State of the Union — Race Relations — 2019
As I turned on the computer yesterday and this morning, I saw once again three ethnically disparate groups of Americans disrespecting one another. One group was African-American, another was Native American, and finally, a group of Caucasian Americans all came together on the Washington Mall at the Lincoln Memorial. In a perfect storm that is so prevalent today when varying groups come together, anger and hate tend to be the outcome instead of patience, kindness, and a willingness to listen and try to understand the other group’s point of view.
The group of students from Covington Catholic High School was in Washington, DC to take part in the “Walk for Life” March. Their march happened to end at the Lincoln Memorial where an African-American group was preaching and inciting hate, and a Native American group was ending their “Indigenous Peoples March” which is their way of asking for fair and equal treatment. These coincidences allowed an excellent opportunity for the negative encounter which occurred. The red hats emblazoned “Make America Great Again” worn by some of the students attracted the ire of the Black House of Israel D.C demonstrators.
The slogan, “Make America Great Again,” has become in some circles a slogan of hate and racism, but in others, a rallying cry that America has somehow lost its position of power. Since 1783, America has been great even though there have been times when her crown has been tarnished by external foes and internal strife.
In 2019, the nation, which has made progress towards ending the racial divide that has persisted since before the Civil War, still has a long way to go. And, Friday’s incident highlights how far away we are from becoming a truly united and understanding nation. This lack of respect and trust that flowed across racial lines during that incident is a sad indictment on the country as a whole. Red, yellow, black, and white should be able to find a way to come together in harmony and respect.
Frankly, as a white American male, I am genuinely appalled that the country has not made any more progress than it has where race relations are concerned in 236 years. The Native American people have been treated far worse than other ethnic groups, but they still have not received the recognition and fair treatment they deserve even after 150 years of subjugation.
From Washington to Lincoln, the country grew, expanded, and encountered many different indigenous people, and for the most part, those encounters were peaceful. It was not until after the bloody Civil War that the attitudes towards Native Americans in the western United States changed. It changed because of competition for the very lands that provided sustenance and support to the entire Native American population.
Those Native Americans held vast amounts of land that was needed to continue driving settlement from the East Coast to the West Coast. With the coming of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, travel from the East to the West would take only a matter of days instead of weeks and months. The land in the heartland of the nation was now open for settlement, and the only people standing in the way were the Native American people.
With the Indian Wars of the 1870s and 1880s, the country drove to exterminate all indigenous peoples from the Great Plains, and the Army largely succeeded and pushed them all to reservations that were far from their native lands.
For 150 years, Native Americans have been treated as second-class citizens on those very reservations. To create dependence, unscrupulous white overseers plied the ‘captives’ with whiskey and other addictive substances to make them wards of the government and dependent on it for their very sustenance and support. After many years, the stereotype of the drunken Native American became permanently ingrained in the societal mores of the nation.
In 1896, General Nelson Miles, a veteran of the Indian Wars of the late 19th Century, offered this commentary on “Indian Character.”
“The first and, in view of the savage character now generally attributed to him, most striking fact to be noted of the American Indian before he degenerated through contact with the white man, and anterior to the race war that was waged for centuries before his final overthrow, was the dignity, hospitality, and gentleness of his demeanor toward strangers and toward his fellow savages, his cordial welcome of the newcomers to his shore and home. What was it that changed all this and caused that race war, so relentlessly prosecuted and so heroically contested to the bitter end? Not entirely treachery on the part of the Indian, but also the inexorable needs of a higher civilization, too often in haughty contempt pushing its conquests and gratifying its desires regardless of justice, plighted faith, and the finer and purer instincts and emotions that activate and move the best elements of our nature.”
General Miles fought many campaigns against the Sioux and other tribes of the Great Plains, so he has the first-hand knowledge of the prowess and adaptability of the Native American to not only his surroundings but with those people he encountered.
From our earliest history, Native Americans have fought both for and against the United States and have proven their mettle on the field of battle.
In World War II, the Navajos of Arizona and New Mexico developed an unbreakable code based on their language and deployed to the Pacific Theater of war. At home, these ‘American’ soldiers were treated with contempt, but when the chips were down in the bloody battles of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, or Iwo Jima, they were respected as fellow warriors and treated with the dignity they deserved.
On February 23, 1945, the United States Flag was raised atop Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima. One of those flag raisers was a Pima Indian from the Gila River Pima Indian Reservation in Bapchule, Arizona. The instant fame that came to Ira Hayes did not help him overcome the survival guilt he felt in living when many of his fellow Marines died on that island. After the war, Ira Hayes tried to lead a normal life, but he could not overcome the guilt and the pain of the war along with the racial indignity. On January 25, 1955, Ira was found dead in a ditch in Sacaton, Arizona; another drunk and largely forgotten Native American hero.
Native Americans, African-Americans, and Hispanic-Americans are good enough to serve the nation in a time of war with equal treatment on the field of battle, but there is still a perception that they are not good enough to be given a seat at the table which is a travesty in itself.
From then until now, nothing has changed in the treatment and understanding of those who look, sound, and act differently from the perceived “higher civilization.”
With racial tensions at an all-time high and people of all walks of life angry at one another over real and perceived slights, somehow the President, Congress, and others must figure how to tone down the rhetoric so we all can come together in honor and respect. The country is traveling down the road to moral bankruptcy, and we need to find a way to bridge the divide and find the moral courage to approach each other in love and understanding instead of hate and anger.
What do you think we as a nation can do to bridge the racial divide?