American history certainly does not suffer from shortage of written documents. in fact, anyone undertaking the task of relating the past to the present may be overwhelmed by the amount of material available, some of it dating back to the first day a white man ever set foot on this continent.
In the usual presentation of American history through documents, a special kind of selectivity has prevailed: only those documents that have interpreted American history as a gradual unfolding of progress and democracy have been used. As a result, few Americans know that such ideas as "Black Power" and self-determination, which today are considered new, have historical antecedents.
Today's ghetto and barrio politics were not born with "Black Power" or "La Raza", but date back to the formation of the first segregated --or self-segregated--communities in America. The ancestors of Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver are Nat Turner and Toussaint L'Ouverture, Reies Tijerina, in New Mexico, comes from a long line of Hispano-Indian leaders who organized resistance against the Anglos.
From the start, nonwhite people in this country have had to make decisions forced upon them by the white Europeans' insatiable need to increase their land holdings: should they, the natives, give up the earth on which they have lived and the civilizations associated with it, and accommodate .to the conquerors: should they resist, at the cost of physical annihilation; or should they try to remain as a separate community? The Word plus the Gun forced each nonwhite group to examine its collective sense of self-preservation and explore all the options open to it.
One such option --a racial state-- made familiar in the 1960s by the black separatists, is an integral part of the early American Indian history, although it is rarely discussed in that context. For example, the earliest published Indian Treaty signed by the newly formed United States was with the Delaware Indian tribe in September 1778.
It gave an opportunity to the Delawares and "any other tribes who have been friends to the interests of the United States to join the present confederation, and to form a state, whereof the Delaware nation shall be the head and have a representative in Congress.. ." Not until early in the twentieth century, and the dissolution of the Cherokee nation, did Indians formally give up the notion of exercising "Red Power" by forming a separate Indian state with its own representative in Congress.
As far back as 1812, Tecumseh, the Shawnee leader, and Pushmataha, the Choctaw orator, debated fiercely at a Choctaw and Chickasaw council over the issue of how best to deal with the white man. "Are we not being stripped, day by day, of the little that remains of our ancient liberty?"
Tecumseh asked the council. "Do they not even now kick and strike us as they do their blackfaces? How long will it be before they tie us to a post and whip us and make us work for them in corn fields as they do them? Shall we wait for that moment or shall we die fighting before submitting to such ignominy?"
Pushmataha opposed Tecumseh's plea for armed resistance and implored the tribes to accept the white man's good intentions. he urged them " to submit their grievances, whatever they may be, to the congress of the United States according to the articles of the treaty existing between us and the American people..."
Such bitter debates among the Indians were paralleled by similar disputes among the Spanish-speaking people. Should we let the white man come in and take our land, they asked, or should we take up arms to fight for our land and our culture? But the records of those quarrels remain buried, untranslated, in the columns of old newspaper and in corridos, or folk ballads.
Only recently, have some young Chicanos, the militant Mexican-Americans, rediscovered their folk heroes in reviving the tradition of La Raza. They have discovered that men like Juan Cortina, Gregorio Cortez, Joaquin Murieta, and Tiburcio Vasquez were not bandits, as they are described in most American history books, if they are described at all. They were champions of La Raza, who fought with pistols against the white conquerors, and killed any of their own who accepted the role of conquered people.
A stanza of a Texas corrido begins: "Long live our country, although suffering setback....the mother country is home, that loves son and daughter, for Mexico has fame, military discipline."
But no folk ballad tells the story how some of the proud Polynesian people who lived in the Hawaiian Islands tried to resist the white political and cultural invasion of their shores.
"The Hawaiian people will be trodden underfoot by the foreigners," said the people of Lahaina on the island of Maui in 1845.
"The laws of those governments will not do for us. These are good laws for them, our laws are for us and are good laws for us which we have made for ourselves. We are not slaves to serve them. When they talk in their clever way we know what is right and what is wrong..."
It did no good for the Hawaiians to know what was right and what was wrong. Their country was taken over by the haoles (whites), in the course of only a few decades. The haoles did it with guns and religion. And the native Hawaiians began the slow descent to what they are today --a pitiful small remnant of their race, occupying the lowest rungs on the social and economic ladder of the Islands.
Few haoles know that the Chinese in Hawaii, like the Japanese, argued among themselves about whether to accommodate to the white man's brutal treatment or engage in active resistance to it. Resistance included helping Chinese workers to escape from the slave conditions under which they lived on the white-owned plantations. At one point, in the late 19th century, hundreds of Chinese gathered at a mass meeting in Honolulu to
"solemnly protest against the injustices, degradation and insult threatened to be imposed upon us and our race....while we ask for nothing more than equality with the resident of equally good behavior, we shall be satisfied with and shall support and respect nothing that accords to our race a lesser degree of consideration and justice of other nationalities enjoy."
The white community's response to this protest was made clear by a leading Island newspaper.
The Chinese, it said,
"assume an attitude plainly defiant and closely bordering on the dominant and dictatorial. From the weak and lowly field hand of the time of 1851 and the wage scale of $3 a month, they have, by an unparalleled and alarming evolution, reached the station of an assertive element in the policy of the nation."
Shortly after that arrogant statement was published, the Chinese Hawaiians organized a protective group and purchased rifles to defend themselves and their homes from the whites.
The Japanese immigrant community in Hawaii was torn apart by similar conflicts. Some Japanese, at the turn of the century,sought to resist the brutalities of white plantation owners by organizing for better conditions. These organizers were jailed for their efforts; they were also attacked from within the Japanese community by accommodationists who believed that "certain things" existed in the Japanese that caused them to be "disliked by American people."
In the year before WW2, the argument within the Japanese community in Hawaii had its counterpart on the mainland. many Nisei, or second generation Japanese-Americans, who lived there insisted that the only way to demonstrate their Americanism was to become more American than whites, others insisted on retaining ties with japan; a third group being treated as second-class citizens.
Pearl Harbor, however, decided the fate of the American-Japanese. All Japanese, citizens and aliens, no matter what their attitudes, were taken to relocation camps --"for the sake of internal quiet," said President Franklin Roosevelt. but the debates went on int the camps. They were now accompanied by violence. The "Blood Brothers," a group of Nisei determined to fight against the treatment they were getting, physically and verbally attacked those who were willing to accommodate to relocation.
The "Blood Brothers" called such Japanese inu (dogs). When the Nisei were asked to sign a loyalty oath the the U.S., nearly 50% of them refused to do so out of resentment at the treatment they had received. After the war, some 8,000 of them emigrated to Japan. Ten years later, one congressman admitted that he had been wrong in his attitude toward the Japanese-Americans. But, while making that concession, he retained the concept of color as a gauge of loyalty. "The Japanese-Americans," he said, "were just as loyal as those whose skin was white.
"the direct relationship between skin color and loyalty to America, voiced so openly by that congressman, is an important element in the American character.
Some historians have begun to examine American racism as a product of capitalism and imperialism. The colonizers came to the new World believing that the colored people were inferior, and used that ideology to justify the enslavement of the blacks, the killing of Indians and Mexicans and the importation of Oriental labor for work considered unfit for whites. The identification of colored skin with evil, with the devil, with inferiority, infused the entire culture of the Anglo-Saxons during the first centuries of colonization.
In each case, the racism coincided with economic need for slave labor and for land. At the same time, racist attitudes were institutionalized as laws, religion and everyday practice. Each school child learned, along with the principles of republicanism and democracy, about the inferiority of colored people, ministers explained to their flocks that slavery was God's will.
Racist laws and racist behavior became an integral part of American culture, as much a part of it as democracy. Racist attitudes not only made whites feel superior by virtue of their skin color, it also made all colored, colonized people feel inferior because of their skin color. Writings on American history are filled with racist axioms. It is sometimes conceded that the colored peoples have suffered injustices. But their attempts to resist, their politics and debates, were not considered important enough to merit inclusion.
Thus the history that has been and is being written, by its nature, is a racist history, which excludes minorities and women in its pages. And so written American history, along with American culture, law, religion and philosophy, has skewed the attitudes of the American people.
To blacks, Indians, Mexicans and Orientals, George Washington was not the father of the country, but a slaveholder and a racist --as was Jefferson. If the great heroes of the history books were judged by the character of their behavior to the colored peoples, Jackson would be called a bitter racist; Lincoln's belief that blacks were innately inferior would be decried; and Woodrow Wilson would be criticized for writing history that apologized for slavery and favored segregation.
But these men remained heroes for most Americans, white and colored, because for more than three centuries, the values, the criteria for judging good and bad, superior and inferior, what is worthy of record and what is not, have not taken racism into account.
The history and struggles of the colored peoples, the losers, have rarely been recorded. Only now are they becoming subjects deemed worthy of investigation. The documents on the colored peoples' resistance, and their anguish, are an indictment not only of America's past but of all those writers who have excluded thee colored peoples' struggle for freedom from their work.
Too much of American history has been a celebration of past that merits severe criticism. But the celebration of America was brought to an end for many people in the 1960s. The task of rewriting American history with a new perspective on racism as well as democracy and progress, is just beginning.
Nonwhites have permanent alien status in the white society of America. The documents in this book demonstrates the nonwhites' belief that they are never completely trusted by most whites, and that they are always considered inferior no matter how superior they may be either within their own community or even in the larger world outside it.
Source: TO SERVE THE DEVIL, Volume 1: Natives and Slaves - A Documentary Analysis of America's Racial History and Why it has Been Kept Hidden, Paul Jacobs & Saul Landau with Eve Pell (1971)
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