In today’s Washington Post, long-time columnist Michael Gerson, a former George W. Bush speechwriter and consultant, labels President Trump a racist, and says that’s all you have to remember in the voting booth. He’s another of the staunch Republicans who is switching sides in this election, claiming older Republican and American values. But like so many principled Republicans and Democrats, he forgets and omits the long struggle of Native Americans with the waves of European immigrants in the first centuries of colonialism and nationhood. And like many of his journalism cohorts and academic mentors, he labels slavery our “original sin.”
“The struggle for racial equality is the defining American struggle. Much of our history has been spent dealing with the moral contradiction of America’s founding — how a bold experiment in liberty could also be a prison for millions of enslaved people. That hypocrisy and its ramifications have been our scandal. Our burden. Our sin.” Michael Gerson, Washington Post, October 30, 2020.
I’ve been at this serious examination of Indian history and culture for a little over a decade, spurred by the work of my mentor, Alvin Josephy, and the Indian people I have read, met, and tried to listen to. I remember Alvin harping on the invisibility of Indians, the conscious and unconscious lies and omissions of the misnamed Indians in the history of our country. He spent a working life—over 40 years—addressing the issue.
This is of course not to excuse the institution of slavery and the importation of Africans to do the work of building a Euro-American economy and country. American Indians, after all, were the first slaves—sent by Columbus back to Spain, and worked to death in the Caribbean.
I cannot imagine the lump in the throat, the pain in the gut, that passages like this, and the continuing distortions and omissions by journalists, pundits, and historians, give to newspaper and textbook reading Indians every day of their reading lives.
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