Willian Kittredge wrote, “Mythology can be understood as a story that contains a set of implicit instructions from a society to its members, telling them what is valuable and how to conduct themselves if they are to preserve the things they value.” In the US, a settling people clung so deeply to a mythology it became sanctified.
If one has been educated in the US school system, as I was—it matters little if it was public or private, they were taught to accept the sanctified mythology of…
There were a people who believed in freedom, not for one but for all, and who had a penchant for justice. They came to this land on the eastern seaboard and after a few mishaps with local people and turning away from the controlling empires of the old land, they began moving west. They were a rural people who worked hard. Full of awe as they crossed a continent of beauty and wonder. They were not without fear, but they were a people who bore down and created a land of peace and riches for their children, regardless of danger. Yes, they displace the people who were already living in the land, but they also filled an unbroken land with the splendor of agriculture and Christianity. The plow turned native soil and the land answered with an abundance of wheat, corn, and apples. And where the plow could not turn soil, native plants allowed cattle to prosper. These were a people of vision, faith, and wonderment.
Though mythical in nature, the story was sanctified in churches across the land as preachers spoke of them opening the US landscape as if they were the Israelites moving into Canaan. There were some folk who spoke to the vile nature of the myth (and many fought and died to change it—writers, preachers, Freedom Riders, sages, marchers and protestors,) but a sanctified myth is hard to erase.
Sanctification grips people hard and when myth becomes faith it is inevitable that mythical values become embedded in their government and businesses. However, neither government nor business functions on myth alone. Consequently, the sanctified myth becomes real and laws and legislation soon reflect its values, e.g., the Indian Removal Act and Jim Crow laws.
Many of us no longer buy the mythical story hook, line, and sinker. However, there is no mistaking this story defines every person in the US landscape to some degree. Those “rights” of subjugating land and people are buried deep within us. Even when we are able to recognize the sins of US apartheid we too often miss the subjugation of the land as we eat in our rural cafes and urban restaurants. And how can we not smile when a new comer becomes a citizen and speaks of the better life their children will have living the “American Dream.” Certainly, some folk have trouble with the story, but it is hard to turn ones back on the myth when all one needs do is to look around and see most people in the US landscape have at least a little of the prosperity of the American Dream.
That prosperity comes at a cost. Even a sanctified myth, like that of God giving the American Israelite the new land of Canaan is not sustainable on the merits. Therefore, US structure institutionalizes the chosen White people of God by building a political system based in the notion that an expanding US nation is God’s manifest destiny. However, true sustainability is not possible if the myth lies only within the political system, so the believers blend chosen people and the nations manifest destiny to the free market economy of Adam Smith and American exceptionalism is birthed. Now it is okay to relegate the myth to the past along with its mishaps, genocide, slavery, and land blowing in the wind. In its place is born that which understands the myth, the power of government and the dominance of business: White Culture.
White Culture is as mythical as the story but very different. Where the mythical story preserves a community’s values through the telling of the story, White Culture mythology preserves those values systemically. For instance, the US Supreme Court created foundational land law to preserve the nations westward movement of the colonial settler in the 1823 Johnson vs. McIntosh decision. When the Emancipation Proclamation and the 1865 13th Amendment blurred the White chosen people line, President Arthur re-sharpened it by creating the immigrant Other—of color with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The1923 US Supreme Court broadened the Exclusion Act’s Other of color in their United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind decision by determining Indians are not White and therefore denying citizenship to “Indian-Americans.” Systemic laws concerning Native people and People of Color are not nearly as overt by the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, however the overwhelming high level of incarcerated Native Americans and People of Color (per population) in US prisons is an indication US White Culture continues to privilege White people.
The kicker comes in considering the systemic strength of White Culture laws and legislation. The inherent subjugation of Natives, People of Color, and Soil, Water, and Air, alongside modern incarceration rates, soil and water destruction, and a problematic food industry that places profit above the wellbeing of plants and animals, demands the addition of one additional word to best describe this myth: Supremacy.
White Supremacy Culture
When supremacy is added to White Culture, a different conversation is called for. To begin that conversation, the word supremacy no longer allows the colonial settler concept of chosen people to lie in the past nor does it settle into the alt-right’s celebration of American Exceptionalism alone. Rather, White Supremacy Culture recognizes that US systemic structure has maintained the colonial settler chosen people notion by holding White people as superior, then and now.
Identifying White Supremacy Culture, rather than White Culture, means White folk must engage differently in the work of ending US racism. To discern this difference is to understand the current context of White anti-racism involvement most often is based in identifying oneself as having unearned privilege. Unearned privilege means folk like myself have greater historical and current access to education, property, and loans, than my sisters and brothers who are Native or People of Color. Recognizing the reality of white privilege has many of us wanting fair treatment across the board. The question though is how do we engage?
Our white engagement often settles into the sphere of ally. That sounds pretty good. However, being an ally holds me back from engaging as if my (or my children’s) life depends on it. For instance, the white ally shows up at the Black Lives Matter or the Idle No More or the Standing Rock or the Latino May Day Workers march. However, where is the resistance movement of the white ally? The point being is I allow Natives and People of Color to do the work of organizing and leading—as if their lives depend on it—while I, the white ally merely participate.
Ally to Life
Participation matters, but its meaning is quite different if it is done out of my privilege (ally) or if it is because my child’s life depends on it. Recognizing White Supremacy Culture is a call for White folk to learn this systemic culture has destroyed their (and their children’s) created identity. Such a culture means I not only have privilege, but the chosen people construct has become part of my identity. In other words, as a US White person I not only live within a system that treats me as if I am superior to non-White folk, but that my DNA makeup has this sense of superiority embedded within it.
Unconcealing this superiority has me learn that a system of superiority has stolen my created identity. That reality means I must move beyond ally to instigator and organizer. As instigator, I grasp the elimination of White Supremacy Culture as my responsibility. My work cannot play in the background band of support but rather it must engage at the front of public forum and public policy.
The mythical culture of White Supremacy can be overturned. However, the toppling of such evil will only occur when all people—of Color, Natives, Whites—begin to live and act because their children’s lives depend on it.
The God-given wholeness of humanity and Creation can become normative. A new mythical story affirming all of Creation in the context of the America’s can be told. For that to occur, White folk must vision life as it should be and walk from ally to organizer, and engage. Together with our Native kin and our kin of Color we can find the natural Creation of God and live the landscapes native mythology of harmony.
I think this is your best writing to date, per my limited perspective. Also, I’m left wondering about not calling out the mythos foundation (i.e. chosen people) of Judeo-Christian history in a global context. Perhaps the Palastinian and/or Israeli communities seeking to mend landscape together know much, much more about the need to organize than the priveleged Euro-US, due to their suffering the costs to the next generations? Why stay exclusively limited in starting to talk about this movement by our shared Americas land mass?
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Thank you for your thoughts and wonderings! A base reason to stick with the America’s is that is my home—what I know best. The places of others matter (e.g., Palestinian or Israeli), certainly, but my experience is too many White folk look to somewhere else, place or time, to have the conversation. By doing so they avoiding dealing with their own place and time and culture. Which in turn allows them to avoid being accountable to their own community. In other words, I need to deal with “stuff” in my own landscape before jumping into the middle of my neighbors “stuff.’