In the mid-1950s I visited several tribal areas in the west, including the Blackfeet and Crow Reservations. The poverty, despair and cultural devastation were everywhere. In 1956, as a Harvard Law Student, I researched and wrote a long article titled “American Indians: People Without a Future” in the Harvard Law Record. So infrequent were such reports that the Indian Health Service ordered 10,000 reprints.
The Harvard Law School Community ignored this plea for justice for the first Natives who have suffered for generations and seen the genocide of their tribal societies. Both the students and the faculty had other ambitions on their minds.
I am reminded of this sad episode in my legal education as the controversy over the use of the mascot word “Redskins” by the NFL’s Washington football team becomes hotter and hotter. Our culture today pays far more attention to ethnic, racial and gender slurs (many of them fortunately phased out of most public conversations) than to the brutal conditions of penury, discriminating violence, addiction and repression that represent contemporary reality.
Should any of these baleful epithets emerge on campuses the students become enraged, show up at gatherings and denounce the authors or the anonymous bigots. Would that they extend that moral indignation by showing up at visiting lectures or symposia regarding the actual conditions underlying these obnoxious labels and engage these injustices.
Care should be taken that word denunciations or word victories do not distract from their underlying realities. Or even worse, become substitutes for addressing the situations on the ground.
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Posted by The NON-Conformist