WARD: We are socialized to think race is "normal."
When we ask, "What does it mean to be an American?", the question has to be dealt with from angles of thinking or not thinking about indigenous peoples. We need to somehow account for our being in this space in relation to that greatly decimated population, Why is it so easy for us to forget, unless we live in certain states, that there are still descendants of these people with whom we have not engaged the question of reparations, while we have had reparations for a number of other groups that are elements of the American mix. Indigenous people are also a part of what it means to be American.
When we begin at early American history, colonial history, the political situation becomes complex in strange ways. I've recently read a book about “the common cause” and the American revolution, a moment in the development of capitalism. The common cause was as much about the desire to assert dominance and white superiority as it was about liberty or freedom.
I say this because when we go back to the American revolution, what is now becoming better known is that through the newspapers and broadsides and other printed materials a special case was being made for the rights of those European people who lived in the colonies and who were not prepared to be loyal to the British Crown. Those were the people who wanted to be independent in a very special way. No matter what beautiful words were written in the second draft of the Declaration of Independence, in order to confirm their independence meant that they had to diminish and demean other peoples, particularly Native Americans and Africans. And they had to insist that those two populations did not and would not deserve to be fully invested in the enterprise of liberation from what was called the tyranny of the king or the tyranny of the monarchy, the tyranny of Britain.
Indeed, using various arguments, especially those from what was known as natural history at the time, those two populations were completely set outside the pale. This is very important, especially in terms of ourselves as African American peoples who have criticized the America democratic experiment without totally rejecting some of it premises . One of our oversights—I think shortcomings might be too strong a word— one of the things that we overlook is our relationship to indigenous peoples, and how that "common cause" is a major part of our changing locations within capitalism.
We should recall that in the years before 1776 it was an obligation for European settlers to minimize the presence of indigenous peoples in the North American geography they wanted to own. We begin with colonial history and remember how that history is still operative. Our mass media has not thoroughly examined why a considerable number of indigenous people and their allies gathered a few months ago to protest an oil pipeline. This indigenous assertion of historical claims, moral issues, and ecological fears has not been accorded sufficient attention.
Let us begin with remember colonies, plantations, and common causes. I notice you are reading a book about cotton. At that moment, I am trying to learn something from Robert G. Parkinson’s The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution ( Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016) . The master narrative of the American Revolution has to be rewritten with greater accuracy. Research by Parkinson and others informs us how a species of literature—newspapers, broadsides, and other printed materials—was used to promote a specialized rather than a universal idea about independence. In 2017, digital media are used to promote a similar objective. That independence, no matter what beautiful words were written in the second draft of the Declaration of Independence, required white colonists to diminish and demean other people, particularly Native Americans and Africans. The twenty-first century heirs of white colonists have not abandoned that enterprise.