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Broken promises... broken dreams - Part 1 (11/09/2003)
By Janet Lewis Burns
"For every man who lives without freedom, the rest of us must face the guilt." - Lillian Hellman

I often long for others to hear, from a bouquet of words, what I hear when I read from others, of different cultures and backgrounds. The ideal, safe Midwestern, white American dream, which I've been living for my 58 years, does little to facilitate me to speak subjectively of racism.

We all draw from our own wells. "A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket." - Charles Peguy

I recall, from my school days, passing off slavery and broken Native American treaties by our early government as insignificant ancient history. The TRUTH is more relevant today than ever, in order to face the white race's arrogance, dominance, and control over other human factions...and to instill liberty. I do not wish to interpret, but to share others' inner wisdom in upcoming columns.

A segment in black author Maya Angelou's book "Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now" is "a dark little tale which exposes the general pain of racism." It seems Maya had befriended an art collector and his wife in Berkeley while she resided in New York. Of them, she writes, "They were white, older, amused and amusing. I knew that if I lived in their area, we would become social friends."

When the author moved back to Berkeley, she contacted the couple, who were delighted to hear from her. The local president of the National Council of Christians and Jews, he told her, "I've been in Germany trying to ameliorate the conditions for American soldiers." "You know, the black soldiers are having a horrific time over there, and our boys are having a hard time, too."

"What did you say?" Maya asked him to repeat it. Upon realizing his blunder and admitting his embarrassment, she begged him not to hang up, but he did. Subsequent calls she made to his residence went unanswered. "The incident saddened and burdened me," Angeloua lamented. "The man, his family and friends were lessened by not getting to know me and my family and friends," (and vice versa).

Maya Angelou concluded, "Because we never had a chance to talk, to teach each other and learn from each other, racism had diminished all the lives it had touched."

Long time Indian activist Russell Means has said that the white race has long exploited and inhibited Indians from surviving with dignity and regard in America. Having so much respect for life, Means has remarked of the white man, "All he's after is control. He perceives having money and material possessions as being in control." "Racism in America against Indian people is so institutionalized and pervasive as to be almost unrecognizable."

Means speaks of sports mascots, and movies portraying the peace-loving Indians as savages and their women, whom they hold the utmost respect for, as squaws. Even their own young people today misunderstand their heritage, dancing the Sun Dance as a macho ceremony to show how tough they are.

"That's not it at all," Means explains. "The ceremony's about...trying to understand birth, taking responsibility. Exposing your vulnerability." "We have to rediscover our values as an Indian people."

"Whenever indigenous cultures come in contact with industrial cultures, the dying-out process begins." Means has known many indigenous peoples, who all share..."a world-view based on family, community, spirituality, understanding."

"That's the circle, the cycle, and you can't break the cycle." So different from the Western mind, which categorizes everything into a logical sequence, a beginning, a middle, and an end. The Indian culture espouses being elderly as the best part of life, a moving on to another realm.

What haunts me is that the dominant white society has not allowed the Native Americans to be who they are. Free money from casinos, leading to more alcohol rehabilitation programs, insults the culture's capacity to provide for itself...in its own humble way, by their ancestors' rituals and fading down-to-earth patterns.

"We all should know that diversity makes for rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter their color; equal in importance no matter their texture." - Maya Angelou 


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