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The (Racist) Lady in the Mercedes

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A few years ago I moved from Oklahoma to California with my husband, who had been transferred there for his job. One morning I went to the post office. Waiting in a line of cars for a parking space, I lucked out and got one near the door. When I pulled my van into the space, the Mercedes driver behind me honked—I ignored it, thinking that it wasn’t aimed at me. I quickly completed my errand and returned outside, when I noticed a slip of paper on my windshield. It read, “Go back to Oklahoma! We have way too many of you out of state people and foreigners/illegals here. You were not invited to live in California. I’m white—my family has been here since 1836—we have fought Indians, Mexicans, riots, earthquakes, depressions, wars. What have you and your family done to help California? Signed, one of many millions of Native Californians.”

Scratch the surface of the Becks, Limbaughs and other neoconservative talking heads and this is what you find: a stunning rewrite of history. Or at least that was what I thought when this happened in 1996. But since that time I have studied the narrative of U.S. history that all Americans are taught through public education and pop culture. This "Native Californian" was obviously motivated by hate, but how did she manage to twist the history of California to the point that white invaders were ‘Native’ and indigenous peoples (including me) were the interlopers? The answer lies in the propaganda that is taught as ‘truth’ in the U.S.—what I call the "myth" of American history.

In writing that note, the white American woman driving her Mercedes (and hating the nerve of the Indian woman with Oklahoma plates taking her turn for parking) felt free to give me a lecture about being "Native." Her family killed indigenous Californians, and this is a source of pride? The ultimate irony in all this is that I was married to a white man who brought my family to California in his job as a U.S. federal agent working for the Justice Department—what was then called the Immigration and Naturalization Service. He was sent to California to keep out all those “dirty illegals” this woman so obviously hated. But in so doing, he also brought with him his Indian wife and kids. Oh, but I forgot—she is the "Native."

—Donna Akers, Ph.D., is a Choctaw Nation citizen and a professor of Native American Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.