On the eve of Thanksgiving, colonialism is top of my mind. I look forward to harvest and feast season because it is the one time of year I will make a meal that takes days to put together. I don’t have time during regular life to cook foods that require so much time and attention. But once a year I can spend a week cooking because it is the nationally sanctioned time to do it. Even though I enjoy the food and friends, I can't ignore the atrocious meaning behind this particular excuse to gather.
For the last many years, food and getting to eat it with people I love are not all I want out of my November national holiday. I also want to erode the erasure of indigenous existence. I want to chip away at the plaster white folks put up over the atrocities the American government and American people perpetrated on those nations who lived here before the colonies.
It is well known that Europeans showed up to America, killed and tortured a lot of native folks, took over and got rich. It's less widely known that they have been covering it up ever since. Not just covering up the original genocide(s), but covering up the very existence of native folks. Back through our National history, and right up to the present day. To a lot of Americans, folks from native tribes live among us like ghosts, half forgotten and nearly silenced. A product of a former era. Old legend.
The perpetuation of that silencing is the most disturbing to me. And how it has been orchestrated is nightmare inducing. One of the most insidious methods our government employed to stamp out indigenous culture was to "save" the natives from it. As has happened in many places, the white conquerors of America forced their civilizing influence onto the otherwise untamed (and therefore suffering) original inhabitants, separating children from parents and banning cultural expression.
One reason ordinary white folks haven't objects much is because of their steadfast belief in the benevolent and infallible Savior. The myth of the one white savior is problematic for many reasons. Unfortunately, it is also everywhere, from religious texts to sci-fi. In the new Dune movie, for example, the savior is born into the imperial colonizing class with some secret connection to the conquered (and more worldly-connected-so-therefore-wise) people. I assume he will eventually lead those less fortunate souls to salvation from the very oppressors he hails from. We'll see when Part 2 comes out.
Regardless, the myth of the one savior is bullshit on its face, no matter who the one savior is or where they come from. Take the Fifth Element, where the ultimate savior was an other worldly femm with cool hair and a weird outfit. She appears once every 5,000 years when evil makes its regular attempt to conquer the solar system so she can thwart it. Meanwhile, humans are terrible to each other and create a world that’s almost unlivable. When she catches up on the human history she most recently slept through, she doesn’t want to bother saving us anymore. “What’s the use of protecting life when you see what you do with it?” she asks.
Fair point, Supreme Being. Fair point.
Fortunately for the humans, love conquers all and we are ultimately saved. Dumbledore would be so proud. But what cannot be overlooked is this uncomfortable truth: one being who will overcome humankind’s downfall is merely an excuse for the rest of us not to do anything in the meantime. Sure, maybe scripture or legend tells us how to prepare for the arrival of The One, but why are we waiting to be saved at all?
Possibly because that’s what the powerful want: they want us to believe we can’t achieve liberation without a savior. It certainly works out better for the status quo if most folks believe they are helpless to overcome the way things are. Then the majority of folks will patiently make do as best we can until the savior arrives, while misery, scarcity, and inequity permeate the world around us.
Unlike the movies, there’s no one coming. No one coming to stop the climate from collapsing. No one coming to dismantle racism or take down the patriarchy. No one coming to kill the masters and set us all free. No one coming to show us how to feed and house and heal each other. We have to figure it out for ourselves.
The ghastly result of the Rittenhouse trial earlier this week is a perfect example. That human killed two other people and faces no legal consequences. He will have to live with the fact that he killed two people for the rest of his life, but I doubt that is much comfort to the families and communities of his victims. He’s also probably surrounded by enough people who will pat him on the back and affirm his deplorable, fear-based actions that he might delude himself into getting over the acute negative psychological effects reasonably quickly.
The reason Kyle Rittenhouse got to go home is because at the moment he shot those two people, he felt threatened. He felt like his life was in danger when he acted. Of course his life was in danger. HE STARTED A GUN FIGHT. Someone would have to be majorly checked-out of reality not to feel like their life was in danger amidst a gun fight. But let’s take a step back and acknowledge who is responsible for his deep and presumably genuine feelings of existential unease.
It was him.
Kyle Rittenhouse felt threatened because he created a threatening situation. It infuriates me that the legal system is not structured in a way to acknowledge this fact. It fills me to the brim with ire, but it doesn’t actually surprise me. Much of our social and societal systems are set up to separate certain people from having to take responsibility for their own emotional state.
People who are white and male-presenting have the privilege of generally being farthest from the consequences of their emotional state. So, rather than Kyle Rittenhouse having to face the fact that he got himself in over his head and then caused the death of two people with his foolishness, he will probably go on to live a relatively normal, unencumbered life. He may even live a blessed life due to his 15 minutes of fame. I hope some day he feels the full weight of his actions. And I hope it destroys him, just like he destroyed the lives of at least two people last summer.
Everything I believed about the Justice system has turned out to be a lie. Just like everything I learned as a child about Thanksgiving was a lie. And everything I’ve learned since I started looking has just made these lies more shameful. Both are full of examples where someone in a position of power causes harm to someone with less power, and when there’s blow-back it’s not the original aggressor’s fault… somehow it’s the reacting and oppressed party’s fault.
And I see that still today. In the most recent Portland City Council meeting, many people testified that they feel unsafe because of graffiti and shops with smashed windows. They want more cops so they can feel safe. They want to buy the illusion of safety the police department is selling. They don’t want to examine what kind(s) of danger they are actually in and craft solutions to those specific threat. They want a savior in a uniform.
When it comes down to it, that also isn't going to work. The cops are not coming. And as Tracy Chapman told us, even when they do show up, it’s too late to stop a crime. Police don't make the city safer. Cops can't save us. We have to be our own savior. Each one of us. We have to save ourselves from the deep seeded narratives that disconnect us from each other. And then we have to reach out and save each other. That's the only way to get saved.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.