“Pocahontas” is not one of my favorite Disney movies. The music is not all that, the characters aren’t engaging, and the magic ability of everyone to speak English is implausible (and I have no problem with talking mice). Beyond all that, it is difficult to watch the scenes of hate and racism that defined the early years of our nation animated for children. From my position of white privilege it was a story I thought didn’t need to be told. I was wrong.
Cultural racism is not the story of our past it is the story of our present. The idea that people can be judged based on the color of their skin, the idea that people can be attacked based on the color of their skin, the denial that this hate is endemic to our society; these are the lies that have laid at the foundation of our country. The United States was built on racism. Our founder stole land from people of color, built homes and an economy from the forced labor of people of color, marginalized and exploited people of color, and then responded with violence and judgement when those people refused to be subjugated. This is who we are at our core and it will not just go away unless we dig it out.
Last night in Charleston, SC, a white man with a gun walked into a church full of black people studying, sat with the pastor for an hour, and then began to shoot; killing 9 people because the fact they were black threatened him. He had been told that they were less than him and did not deserve the life that they had. Their existence, in this mindset, meant that he personally had less. They were not humans; they were an obstacle to be overcome to achieve his goals.
Over the next several days people will talk a lot about his mental state and I cannot speak to that. I can speak to our shared history which he was re-enacting, not just the history of several centuries ago, but the history of the last 50 years. In 1963, white supremacists bombed a black church in Birmingham. From 1994-1996 ten black churches in South Carolina were firebombed. In 2013 66% of all hate crimes were perpetrated against the black community. None of that even addresses the institutional racism that keeps African American impoverished and imprisoned at a higher rate than any other ethnic group.
We have history. It is dark and ugly, but it is ours and it will not go away. We must take it out and deal with it. In the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
What can you expect
From filthy little heathens?
Their whole disgusting race is like a curse
Their skin’s a hellish red
They’re only good when dead
They’re vermin, as I said
They’re savages! Savages!
Barely even human
Drive them from our shore!
They’re not like you and me
Which means they must be evil
We must sound the drums of war!