I remember watching westerns as a child; not a lot of movies but TV shows like Bonanza and The Big Valley. But if you did watch the big Hollywood westerns, you probably had a strong sense of the good guys and the bad guys….the noble settlers versus the ignoble savage; the strong, silent cowboy versus the blood-thirsty savage; civilization versus savagery…
And then we became more self-aware as a nation. We realized the people we labeled “savages” were simply protecting their land, which they viewed as sacred, and their way of life from the entitled interlopers. Avatar could be considered a modern “western” told from the perspective of the natives.
We learned that the myth of the American cowboy derives from Mexican as well as Southern American sources.
So much of what we think we believe about ourselves comes from what we are taught directly from our parents and educational institutions and what we perceive indirectly from society. We are influenced by soft information in all its forms and just like those who don’t live in this country base their beliefs about American on what they see in Hollywood movies, we perceive ourselves and other based on what we see in the media.
The justifications, assumptions and attitudes about peoples of color during the founding of this country shaped government policies and artistic expressions, which in turn influence our current attitudes.
Long past the time the “settlers” of this country sought to eliminate its original inhabitants by forcibly removing them from their lands, isolating them on reservations, or assimilating them into European culture, American Indians, according to Harvard project, “State of the Native Nations” experience epidemic levels of alcoholism, drug abuse, diabetes, and other health problems that are linked to cultural stress.
Long past the time the founders of this country built a thriving economy on the backs of a people they stole from another country, Black Americans suffer from a racist policing system, originated to enforce the subjugation of an oppressed people.
Long past the time the government of America took a portion of inhabited Mexico and declared it our largest geographical state (until they took Alaska), many Americans have decided the Mexican descendants of their Texas cousins are somehow different and less desirable than the immigrants from other locations.
To paraphrase the late Maya Angelou, when we know better, we have to do better…
The easy thing to do is focus on the symptoms of this oppression. The hard thing is to examine how we got here.
The easy thing is to ignore the reality of racism for people of color. The hard thing is to examine why we are still here.
The easy thing is to deflect blame. The hard thing is to accept responsibility.
The easy thing is to reject new information and realities. The hard thing is to transform through a deeper understanding of truth.
Transformation often only comes when an individual becomes uncomfortable in their current existence…when what they know becomes more uncomfortable than what they fear.
Are you ready for a change?
Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked