While standing in a checkout line this morning, I spotted a man walking toward me in my periphery. The tall white man with salt and pepper hair and a 5 o’clock shadow stopped suddenly, staring at me intently. He clutched his chest.
“Please don’t hit on me,” I whispered to myself.
I turned to see his face. Then he shuffled forward slowly with his head down until he was standing right behind me. He plopped down a few items with one hand while covering the front of his shirt with the other. I looked at his chest. He was wearing a Washington Redskins shirt with a big ol’ NDN head right in the middle. He didn’t want me to see it. He must’ve been staring at me trying to decide whether I was Native or not, and if I would call him out on it.
I looked up at him and asked, “If you know it’s wrong, why are you wearing it?” The bastard wouldn’t look me in the eye. Instead, he gazed off into space while a smirking goateed cashier rang up my purchases against the backdrop of awkward silence.
While driving home I thought, this man exemplifies so much of what is wrong with today’s society. Whether he approves of race based mascots is almost beside the point. He could not plead ignorance. Somewhere along the way, Mr. Football had been notified that his team’s name and its associated symbolism is offensive. He knew on some basic level that it was something to be ashamed of; he just didn’t think he was going to run into a living, breathing, flesh and blood Native person on his run to the store.
In 2017, the majority of Americans are unhappy with the current state of affairs. They want a refund, a redo, a recount. They do not want what they’re being given. Things certainly seem to be going to hell in the proverbial handbasket. Should we be survival prepping for World War III, another Civil War, or the next once-in-500-years natural disaster triggered by climate change? After months of gaslighting the public, Trump seems to have driven most folks into a state of confused anxiety, shocked disbelief and depression.
It’s gone past the point of wondering, “what kind of world do I want to live in?” Folks, if we want to make it out of this alive, we can’t put our heads in the sand. There is no such thing as an innocent bystander. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. It may sound cliché, but if we want change, we must get up and make it happen. Prayers are great, venting of Facebook is just fine- but it’s not enough on its own. No more going along with the crowd, unless that crowd is marching against tyranny.
If we want this country to move away from fossil fuels and invest in green energy technology, equal pay, education and healthcare funding, to see that treaties are honored, etc., we should put our support, money, and votes where our mouths are. Natives, take advantage of your dual citizenship as tribal members and U.S. citizens. Show up. Be counted. We can’t allow ourselves to be distracted and afraid any longer.
But..if we’re going to make long standing positive change a reality, we must begin talking about the real history of the United States, not the white washed version regurgitated to us in elementary school. We’ve got to have a constructive dialogue about race on a national level. This country was built by slaves from Africa, over the bodies of millions of dead indigenous.
Nonetheless, we are all here, now; every race, color, and creed. We’re all in the middle of this mess and we will rise or fall, together.
If you’re unclear as to which side of this debate is morally and ethically wrong, it’s the one with swastikas and burning crosses whose core mission involves the elimination of anyone who is not white, straight, and protestant. A system founded on white supremacy was not created for all of us. It cannot stand if this country is to move forward.
Racism is willful ignorance, pure and simple. It’s not about being conservative. Yes, racism is real, but only because race itself is a societal concept that was invented to divide us. Genetically, there is only one race- the whole of humanity. White supremacy has no rational, scientific, or even religious basis. There is no explanation for it other than conquest and the subjugation of others. White supremacy cannot be the foundation for the rule of law if we want equality and liberty for all.
You may have to get your hands dirty. Liberation requires you to get out of your comfort zone and take risks. Be brave enough to stand up. Speak. March. Divest. And for god’s sake, take off that damn Redskins t-shirt.
I still believe that most people are decent, and that we can build something great together. Like Malcolm X, I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. After all, we’ve all been colonized. We’ve all been lied to. Unity is our strength, because people hold the real power. Joined as one, we can change the course of history.
Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton Wahpeton & Mdewakanton Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota) is a writer, blogger, biologist, activist and judge.