Tuesday, October 15, 2019

On Discovering America

Yesterday was Columbus Day...or Indigenous People’s Day...or Rape of the Americas Day…or whatever you want to call it. The day that we’ve traditionally celebrated Columbus’s discovery of America...or not...since he thought until the day he died, that he was in India. 

And then again, there’s that whole “discovery” thing. How can you discover a place that already has people in it? Seems that *they* would’ve discovered it first. Why should old Chris get credit for it?

Well, writer Will Furguson came up with the best explanation in his book Why I Hate Canadians (not to worry, he’s Canadian himself). He compared Chris’s situation to that of discovering a new restaurant. The restaurant was there long before you happened upon it, and thousands of people had eaten at it before you arrived; but it was new to you. You “discovered” a restaurant that you hadn’t known of before. And when you tell all your friends, who had also never known of this restaurant, about this place, they’ll credit you for “discovering it” and bringing it to their attention.

Which is what Columbus did...he “discovered” a new world that no one in Europe had known of before. One that already had people in it, but one that was new to the experience of the Europeans. 

“Well, OK,” you say. “But what about the Vikings? Weren’t they here even before Columbus?”

Oh for sure...and I got in trouble for this one back in grade school when I kept insisting that Columbus didn’t discover America because I had read that the Vikings were here first. A classic case of me being too smart for my own good; of being technically correct, but practically wrong; of technically correct, but missing the point.

Or…of the teacher not being able to patiently explain that I was missing the point, rather than just wanting Gatling to shut up about the Vikings already.

It’s true that among the Europeans, the Vikings got here first...by almost 500 years…and had a few short-lived settlements in Eastern Canada. But as the term “short-lived” implies, they didn’t last very long and nothing came of them. There wasn’t a great Scandinavian rush to settle in this new world, and the Vikings apparently didn’t tell a whole lot of people about what they found; because very few others knew about the settlements in Vinland until hundreds of years later. The point that I was missing, while being technically correct (and that the teacher didn't ’splain to me), was that Columbus’s later “discovery” of America happened at just the right time and under the right circumstances to set the “Age of Discovery and Exploration” in motion.

And that’s why all of us, for better or worse, are here.

And let’s be perfectly clear about something…there’s absolutely no guarantee that if Columbus hadn’t accidentally stumbled upon this place, some other European wouldn’t have, with the same results. In fact, there’s no guarantee that something else or someone else wouldn’t have happened to wreak havoc on the indigenous population. We can romanticize about what might have been, but it’s all just useless conjecture.

We can, however, work to own up to and correct the damage that was done since 1492.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Throwing the Goose Under the Bus

I have to say that the only thing more dismaying to me than the senseless, and tragic, death, of Botham Jean at the hands of former police officer Amber Guyger is the speed at which many of my white friends…my white friends, mind you…are willing to throw her under the bus as a sacrificial lamb in a misguided attempted to try to make it up to us for all the ways that we’ve been mistreated since 1619.

Actually, I’m pretty steamed about the way that some of my white friends are all too eager to throw all white people on this continent…even those born just a few hours ago…under the bus as part of that same misguided attempt. But that’s another opinion for another time. I want to focus on one particular case here, and not make the mistake too many people have made of making one particular situation, one particular tragedy, emblematic of another, larger, problem.

In order to get my perspective on this, you first have to read my piece from November 18th, 2013, If it Looks Like a Duck. But for those of you who won’t bother taking the extra effort to go there, let me summarize: Sometimes what appears to be a duck…the same old tired duck of a white person shooting a black person intentionally…is really a goose. A very scared goose, packing heat, who thought that having a gun would protect it, and made a split-second decision with very tragic results. In that piece I cited three different cases where that happened, including the one of Bobby Crabtree, who shot and killed his 14-year-old daughter Matilda Kaye, when she jumped out of the closet to surprise him late at night. Her dying words were “I love you, Daddy.”

Remember that. It’ll be on the test.

Now, remembering what I said about that goose, there are two things we need to keep in mind about the Amber Guyger case.

First of all, had this been a white officer accidentally killing a white person in their apartment, we would’ve heard crickets. It would’ve just been another tragedy borne of a scared person with a gun making a horrible split second decision that they wouldn’t have had they been unarmed, and had to consider other possibilities.

Second, similar to the first one, had both victim and officer been white, there would be no huge controversy over the showing of forgiveness in the face of what was a tragedy for all involved.

But...because the victim was black, it became a big racial issue turned into something emblematic of all racial issues in this country. Because the victim was black, and it became a grand racial issue, we are unable to see it as what it is...a single tragedy, and a single response to that tragedy.

As I said earlier, I find it troubling how many of my white friends seem a little too eager to throw Ms Guyger under the bus in a well-meaning, but mistaken effort to make up for all the intentional violence done to us since 1619. Sacrificing one person who unintentionally made a tragic split second decision does not make up for all the lynchings and intentional violence inflicted on us over the centuries. Throwing her under the bus does not advance the cause of true justice.

I might also add, to my black friends, that insisting on looking at this single specific tragedy as a racial issue, when it wouldn’t have been had both parties been white; and wanting this scared and disoriented goose to be treated as a premeditated murderer “just to even the score”, doesn’t advance the cause of true justice either.

And before people give Botham Jean’s brother any more grief, and look at this through a lens of “black people always forgiving whites” (which you know darned well that we don’t...it’s just that it makes news, and is a shock to most people’s senses when we do), it would do everyone good to consider the Amish response to the family of the man who intentionally murdered the girls at the school in Nickel Mines.

Remember that test I said there would be? Well here it is: How much different is Brandt Jean’s response to the woman who killed his brother from Matilda Kaye’s dying response to her father?

I’ll just let you think about that one for a while.