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Human Awareness

A couple of days ago I read a post on Almost Diamonds about a girl who was reprimanded by two teachers and then suspended from a basketball game for the vile, shocking, breathtakingly offensive act of speaking a few words of the Native American Menominee language to a friend during class. Stephanie Zvan, the author of Almost Diamonds, opines about the actions taken by the school teachers, and tells us a little of the history of efforts to wipe out Native American culture and language in Catholic schools on the Menominee reservation.

This is not a subject with which I’m familiar, but it struck a chord with me; it’s another sad example of humans being bad to humans, and of religion playing a nausea-inducing role in our culture. I found it interesting and passed on the link to the article on twitter:

Image says: “When is the last time you considered Native American cultural heritage?” and contains a link to the blog post.

Someone responded with this:

Never im not Native American. Therefore its none of my business. They prolly dont spend much time thinking about Irish American or German American or African American cultures eiether. Why would they?

I’ve known the gentleman who posted this for many years; it’s fair to say that our worldviews are very dissimilar, but I consider him a friend. He reads my socially liberal, left-leaning, progressive writings, and every once in a while he’ll respond to something I’ve posted. His responses usually send me into an initial fit of exasperation, but sometimes he’ll present an alternate view that I hadn’t considered. So when he shares his views, I take that as an open invitation to elaborate on my thoughts and my thought process. Also, I’m a big damn optimist – I can’t help but hope that maybe some of my views will rub off of him.

So I took a few minutes to come up with a respectful response. Here’s what I pulled together:

Sharing stories helps us recognize and celebrate our similarities, and understand and accept our differences. Just because a story isn’t instantly familiar doesn’t mean that we can’t learn something from it. In the case of the story to which I linked, one group of people is being discrimated against and punished by another group for being who they are. It doesn’t matter if the groups in question are Native American, Irish American, German American, African American, South American, African, European or Asian. You can find the common humanity, recognize the injustice and empathize with their situation, act to right the wrong, and best of all, perhaps move to make it not happen in the future to other groups (perhaps even one that you belong to).

*dusts off hands* I think that captures it.

Pssst…he wasn’t as impressed with my response as I was. We’ve gone back and forth a few more times. I think we’re currently in a cease fire.

What story or stories have you learned about that had seemingly little to do with your personal experiences, but still made a big impact on you?

Comments

  1. cmv says

    Just a thought, but in response to the response, Native Americans consider Irish American, German Amercan, and African American cultural heritage every time they turn on their tv, or watch a movie, or partake in the general North American culture in any way.

  2. llewelly says

    cmv nailed it. Your interlocuter’s argument is just a retread of “well, what month is white history month?”

  3. atheist says

    What story or stories have you learned about that had seemingly little to do with your personal experiences, but still made a big impact on you?

    Dunno if this applies but: I began to suspect in late 2002/early 2003 that the US was going to invade Iraq, and saw that carried out in March 2003. I found that, though this had no practical effect on me or anyone I knew, nevertheless this made me chronically acutely angry. I got involved with protests and politics. When my 30th birthday came the next month, it occurred to me that unlike most birthdays, on this one I really felt different than before.

  4. says

    What cmv and llewelly said. Besides, I would expect an American to know something about the history of their country, and I don’t see how you can write an honest account of US history without mentioning Native Americans. If someone from the US has never thought of Native American cultural heritage, they haven’t been paying attention, and are probably being deliberately ignorant. And while I don’t mind ignorance per se – with a curious person it’s easy enough to fix, after all – I do hate willful ignorance.

    And at the risk of Godwinning the thread before it got properly started, here’s one reason why “it’s none of my business” just doesn’t cut it: First they came for….

    • Brianne Bilyeu says

      Nope – Not Godwinning. I thought of that myself, and that’s why I included “move to make it not happen in the future to other groups (perhaps even one that you belong to).”

  5. Michael Rapp says

    Many years ago (1980′s?), a five year old African American boy was shot to death while walking to school one morning in the Cabrini-Green housing projects of Chicago. His mother was holding his hand and had to experience this horror when they were caught in the crossfire of a gang turf battle. In the aftermath of all of this, she generously donated his healthy organs for transplantation. A seven year old Chicago suburban white girl was the best match for his heart. The news media in the Chicago area promoted it as a heart-warming human interest story (as well they should). Somehow the girl’s name leaked out and her family was bombarded with hate mail from racists about letting the heart of a “n***** boy” be put into their daughter, saying the girl would be better off dead. The cruelty of this was unimaginable to me, as the whole story showed to me very viscerally that there is one and only one race of humans on this planet. Our genetics are so intertwined that surface differences are meaningless. I fear for the well-being of humanity until every person on the planet sees and accepts this simple, beautiful fact – we are one people and we need to embrace it.

  6. Caravelle says

    I don’t know what cultural heritage your correspondent had, but the concept of being oppressed and having your language eradicated by Anglo-Saxons ought to be familiar to Irish Americans, if they know their history.

    As a Breton (another Celtic group, living in Brittany, France) going to Breton-speaking schools, my teachers always made a special point to talk about issues concerning Native Americans, Australian Aboriginies and many other oppressed/minority ethnic groups. Mostly language-related issues, I’m not going to pretend the whole thing was totally sensitive and devoid of privilege and stuff… but the point it isn’t that hard to find issues and struggles in common between different cultures.

  7. M.Nieuweboer says

    “What story or stories have you learned about that had seemingly little to do with your personal experiences, but still made a big impact on you?”
    That’s a no-brainer: about every survival story of Auschwitz.

    Back to our Menominee. I am a Dutchman living in Suriname. I teach 12-16 year old kids. The vast majority are Aucan (Wikipedia uses the insulting Ndyuka, which literally means faeces of jews). The instruction of Surinamese government is that I have to forbid them to speak Aucan in class, an offshoot from Surinamese. It’s the one and only instruction I refuse to implent on principled grounds.
    It’s only when they speak to me that they have to speak Dutch, even if my Surinamese is reasonable.
    In short: I could not disagree more with my Wisconsin colleagues.

    Note: my son (Dutch) was fully trilingual at the age of 13 or before; English being the third language.

  8. Chris says

    First off I must start out with. Wow what a bunch of funny people. Second Bri I love you too you really are my favorite liberal because it is possible to have a give and take discussion with you about issues we disagree about at the end we may still disagree but we disagree agreeably and still respect each other in the end. Third for those of you not keeping up I’m the friend and am honored to have been mentioned in her blog. Fourth Bri dear I was very impressed with your response.
    Now why do I call you funny people? Because the only person in this comment thread that actually knows me is Bri yet the rest of you seem convinced that I am Bri’s racist, idiot friend. I am neither. Nor am I ignorant of our countries rich history. The point which you have all ,with the exception of Bri who loves to play devils advocate with me and I her, have failed to grasp is that I don’t look at differences I look at similarities in people. This is the only way the terrible stain of racism can ever be removed from American culture. As long as we only look at and celebrate the differences between us we will continue to see only that. Example let’s use our friends the Native Americans here. The United States government did horrible things to the native population of this country. We gave them blankets infested with disease. Broke every agreement we ever made with them. Packed them off to go live in “reservations” which were actually places we didn’t want to live said “hey this is yours now” a few years later when we found something we wanted there took it back and made them go live somewhere else. Reservations of course being an early form of concentration camp. Why did our government do all these things? Because they were perceived as different from us. At that time especially and by some today Europeans were considered to be superior in intellect to other races. Therefore the actions being taken were believed by many to be taking care of our inferior cousins (in the case of slaves) or getting rid of pests in a humane way (in the case of natives). Both views of course are asinine. However, that was the view and it cannot be changed all we can do is strive to do better. The way I see to do better is stop looking at all these differences and start looking at the similarities between us. This has to happen on BOTH sides. You see I believe that a Black man, or an Asian man, or a Native American man is NO different from me unless either he or I make ourselves to be different. I believe that Black History month or a Native History Month or an Asian History Month or a White history month are all equally dumb ideas. Not in their intent, the intent is great, to open people’s eyes that people other than white people have made enormous contributions to this nations development. I just think we’d be better served to teach American History correctly without concern to someone’s racial background. I think the sooner we start really treating each other the same not just saying that we do, and coming up with all of the extraneous bullpucky to prove it, the sooner racism in this country will truly be eliminated. One last bit before I sign off here. Someone was wondering my cultural background. It is Irish, German, English, Scottish, French, Dutch and Russian. My Father’s side of my family fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War and my Mother’s side had soldiers on both sides. My Father’s side of my family also were slave owners. My question here is what does my cultural background have to do with this discussion? My dead ancestor’s opinions are not really relevant at this time are they?

    • Brianne Bilyeu says

      Chris! This is why I still love you even when we’re on completely opposite sides of the fence. Welcome. Thanks for finding this and for spending more time writing about your views.

      As we discussed elsewhere, this is the backbone of why I disagree with almost everything you’ve said above:

      … don’t look at differences I look at similarities in people. This is the only way the terrible stain of racism can ever be removed from American culture. As long as we only look at and celebrate the differences between us we will continue to see only that.

      We’re ALWAYS going to have differences. We can’t all be the same. By not openly acknowledging, accepting, and yes – celebrating – our differences, we’re encouraging people and groups to not be different, and when they don’t fall in line we scorn, marginalize, ignore or persecute them for their differences. That’s why such great harm was able to be done to Native Americans and the other groups you mentioned above.

      Black man, or an Asian man, or a Native American man is NO different from me unless either he or I make ourselves to be different.

      It’s simply not true, Chris. Even if (and this is a HUGE if) these three people are Nth-generation American, were raised with the same socio-economic background, went to the same schools, received the same level of education, got into monogamous, heterosexual relationships, went to the same church, all hunted together in the fall, had the same number of able-bodied kids…I could go on right? Even if all of these people had very similar life experiences, there are still going to be differences among them. And start adding things like money, education, political and religious beliefs, sexuality – and people start thinking, “They’re different.”

      We should encourage and support those who do recognize and celebrate differences. Ignoring differences doesn’t make them go away.

  9. lordshipmayhem says

    Here in Toronto, I’m considered “white” – kind of lumped in with the rest of the British Isles and Western European peoples. I was in a small town out in the middle of nowhere and discovered I was supposedly something quite different. There, they tried to slot me into one of the “tribes” (to paraphrase): Was I Scottish? No, I had some English and Dutch blood, and even a smidgen of Irish. So I wasn’t English, or Irish, or… Dutch??

    So what kind of guy WAS I? They asked me, “Didn’t your folks have ANY sense of pride in their heritage?”

    Yes, we did and we still do. Back in the olden days, my ancestors fled Scottish religious persecution by going across the English Channel to more enlightened places in Europe, returning after the persecutions went away. My family first came over to North America on a plague ship in the 1800′s: the two kids, a boy and a girl, survived, but their parents did not. They carried on, and their descendants are here today. My great-uncle is buried in the Pas-de-Calais, dead at 19 of shrapnel wounds in 1918. His brother fought in the same muddy battlefields of World War I (and thanks for coming back alive, Grandfather). I have a great-uncle who fought in both World Wars, although in the Second he admittedly “flew a desk” in Canada and never got back overseas. At least 3 uncles fought in World War II, one being seriously wounded. Others of my relatives served in the Canadian military in peacetime. I served, too. My father was a firefighter, as is one of my cousins. Another cousin is a senior commander of forest firefighting, spending much of his summers in isolated locations across Ontario’s Northland, separated from his wife and kids.

    And I appreciate that everyone else out there has their own family stories to tell. No, I haven’t considered Native stories recently, but then I’ve been a tad busy of late. I’m going to have to rectify that.

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