the election and its aftermath. For several members of the group, this is their first taste of colonialism at work, and the group is wrestling with the interweaving of money, racism, and genocide.
There is considerable scholarship suggesting that race was devised during the colonial period to justify the enslavement of Indigenous/tribal people around the world, and the theft of Indigenous/tribal lands. So yes, race is about money.
Colonial ideologies are powerful and insidious and at least five eastern tribes “owned” slaves in order to support large farms, although the status of most of those enslaved was very different from European owned slaves. Many slaves achieved freedom and tribal membership, their descendants now frequently disenrolled as a result of inadequate tribal resources and Federal blood quotient rules, and yes, sometimes racism. Representative Haaland’s nomination to head the Department of the Interior has brought these issues back into focus, as she is perceived by many Black Natives to be a champion of disenrollment. (I strongly oppose disenrollment, but I am not enrolled so I have no standing in the matter.)
In the Western and Southwestern US, Natives were routinely enslaved and traded or sold by the Spaniards, a practice that led some marauding tribes to enslave members of other tribes and to sometimes commodify them in the slave trade.
I grew up with a tacit societal hierarchy, both racial and economic. My mother’s settler side of the family saw blacks as inherently inferior to working class whites, who were inferior to middle and upper class whites. Natives were above blacks but on our way to extinction, a race to be pitied and assimilated. Asians were just alien and inherently other, as were most Jews. Disabled people were at the very bottom of the hierarchy so you can imagine my parent’s fears for me after severe polio. (My mother tried valiantly, but had only limited success in limiting her family’s/culture’s influence on her.)
My father’s Native identified side of the family was too busy trying to keep their land from being stolen out from under them to care much about race. Most of the men served in the military, although they kept their Native identities secret to avoid discrimination. (My father repeatedly rejected offers of Officers” Candidate School because he was afraid the background check would out him.) They were more interest in someone’s public service and military history than their race. My father’s mother ruled the family in true Native fashion and pushed a program of assimilation, strongly believing that assimilation was the only way to “protect the children”. Needless to say, growing up was confusing and there are still times those opposing worldviews war within me.
I consider myself supremely luck to have been embraced by several Native/Indigenous teachers. One, a very tricksterish teacher of Jewish/Siberian descent, was trained as a Siberian shaman and was a highly respected psychopomp who helped me to come to terms with 400 plus years of ghosts. (He was stealing cars in NYC at age 16 when his mother sent him to live in Siberia with her sisters; he never stopped stealing ….) Two others, a Peruvian and Amazonian shaman couple, taught me that it is OK to have/celebrate humor and joy, even in the face of ongoing genocide.
I believe we in the Americas are being driven by the anger and grief of all those ghosts, a formidable power. I find it difficult to imagine we will be able to move forward towards a just society until we honor those angry/grieving spirits of all races. Window dressing won’t do it; a true accounting of our collective histories would be a start. Reparations are needed, too, and that involves MONEY!