American History I

Response sheet 5, for class, Tuesday

1.  There is another important question about the long inheritance of race in American history springing forward from last week’s class discussion to our current moment.  Most people do not admit to racism.  Even people who are fiercely racist — and there are plenty in the United States these days — rarely admit to it.  Meanwhile, nobody — of any racial background or identity — can seriously claim that they are completely comfortable with matters of race.  Even if some people claim to be supposedly “color-blind,” I am sure that it would be incredibly easy to make someone like that very uncomfortable about race.  So, the question becomes:  what lies in the discomfort zone between racism and the pretence of color-blindness?  Not racist, not color-blind, but what?  We don’t seem to have a clear language in our public discourse for this cultural space where enough/many people are.  Mainstream American media does not help, as it does not seem able to convey the complexity of race relations and racial attitudes in real life (never mind it does not seem able to confront racism and white supremacy in its many current manifestations).

What are your thoughts about this unspoken zone between racism and the pretence of color-blindness?  How would you articulate it?....

2.  In the Freeman reading, she rejects the idea that people should simply feel easy guilt about all the land stolen from Native Americans, whether in Canada or the United States.  But what else — beyond guilt — does she insist must be done?  Why does she emphasize the factor of benefitting from the theft of land, as opposed to perpetrating the stealing?  Are you yourself not a thief, but a beneficiary of theft?  What is your responsibility not as a perpetrator, but as a beneficiary?  Nothing?  Anything?

A few of you are neither American nor Canadian, but the question of benefitting from past injustice, or worse, certainly applies in some way everywhere in the world, so you can still grapple with this question.

If you are of Native American ancestry, the question remains, as every culture and community has inflicted some sort of injustice in the past, on some scale — even if nowhere near the scale of what Europeans, Americans, and Canadians inflicted upon indigenous Americans from the fifteenth century forward.

(We will deal with the two Winthrop documents in class.)