I’ve been reading Reconstructing the Native South by Melanie Benson Taylor, and Separate Country by Elizabeth Cook-Lynn. Melanie Taylor maps the similarities and differences between the history and current experience of the European and Native South, ultimately postulating they are each struggling to find a collective, cohesive sense of Self amidst the wreckage and slavery imposed by the totalizing discourse and practices of capital. She further notes that given the centrality of slavery to the histories of both groups, the contemporary landscape of economic and cultural disenfranchisement may be seen as deeply ironic. Ironic, too, is that although Taylor addresses, to some extent, the plight of persons of African heritage, she seems to ignore southern Hispanics, and their history of displacement.
Cook-Lynn draws from a long and distinguished academic and socially engaged career to critique the academically popular idea of the Postcolonial. Rather than seeing Indian country as in recovery from a colonial past, she argues the forces of colonialism have never been stronger, nor their impacts more total. Rather than being an accurate reading of the current state of Native people, especially those on reserves, Cook-Lynn postulates the Postcolonial as arising from European-American academic desires to erase the historical and contemporary plight of Native peoples. Her response to the continued theft of Native lands and culture is to encourage Native people to insist all governments recognize and respect the sovereignty of tribal nations territories.
While Cook-Lynn is focused on the ongoing effects and practices of capital driven colonialism and cultural genocide as they affect Native people, Taylor generalizes these conditions, exploring their soul-numbing and soul-stealing influence in the lives of all North Americans, especially those in the South. She argues forcefully that the greed, avarice, and cultural hegemony created by the relentless expansion of the marketplace inevitably undermines Self for all people. This is most noticeable in the lives of persons of color and/or low income, who are simultaneously demeaned and erased as social beings. Further, she suggests, these same conditions continually undermine the development of Soul and Self in persons of all classes, threatening our very sense of “human” and connections to others. Under their influence, she suggests, we are left feeling alone and empty.
As I converse with clients I am reminded they are struggling to find Self in a world where personhood seems fragile and threatened. where experiences of vulnerability and loneliness cross ethnic and socioeconomic lines. In some ways, we are all “Indians”. Yet, as Lynn-Cook points out, we must resist the very totalizing influences that would erase Native people by equating Natives with everyone else. To put that another way, the melting pot effectively comodifies and erases everyone.
The problem of identity becomes even more exaggerated and difficult for Natives, and others, of mixed racial heritage. We are, physically and culturally, the melting pot. We are also individuals with unique histories and rich connections to family and culture. This is complex, for as Native people have long known, assimilation is both an avenue to survival and an act of genocide. Thus, Mixed-bloods are, in many ways, the bodies over which culture and power are contested. As North America becomes a land of Mixed-bloods, the racial, ethnic, economic, and cultural landscape will change, as will the conversations that occur in our communities and consulting rooms. I am curious as to how we will explore and sort out issues of personhood and sovereignty, map and establish the permeable yet clear boundaries required for cultural and personal experiences of Self and survivance.