I grew up surrounded by American books and magazines. Thanks to my American educated father (I still have The Gumbo, Louisiana State University’s yearbook of 1938 where he went to school and in which he is featured) those American publications were always lying around our homes in the various countries we lived in. I, of course, being in love with anything that was printed read every one of them from cover to cover, including the advertisements. I also read every one of my father’s books. At the age of nine, those were mainly Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour; Good Cowboys and Bad Indians; White Civilized People and Red Savages. And, of course, I loved those swaggering cowboys! I have no idea how I didn’t turn out to be a damn racist with this kind of reading clouding my brains at a very tender age! In any case, and as I grew older, and being an uprooted Palestinian who was educated in a nationalist, secular school, Colonialism became the focus of much of my reading: I learned – for instance – about the magnificent contributions and civilization that the Arabs brought to Spain (and from there spread to many corners of Europe) and about the coexistence that prevailed between Jews, Christians and Muslims of those centuries and of how that was demolished when Catholic Spain vanquished the Arabs and spread its savage colonialism around the world as it decimated the natives of all the lands it conquered. We were also exposed to the Irish tragedy and of how the Calvinist English conquered Catholic Ireland and slaughtered its population as they settled that beautiful island and tried to cleanse it of its native people. They did the same all over the world and for many centuries – together with all the other colonialist powers of the time – conquering, demolishing, stealing resources and ethnically cleansing entire populations. Is it any wonder then that the entire colonized world – a colonization that still persists in other forms today – is still reeling from the effects of that barbarism?
That same bigoted and barbaric attitude decimated the Native American population; those indigenous people we called Red Indian Savages at one time, and not so long ago really!
Every January we, in this country, celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And it is so wonderful that after a sordid history of black slavery, bigotry and racism we have, recently, acknowledged our black population (too late for me, said a black friend of mine now in his seventies) and even elected a black president. When I think of how, until the fifties, black men were still being lynched in the south and where we are today, I am in awe of this country, of the black leaders who fought for their people’s dignity and equality, and at how so many white people became literally ashamed of their “black” history as they learned the truth of what their people did. I also marvel at the overall success of all those endeavors. Much has been done, much remains to do! Nevertheless, I think it is simply fantastic. How incredible can this United States of America be when it wants to!
And here we are, come January 20th, when we will be celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day again. And the President, every Governor, Senator, Congressman, any and all politicians and media personalities will be falling all over themselves trying to outdo each other over citing the many achievements of black people and of the exceptional man – Martin Luther King, Jr. – who spearheaded it all. I will be celebrating, too. I think it is just truly amazing!
Yet, I cannot for the life of me understand how we never did the same for Native Americans. Oh, yes, we do have a Native American Heritage Month (it’s in November, in case, like me, you missed it!). However, we don’t hear much about it from our media or politicians. It seems to go by silently, not much fanfare, as if we don’t really want to deal with it. Not much either is heard about the Apache, Comanche, and Cheyenne, Dakota or any other tribe. There is no national acknowledgement of Wounded Knee (for instance), or any other Native milestones. Did I hear anyone say Thanksgiving; that myth celebrating our coexistence with the Natives? Are you kidding me? Maybe it’s enough of an acknowledgement that Native Americans have recently been granted a museum in Washington, DC alongside all our other monuments and museums? Has anyone visited a Reservation recently (or ever)? Has anyone witnessed the misery; the poverty; read the laws binding and impeding the original landowners living there; in this, our own American democracy; in this land of the free, home of the brave? And we insist on teaching the world about human rights? By what right do we do that when we knowingly ignore our own? I think we all need to give this some really serious thought, because it is really shameful and vindictive not to do that.
We have acknowledged Black America in our laws and culture. We need to do much more for the proud indigenous owners of this beautiful land. After all, they weren’t the aggressors.
Meanwhile, Happy, Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, America!