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Rewriting history cuts both ways

We often point fingers at people from bygone eras, call them out for their wrongs and atrocities. When judged by the enlightened standards of modern society, long dead people certainly deserve our criticism. We revisit historical evil to put our concerns over present day injustice in an illuminating context. When tribes call out the dominant culture, when they apply the historical record as cudgel, there is often talk of how the Whiteman rewrites history to glorify himself, and we cite the historical record as evidence he does this, even though he has corrupted the historical record.

We hold two contradictory ideas at the same time: the Whiteman is condemned by the history we accept as fact, even though we consider those facts highly suspect. What is revealed by this contradiction is that many people interpret facts to validate themselves, and invalidate others. We distort the historical record in service to that imperative, as readily as the Whiteman does. Our gripe against the Whiteman runs deep, so deep we give him no credit for the products of his world we embrace: “Our boys just won the state championship. So, we want to thank the Wasicu for inventing the game of basketball, and building the arenas where we play, and creating the organization we played in and creating the cars we drove to the game, and for those of us who couldn’t make the game, inventing the TV and computers and internet and video services we utilized to watch the game back home.

Oh, and thanks for the cell phones, they are always a big help, and the electricity and the indoor plumbing came in handy last time we needed them. We are still extremely upset you took our land and broke all the treaties, but we acknowledge that just writing you off as unprincipled, rapacious colonizers is probably unfair. We understand that the Wasicu without conscience took our stuff, and the Wasicu of conscience were the ones that stopped them from taking all of it and then just killing us all. It’s hard to thank and honor the Wasicu of conscience when we are so angry at the Wasicu without conscience, but if we were big enough to make that important distinction, we could work with Wasicu of conscience to defeat Wasicu without conscience and get some social justice.”

Yeah, see, nobody ever says that…well, except for me. When we look at the 19th Century version of our culture, we do not see the flaws in it. We romanticize it into some aboriginal perfection, and the very flow of historical events becomes sacred to the extent it becomes more fantasy than fact.

There is great strength and power in honesty. By embracing who we really were, and accepting who we have become, we will have the resilience to defend ourselves, and to make allies with those who would help us fight those who are determined to take even the little we still cling to. But if we persist in always grabbing the chip-on-our-shoulder indignant spotlight—and milking it to ridiculous, self-important, and self-destructive extremes—no people on this planet are going to take our concerns or plight seriously.

(Contact James Giago Davies at

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