I like Indian names, and wanted to support the idea of a Native-American-related name for a bicycle for Rivendell. (Grant’s original thoughts on such can be read at http://rivbike.tumblr.com/post/15353457722/new-years-alter-ations) Over at RBW-Owners-Bunch, a thread was started regarding the topic of an Indian name for a bike. ( You can find my post in that thread at https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rbw-owners-bunch/myUUvCcVMM8)
The problem is, when I get on a roll, I can go on for far too long. I will get an idea, start to lay a foundation to support it, then get off onto another part of the support, and never get back around to my original point I was going to support. Benjamin Franklin once said something to the effect that, “If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.” I relate to that; I should have edited it down, and only hit the highlights instead of a lengthy diatribe in an email… or, if I needed to be wordy, should have posted what-not over here…
I don’t disagree or retract anything I said over there; however, I sincerely felt for people who are not used to me getting on a roll and going on and on. Rereading my own post, though, realized I left some loose ends, I didn’t connect the dots I’d laid out… and I never really even made it into the heart of the matter of why I wanted to address it, I tangentially skirted the topic.
If you are reading this now, you probably read that over there.
Read on if you’d like, or, run away and come back another time for something else another time…
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As a kid, I was fascinated by Indians, Native Americans. Where I live in the Appalachians, near the Tennessee-Virginia border, it was settled by ‘us’, predominantly English but with a lot of Scots-Irish, Welsh, and some Germans too. It was well-settled here by 1850, was underway to being settled by 1800, but before that it would have been sparse in 1776, and before that, only a few hardy adventurers and surveyors, hunters and trappers would have been here before that when it was the western frontier. So, in 250 or so years it’s gone from woodlands to ‘today’. I think about, what it was like here in, say, 1850 [a mile from my house: http://www.exchangeplace.info ], and compare that to England at that point, or maybe better, even a thousand years before that. How different would life have been between, here in 1850, and what England would have been like in 850? Or even another 500 years earlier than that? I don’t think it would have been terribly different, and suspect it may have been even more alike than I even imagine.
But here, before ‘our’ arrival, it wasn’t empty. The Cherokee (considered ‘southern Iroquois’) were the primary tribe here; the Shawnee (considered ‘southern Algonquian’) had a presence here too, to the north; Chickasaw were found to the west and Creek to the south (Muskogean tribes). (And, other groups, such as the Yuchi (possible Sioux outlier), are thought to have pre-dated the Cherokee’s arrival here following their displacement from the northeast.) It definitely wasn’t a void, and the way the indigenous people were pushed out wasn’t fair. As they (and many many other tribes) were present throughout the continent, many (most?) of our place-names are derived from their words. Half of the states’ names come from Native American words.
There are other words used to refer to Indians, Native Americans, that aren’t part of their different native languages. Words such as Indian itself (from Columbus’ belief he’d reached the Indies when he arrived in the Caribbean), and Redskin, referring to a darker complexion. I didn’t make it around to pointing it out, but at RBWOB, I was drawing an analogy to older words used for African-Americans, that have fallen out of disfavor. We still use Black today, that many consider questionable, which I equate on a level with Redskin. The Spanish word for the color black is negro, which was modified to the pejorative ‘nigger’ (it pains me to even type that). I’m a nice guy, and I do try to not hurt people’s feelings. I try to be respectful, and kind, and considerate. But now we get to what I was wanting to address, which was ‘political correctness’. But to get there, we have to get through racism.
It is a sad fact that, many Africans were kidnapped and forced into slavery in the early days of the development of European interests in the Americas. [I’m going to save racial versus non-racial slavery as a topic for another time.] The Founding Fathers of our country realized that they had a monster on their hands that needed to be addressed; but, with the fledgling nation still in a tenuous state, feared that it would scuttle their efforts to immediately do so. Decades passed before the underlying tensions erupted and the nation began to fight itself, to take corrective action. However, although slavery was gone, it didn’t fix the underlying problem: prejudicial discrimination - racism. And though efforts began after Reconstruction, almost another century passed after that war, before the Civil Rights movement began to make solid headway to work on changing our culture to make real progress at removing those prejudices (thank you Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr, and others). I’m not a professional historian on the topics, and I’m not attempting to say that the work is finished, that racism has been eliminated: I’m not that naive. But what happened in the mid-to-late 20th century was amazing. Likewise was the Suffrage Movement (in both making great strides, but still has a way to go with gender inequality still existing).
What I see as a successor problem was, the birth of ‘political correctness’, in its place. On the surface, it seems to be a good thing. If calling someone ‘black’ is offensive, let’s call them African-American. If calling someone ‘Indian’ is offensive, let’s call them Native-American. Call a person a mail carrier instead of a mailman, or fireman or policeman; and let’s say Happy Holiday instead of Merry Christmas. Society, and government, have created an institutionalized version of ‘play nice’. But it doesn’t have to mean that you mean it.
Political correctness has masked the problems. If we, members of society, are all behaving within a politically-correct manner, it appears as though there isn’t racism, or chauvinism, or whatever. But instead, it’s simply given us the tools to hide it. And to condone hiding it. We’ve installed a way to halt improvement, to sweep the problems under the rug.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been pulled from many libraries because it contains the word nigger. The reason that Disney’s Song of the South hasn’t seen the light of day as a DVD is because of the executives are afraid that it is considered racist. But in both of these cases, it’s not the language used that mattered: Huck loved Jim, and Johnny loved Uncle Remus. If we use political correctness to ‘keep ourselves in line’ and attempt to prevent conflict, we also provide armor to prevent our self-reflection. If I don’t refer to anyone as black but insist that everyone else at work refers to someone as African-American, and act all appalled at anyone who doesn’t do likewise, I pat myself on the back for protecting African-Americans. But it doesn’t mean that I truly love them, it just means I know the rules of today’s game. It allows me to remain comfortable, and not have to examine anything that I truly feel under there.
But if I strip away those ‘acceptable’ terms, and use black, and Indian, and redskin, and mailman and fireman, I’ve taken off that armor. You can then examine me, you have to read the context of my use. You have to actually listen to what I’ve said. You actually do, because you want to fling darts at me for being a racist or a chauvinist. But, if you actually look at what’s said, terminology aside, you can see my intent.
And, if you do likewise, then, I can see yours.
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I had a few related musings, that didn’t fit in, yet don’t quite merit their own discussion, so I’m pitching them out here for perusal:
As someone who is ‘white’, from the South, and male, today’s society has painted me into a corner, where it’s uncomfortable talking about such things as these. It makes me nervous, that someone could misunderstand me, so it’s ‘safer’ to not address such things. But that was my point above: bare our souls, and let’s see what’s really there.
If we’re supposed to use ‘African-American’, why haven’t the ‘United Negro College Fund’ and the ‘National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’ been renamed? I would be appalled if someone came out with the ‘NAAWP’; but wouldn’t simply the NAAP be the real ideal?
I’ve not really gotten this blog rolling before now, but, the past month or two, I’ve had occurrences, events, moments of reflection, that have suddenly all coalesced to urge me to start this in earnest now. Now, if I can maintain the discipline to continue, and carry this forward where I’ve suddenly been inspired to go, it might be an okay thing….
Til next post….