White Washed History
I remember the exact moment I realized I was being miseducated by a white-centered history -
I was in 7th grade, in the suburbs, in the Midwest of the US…
I was in health class. We were covering topics such as depression, addiction, and suicide. Our teacher who was a well meaning white-woman, told us that Native Americans had much higher rates of depression, suicide, & overdoses.
My hand shot up, being a feisty and naturally curious kid, I asked, “Why?”
The teacher calmly responded “These are the facts, and you can do your own research”.
She was probably unsure how to address genocide, colonialism, boarding schools, cultural erasure, and trauma to a class of 13/14 year olds. That may have been too heavy for the first day of health class.
But as the unit progressed, my question “Why?” went unanswered.
I knew I was missing information, I was missing a part of the full truth.
I continued to ask, learning small pieces on my own time, but didn’t receive education about it - maybe the adults just didn’t have the heart to tell me.
Maybe they didn’t know it, or didn’t think it was important, or maybe there was an agenda (I’ve examined many possibilities)
It wasn't until I attended a public alternative arts high school and studied “Native American Culture and Aesthetics” that I learned the full American history of genocide. I didn’t learn about generational / epigenetic trauma that is carried through bones & souls that impact a heart beat today, how the US government STILL breaks treaties, and use extreme force such as tear gas, rubber bullets, spray water cannons at below freezing temperatures in the middle of winter…I watched this happen live online as many of my dear friends were at Standing Rock protecting the water.
Recently we watched MAGA hat-wearing pubescent kids mock Nathan Phillips, Native American Elder & US war veteran, who sang and drummed peacefully at the Indigenous People’s March in DC. They temporarily halted the permitted event, shouting “build that wall, build that wall”. Granted there were more details to later emerge, that they were there for a Pro Life rally initially (as if repressing female rights is any better of a cause...? LOL) and were only in proximity to the Indiginous led event regarding a Hebrew Israelite extremist group.
Nick Sandman, kid featured in viral video, states that the Hebrew Israelites instigated the incident and that his classmates “wanted to drown out the hateful comments that were being shouted at us.” (isn't that the MO of online trolls?)
I feel like I was watching echo chambers created on facebook come to life and clash in person as they do on comment threads.
I can draw the line of connection based on common denominators - I see how kids like this can fall into patterns of perpetuating police brutality, toxic masculinity, and white supremacy. They are the saplings, the seed planted by their parents, also misguided.
So who misguided their parents?
Covington Catholic High School and other schools transported kids to participate.
The school’s response to public scrutiny was to protect the kids and, in essence, protect their ignorance. This complacency is just another gear mechanism in the calculated machine that is oppression.
I look to the adults who did not teach them the truth. Why, why didn’t their educators teach them?
I looked at that young face, I could still see a twinkle of innocence behind loud ignorance, I thought….
Those kids in my 7th grade class - did they ever learn the full truth like I did?
Did they hear the stories of from 1st generation immigrant families?
Do they know about the unjust practices of ICE and Trump’s executive orders to further strip lands from Native Americans?
Were they allowed space growing up to think freely, welcoming challenging ideas in a conducive learning environment?
Did they later “do their own research” like I was told, outside of class?
Did they go far enough out of their comfort zone to learn the history not told by the winner?
Did they make friends with people of various backgrounds, gender identity, sexual orientation, various religions, who grew up in poverty, or practice different lifestyles, or with two moms?
I wonder where they are now, and how they treat an immigrant working at a coffee shop.
I wonder how they treat a homeless indigenous person on the street corner.
I wonder if that 7th grader from health class is still inside of them, willing to learn?
If I could, I’d choose to talk to them. I’d say - it’s okay. It sounds rough to be young boy, because many are pre-conditioned to be the way that we saw in this video. Punches to the gut for displaying any feminine qualities, they beat the feminine out of masculine.
Competitive nature rewarded for violent behaviors and words, raised up for putting others down.
That pushes so many people out. That pushes out compassion, empathy, patience, and kindness.
In my school experience, if you weren’t part of that crew, you were the one that was bullied or ostracized.
I get why boys make exclusionary toxic groups like this.
I can’t forget the pain of the world, I can’t unlearn what I’ve learned, or unheard the stories my friends and loved ones have shared with me.
I can’t negate the the guilt I’ve worked through to understand my privilege as a white person in America, to do my part in making sure we break these cycles, and that they end with our generation.
I can’t forget going to Turkey and seeing Sultan + Sultana depicted next to brown Jesus with Arabic plaques at the mosque, Ayasofia, in Istanbul near the Roman aqueducts, or the Mexico City and the 5 year old girl digging for food in garbage piles.
I can’t forget seeing the 3rd largest skid row’s homeless population shoot heroin in the streets, while the mountains shining brightly behind, in downtown Vancouver.
I can’t forget seeing with my own eyes the epicenter of the Hiroshima bombing and the vaporized shadows of innocent civilians just on their way to work, and the decommissioned ships at Pearl Harbor on my flight there…
Maybe these kids know about these truths, or brushed over them in history, but they didn’t apply it to their ancestor’s role in history, and how they may perpetuate it unknowingly. It’s haunting, always on your shoulder, yet so hard to embrace.
I chose, upon learning my ignorance, to practice virtues…ya know, like Jesus taught…
Compassion; for my teacher in 7th grade that didn’t know how to confront systemic injustices. It’s not her fault, but she should have known better. The educators need to be educated, and held accountable for what they do or do not teach children.
Gratitude; for the truth that I am strong, and resilient. I will remember to remind my friends of this, to use my privilege in this way, even if I know they already know. To live for many years not knowing the truth, IS the privilege of ignorance. When you get to choose how much history you acknowledge, when you can’t understand how someone hurts from the systems you benefit from, THAT is privilege.
Patience; we need to hold a soft space to allow growth, while maintaining healthy boundaries and not tolerating an ounce of intolerance. We must understand and navigate this paradox, together.
Empathy; for the survivors & victims of genocide and trauma, as well as the ignorant who cause harm, while holding the harmful accountable. From our silence, we create more violence.
We can teach and re-educate while not excusing nor dismissing harmful behavior.
There is no compromise between good and evil. Evil is evil.
We can hold multiple truths.
But there’s only one way to get there…
By asking - “Why?”