While America is still a relatively new country in comparison to many, it has a long and deep history. The question to look at is what exactly that history is. The aspects of American history that one learns or is taught are as diverse as those who inhabit the country. Considering that America has been called a melting pot, meaning it brings together many differing cultures, religions and races, there is a myriad of lenses which one can view this country. Often the history taught is white-washed, meaning it is through the perspective of the white man. This creates a history where horrible violence and prejudice is either justified or glossed over, and the white man is painted as a pioneer seeking nothing but land and to spread Christian values. Incidents like purposefully infecting the Native Americans with Small Pox and the amount of lynching’s of black men that happened are avoided as topics of learning. Unfortunately, during this spread of the white man, Native Americans, African Americans and Chinese Americans were exploited for the purpose of allowing the white man to expand his borders. The anthology of quotes below is meant to show the theme of contradiction in relation to the settlement of the white man and the viewpoints of the indigenous Indians as well as the Chinese laborers and African American slaves.
Anthology of Quotes
1. Turner's history was one of free land, the essentially peaceful occupation of a largely empty continent, and the creation of a unique American identity. Cody's Wild West told of violent conquest, of wresting the continent from the American Indian peoples who occupied the land (White, Limerick and Grossman).
This quote is the first quote because it shows how two people can interpret the same historical time period. While both Turner and Cody’s stories were actually fiction, the each carry truth in them. Turner chooses to view American history as though it has been peaceful. He views all the land as free unoccupied land, when in reality the Native Americans already occupied the land. Cody, on the other hand, present a much more realistic picture of what actually happened.
2. What is your employment? To wander about like vagabonds from land to land, to rob the poor, to betray the confiding, to murder in cold blood the defenseless (Acuera 3).
The viewpoint of the Timucua chief in Florida, Acuera, leaves little doubt as to the actions of previous white men seeking to settle. This specific quote was said in response to Hernando de Soto, a Spanish explorer who came around 25 years after Ponce de Leon. While the white man often likes to think they did what they had to do, this viewpoint from one who was directly affected by settlers paints a different picture. It is obvious this tribe had been deeply hurt, betrayed and even murdered. This is the lens which the white man was viewed as a result of their actions.
3. Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? (Douglass, n.p.).
This quote shows clearly how white society chooses to see through a lens that ignores what they do not want to acknowledge. This quote is from an Independence Day celebration in 1841 where the key speaker was Frederick Douglass, a former slave. While he was free, most African-Americans were not. Here he calls out the hypocrisy of celebrating freedom while oppressing others. He points out that black men and women had nothing to do with America’s independence and freedom, because they predominantly were not free themselves.
4. And I am safe in affirming that the proofs of genius given by the Indians of North America, place them on a level with Whites in the same uncultivated state . . . . I believe the Indian then to be in body & mind equal to the white man. I have supposed the black man, in his present state, might not be so; but it would be hazardous to affirm, that, equally cultivated for a few generations, he would not become so (Jefferson, n.p.).
The arrogance that is throughout this quote is indicative of the mindset of the white man at the time. Jefferson indicates that the white man has somehow cultivated the Indian’s to be equal to white men. He also asserts that black men are not equal, but could also be cultivated into equality with white men. This is an interesting thought pattern coming from a race that had mercilessly killed Indians and enslaved black men; in essence Jefferson claims whites are superior simply because they are white. Also, it is ironic that he glorifies the same race that would invite an oppressed black man to speack at a celebration of freedom, as Frederick Douglass was asked to.
5. [in] the Turnerian storypower rested on two other Turnerian ideas; that the “free land” into which the pioneers moved was available for the taking and that American progress began with a regenerative retreat to the primitive.. (White, Limerick and Grossman, n.p.).
In the mind of Turner, and many other white men, land was free and available. It was theirs to take regardless of whether or not non-white men had settled their previously. In their mind, the Indians were not people. This means in their eyes they were doing no wrong when they stole land. This was the beginning of America through mot white people’s eyes.
6. From the lands that stretch three thousand miles behind us, the pioneers gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their lives to build our new West. They were not the captives of their own doubts, nor the prisoners of their own price tags. They were determined to make the new world strong and free -- an example to the world, to overcome its hazards and its hardships, to conquer the enemies that threatened from within and without. (Kennedy 1)
While Kennedy paints a poignant picture as he describes the pioneers and their struggles to build the new world, it is an untrue picture. They were only determined for the new world to be free if one was male and white. Despite this well known fact, Kennedy glorifies their actions. To make matters worse, he refers to their enemies. These enemies had to be the indigenous Indians who only became enemies as a result of the white man’s trespasses against them. In reality, it was the white man who was the enemy.
7. I'd like to suggest another way of looking at the War on Terror: as a twenty-first century continuation of, or replication of, the American Indian wars, on a global scale (Brown, n.p.).
This is a succinct description of what we did to the Indian’s as well as what we are trying to do to other countries during this War on Terror. The American settlers tried to force their religion and life ideals onto the native peoples. This is exactly what we are attempting to do in countries in the Middle East. That is the comparison this quote makes; America’s constant need to force others to be like us. We do this all the while claiming freedom and democracy as our goals. I am sure many Middle Eastern people have a similar opinion to us as the Indian Chief Acuera in quote 2.
8. America pre-Columbus was a riot of vastly different cultures, which occasionally fought each other, no doubt sometimes viciously and for stupid reasons. If some Indian societies were ecological utopias with that perfect, elusive blend of democracy and individual freedom, some also practiced slavery before and after contact.. Yet the amazing variety of human civilization that existed five centuries ago has been replaced in the popular imagination by one image above all: the Plains Indians of the mid-nineteenth century. Most Indians weren’t anything like the Sioux or Comanche, either the real ones or the Hollywood invention. The true story is simply too messy and complicated. And too threatening. The myth of noble savages, completely unable to cope with modern times, goes down much more easily. No matter that the Indian societies consistently valued technology and when useful made it their own. The glory days of the Comanche, for example, were built on the European imports of horses and guns (Smith 19).
This quote is so interesting because it really shows how our mistreatment of Indian’s has continued. While we stole their land and killed them in the pioneer days, now we degrade their culture. We depict them as certain way ignoring the truth of their history. In all honesty, modern depiction of Indian’s is still done in a way to gorify the white man. Indian’s are made to seem like they cannot cope with changes, and live as if they never left the nineteenth century. It is almost like white men are continuing to try and justify the theft of Indian lands.
9. Ishi was not wild. He did not come out of the wilderness, but out of a culture and tradition far more deeply rooted and soundly established then that of the frontiersmen who slaughtered his people to get his land (Le Guin, n.p.).
Ishi was an Indian survivor who Le Guin’s mother wrote a book about. The book refers to Ishi as wild, but Le Guin disputes this. She deftly points out that Ishi came from a deeply rooted culture, while the white pioneers were just figuring things out. Not only that, it was the frontiersmen who started the murdering. Le Guin’s mother’s choice to call Ishi wild reflects the point of the previous quote. This means white people automatically find ways to dismiss non-whites and not deal with the reality of the issues. Calling Ishi wild demeans what he went though, and instead brings the white man up.
10. Europeans look at the American map in 1800 and again in 1900 and see the inexorable expansion and colonization of the continent by whites, followed by a leap across the Pacific to seize Hawaii and the Philippines; most Americans look at the same maps and see the spread of freedom and democracy. (Cummings Ch. 3).
This poem reflects the assertion made previously that our War on Drugs look like our pioneer days. In this case, Europeans can clearly see the white expansionism that is going on. In white male minds we are giving people freedom and democracy whether they want it or not. The irony is that this is not true freedom or democracy, it is just a farce.
11. The first Asian-Americans walked here over the Aleutian Island land bridge thousands of years ago. Today they have returned to populate all walks of life in this country, even if many whites remain clueless. Congressman Norman Mineta, a Nesai with ten terms in the House under his belt, got complimented on his good English by a General Motors executive who then asked, “How long have you been in this country?” (Cummings Ch.15)
While it would be nice to assume that the prevailing prejudices from white men have changed, that is unfortunately not the case. Imagine a Native American man who has served in the House having some executive tell them they speak English wellthe arrogance! It is overly presumptive, as well as a reflection of what people still think of those of Asian descent in the United States. This is even more ironic since Mineta’s ancestors have been on this land long before the executive’s had. This is more of the white lens white men look through when sizing this country up. They must be the longet ones here, and the dominant ones after all.
12. Brothers, we must be as one as the English are, or we shall all be destroyed. You know our fathers had plenty of deer and skins and our plains were full of game and turkeys, and our coves and rivers were full of fish. But, brothers, since these Englishmen have seized our country, they have cut down the grass with scythes, and the trees with axes. Their cows and horses eat up the grass, and their hogs spoil our bed of clams; and finally we shall all starve to death (Mantinomo 6)
Once again, the reality of what Unites States history really looks like is told. It is not Turner’s white-washed ideals or Kennedy’s idealistic pioneers, but men who used resources with impunity. They had a callous disregard not only for the land and the animals, but also for the native peoples within that land. Life was about appropriating stuff so that they could then make more money or get more land. No thought was given to others or future generations.
I have heard it said that there are three sides to every story, mine, yours and the truth. While white society tries to depict history in a manner that does not look too detrimental, a look at various stories helps to bring out the truth of history. The contradictions between the white-washed side and the side of people of color are drastic. Nonetheless, the people of color have a side that rings truer and is closer to truth. It is romantic to think about the pioneers settling the west, and the colonies spreading to the south. Unfortunately, this expansion was to the detriment of American Indian’s and on the backs of black slaves.
A+- Blaisdell, ed., Great Speeches by Native Americans
A- Cumings, Dominion from Sea to Sea: Pacific Ascendancy and American Power
B- Katz., ed., Why Freedom Matters
A- Limerick and White, The Frontier in American Culture
B- O'Hearn, Half+Half
B- Smith, Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992
All of these texts were valuable in different ways, but some were more valuable than others. The Great Speeches by Native Americans touched a chord in me. This is probably because it was so raw and emotional. Dominion from Sea to Sea did an excellent job showing the history of America in a palatable way. It is hard to pinpoint reasons I did not like any of them because the readings all worked together to recreate a time period, and even show how some of the issues with that time still exist now.
I know I mentioned the Native American speeches already, but they truly moved me. They gave me an opportunity to look at history directly through their eyes and what they saw happening to them and their people. I could feel the anger, sadness, and desire to protect coming from the words these men spoke. They were real, their struggles with the settlers were real, and reading their words made it all much more real for me.
Acuera,. "With Such A People I Want No Peace". Great Speeches By Native Americans. Bob Blaisdell. 1st ed. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2000. 3. Print.
Brown, John. "Our Indian Wars Are Not Over Yet" Ten Ways To Interpret The War On Terror As A Frontier Conflict. 1st ed. 2006. Print.
Cumings, Bruce. Dominion From Sea To Sea. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009. Print.
Douglass, Frederick. "What To The Slave Is 4Th Of July?". Freemaninstitute.com. N.p., 1841. Web. 7 May 2016.
Jefferson, Thomas. Letter To Marquis De Chastellux. 1785. Print.
Kennedy, John. 1960 Democratic Convention Address On The “New Frontier”. 1st ed. 1960. Print.
Le Guin, Ursula K. The Wave In The Mind. Boston: Shambhala, 2004. Print.
Mantinomo,. "With Such A People I Want No Peace". Great Speeches By Native Americans. Bob Blaisdell. 1st ed. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2000. 3. Print.
Smith, Paul Chaat. Everything You Know About Indians Is Wrong. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. Print.
White, Richard, Patricia Nelson Limerick, and James R Grossman. The Frontier In American Culture. Chicago: The Library, 1994. Print.