What if the U.S.A. extended its holidays to include more than DWMs (dead white males)?

Sure, the US has a few days honoring those other than DWMs (Martin Luther King, Jr. day, for example). Yet, for the most part, the USA closes  schools, banks, post offices, etc to honor those of the dead white male persuasion.

Seeing that this year President’s Day and Susan B. Anthony Day fall on the same day, the strikingly un-diverse practice is put into sharp relief. How many people know it is SBA Day? How many kids study her work, and the work of other important women, as much or as often as that of all the dead white dudes?

I found a 3rd/4th grade lesson plan on SBA here. Thank Aphrodite for teachers that recognize SBA deserves as much (or more!) attention than former presidents.

As Miriam at Feministing notes in her “Today in Feminist History” blog column, most recorded history is about white men:

“In just the few months that I’ve been doing this series, I’ve encountered how difficult it can be to find important feminist historical moments, particularly organized by date. Especially when I’m doing most of my research online. So much of recorded history (particularly available on sites like Wikipedia, NY Times on this day) is about white men.”

This is why the 90th birthday of the league of women voters goes relatively unnoticed (except at feminist blogs, as here) and why I couldn’t find any mega big, mainstream blog covering SBA day. Seems like with all the coverage DWMs and AWMs (alive white males) get, we could pay a tad more attention to women’s history. (Yes, I know, it’s called HIStory for a reason…)

As noted by A Funny Feminist (who posted the someecard above), having this day off school “is a total wasted opportunity for kids to learn about presidents and other government whatnot.”

Just imagine if ONE day a year were devoted entirely to learning about women’s history? Yeah, we say there is a month, but my kids experience thus far reveals that Women’s History Month usually involves putting a few women’s pictures on the wall and maybe doing one report on an important woman. If I didn’t cajole some of the teachers into letting me talk in their classrooms during the month, there would be NO mention of feminism and no coverage other than the “rockstar women” that all the kids have already heard about…

If we really did honor these “Other” months, imagine the twist people like the white male studies peeps would get their boxers/briefs in!

Happy Susan B. Anthony Day everyone.

What if Thanksgiving was not about happy Pilgrims sharing turkey with industrious Natives, but about giving thanks for a successful massacre? (Reconsidering Thanksgiving, Part 2)

At the outset, I would like to note that I have relied on many useful scholars and writers to put together this post. The pieces I cite throughout the piece are as follows:

I would also like to give a nod to my anthropology professor of years ago, who, when I was a sophomore in college, was the first person to truly begin to open my eyes about Indigenous History. That semester, we read Changes in the Land. My feelings towards Thanksgiving, and US colonization, have been radically altered ever since.

To begin with a speculation, I would hazard a guess that probably 95% of Americans do not learn that there were at least two ‘first Thanksgivings.’

The story most of us know is of the day in 1621 when Pilgrims and Native Americans supposedly shared in a harvest feast. For what really happened at this time, I defer to Dr. Tingba Apidta. He notes that

“According to a single-paragraph account in the writings of one Pilgrim, a harvest feast did take place in Plymouth in 1621, probably in mid-October, but the Indians who attended were not even invited. Though it later became known as “Thanksgiving,” the Pilgrims never called it that. And amidst the imagery of a picnic of interracial harmony is some of the most terrifying bloodshed in New World history.

The Pilgrim crop had failed miserably that year, but the agricultural expertise of the Indians had produced twenty acres of corn, without which the Pilgrims would have surely perished. The Indians often brought food to the Pilgrims, who came from England ridiculously unprepared to survive and hence relied almost exclusively on handouts from the overly generous Indians-thus making the Pilgrims the western hemisphere’s first class of welfare recipients. The Pilgrims invited the Indian sachem Massasoit to their feast, and it was Massasoit, engaging in the tribal tradition of equal sharing, who then invited ninety or more of his Indian brothers and sisters-to the annoyance of the 50 or so ungrateful Europeans. No turkey, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie was served; they likely ate duck or geese and the venison from the 5 deer brought by Massasoit. In fact, most, if not all, of the food was most likely brought and prepared by the Indians, whose 10,000-year familiarity with the cuisine of the region had kept the whites alive up to that point.”

The fact that the hospitality, the sense of community and inter-humanity is what kept the whites alive is lost in the stories we learn in the US education system. So too is the savagery of the Pilgrims – yes, the Pilgrims were the savage ones, not the indigenous peoples. As Apitda notes, “Any Indian who came within the vicinity of the Pilgrim settlement was subject to robbery, enslavement, or even murder.” Yes, gotta love those happy, God-fearing Pilgrims.

What is also conveniently left out of our historical (un)consciousness is the fact that in the years following that unhappy meal, the majority of Indigenous peoples were either murdered firsthand or else secondhand via the diseases of white folks. As Eric Vieth of Dangeorous Intersection reminds us, “hepatitis, smallpox, chickenpox and influenza killed between 90% and 96% of the native Americans living in coastal New England.” As Vieth further elucidates, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony called this plague “miraculous.” This was the lovely religion practiced at the time – a belief system that saw death of the indigenous population as a miracle, as something to be praised.

This brings me to another myth – that Pilgrims and Puritans (P/P) were God-worshipping people who merely sought religious freedom (rather than power, land, and wealth). In fact, as Mitchel Cohen points out, these peoples who supposedly only desired to worship how they saw fit, used their religion to justify the persecution, enslavement, and murder of indigenous peoples. And, they were not amiss in the persecution of their own either – the gender and class stratifications meant that there was a P/P elite and an oppressed P/P underclass.

Speaking of persecution and murder brings me to the 2nd ‘1st Thanksgiving” – the one of 1637 that occurred near the Mystic River and involved the slaughter of at least 700 Pequot Indians. This is the real 1st Thanksgiving –  the one that was named as such by the leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

As Mitchel Cohen relates (emphasis mine):

“Thanksgiving, in reality, was the beginning of the longest war in the U.S ­ the extermination of the Indigenous peoples. Thanksgiving day was first proclaimed by the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637, not to offer thanks for the Indians saving the Pilgrims ­ that’s yet another re-write of the actual history ­ but to commemorate the massacre of 700 indigenous men, women and children who were celebrating their annual Green Corn Dance in their own house.

Gathered at this place, they were attacked by mercenaries, English and Dutch. The Pequots were ordered from the building and as they came forth they were killed with guns, swords, cannons and torches. The rest were burned alive in the building. The very next day the governor proclaimed a holiday and feast to “give thanks” for the massacre. For the next 100 years a governor would ordain a day to honor a bloody victory, thanking god the “battle” had been won. [For more information, see Where White Men Fear To Tread, by Russell Means, 1995; and Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian Hating and Empire Building, by R. Drinnon, 1990.]“

This 2nd Thanksgiving is the day which was actually recognized as such by the rulers of the time – and what they were giving thanks for was their massacre of indigenous peoples! Yet, in our sweetened version, we learn of the day in 1621. And, even this version is bent so far from truth as to be fiction – there was no turkey, no happy exchange, no ‘sharing’ between Pilgrims and Indigenous Peoples. Rather, Indigenous Peoples GAVE, Pilgrims TOOK.

It is the sweetened 1621 version that President Lincoln harkened back to when declaring the day a national holiday. As Glen Ford notes, “Lincoln surveyed a broken nation, and attempted nation-rebuilding, based on the purest white myth. The same year that he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he renewed the national commitment to a white manifest destiny that began at Plymouth Rock.”

This ‘white manifest destiny’ is yet another piece of the imperial puzzle that we sweep under the rug. What all too often goes unspoken in the historical renderings of this time is race – is the fact that we are talking about not merely Pilgrims or Puritans, but about WHITES, and a white supremacist ideology thought sought to enslave and/or eradicate all peoples of color. The “white man’s burden” as analyzed infamously by Rudyard Kipling was not only a project of India and Africa, but also of the US – even though when “colonialism” is studied, the colonization of the US is often left unexamined. According to most curriculum, the US was not colonized, but settled (even though, hint hint, they called them colonies!).

Another bit of historical amnesia is the linkages between the genocide of indigenous peoples and slavery. As Dan Brook pointed out in his 2002 Counterpunch piece “Celebrating Genocide,” “1619 marks the first year that human beings were brutally “imported” from Africa to become slaves in America, if they happened to survive the cruel capture and horrific Atlantic crossing.” And anyone who knows the true history of Columbus knows he attempted to enslave indigenous peoples from the get go. Each of these atrocities was precipitated by the same thing: greed. Each was justified by the same ideology: white supremacy. Each translated into a CAPITALIST system shaped by racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism.

Thus, with Thanksgiving, as Brook argues, what we are in effect giving thanks is “for being the invader, the exploiter, the dominator, the greedy, the gluttonous, the colonizer, the thief, indeed the genocidaire…” We are giving thanks for what bell hooks terms “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” (For a great video link of hooks analyzing this paradigm, see here.)

As Glen Ford argues,

“The necessity of genocide was the operative, working assumption of the expanding American nation.”Manifest Destiny” was born at Plymouth Rock and Jamestown, later to fall (to paraphrase Malcolm) like a rock on Mexico, the Philippines, Haiti, Nicaragua, etc. Little children were taught that the American project was inherently good, Godly, and that those who got in the way were “evil-doers” or just plain subhuman, to be gloriously eliminated. The lie is central to white American identity, embraced by waves of European settlers who never saw a red person.”

In yet another astute reconsideration of the holiday, Robert Jensen asserts that “Simply put: Thanksgiving is the day when the dominant white culture (and, sadly, most of the rest of the non-white but non-indigenous population) celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers.”

And the US certainly didn’t stop its genocidal practices once 95 to 99% of the indigenous peoples were killed. Rather, the US has supported and facilitated genocide in Indonesia, East Timor, Cambodia, has sat idly by genocides in Rwanda and Darfur, and has carried out military actions leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in Vietnam and Iraq (just to name a few).

When an indigenous person was FINALLY asked to speak truth to power 350 YEARS AFTER the invasion by bloodthirsty, savage Pilgrims, his speech was deemed unacceptable. As detailed at the cite United American Indians of New England:

“Three hundred fifty years after the Pilgrims began their invasion of the land of the Wampanoag, their “American” descendants planned an anniversary celebration. Still clinging to the white schoolbook myth of friendly relations between their forefathers and the Wampanoag, the anniversary planners thought it would be nice to have an Indian make an appreciative and complimentary speech at their state dinner. Frank James was asked to speak at the celebration. He accepted. The planners, however , asked to see his speech in advance of the occasion, and it turned out that Frank James’ views – based on history rather than mythology – were not what the Pilgrims’ descendants wanted to hear. Frank James refused to deliver a speech written by a public relations person. Frank James did not speak at the anniversary celebration.”

To read what Frank James had planned to say, go here.

The silencing of Frank James serves as one specific example of the silencing of indigenous peoples and their history that has occurred since the colonization of the USA by the white killers (no, not ‘settlers’). This is why, as Jacqueline Keeler, a member of the Dineh Nation and the Yankton Dakota Sioux, puts it (rather mildly) “For a Native American, the story of Thanksgiving is not a very happy one.”

Keeler’s account of the Dakota view of giving is particularly telling:

“Among the Dakota, my father’s people, they say, when asked to give, “Are we not Dakota and alive?” It was believed that by giving there would be enough for all — the exact opposite of the system we live in now, which is based on selling, not giving.”

Keeler also reminds us that “Nearly 70 percent of all crops grown today were originally cultivated by Native American peoples.” Do we, as we feast on the 4th Thursday of the month, even acknowledge this fact? Heck no! Our crops come from Costco!

This brings me back to part one of this post, and the capitalist lover that argued the holiday is really about celebrating “capitalist production.” Sadly, she is right on many levels. Our system does not celebrate giving, nor does it promote being thankful.

As those who are privileged by race, class, and other normative social positioning feast on this day, they often give thanks for their bounty. When I go to my mother’s for the holiday, her practice is to ask all in attendance to share something they are thankful for. Yet, rarely does this giving of thanks involve any historical awareness, let alone an analysis, of what the day stands for – both then and now.

According to Glen Ford,

“White America embraced Thanksgiving because a majority of that population glories in the fruits, if not the unpleasant details, of genocide and slavery and feels, on the whole, good about their heritage: a cornucopia of privilege and national power. Children are taught to identify with the good fortune of the Pilgrims. It does not much matter that the Native American and African holocausts that flowed from the feast at Plymouth are hidden from the children’s version of the story – kids learn soon enough that Indians were made scarce and Africans became enslaved. But they will also never forget the core message of the holiday: that the Pilgrims were good people, who could not have purposely set such evil in motion. Just as the first Thanksgivings marked the consolidation of the English toehold in what became the United States, the core ideological content of the holiday serves to validate all that has since occurred on these shores – a national consecration of the unspeakable, a balm and benediction for the victors, a blessing of the fruits of murder and kidnapping, and an implicit obligation to continue the seamless historical project in the present day.”

Thus, when we ‘give thanks’ for our bounty without also acknowledging at what costs this bounty has been made possible, we are accomplices to this “seamless historical project,” we, whether consciously or unconsciously, are giving thanks for genocide, for slavery, and for an imperial project that marches ceaselessly on.

Yet, as Robert Jensen of AlterNet laments, even radicals and liberals resist critiquing and/or rejecting the Thanksgiving holiday. Relating that the most comment argument went like this:  “we can reject the culture’s self-congratulatory attempts to rewrite history…and come together on Thanksgiving to celebrate the love and connections among family and friends,” Jensen counters that:

“The argument that we can ignore the collective cultural definition of Thanksgiving and create our own meaning in private has always struck me as odd. This commitment to Thanksgiving puts these left/radical critics in the position of internalizing one of the central messages promoted by the ideologues of capitalism — that individual behavior in private is more important than collective action in public. The claim that through private action we can create our own reality is one of the key tenets of a predatory corporate capitalism that naturalizes unjust hierarchy, a part of the overall project of discouraging political struggle and encouraging us to retreat into a private realm where life is defined by consumption. “

What can we do instead? Well, my thoughts on that difficult question, with further reference to the wonderful 2007 piece by Jensen, well be posted in part 3 (either later today or early tomorrow, depending on how much  grading I get done)…

What if “Columbus Day” was given the more accurate name “Celebrate Genocide Day”?

 

Today is “Columbus Day,’ a day that has been celebrated in various ways since at least 1792 and was declared a federal holiday by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1934. Currently, elementary schools around the nation combine the ‘holiday’ with learning units about Columbus and his “discovery.” The ways in which this portion of history is taught consists of a massive lie.

To start with, most history books claim Columbus “discovered” America. Well, forgive me  for asking, but when there are already anywhere form 10 to 45 million inhabitants living on a land mass, why does one conqueror’s greed induced voyage equal “discovery”? (Not to mention Columbus was lost and thought he was in Cuba when he first landed in the Caribbean and thought he was in India when he landed in North America.)

Teaching children Columbus “discovered” American obliterates the history of the indigenous people’s of this continent, it ignores the genocide that ensued, and it suggests that greed-driven imperialism is something to be celebrated.  It equates being a “hero” with being racist, violent, power-hungry, and arrogant. Woo-hoo.

Many websites offer teachers lesson plans to help kids “celebrate” the wonderful imperialist genocide Columbus’ “discovery” made possible. You can make tiny egg cups to represent the ships. Neat! You can make your own “discovery map.” (Do teachers encourage children to note the numbers of indigenous people massacred at each of Columbus’ ‘discoveries’?) Or, you can download pictures to color. (I wonder if these include native people’s being eaten alive by dogs – a popular way to ‘kill heathens’ by our hero.)

What if students learned a less glorified version of the not-so-great CC? Perhaps they might benefit from knowing some of the following:

  • One of CC’s earliest boasts after encountering the peaceful Arawaks was “With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” (Zinn, 1)
  • Columbus was on his ‘discovery mission’ for gold and power – he was a power hungry zealot – so greedy in fact that he denied the promised yearly pensions to some of his crew and kept all profits for himself (Zinn, 3)
  • At the time of Columbus’ quest for gold, power, and conquest, indigenous peoples numbered in the multi-millions in the Americas (Zinn puts the number at 25 million; Gunn Allen notes the number was likely between 45 million and 20 million and further points out the US government cites the pre-contact number at 450,000)
  • Indigenous people’s were not “primitive” but advanced agriculturally and technologically with complex societal systems (so advanced in fact that the notion of democracy was stolen from the Iroquois)
  • The majority of indigenous people were not war-like but peaceful and did not have a concept of private ownership – hence the term “Indian Giver” – which became a pejorative rather than a compliment in our ownership crazy society
  • Many indigenous societies had far more advanced sharing of power between the sexes/genders – or, as Zinn puts it, “the European idea of male dominancy and female subordination in all things was conspicuously absent” (20)
  • “Contact” with Columbus and the conquerors that followed resulted not only in mass genocide, but continues to have negative effects on the small percentage of remaining indigenous peoples. For example, in the US, 25% of indigenous women and 10% of men have been sterilized without consent, infant mortality and unemployment are off the charts, and many existing tribes face extinction – hundreds of tribes have already become extinct in the last half century (Gunn Allen, 63)

These widely unknown facts (that are certainly not part of most public schools’ curriculum) are vitally important. As Zinn writes, “historian’s distortion is more than technical, it is ideological” (8). The distortions surrounding Columbus serve to bring about “the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress” (Zinn, 9) – an acceptance the USA is practicing today with its imperialist occupation of Iraq. This approach to history, in which the conquerors and corrupt governments shape both how people view the past and how they interpret the present, consists of a massive propagandist campaign to justify greed and power.

In terms of the way Columbus is historically represented, the whole “discovery narrative” not only problematically glorifies (and erases) genocide, but it also passes off lies as truth. Students are led to believe that Columbus came upon some vast and nearly wilderness, when in fact many places were as densely populated (and ‘civilized’) as areas of Europe (Zinn, 21). More prosaically, many people often mistakenly believe Columbus actually set foot on US soil (he never did). Moreover, US inhabitants are encouraged to lionize the man who not only precipitated mass murder of indigenous people’s, but also brought slavery across the Atlantic Ocean. Even ‘revisionist history’ fails to condemn Columbus, arguing he needs to be read in the context of his times. For example James W. Loewen, in Lies My Teacher Told Me, refers to him as “our first American hero.”  Well, if he is a hero, I certainly don’t want to be one of those, nor do I want to encourage my children, or my students, to look up to this version of heroism.

If you ask me, Columbus Day should be voided from the Federal Holiday calendar. Instead, perhaps we should institute an “Indigenous People’s Day” or a “Native American Day” to celebrate the true discovers of this continent. Columbus was an arrogant asshole, a murderous bigot, the cause of history’s largest and longest genocide. Who the hell wants to celebrate that?

Works cited:

Gunn Allen, Paula. “Angry Women are Building” in Reconstructing Gender. Ed. Estelle Disch. (Boston: McGraw Hill, 2006) 63-67.

Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. (New York: Harper Collins, 2003).

For further reading:

Gunn Allen, Paula. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminism in American Indian Traditions.

Jaimes, M. Annette. The State of Native America: Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance.

La Duke, Winona. The Winona la Duke Reader.

Smith, Andrea. Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide.

 

What if teachers were allowed to teach?

What if teachers were allowed, let alone encouraged, to actually teach? Instead, teachers are given umpteen standardized tests to force-feed to their students, supplied with ready-made euro-centric, male-centric curriculum, and put into classrooms without enough supplies let alone enough support to provide students with an education.

The recent firing of Karen Salazar is only one incident in a national trend to outlaw any real teaching in our schools. According to an assistant principal, Salazar was dismissed for “brainwashing students.” This so-called brainwashing consisted of lessons that incorporated “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and the poetry of Langston Hughes. Presumably, it also consisted of serving as the faculty adviser for campus student activists. Yes, how dare she? How dare she teach students the true racist past (and present) of the USA? How dare she actually encourage students to think outside the purview of the scan-tron?

In a letter posted at Vivirlatino, Salazar indicates some other motivations for her dismissal:

My contract is being terminated because according to the principal, I am “indoctrinating students with anti-Semitism and Afrocentrism.” The anti-Semitism accusation comes solely from the fact that I have an Intifada poster hanging in my classroom (a symbol of support for a free Palestine), and the Afrocentrism accusation comes from the fact my culturally-relevant curriculum reflects the demographics of my students, though I am surprised I am not being accused of Raza-centrism as well.

As her words here reveal, she not only teaches “dangerous” curriculum but she supports a free Palestine (a stance not allowed in UZA – United Zionist America) AND, she is Chicana! Holy minute-man crap – how did she get hired in the first place?

Salazar’s firing is sadly not a unique case, though. An Indiana hish school teacher was recently suspended for using The Freedom Writer’s Diary. Connie Heermann, who has been teaching for 27 years, should really know better than to try and inspire her students. Stick to the bubble tests Connie!

In 2007, two LA teachers were fired for including lessons about Emmett Till, a 14 year old lynched 58 years ago for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Don’t you teachers know not to teach history Howard Zinn style?

But, let’s not let the McArthy/Horowitz censorship fun stop there. For, if we don’t also censor the crazy leftie socialists polluting our universities, it could mean the end of civilizedsexismrasism as we know it.

Luckily here in California, the CSU system is able to jettison instructors who refuse to sign a loyalty oath adopted in 1953 to root out communists. Cal State Fullerton was recently spared from having to harbor a commie in their midst when new instructor of American Studies Wendy Gonaver refused to sign a loyalty oath swearing to “defend” the U.S. and California constitutions “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” This refusal ended her appointment as a lecturer. (Thankfully, I have never been asked to sign such an oath at the CSU where I teach.)

Thank the heavens(because you know evolution is a lie perpetuated by mad science teachers) that those who dare to question our imperialist wars or the truth about 911 are being rounded up and suspended, fired, or forced to retire. And thanks to the man himself, David Horowitz, for creating an “academic hit list” so the truth can be avoided, even in college. (Used to be that students started learning some true history once they got to college – but, with the likes of Horowitz and others, maybe we can keep true learning at bay indefinitely).

As Jack at Feministe warns us:

Keeping American students in the dark about America’s wrongdoings, keeping Latino, Black and other students of color from truly understanding their histories in the U.S. – that’s all key to maintaining white supremacy and white privilege in this country.

So, teachers, would you stop trying to teach already–unless that is you want to change  the white supremacy, white privilege, racism, sexism, ableism, heteronormativity, etc that rules our world. And, just in case any of you want to  to PROGRESS things rather than conserve the same old injustices,just in case you want to TEACH your students rather than instruct them in rote memorization, here’s a little book list (in no particular order) to get you going:

  • A People’s History of the United Stats.
  • Us and Them: A History of Intolerance in America
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbooks Got Wrong
  • Occupied America: A History of Chicanos (Arizona public school system is attempting to ban this book. See info about this here.)
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed
  • Teaching to Transgress
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
  • Democracy for the Few
  • Against Empire
  • 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Women’s History
  • 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About African-American History
  • Who Cooked the Last Supper: The Women’s History of the Wolrd

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