For some bizarre reason, I was just musing about the recent phenomenon of resistance to status quo by accusing agents of change of implementing “cancel culture”. This seems to be primarily a tool of dominant culture, utilized when there is some innovation or change to routine introduced by non-dominant culture or those who align with it. This is the school-yard tactic of answering criticism with “I know I am, but what about you?”

The dishonorable Marjorie Taylor-Greene attempted to chase down Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the hallway of the Capitol to make some point or another…something about wanting to debate AOC about the Green New Deal. Last time I checked, a debate was a choice. The former guy made that choice for one of the scheduled debates with Joe Biden prior to the 2020 election. Everyone agreed that was his right to do so, even though many speculated he was simply afraid to get his butt kicked. Regardless, he did that, and nobody chanted anything like “cancel culture” relative to that, even tough presidential debates have been a long-standing tradition in our nation for over a century.

Cancel culture indeed. As I mentioned, those words seem to be tossed about by members of dominant culture whenever they can’t get their way about something, or when they’ve been bested by reasonable arguments that prevent them from getting something they want. This is ludicrous, because the only real cancel culture in this nation was implemented by the forebears of these same people – European-Americans who were rooted in white supremacy and Christian bias.

The cultures that were unapologetically cancelled in America were, of course, those of the indigenous people already settled on our lands. The First Nations people. Native Americans. Their culture was quickly deemed as “savage”, and in need of Christianization as well as population reduction. Colonization attempted to do both, and Native Americans began to die. In large numbers, over a long period of time.

In the very early days of the British colonies, when the population of colonists was still low, there may well have been some neutral of even positive interaction between colonists and the First Nations. When the colonial structure gained a foothold, however, they brought out the European colonial playbook and began claiming land for themselves, in the name of the God and the Crown, not necessarily in that order. Neither the King nor the Christian God had any relevance to indigenous people, but their land was relevant, and that was the root of conflict that persists even to this day.

Over the centuries that Americans have occupied land in what is now the United States of America, they have forged across mountains, hills, dales, plain, swamps, and bodies of water to expand. Or something. Moving out from the original landing in New England, Europeans claimed ground that was already settled for themselves. They even sold land they did not own to each other – the French sold land to the Spanish and the British; the British sold land to the French and the Spanish sold land to the French and the English. Even the Dutch had a finger in the pie, and the Belgians. All of them European nations that believed they were the first relevant settlers on land already occupied.

Ownership is a different concept in the indigenous cultures than in European culture. In European culture, land is owned and has a financial value. The financial value is everything. If the land is fallow, that decreases its value, and without value there is no reward due the owner. In the indigenous cultures, the land was valuable because it was the land, and it was for everyone. If it was fallow, they cared for it, or relocated to more fertile soil. They understood that land could become fallow for several reasons, and so they continued to care for it so that it could be revitalized and produce again in the future. Land ownership was not held by one person, or family, but for the benefit of the tribe. It was common ground, quite literally. The yield was also common, so that all would benefit.

This concept was unheard of in most European cultures, but the colonists believed their way to be far superior to that of the First Nations. Because of their presumed superiority, and their possession of more sophisticated weaponry, European settlers forced their way onto more desirable land, by any means necessary. When the Native Americans began to fight back, more died, either by guns or by infliction of disease or by deprivation of natural resources. This continues even today.

Our national narrative holds our country to be the greatest nation on the face of the Earth, with liberty and justice for all. Most Blacks, People of Color, and Indigenous People (BIPoC) find that to be a nearly comical statement. Liberty and justice for all, in the experience of most BIPoC, translates to liberty and justice for European-descended Americans alone. “Cancel culture” was so rampant in the early days of this country that liberty and justice for none was the experience of all but the Europeans.

When Native Americans asserted their rights to live on their ancestral lands, they were not only murdered, but their way of life was destroyed. Their style of building villages, encampments, and shelters was disparaged as primitive, and during conflict with colonists, those land-friendly structures were routinely burned. Trees were felled in large numbers simply to provide lumber with which to erect the cabins favored by the Europeans, which did not coincide with the First Nations’ spiritual posture of conservation and abundance. That sacred and deeply spiritual part of Native culture was, effectively, canceled.

Aside from differences in their relationship to the land, Europeans’ superiority manifested itself in other parts of Native culture. They found long hair, bare breasts, unfamiliar Native language to be signs of primitivity and ignorance, and so they took steps to change it. They took steps to force assimilation n a culture that did had no choice in the matter. Europeans presumed from the start they had “conquered” the indigenous people, and they did what conquering forces do – they began to “cancel” the culture and the spirit of the vanquished.

Over the time of European occupation, Native cultures have been largely divested of their spirituality, their way of dress, their way of life. Capitalist economy was alien to them, but their ways of ensuring the common good has virtually been eradicated. Christianity was forced upon them, their native lands were suddenly occupied by whites, along with their sacred burial grounds and holy places. When there was resistance the tribalists were killed, in the name of God and country.

Aside from infliction of Christianity, and the accompanying mindset thereof, Native American cultures were decimated in other ways that were designed to force compliance with the conquerors’ vision. This took many generations, but it was a steady drain on the spirit of the indigenous people – forbidding certain cultural expressions, like the Ghost Dance, broke the hearts of the tribes. Other blows to the spirit of the indigenous people included forbidding certain modes of dress, like feathered headbands and face paint was devastating; forcing Native male children into boarding schools, for their own good, of course; forcibly cutting the hair of male children in school was routinely done in the early 20th century. The only rationalization and justification for this was…the sanctity of a Christian God that assured Europeans of their sovereignty and superiority to all others.

So, perhaps in today’s environment, when European-Americans are complaining about “cancel culture”, perhaps I should understand. Their ancestors were the ones who came up with that notion, so it’s literally in their blood. Plus, if you’ve had the privilege of sovereignty all your life, I suppose having to share that with others must feel as though you’re losing something, and that could make a person cranky.

The American colonists canceled not only the culture of indigenous people, they also canceled the culture of the people they brought here from Africa. Those folks not only had no choice about being on this land, they were not seen as having a culture of their own, or agency over their bodies or their lives. They were immediately perceived as not equivalent to the European version of a civilized human, and so they were not civilized humans. They were property, much as cattle and sheep were property.

There was no consideration of the life experience of enslaved people brought to this country from other nations, no thought of a culture or a way of life. Most notably in the case of Africans, but also South Americans who were enslaved, there was indeed a vibrant culture in their native lands. Upon arriving here, however, enslaved people were stripped of their names, their language, their spirituality, and their tribal way of life. Their compliance with European tradition was a matter of life and death, and like other conquered peoples, they assimilated because they had to.

The problem with forced assimilation becomes the lasting resonance of the native culture in the souls and bodies of the vanquished. When the Holy Roman Empire conquered the Gaelics, they remembered their original culture. There was bloody conflict for generations, and to assuage the rebels, some of their traditions were renamed but reflected in Christian traditions, e.g. May Day is the Gaelic tradition of Beltaine, which marked the beginning of summer.

Many indigenous cultures recall their festivals of abundance, and changing of the seasons. Descendants of those people who came to America have those markers in their souls. Africans, and South Americans, in particular remember the bright colors and syncopated rhythms of their native lands, and they were prohibited from expressing those while enslaved. Likewise, Native American cultures were denied the opportunity to express their traditional life rhythms in their attire, their spirituality, their dance and music and celebration. This never goes well, and it certainly has not gone well in America.

In the 21st century, the highest rates of alcoholism and drug addiction can be found in BIPoC communities. This is not an issue of moral deficiency or lack of will power. It’s an issue of being forced to march to the beat of a drummer whose rhythm is not the one you feel. A drummer who is disconnected from your experience, from your soul. A drummer whose song is not yours. Everybody has their own song, and if you’re forced to sing the song of another, you’ll be out of step forever.

This whole notion of superiority on the level of culture is fascinating. I don’t know how or why Europe became the home of that as a cultural base. It seems that warmer and sunnier climates did not adapt that model of community. Now, it seems to be enculturated in European-descended Americans. Many of us are starting to feel this can’t be changed. That drum beat is strong, and we confuse it with the heartbeat of the nation.

Our nation beats the drum for superiority in many ways, and that’s not always a bad thing. We tell the world that we are the greatest nation on the face of the Earth. But if people want to come here to be part of that, we have problems with granting them entry. We tell the world that we’re a democracy, and that’s the greatest form of government, because it grants all citizens life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But many of our citizens feel their democratic voice has been silenced, and there is no liberty, and quite often there is no happiness. I am not of the opinion that happiness is the sole outcome of democracy, or that happiness is purely an individual measure, but whatever it means we are not happy.

What to do about this? I don’t know. I suppose that I can only do what I can do for myself, and maybe that will radiate outward. For myself, I am not happy at the moment. I don’t feel as though I am making any kind of valid contribution to society in general, and that feels as though it’s part of the definition of “common good”. To change that, I have to work on myself. Unfortunately, I have to participate in the systems that our nation has set up to govern our interactions with one another. It would be nice to be able to opt-out of some of that, but it’s really not practical…or legal.

What so many in dominant culture are describing as “cancel culture” is just people disagreeing with them. It’s just people saying they want a change, that dominant culture’s status quo is not working for them. It’s telling them we want a voice in how this culture actually works. It’s not canceling unless there’s a physical death, so for the love of your God and your bank accounts, stop with the “cancel” crap already.

So, my strategy for today is to do no harm. I try not to make things any worse. Right now, I’m having a hard time with this whole health insurance debacle and health issues and finding a job and…stuff. But hopefully, I won’t take out my frustration and downright rage on other people, at least not today. I’ll try very hard to comply with the rules, so that I can eventually pass “GO” and get my $200, and more to the point, so that I don’t wind up in jail. I don’t mind living in the slums of Baltic Avenue, but I have other choices that might put me in a different position.

Being on a journey doesn’t mean you are comfortable with the mode of transportation, that you are comfortable with your travel mates. I was on an airline flight once, and my seat mates loudly negotiated when to breast feed their infant, who was in arms next to me. They agreed that it was time to “give the little one the boob” and the female half of the couple did just that. I was enthralled (NOT). But, I got to my destination safely (a little ruffled) and have never seen those people again. The point was…I paid my ridiculously high fare, and I got to my destination, and then I went on with my life.

Being able to control the nuances of my journey did not detract from my end goal, which was to arrive safely at my intended destination. Sometimes we get distracted by our comfort level. I was plenty uncomfortable with “the boob” popping out right next to my left elbow, but … I survived. They survived. We all got to our destinations, reasonably unscathed. I believe that’s more the point than whether or not I was happy during the flight.

It’s still a journey…

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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