Posts by Jim:
The Christian Right has come up with a new set of imagery that conflates religious racism with politics, indicative of how leadership from Blacks and American Indians become associated with the “hostile” and the “devil” that continue old paradigms. Here is a recent Facebook message making the rounds after the last debate.
The caption reads: “PRINCE OF DARKNESS HAS BESTOWED UPON AMERICA THE KING OF LIES”
(From the Facebook Group “Christians Against Obama’s Re-Election” )
At the time of this post, the image above has 3,602 “Likes” and 4,510 “shares” on Facebook, so there are more than a few people for whom this kind of imagery resonates. (In another, related image on the same group’s page, Michelle Obama appears in – photoshopped – prison garb.) The “Prince of Darkness” label is associated with Obama as the “King of Lies” when it is the Whitened version of U.S. history that relies on distortion and untruth, similar to how Whites coming into contact with Native spirituality, as MneWakan (spiritual waters) called it the Devil (Devil’s Lake, Devil’s Tower, etc.), as dominant icons associated with religion and being Christian, are used to depict leaders that oppose racial domination, as being evil, or the Devil (Prince of Darkness).
Within this frame, God is seen as being white or at least European, (Rev. Wright is seen as beguiling). That is why the “Prince of Darkness” imagery seems to resonate with the predominantly white readers that Romney must get to 60 percent, but without explicitly mentioning race. This is why Haiti is so instructive. I dealt with this in a photo taken in a Port-au-Prince church where Jesus is depicted as a black (thought light skinned) and John the Baptist as a darker skinned black man, on New Year’s Day, 1981, independence day there, as an example of communication discourse not only to show how God is thought to be white, but that it is sacrilegious to say otherwise. This leads to dichotomous or binary thinking in communication, showing why Black is Beautiful was contentious (it is a simple positive declarative phrase) because most whites were hearing that White is Not, or why Vine Deloria’s famous work God is Red, thrown into binary opposites, is unacceptable.
In Haiti, the notion of the racialized Other emerges along with the Papal Bull of 1493 which connects the non-Christian or heathen “Indian” as a racialized “savage” needing to be tamed, domesticated, and subordinated. The rationalization works well, extending to post-genocidal slave plantations’ “Black” of African descent, fully developed by mid-sixteenth century, as the greatest of race-based colonies, with Spanish and Portuguese (Brazil) followed by Virginia and Louisiana by the English, institutionalizing the whole racial morass into the system we know today. The underpinning is precisely the confusion about White, Christian or English (later Anglo-Saxon) which sees the lower order races, by skin-tone, associated with the Devil and anti-Christian (Muslim, Jew, etc.) peoples, which the newly formed “white elite” employ to maintain dominance (Joe Feagin, The White Racial Frame).
Today, the irony is more pronounced, in the announced passing of Russell Means, an early leader of the American Indian Movement, in many ways its most famous, precisely because he came to represent all things wrong about the United States of America and its treatment of the First Nations people who preceded its colonial forebears on this continent.
(Russell Means, ca. 1987 – from here)
Imagery associated with AIM is the powerful takeover of Alcatraz prison island, (imprisoned American Indian leaders in the past, similar to Mandela on Robbins Island) to the Trail of Broken Treaties in Washington DC, the takeover of the BIA, to the retaking of Wounded Knee, by Lakota elders to resurrect knowledge of genocidal killings of Indian peoples, countering dominant history of this country, with a paradigms of social justice pointing to a deeply racist, dominant group formation benefiting from slave systems for labor and genocidal conquest for land, all the while claiming it is a “democracy” – but for which people?
The white elite needs continued conforming to these racial paradigms to maintain its dominance, especially with an increasingly diverse population as its electorate. Obama represents both a threat and potential solution to this political problem. American Indian leaders are now acknowledged, but also represent a threat to the dominant discourse. Challenging these paradigms, falls to us and many others, since Obama’s removal will mean a temporary victory for white racial forces, continued control over the Supreme Court, and distorted racist rationalizations on historical democracy of the “Founding Fathers” as an obstacle to real progress.
Many want to see the Florida case as an individual going about his “duties” requiring him to challenge possible criminals, refusing to see that the victim had as much claim to the neighborhood as the killer, irrespective of the race differences that resemble historic laws and practices of the Jim-Crow South.
Herein citizens not only protest proposed “unfair” depictions of Zimmerman as “racist” but equate his critics with what they consider de-legitimated resistance groups showing signs reading “Black Panthers = Racism” referring to what scholars see as the new racism wherein dominant whites increasingly see “minorities” as causing racism by claiming racism. Defenders point to Zimmerman’s African-American friend as indicative of why he is not racist, thereby denying the historic link to white militias attacking Black males as threatening. Similarly, status quo defenders point to the U.S. African-American president as indicative of how this country cannot engage in racist social practices, thereby denying this historic link to the institutions that formed the larger system of racial domination.
Both of these icons – threatening Black male that must be challenged as a danger to law-abiding whites; and Islamic (read indigenous) ethnic groups that must be resisted as a danger to European civilization – arise from root ideologies of the “hostile” or savage Indian as a threat to western civilized settlement, extended as a rationalization for genocide of Native Nations and enslavement of Africans, both further connected to militias that regulated borderlands and individuals that identified the dangerous “other” within the colony and subsequently the state.
Within the United States the case is especially pernicious, since the resurrection of these racist icons, rationalizations and practices are further rooted in the Constitution of the United States of America, (See Joe Feagin’s White Party, White Government), with over two hundred years of racial struggles and wars to eliminate the legalized racial orderings but not the de-facto racialized practices. This resurrection is further troubling as clearly racist, ethno-dominating policies are being re-founded in states such as Arizona, Florida and Georgia with popular political initiatives defending the dominant group initiatives, furthering the ideological defense of individuals such as Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin and racist institutions such as Breivik’s killings being labeled as that of a “psychopath” and not those of the supremacist, protectionist ideologies that Breivik invoked in his own defense.
Deep icons of the “dangerous other” existing below the surface of a troubled society only take certain political mixes to become resurrected, with the savage now being an Islamic or Indigenous recalcitrant, “hostiles” becoming “terrorists” or enemy combatants, and historically suppressed groups such as Blacks and Latinos being swept up in racist tides of anti-crime nativism. Seriously anti-racist activists need to attend to the use of deeply embedded racial icons in our society to rationalize race attacks and killings, else we will also resurrect supremacist ideologies that produce racist policies and turn back the meager gains we have made over the past two centuries for a more equitable, less race-based society.
Race and racism are more contested in contemporary society than ever in the five hundred years of racist constructions leading to and coming from the modern world system. While some see an election of the United States’ first African American president as the last nail in the coffin of its racist policies, others see it only as the covering over of racist systems that are no longer profitable or desirable in a globalized world driven by neoliberal values that deny racism and distort its centralized past. Observing this in relation to Joe Feagin’s racial “framing” (The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and Counter-Framing), and seeing the weight they might have in finding our way forward during times of hegemonic decline, we need to identify the racial icons that arose in rationalizing systems of racism, and observe their contemporary usage in our society.
Two recent events demonstrate the ongoing power of these racial icons ranging from the individual to the institutional levels. These are the highly racialized claims of “self-defense” or “stand your ground” by George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, and the systemic claims of defending “ethnic rights” of Europeans against “multiculturalism” as incursions against civilization by Anders Breivik in the mass murders of Norwegians at a “liberal” summer youth camp.
Although in both cases the killer clearly perpetrated the actions leading to the targeted death of those they killed, one as an individual and the other as a representative group, both claim they were (or are) actually defending themselves or their societies. In both cases, on the individual and institutional levels, their “defense” requires seeing those they killed as a threat, even before there is any interaction on any level between the perpetrator and the victims.In Zimmerman’s case as a self-appointed neighborhood “watch” man, he saw Martin as “on drugs” and as “up to no good” precisely because Trayvon was young and Black and wearing a hoodie, with no other evidence of any wrong-doing (which Zimmerman had no legal right to address anyway).
In Breivik’s case as a self-appointed social regulator against “Islamic colonization”, he saw the youth camp as a group representative of “multi-culturalism” values that would threaten Norwegian society, with no evidence that there was any threat or that these individuals were connected to that hypothetical situation (which Breivik had no right to counter anyway).
Both of these cases, while apparently different in scope and victimization, require a “dangerous other” to make the “defense” claim. Although many see that the number (77) and age (mostly youth) of victims with the Norwegian case see it as a despicable case of an “individual psychopath” but definitively wrong, they also deny the claimed linkage to ethno-racial domination with remarkable similarity to recent laws passed by the state of Arizona. Apologists and deniers will not make the claimed inference that there are ideologies in Norwegian and American societies that support and engender such claims of threats. And, of course, these are firmly landed in histories of legalized racial and ethnic domination.
“Pascua Yaqui Native-American Carlos Gonzales gives a Native American blessing to start a memorial service for the Tucson shooting victims.” So states the text that accompanies a remarkable passing of time and politics in the place we call America.
When some colleagues told me that controversy and criticism had arisen about the introductory blessing at the service where President Obama spoke so well, I looked at it more deeply, recognizing a focus on the “Four Doors” and on Balance and Harmony (the Navajo literally say “Walk in Beauty” and as when I returned from S.E. Asia for medical treatment where traditional healers kept a focus on “balance”) after the personal introduction of “who I am” and being “given the right to speak” – and ending the blessing “All My Relations” (an interpretation of “Mitakuye Oyasin”), itself indicative of an Indigenous way of Healing and Restoring Harmony.
Here is the site you can link to for the youtube replay.
But then, what could cause controversy from FOX News Brit Hume, or the deep criticism of Glen Beck and others calling the Blessing both political and partisan? Could it be when Doctor Gonzales described his relatives as being survivors of “genocide” (which the Yaqui like so many other Native peoples assuredly are), and/or when Professor Gonzales described himself as descendant of Mexican peoples and coming from the “barrio” of Tucson (where many native and Latino peoples have shared families over the centuries, in his case fifth generation)? Why do “Sacred Words in Tucson” seem to enrage right-wing commentators?
Yet these are quite typical ways of introducing oneself in Native circles. Perhaps it is because, as I have respectfully noted, Carlos Gonzales not only had been given the right to speak by traditional elders, but had earned a medical degree and received tenure as an Associate Professor in a respected medical school at a Research I University, hardly the stereotypical minister or medicine man that one could dismiss with such simple mockery as “peculiar” (as Fox commentators did). Perhaps it is because so many pundits want to believe the memorial service only existed within the individual acts of a mentally ill person, not within the highly diverse society that Arizona has, represented so well by Carlos Gonzales in his many personae.
Herein lies the rub, of course. Arizona had just passed what amounts to racist legislation against immigrant populations (using the dehumanizing term “illegals” with reference to “hostiles” used to justify genocide against Native peoples who were not citizens or even accepted by a historical America), and further had just passed racist, hegemonic censure and attacks against ethnic studies curriculum which simply tells the stories of these many diverse peoples. These last set of attacks could only be focused on the K-12 educational systems, but the conflict has definitively moved to the universities who train the teachers and future leaders, potentially affecting the next generation in Arizona, and of America.
And Arizona has become ground zero for the hyperbole and suggested violence by Right Wing commentators and their closeted racist discourse, evidenced by the now infamous cross-hairs on Congresswoman Giffords district, the use of “target” along with “M-16 training” and “elimination” language in political ads, nearly all of it with historical antecedents in the repression of Native Nations, potential slave uprisings, and later the Mexican claims to treaty-rights in the great southwest taken from them under invasion and violent conquest. This confluence of events and attitudes assuredly is representative of what many scholars have called the “new racism” which, even as it actively denies a racist underpinning, attacks and censures those who historically racism has destroyed, exploited, and suppressed.
Perfect evidence of this is found in Sarah Palin’s response, attempting to paint herself as the victim of “blood libel” which refers to how the Jewish peoples have had their histories distorted and denied, leading to the ultimate decimation of the Holocaust, and a perfect reference to how Arizona wants to eliminate its history of destruction against Mexican immigrants, descendents, and the genocide of its Native peoples.
Rather than have a simple discussion of possible gun control or a civil discourse, perhaps what we need is what Professor / Doctor / Traditionalist Carlos Gonzalez has asked us to do, to pray and prepare ourselves for the Balance and Harmony necessary for healing and movement into a future. Here I can speak to what Lakota have done after one hundred years remembering the slaughter at Wounded Knee, instituting the Big Foot riders memorializing the “Wiping Away the Tears” ceremony which allows us to move forward as a people without forgetting the past. In this, I think an indigenous voice was a perfect blessing and philosophy for understanding what happened in Tucson, in Arizona, and in the United States of America.
“Mitakuye Oyasin” (respect to all my relatives, all my relations in the world)
James Fenelon, Professor, Poet, Native Philosopher (given right to speak by elders)
(See also: Indian Country media )