A person does not lightly elect
to oppose his society. One would
much rather be at home among
one’s compatriots than be mocked
and detested by them...[but] it
is terrible to watch people cling to
their captivity and insist on
their own destruction.
There’s a before
and an after
the COVID-19 pandemic. I began reading Greg Grandin’s The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America in
era, that is, in February of this year. I read a few pages and then
set the book aside. In fact, after a few days of it sitting on my
desk, I decided I didn’t have the time or the inclination to
read the book, and so placed it on a book shelf where other American
history books reside. The end of a reading of that particular
pandemic and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
read so much history, in fact, I’ve read more history in the
last twenty years than I’ve read literature. An understanding
of American history, the version not taught in my 1950s and 1960s
education, for that matter, not even during my college years in the
1970s, is vital if an American, whatever stripe, is to understand how
to relate to other Americans who’s history doesn’t reach
back to the Vikings or the Goths. Or Anglo-Saxons.
did the Indigenous people, in the millions throughout the so-called
New World, respond to the arrival of old boy, Christopher Columbus?
Why was it important for the Anglo-Saxons settlers to create an
international business and market around the capturing, selling,
placing, and patrolling of Africans and African Americans? How did
the movement to go West further disrupt the lives of millions of
Native Americans and eventually encouraged and emboldened capitalist
adventurers to sail the world again and capture not just more free
labor but also land and all the resources to be had on that land?
guess I was just burned out in February. The country was just hearing
about the Coronavirus. Although we now know, the government knew long
before. I was told in January, by my new oncologist, that if I could
just get through this fifth year of Multiple Myeloma, without the
numbers rising significantly, then I the chances of a full-blown
outbreak of the cancer would decrease every year thereafter.
the pandemic outbreak forced states to issue stay-at-home orders, I
decided to read literature. And then here’s a man jogging along
a road. There’s a truck and two white men. They have weapons,
and the jogging man is Black.
went to the bookshelf where I placed Grandin’s book and started
reading. And I’m still reading The
End of the Myth
when Minnesota Police Officer Derek Chauvin, ever so casually presses
his knee on the side of George Floyd’s neck for almost nine
minutes. His freedom, so he believed, gave him the right to do so.
the chapter entitled, “A Caucasian Democracy,” Grandin
writes about the history of freedom in America. How the idea of
“frontier” became synonymous with the idea of freedom.
Freedom to roam, to expand one’s horizons and build on wild
open space… Yes, the land had always been wild open and free
of inhabitants. That’s what the adventurers to the West read in
there school texts in the 1800s.
then in the 1800s, with the Indigenous having been removed, killed
predominantly before marginalized to small patches of land, “the
word ‘frontier,’” writes Grandin, had come to mean
not a line in the proverbial sand, “but a way of life,
synonymous with freedom.”
in order words, can’t be told what to do, where not to go,
where not to live, and more recently in the 2020 what to wear on
their faces. Or try to instruct them in staying at home during a
pandemic when they know the one’s dying in droves aren’t
them but the Black, Latinx, and Indigenous peoples.
in the 1800s, the “removal operation” accomplished the
task of teaching Americans that the original inhabitants were so
unfit as to necessitate their removal in order for more competent and
worthy people, true Americans, to tend to the land. And grow. There
wasn’t anything to feel bad about, in other words, for it’s
the creation of a “distinct culture,” one that justifies
the use of violence as a means of turning the land into safe spaces
for Caucasian democracy.” And that, of course, meant, removing
“savage” obstacles for the expansion of white citizens
and capitalist profiteers.
other words, the nation’s drive west in the creation of a
democratic society for Caucasians is further evidence of the
formation of white supremacy as a founding ideology. The demand for
docile people of color in this Caucasian democracy to serve as a free
labor force is contrary to a reality of a nonwhite (as it was at the
beginning) society that is, thanks to conquest and enslavement, a
bedrock of inequality.
have to pause here in the reading because this chapter, an engrossing
narrative, is about that horror of narrative that begins again to
solidify a collective mindset into believing in Caucasian
superiority. Again. It’s Christopher Columbus riding returning
to lead the charge from the New England settlements, pass the
Mississippi, clear through to the Rocky Mountains. The carcass of
women and children, fathers and husbands cleared away or left as food
for the vultures.
in this violence is the narrative that proclaims the necessity to
totally disregard human life—proclaimed by the quill of no
worth. Dip the quill in ink and write: They are savages. They aren’t
human. Claims, treaties, policies can be dismissed as soon as the ink
cultural, a systemic way of seeing those who are not Caucasian. The
removal of the unwanted by whatever means necessary. And the unwanted
(other racial groups) becomes a border of sorts in the mind of the
narrative out of Tidewater and Piedmont in Virginia dominated the
country, writes Grandin. From this area came slaveholders who thought
nothing of the lives of blacks, except as their existence could be
useful to building the power and wealth not just of the owners of
plantations, but also of the young nation. Washington, Jefferson,
Madison, and Monroe became the nation’s first band of
presidents; and all, Grandin notes, “speculated in land west of
the white occupiers to this land used Black bodies just as they
removed the original inhabitants of Turtle Island from their land.
The “Founding Fathers” hoped these people would just
become extinct, “either as a culture, through assimilation,”
or “as individuals through death.”
US had a goal, and that goal, Grandin explains, was to move West,
toward the Pacific. The Indigenous population be damned!
there were constraints, and constraints to a population that
recognizes itself as a people free to roam to place and settle and
kill original occupants if necessary didn’t take well to
constraints imposed on the government in London. Those constraints
insisted that the Indigenous still had some rights—some rights
to land, that is. The Founding Fathers, had agree to a “tome of
treaty obligations London had made to indigenous communities.”
It all seemed so ridiculous in a land were the white guardians of the
land had effectively removed savages from curtailing their freedom.
the mindset in London to that of white men in the New World?
treaties were seen as an insult and an impediment to Caucasian
democracy, the establishment of a white country. To recognize the
right to keep Indigenous lands protected was to experience a
collective convulsion. And why should a people whose freedom is being
held back feel such outrage from
all, writes Grandin, the new nation “inherited settler lust for
land.” Founded on “the right of freedom, a right not just
exercised by but originating in
movement,” the government was determined to extend “the
blood meridian” in defiance of what was increasingly understood
to be interference from London.
the presidency of Andrew Jackson, Americans would be made great! An
advocate of vigilantes like that of Frederick Stump, a proud Indian
killer, Jackson was elected Tennessee’s first representative to
Congress as well as to the State’s Supreme Court. He earned a
living collecting fees on claims “of land taken from Native
drove “slave coffles,” that is, “a procession of
enslaved people, often roped by the neck,” marching them from
“one place to another.” He was the only president to do
so, Grandin discovers.
had yet to arrive as president of the US; he was, however, building
his resume for when he would take that seat in the White House,
seventeen years later. But for now, he’s among a constituency
that finds his voicing of anger regarding the differential treatment
of Indigenous people to be a welcome voice in the wilderness. In
Tennessee, he creates state legislation to exterminate the Creek
Nation. Enough with the “low-intensity war” against these
people. Jackson instructs his people, such as Stump and his sons, “to
‘pant with vengeance.’” Turn yourselves into
“‘engines of destruction.’” Burn houses. Kill
with impunity—not only making the violence committed in Vietnam
an echo of this violence against indigenous population in the US. But
in the local government’s hiring of, in a sense, a free agent
to police by clearing the land of its original inhabitants, the
violence serves as a blueprint on how to go forward with this brand
of violence for future thievery, looting of the land of its greatest
the outcome of just this one campaign against an Indigenous
population, “over twenty million acres” removed from the
Creek and taken over the white settlers is representative of big time
looting. For the Creek Nation, writes Grandin, were “‘reduced
to extreme want’ and denied ‘the means of subsistence.’”
Talk about cruelty!
made a name for himself once the Creek Nation was removed and
marginalized. He would go on to fight in other battles, including the
battle against the British in 1812 and the Seminoles in Florida, the
Chickasaw in Tennessee and Alabama. A regular one man killing
machine, but then this is America’s history, s a history of
killing machines without hearts.
kept the skulls of Indians he killed as trophies, and his soldiers
cut long strips of skin from their victims to use as bridle reins.”
bribe, legalize,” writes Grandin. “We have seen the
ravens and the vultures preying upon the carcasses of unburied slain…
Our vengeance has been gutted.” This after the “gruesome”
massacre of 1814!
sees his path ahead, parading to 16th
Avenue in Washington, D.C. While previous presidents Madison and
Monroe thought Jackson’s brand too intense, these men,
nonetheless, Grandin states, “came to depend upon” him.”
After all, the Native Americans aren’t really human and the
dead are the good dead!
all these men, including Jefferson, the road to a white nation had
only three obstacles now: Native Americans, Africans and African
Americans (both enslaved and free), and “the multihued citizen
Andrew Jackson is a thug. Not the first to operate on American soil
for the benefit of American people—that is, Caucasian
Americans. Mean-spirited and hateful, yet, his narrative isn’t
far off from another American narrative that speaks about a dream to
keep anything and anyone from taking away his freedom.
paints John Quincy Adams in a different light. Adams, opposed to
slavery and the “dispossession” of Native Americans,
nonetheless, favors expansion. And given all that Grandin has told us
about the idea of expansion of land and resources beyond the
Mississippi, the settlers would have to amass tons of wealth and that
wealth is gained on the back-breaking work of enslaved blacks. We
know too that expansion is a word that conceals a multitude of
horrors if seen and understood from the perspective of the Indigenous
aren’t talking about Mexico because another committed group of
American settlers and citizen vigilantes are waging a battle at the
“border” where Mexico and the US divide against the
Indigenous people who live there and who, because of the dream of
expansion, must be exterminated so white settlers can continue
enjoying their freedom.
Adams, the US was “‘destined by God and nature to be
co-expensive with the North America continent.’” But how
to have expansion and avoid war with Mexico, protect Native Americans
too? And slavery can’t be abolished?
ran unsuccessfully against Andrew Jackson’ in 1828.
was thought of as “a proletarian orgy,” arriving in
Washington D.C. among “crude supporters” who together
“‘descended upon the city like a great swarm of locusts,
by stagecoach, and wagon, on horseback and on foot.’”
boomed and plantations grew.
days—for some Americans whom Jackson declared should be free to
grow wealth and free to own property, including “the right to
own human beings as property.”
the 1830s, writes Grandin, the Jacksonian machine hummed like a water
wheel.” It’s not surprising that the Federal government
with Jackson at the helm “mobilized to defend a system of
animosity toward Indigenous populations and African and blacks
“unique to white American supremacy” is an idea that the
“central government” had to maintain. Resentment against
people of color on this soil had to be maintained if white supremacy
were to take hold once and for all.
Indian Removal Act was Jackson’s answer to helping “push
Native Americans beyond the Mississippi” while in the meantime,
the average white citizen was free from restraints when it came to
pushing down blacks. “The first removal resulted in about
twenty-five million acres of formerly Indian land, including large
tracts of Georgia and Alabama, freed up from the market and slave
foreign lands, writes Grandin, countries wage class terror, but in
the US, it was “race terror.”
already weaken people are further terrorized by “unjustifiable
aggressors.” But little did that matter. The policing of Native
American begins with white American itself recognizing itself as
“guardians” of a people made passive. Protecting the
victims of white violence from themselves becomes a cultural
recognition of a people too childlike to be free.
the decades since Jackson’s Removal Act, writes Grandin, the
“frontier” has come to means a way of life—a life
reserved for white Americans. For people of color, life in America
was never meant for them to live—just serve. It’s this
mindset that is hard to overcome—no matter how many times we
sing that famous civil right’s song. “Reforms” and
“policies” and more “recreational” programs
in marginalized communities is never intended to correct a way of
life in which every institution works to provide a life for the
racially privileged population.
spreads west on the backs of blacks and Indigenous people for whom
freedom wasn’t an option—not in the frontier no more than
it was in the south or in the east. In reality, the frontier was, as
Grandin writes, “‘a zigzag, ever-varying line.’”
But for the USA military, the border frontier had to be thought of as
a “fixed” location, which must be protected against
invasions from “savage tribes.”
there is that “great” period in American history that
American Trump wants to see rise again.
the removal of Indigenous people opened the flood gates during the
Jackson era, “‘an irresistible tide of Caucasian
democracy’” washed over the land. So many white men could
consider themselves free. So many Americans define their liberty in
opposition to the people of color they put down.”
so with that, I continued to read The
End of the Myth with
an eye to our pandemic era of greed and racism. And change.
attempt to create a nation for Caucasian democracy failed. Even
writing this sentence is, in itself, evident of how deep and far is
the nation’s collective mindset when it comes to its fear of
racial difference. But, in fact, despite all the violence muscled
against the Indigenous, they live. All the chains and lynched bodies,
Black Americans live. Latinx have survived. Our collective lives
matter. The movement toward achieving freedom for all is with those
who know freedom isn’t a given, it can’t be purchased on
Wall Street or at the White House. Freedom as white America knows it
now is nothing more than a chokehold for them, so it’s no
wonder the chokehold is all America believes it can offer Black
doesn’t come in white only.
with the defunding of the police, we end the spending that creates
the mentality of frontier adventurers, running through the streets of
America killing with impunity. Beginning too with the implementation
of Medicare for All, we end the profit making machine that kills
rather makes well Americans. And an overhaul of the broken
educational system will create an evidence-based culture, a culture
that says compassion matters, a culture that lives by the motto that
the lives of those abused by the maintenance of white supremacy and
capitalism and that survived the worst of America’s brutality
and cruelty, matter.
lives matter. Freedom matters. That’s our mindset.