October 5, 2013

Fox & MSNBC: Latecomers to the Blame Game

As one who grew up near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, I’ve been in proximity of both the racism and victimization that seems to remain festering in the hearts of some Native Americans and Anglos even into the 21st Century.

Since these are hot button issues that can consume those who elect to enter in to dialogues about them, I’ve declined to offer any observations or opinions about them on Black Hills Monitor.

However, after just posting a story and photograph on another website about Joe American Horse, a superb athlete from yesteryear, something interesting happened.

Mount Rushmore - 1929
A Google “Alert” notification arrived in my Inbox for another “Black Hills history” story.   

It was a story about Mount Rushmore posted on a site named Indian Country Today Media Network.  I don’t recall having visited this website before.  However, rummaging through its many topics and pages was fascinating – if a bit disappointing – so I’ve decided to offer those long-delayed “observations” …..and an opinion or two.  Nonetheless, Indian Country Today is worth visiting.  There's lots of good stuff there.  But...

I’m a white guy.  My interest in things relating to American Indians, however, is more than just passing.  I’ve dabbled in genealogy for decades and remember vividly some of the stories my mother used to tell about her childhood – and her Indian playmates.  My great-grandfather’s homestead was “in the gumbo” about 14 miles northeast of Chadron, Nebraska, adjacent to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

If it hadn’t been for the Indian kids, I often wouldn’t have had anyone to play with,” I recall her telling me over the years.  And my grandfather did business with tribal members.

As a kid growing up in Chadron, I don’t think I ever stopped to consider the plight of the Indians.  Usually, their circumstances were perceived through a local prism of strong cultural snobbery.  You might call it racism  Like Gordon and Rushville, towns not far from Pine Ridge, Chadron was a favorite trade center for reservation residents.

That also meant it was a favorite watering hole not just for area farmers and ranchers – but Indians from Pine Ridge, too.  And while I’m not a scientist or sociologist, I do believe that there was/is a propensity for alcoholism among our neighbors from Pine Ridge. Coupled with a mutual lack of understanding about cultural differences and a widespread abuse of the U.S. government’s food commodity program, it seems that almost everything I learned about relationships between our races was tinged with abuse, indifference, and illegalities.

There were many exceptions, of course.  One American Indian classmate was an exceptional artist.  He later served in the Army and then worked with computers for many years.  I had looked forward to seeing him at our 50th high school class reunion a few years ago, but he didn’t make it.  I later saw his obituary.  Another Indian friend was a fine athlete and is a good friend.  He went on to graduate from the University of Nebraska and years later would return to the Pine Ridge area and work to improve the health of reservation residents.   

Having lived eight years in Mississippi later in life, I learned much about southern racism – although I think Mississippi often gets a bum wrap, when one considers rampant racism that has afflicted Detroit, Los Angeles and other areas of the country.  Author Shelby Foote put it well when he once talked about confronting racism in Mississippi:  “We aren’t where we want to be……we’re not where we should be…..but we sure aren’t where we used to be!

Newspaperman Bob Gordon
Many of my best friends in Mississippi grew up around the racism that seemed to inundate Mississippi back in the 1950s and '60s.   One of them was a man named Bob Gordon, one of the finest men I’ve ever known.  I’ll not recount his story, but if you want to know more, visit Saying Goodbye to a Friend.  And another good friend, a Jackson attorney, grew up in the thick of racism.  He and I visited about that occasionally, and I often wondered why he -- a very liberal and caring fellow -- wasn’t even more outspoken in his position against racism. 

Then, at some point, I stopped to reflect on my own upbringing, remembering the things I experienced as a youth.   As children, I suspect all of us grow up adapting to the culture we’re dealt.  As a teenager, I couldn’t understand how “whites in the south could be so racist against negroes.”  I never seriously reflected on  the plight of Indians and their relationship with whites in my own community.  Partly, as a teen, I was too involved with sports, girls, and my own circumstances.  In Mississippi, I finally confronted that inconsistency.

All of this to offer up this:

As thought-provoking and well done as it is, Indian Country Today provides for its readers much the same fodder as Fox News offers its viewers.  And as MSNBC feeds its audience.  Especially, it seems, during these confrontational days inside the Washington, D.C. beltway:  "I’m right.  You’re wrong.  Now I'm going to tell you who's to blame."  

That seems to be the mantra.  Whatever our plight; whatever our woes; we’ve got to blame someone, so let’s focus on the other guy!

Indian Country News is well done, but there is, not surprisingly -- but disappointingly, an undercurrent that seems to focus more on blaming whites rather than seeking solutions to the problems that face Native Americans – and our country.

All of us, at one time or another, have viewed ourselves as victims.  And few in our society have as much justification for that posture as Native Americans.  But until the crutch of justification and blame is put in the closet, it’s difficult to see meaningful improvements in the lives of our Native American brethren.

But the purveyors of blame at Fox, MSNBC, and others, know that controversy can lure more eyeballs and, thus, more advertising revenue.   And the good folks at Indian Country News probably believe, too, that a little invective and controversy can't help but strengthen readership.

And all of society is the worse for it.

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