The Symbols of Subjugation

Domination (i.e., subjugation) of one group of people by another is not only familiar in the history of the human race but has disturbing relevance in contemporary times: Uighurs in China and Rohingya in Myanmar, to cite a couple. The process of subjugation is generally not celebrated by the dominators with fanfare or monuments; that tends to emerge later, if at all.  

In the good old days, when we were less critical and “woke,” the erection and installation of civic monuments and statuary was little questioned. Society, in general, accepted these as testimony to common values with little thought to their effect upon neighbors and friends. Lately, that outlook has come under serious challenge, especially with respect to symbols of the Confederacy.

The presence of such symbols represents, at some level, the denigration or subjugation of others.

Removal of such symbols, opponents argue, is “erasing history,” or, perhaps in contemporary terms, another assertion of cancel culture. Rarely do advocates for preservation of such symbols praise their esthetic or artistic qualities. However, it is also true that the presence of such symbols represents, at some level, the denigration or subjugation of others however implicit. From their capture and transportation to the American continent, Blacks were treated as and considered less than human, merely bonded savages useful for labor. The United States engaged in a civil war in which hundreds of thousands were killed to sustain an immoral institution called slavery. So strong was the bond to slavery and necessity for domination that Confederate monuments became symbols of a romantic fantasy called the Lost Cause.

Similarly, indigenous Native Americans were characterized as savages, incapable of converting a bountiful continent into a utopia that colonial newcomers with their enlightened vision foresaw. The hordes of immigrants that invaded the continent built fences, corrals, and tilled acreage without regard to the indigenous peoples who had first rights. Native Americans were removed from territories, often forcibly,  they had known for centuries and precluded by a concept of ownership of real estate, a practice alien to the nature of peaceful peoples. To the colonists, such a  laissez faire outlook was inexcusable and only contributed to the view of Native Americans as unworthy.

Efforts to remove Confederate symbols are not mindless or whimsical but seek to diminish that symbolism.  Their elimination is  not intended to erase history but, in fact, to celebrate the actual values of the words of the Declaration of Independence and some in the Constitution. Confederate monuments and statuary do not communicate the true values that are expected or anticipated of the national society.  Nor do they comport with the idealized rhetoric from those who wish to be called patirots.

On December 29, 1890, the US Army killed hundreds of unarmed members of the Lakota Sioux nation at Wounded Knee Creek, part of the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Estimates by historians indicate 250 men, women, and children were killed. The military action was recognized by awarding 20 medals of honor to members of the Seventh US Cavalry.

On December 29, 1890, the US Army killed hundreds of unarmed members of the Lakota Sioux nation at Wounded Knee Creek, part of the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Estimates by historians indicate 250 men, women, and children were killed. The military action was recognized by awarding 20 medals of honor to members of the Seventh US Cavalry.

For decades, the Sioux have advocated for rescission of the awards, recognizing the highest military commendation of the United States. At the urging of a state senator, a member of the Sioux, on February 22, 2021, the South Dakota senate unanimously passed a resolution petitioning the Congress, which has the power to rescind, to investigate the matter. The medal of honor is, in size, a small symbol but one nevertheless of subjugation in context.

In a companion post, the view of a former US senator regarding the culture of Native Americans is parsed. His words are disturbingly revealing as to the robust and disastrous effects of subjugation. If the nation is to validate and honor ideals, then it must face up to its own shortcomings. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness do not thrive in subjugation, physically or symbolically, and are clearly values antithetical to their simplest meaning. Congress should grant the Sioux petition as an act of recognition to the plea of “bury my heart at Wounded Knee.”

The domination of Native Americans and their treatment is no less a lost cause than that of the Confederacy.  It is time we awoke to the symbols we have taken for granted.

 



Categories: CIVIL RIGHTS, Issues, native americans, racial symbols

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