第4集 – 美洲本地人城市居民及其文化
Race is a shapeshifting adversary: what seems self-evident takes
training to see, and twists under political pressure
This article is a respectful review of John G. Neihardt’s book, Black
We think we know what race is. When the United States Census Bureau says
that the country will be majority non-white by 2044, that seems like a
simple enough statement. But race has always been a weaselly thing.
In 1779, George Washington instructed Major General John Sullivan
toattack Iroquois people. Washington stated, “lay waste all the
settlementsaround…that the country may not be merely overrun, but
destroyed”. Inthe course of the carnage and annihilation of Indian
people, Washington alsoinstructed his general not “listen to any
overture of peace before thetotal ruin of their settlements is
effected”. (Stannard, David E. AMERICANHOLOCAUST. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1992. pp. 118-121.)
This is Rich Kleinfeldt.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, there occurred many
conflict between Native Americans and American settlers and a series of
dramatic and influential events happened between the two sides. The book
Black Elk Speaks depicts that period of time and focuses on how a dream
of these people came up, clashed （冲突）with that of American settlers
and how it was broken.
Today my students, including Black and Latino students, regularly ask me
why Asians (supposedly) ‘assimilate’ with whites more quickly than
Blacks and Latinos. Strangely, in the 1920s, the US Supreme Court denied
Asians citizenship on the basis that they could never assimilate;
fast-forward to today, and Asian immigrants are held up as exemplars of
assimilation. The fact that race is unyielding enough to shut out
someone from the national community, yet malleable enough for my
students to believe that it explains a group’s apparent assimilation,
hints at what a shapeshifting adversary race is. Race is incredibly
tenacious and unforgiving, a source of grave inequality and injustice.
Yet over time, racial categories evolve and shift.
In 1783, Washington‘s anti-Indian sentiments were apparent in
hiscomparisons of Indians with wolves: “Both being beast of prey, tho‘
theydiffer in shape”, he said. George Washington‘s policies of
exterminationwere realized in his troops behaviors following a defeat.
Troops would skin thebodies of Iroquois “from the hips downward to make
boot tops orleggings”. Indians who survived the attacks later re-named
the nation‘sfirst president as “Town Destroyer”. Approximately 28 of 30
Senecatowns had been destroyed within a five year period.
The dream of 印度n people was ideal and beautiful. As was revealed
（呈现）in Black Elk’s great vision, there were four ascents
（上坡路）for them to climb. On the first ascent, “all the land was
green”; “old men and women raised their hands”; “and began to croon
（柔情地称扬）a song” (The Great Vision, p30, Neihardt卡塔尔. They then
stopped, camped in the circle（围成圈而露营）, “and in the center stood
the holy （圣洁的）tree”, and still the land was green.
To really grasp race, we must accept a double paradox. The first one is
a truism of antiracist educators: we can see race, but it’s not real.
The second is stranger: race has real consequences, but we can’t see it
with the naked eye. Race is a power relationship; racial categories are
not about interesting cultural or physical differences, but about
putting other people into groups in order to dominate, exploit and
attack them. Fundamentally, race makes power visible by assigning it to
physical bodies. The evidence of race right before our eyes is not a
visual trace of a physical reality, but a by-product of social
perceptions, in which we are trained to see certain features as salient
or significant. Race does not exist as a matter of biological fact, but
only as a consequence of a process of racialisation.
And this is Sarah Long with the MAKING OF A NATION, a VOA Special
English program about the history of the United States. Today, we tell
about early Native Americans.
That’s how their life was. The Oglala Lakota, which Black Elk belonged
to was a nomadic （游牧的）tribe（部落）. They depended on bison
（北美野牛）for meat. They rode on ponies （矮种马）to hunt for bison.
The ponies and bison all need green grass to grow, and green grass only
appears when the weather is good. This was a very natural way of life.
They settled down where the grass was good, and probably with the herds
（畜群）of bison. Those animals they based on, even the herb
（药草）collected by medicine men to cure disease were given magic power
and turned up （现身）in their religion. This can be seen from the many
sacred （圣洁的）visions seen by Black Elk and other people. The
prosperous（繁荣的） natural life was the ideal vision of 印度共和国n people
and it was not always the case.
Occasionally there are historical moments when the creation of race and
its political meaning get spelled out explicitly. The US Constitution
divided people into white, Black or Indian, which were meant to stand in
for power categories: those eligible for citizenship, those subjected to
brutal enslavement, and those targeted for genocide. In the first
census, each resident counted as one person, each slave as three-fifths
a person, and each Indian was not counted at all.
On the second ascent in Black Elk’s vision, the road was getting
steeper（更陡峭的）. At the end of it, people “began sending forth
voices of trouble” and saw black clouds coming yonder（在那）. As they
were climbing the third ascent, all the animals ran here and there, “I
could hear the winds at war like wild beasts （野兽）fighting. (p31,
Neihardt卡塔尔” Black Elk thought that represent the situation of his people
when he was a child. His people were about to be pushed away from their
But racialisation is often more insidious. It means that we see things
that don’t exist, and fail to recognise things that do. The most
powerful racial category is often invisible: whiteness. The benefit of
being in power is that whites can imagine that they are the norm and
that only other people have race. An early US census instructed people
to leave the race section blank if they were white, and indicate only if
someone were something else (‘B’ for Black, ‘M’ for Mulatto). Whiteness
was literally unmarked.
Scientists believe that the native peoples of America came here
thousands of years ago during the last ice age. These people settled the
land from the cold northern areas to the extreme end of South America.
The fourth ascent was terrible. “People were thin, their faces sharp,
for they were starving（挨饿）. Their ponies were only hide（兽皮） and
bones, and the holy tree was gone.” The 印度共和国n people did not want this
and their ideal was somehow presented afterwards. Then, in Black Elk’s
vision appeared a sacred men painted red all over his body (p32,
Neihardt卡塔尔. Also, a black stallion （种马）dashed（猛冲） to the west,
the north, the east and the south, and dust clouds answered (p34,
NeihardtState of Qatar. These are like figures of heroes. After the entire struggle,
“I saw that the whole wide circle of the day was beautiful and green.” A
voice said “it is yours to make. (p35, Neihardt卡塔尔” Later, as he stood on
top of the highest mountain, Black Elk saw “the shape of all shapes as
they must live together like one being”; “the sacred hoop（箍） of my
people was one of many hoops that made one circle”; “and in the center
grew one mighty （蓬勃生长的）flowering tree.”
A brief aside on the politics of typography, in case you’re wondering:
throughout this article I leave ‘white’ as is, but I capitalise ‘Black’,
as well as ‘Indian’ and ‘Irish’. Why? Well, as the writer and activist
W E B DuBois said in the early 20th century, during the decades-long
campaign to capitalise ‘Negro’: ‘I believe that 8 million Americans are
entitled to a capital letter.’ I could argue that I don’t capitalise
white because ‘white’ rarely rises to the level of a cultural
identification – but the real reason I don’t is because race is never
fair, so it’s fitting for inequality be written into the words we use
In 1807, Thomas Jefferson instructed his War Department that, shouldany
Indians resist against America stealing Indian lands, the Indian
resistancemust be met with “the hatchet”. Jefferson continued,
“And…ifever we are constrained to lift the hatchet against any tribe,
” he wrote,”we will never lay it down till that tribe is exterminated,
or is drivenbeyond the Mississippi.” Jefferson, the slave owner,
continued, “inwar, they will kill some of us; we shall destroy all of
Yes, this was their dream. Although this was only a dream which made
Black Elk fainted（昏厥） for a long time when he was a boy, but it
somehow predicted the future. The 印度共和国n people were faced with
warfare（战事） with wasichus（印第安语中所称的黄种人） or American
settlers, they were defeated and with many treaties（合同） signed, they
were forced to abandon（放任） their country and got starved and cold.
After all, they wanted to get back the peaceful and prosperous life back
under the leadership of some chiefs and brave warriors（战士）. Also,
the hoop of Black Elk’s band should join the hoops of other people to be
shaded together under a big tree. This probably revealed an idea of
印度n people living peacefully with European settlers, black Americans
and many other peoples.
Putting whiteness under inspection shows how powerful race is, despite
the instability of racial categories. For decades, ‘whiteness’ was an
explicit standard for citizenship. (Blacks could technically be
citizens, but enjoyed none of the legal benefits. Asians born outside
the US were prohibited from becoming citizens until the mid-20th
century.) Eligibility for citizenship – painted as whiteness – has
remained a category since its inscription in the Constitution, but those
eligible for membership in that group have changed. Groups such as
Germans, Irish, Italians and Jews were popularly defined as non-citizens
and non-white when they first arrived, and then became white. What we
see as white today is not the same as it was 100 years ago.
In 1812, Jefferson said that American was obliged to push thebackward
Indians “with the beasts of the forests into the StonyMountains”. One
year later Jefferson continued anti-Indian statements byadding that
America must “pursue [the Indians] to extermination, or drivethem to
new seats beyond our reach”.
As the groups of people settled different parts of the land, they
developed their own languages, their own cultures and their own
religions. Each group’s story is important in the history of the
Americas. However, it is perhaps the tribes of the central part of the
United States that are most recognized. They will be our story today.
However, the dream of white American clashed strongly with their dream.
In the name of manifest（分明直白的） destiny（时局）, American settlers
believed that the values of white civilization should be expanded from
ocean to ocean and they didn’t want to count the Indian people as a part
of such a civilization (493 Roark, Neihardt卡塔尔. The American settlers
wanted to find gold and build railroads in the 印度n’s land, so they
pushed 印度ns off their home. The Indians were reluctant （不情愿）to
leave, because these are good land for them to live and their
ancestors（祖先） were buried there. But the wasichus had better
weapons. Besides that, 印度n people didn’t develop agriculture to give
them a continuous supply of food and clothes. This was a
trigger（导火索） of the failure of 印度共和国n people, because the wasichus
killed almost all of the bison on the plain in a crazy manner, which cut
the 印度ns’ food and clothes supply completely. After several battles,
without ammunition（弹药）, the warriors fought in cold and hunger (114,
Neihardt卡塔尔. What waited for them was hundreds of miles excursion（远行）
to the west.
Thomas Nast’s cartoons are notorious in this regard. His caricatures of
Irishmen and Blacks are particularly shocking because they are a type we
no longer see today. Working-class Irishmen are represented as
chimpanzees in crumpled top hats and curled-up shoes. Their faces have a
large dome-shaped upper lip surrounded by bushy sideburns:
After the tribe of Black Elk arrived at their
reservation（美利坚联邦合众国政坛为印第安人钦命的保留地）, they began to live in
gray square houses, which was against their dream too. 伊夫rything an
印度n did was in a circle, because “the Power of the World always works
in circles, and everything tries to be round.” “There can be no power in
a square (164, NeihardtState of Qatar.” When the Indians were living in circle, “boys
were men at twelve or thirteen”; “but now it takes them very much longer
to mature（成熟） (166, Neihardt卡塔尔.” The traditional way of 印度n life
were threatened by white civilization. From other sources, we can see
that 印度n children were forced to go to schools held by American
settlers and began to learn English.
At times, Nast partnered the Irishman with an equally offensive image of
a Black American, with big ‘Sambo’-style lips, perhaps a large rump and
clunky bare feet. Today, few Americans have an image in their minds of
what an Irish American should look like. Unless, perhaps, they meet a
man named O’Connor with red hair, Americans today rarely think to
themselves: ‘Of course! He looks Irish.’
In desperation（绝望）, 印度n people created a new religion called the
Ghost Dance, hoping that the men and women being killed or died from
starvation and cold were still alive and they would come back to form a
new world. As 布莱克 Elk recalled, people were dancing everywhere once
upon a time. But it was suppressed（镇压） by the wasichus. Also, some
people still didn’t give in their weapons to American soldiers. Some
conflicts between American settlers and Indians caused some other
tragedies including the massacre（屠杀） of hundreds of 印度ns at
Wounded Knee. As a result, the 印度ns surrendered, as addressed in Red
Cloud’s（印第安人奥格拉拉部落首领，红云） speech, it was a bad winter,
they had to make peace and he would see nobody was hurt by the soldiers.
Americans can’t see German, Irish or French, but they could. Not all
white people look the same
三、亚伯拉罕 Lincoln 亚伯拉罕·林肯：每十秒钟屠杀一名印第安人的美利坚合众国总理
In eighteen-oh-four, Merriwether Lewis and William Clark led a group of
explorers to the Pacific Ocean. They were the first educated Americans
to see some of the native tribes of the Great Plains. And they were the
first white people these Native American people had ever seen.
Thus, as described by Black Elk, a people’s dream died there. They had
no choice, but to accept the process of the history. Now, the United
States has made much progress in protecting the rights of all the people
from different races. Hope the beautiful dreams like those once
bore（bear 的过去式，承载） by 印度共和国n people shall not be broken now and
in the future!
But Nast was not only sketching nasty caricatures of Irishmen; he was
doing so in a way that would appear believable to his audience. In a
similar example of invisible ethnicity, 15 per cent of Americans in
2014 reported German
heritage. This ethnic group is widespread and numerous. So let me pose a
simple question: what do German Americans look like? One in seven
Americans are German American; how many of the German Americans you meet
have you identified that way? Even more so than later immigrant groups
such as Italian, Irish or Jewish, German is invisible.
In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln ordered the ????ution, byhanging, of
38 Dakota Sioux prisoners in Mankato, Minnesota. Most of those????uted
were holy men or political leaders of their camps. None of them
wereresponsible for committing the crimes they were accused of. Coined
as theLargest Mass ????ution in U.S. History. (Brown, Dee. BURY MY HEART
AT WOUNDEDKNEE. New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1970. pp. 59-61)
John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, April 1972
James L. Roark, et al. The American Promise (Vol. 2), 2012
一言九鼎词：美利坚合众国西面 印第安人民代表大会战 种族 十三世纪 大战 历史
Americans can’t see German, Irish or French, but they could. It’s not
the case that all white people look the same. My parents are both of
predominantly Irish heritage. One summer, my family was travelling and
had a layover in Ireland long enough for us to see the city of Dublin
for the first time. We had not left the airport before my seven-year-old
son said what I was already thinking: ‘Everybody here looks like grandma
and grandpa!’ My family, according to my seven-year-old, looked like
people from Ireland.
“It is my purpose to utterly exterminate the Sioux. They are to
When the group of explorers neared the eastern side of the great Rocky
Mountains, they met with a tribe of Indians called the Shoshoni.
Merriwether Lewis was the first to see them.
A few years later, I was to meet a French colleague at a busy Paris
train station at rush hour, but neither of us knew what the other one
looked like, and there were hundreds of people. I tried to guess which
of the women entering, exiting, waiting, smoking, texting and milling
about was the person I was to meet, but to no avail. Then I turned, and
from a block away, through a crowd of hundreds, a woman waved directly
at me. She had picked me【梅高美】招待翻译|The Clash between the Dreams of 印度共和国ns and American Settlers。 out. I had been vaguely aware, before then,
that no matter how familiar I got with Paris, I stood out on the subway:
I might feel perfectly French riding the train, reading the
advertisements in French and understanding the conductor, but when I got
home and looked in the mirror, I knew my face was different from the
diverse visages I saw in public.
be treated as maniacs or wild beasts”
Let us imagine we are with Merriwether Lewis near the Rocky Mountains
almost two hundred years ago. Across a small hill, a group of sixty
Shoshoni men are riding toward us.
【梅高美】招待翻译|The Clash between the Dreams of 印度共和国ns and American Settlers。Later I asked my colleague, and she said she knew I wasn’t French. How
so? I asked. She scrutinised me. ‘La mâchoire.’ It was your jaw, she
said, with a satisfied smile. Until that day, I never knew there was
such a thing as an Irish chin, but I had one. And no doubt, if Nast ever
met my earliest American ancestors on the street, he’d know they looked
Irish too. We don’t see Irish anymore, we don’t recognise it, we no
longer caricature it. But we could.
《into the west》：
The racial category of Asian is just as unstable and entangled with
political power as whiteness is. The US census started counting
‘Chinese’ back in 1870 (with no other category for people from the
continent of Asia). Around the same time, the census started counting a
similarly excluded group, American Indians, which the Constitution had
designated as ripe for expropriation. Tellingly, Indian racial
categories were unstable from the start: after not being counted at all,
Indians were then included but tallied in the ‘white’ column – except in
areas where there were large numbers of Indians, where they became their
None of the Indians tried were given any semblance of adefense.Their
trials lasted approximately 10 minutes each. All adult males were found
guilty of murder andsentenced to death with the only evidence against
them being they had been present during a”war”which they themselves had
declared against the government.
For Asians, as Paul Schor points out in his fascinating
the US government counted Chinese and Japanese but still left the rest
of Asia blank, adding ‘Filipino, Hindu, and Korean’ in the 20th century.
For something so clearly created by people, lists of racial groups are
never comprehensive and typically ill-defined. Looking across the
Eurasian continent, the US government today is still vague about where
white ends and Asian begins. People in the US who were born east of
Greece and west of Thailand are often unsure which boxes to check in the
US census every 10 years. Like storm-borne waves or wind-blown sand
dunes, race is a daunting obstacle that shifts and changes.
The first thing we see is that these men are ready for war. Each is
armed with a bow and arrows. Some carry long poles with a sharp knife on
During the Second World War, China was a US ally, while Japan was an
enemy. The US military decided it necessary to identify racial
differences between the Chinese and the Japanese. In a series of cartoon
illustrations, they tried to educate American soldiers about what to
look for – what to see – in order to distinguish a Japanese solider
who might be trying to blend in among a Chinese population.
Today, the ‘How to Spot a Jap’ leaflets are an offensive novelty – used
either to illustrate the history of racist stereotyping or sold on
postcards as ironic curiosities. But they can also be examined in
another way. In The Civilizing Process (1978), the sociological
theorist Norbert Elias studied books on manners from the European
Renaissance to understand the process of the creation of what he
called habitus. Manners that we see as utterly natural and inevitable
today, like not blowing one’s nose at the table, or eating off the
serving spoon, or belching or farting in public, are, in fact, socially
constructed and learned behaviours.
They are riding very fast. Some horses seem to be without riders. But a
closer look shows that the men are hanging off the sides, or under the
horse’s neck. They are using the horses’ bodies as protection.
At the historical moment at which they were introduced, books of manners
were required to teach what is today utterly obvious to adults. They
make for incredible reading. In his chapter ‘On Blowing One’s Nose’, for
instance, Elias quotes a ‘precept for gentlemen’ that matter-of-factly
explains: ‘When you blow your nose or cough, turn round so that nothing
falls on the table.’ ‘Do not blow your nose with the same hand that you
use to hold the meat.’ ‘It is unseemly to blow your nose into the
tablecloth.’ Some of the recommendations are as poetic as they are
graphic: ‘Nor is it seemly, after wiping your nose, to spread out your
handkerchief and peer into it as if pearls and rubies might have fallen
out of your head.’ It appears that actions that seem completely natural
had to be taught explicitly.
四、西奥dore 罗斯福 西奥多·罗斯福：独有死掉的印第安人才是好的
【梅高美】招待翻译|The Clash between the Dreams of 印度共和国ns and American Settlers。她们骑得飞速，某些马背上好像并未人，留神看才会开采，骑手都贴在马肚子上，或是挂在马脖子下边，用马的躯干做尊崇。
Genetic inheritance isn’t what matters. What we literally see is
shaped by politics
The fourth face you see on that “Stony Mountain” isAmerica‘s first
twentieth century president, alleged American hero, and Nobelpeace prize
recipient, Theodore Roosevelt. This Indian fighter firmly graspedthe
notion of Manifest Destiny saying that America‘s extermination of
theIndians and thefts our their lands “was ultimately beneficial as it
wasinevitable”. Roosevelt once said, “I don‘t go so far as to think
thatthe only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of
ten are, andI shouldn‘t like to inquire too closely into the case of the
The horses are painted with many different designs that use blue, black,
red or other colors. Later we learn that each design has a special
meaning for the man who owns the horse. Each one tells a story.
【梅高美】招待翻译|The Clash between the Dreams of 印度共和国ns and American Settlers。The ‘How to Spot a Jap’ flyers were printed to serve much the same
function as the manners books that Elias studied. They tried to create
and implant a racial habitus that distinguished the Japanese from the
Chinese. That Second World War poster looks offensive today – crude,
reductionist, insulting – and it is. We think that recognising such
ridiculousness makes us less racist than the people who made it. It
doesn’t. It merely means that we have different racial categories than
Chinese and Japanese people look no more ‘similar’ or ‘different’ from
one another than Irish Americans do from French Americans. That doesn’t
mean that there aren’t differences as a matter of statistical
distribution, but only that what we think we know about race has to be
learned, and that what people ‘know’ and ‘see’ as salient and obvious
changes over time. Most Americans cannot distinguish a white American of
Irish origin versus one of French origin walking down the street, yet
they hardly need pamphlets explaining what to look for to tell if
someone is white or Black. If the distinction between Japanese and
Chinese had remained as significant in the US today as it was to US
soldiers during the Second World War, many people would see it as
The apathy displayed by these founding fathers symbolize
thedemoralization related to racial superiority. Scholars point toward
this racialpolarization as evidence of the existence of Eugenics.
For example, the man riding one horse is a leader during battle. Another
has killed an enemy in battle. One of the designs protects the horse and
【梅高美】招待翻译|The Clash between the Dreams of 印度共和国ns and American Settlers。On-the-street racial distinctions don’t have to be ‘perfect’. People
often don’t recognise the author Malcolm Gladwell as Black, although he
is; other times whites are mistaken for Blacks. For the purposes of
making or unmaking a racial difference, genetic inheritance isn’t what
matters. What we literally see is shaped by politics. The same two
groups can be visibly different racially or indistinguishable
racially, depending on the political context and power relations by
which they’re categorised.
Eugenics is a new term for an old phenomena which asserts thatIndian
people should be exterminated because they are an inferior race
ofpeople. Jefferson‘s suggestion to pursue the Indians to extermination
fits wellinto the eugenistic vision. In David Stannard‘s study American
Holocaust, hewrites: “had these same words been enunciated by a German
leader in 1939,and directed at European Jews, they would be engraved in
modern memory. Sincethey were uttered by one of America‘s founding
fathers, however…theyconveniently have become lost to most historians
in their insistent celebrationof Jefferson‘s wisdom and humanity.”
Roosevelt feared that American upperclasses were being replaced by the
“unrestricted breeding” ofinferior racial stocks, the “utterly
shiftless”, and the”worthless”
Francis Galton was a pioneer in modern statistics. But he was also a
eugenicist. Among other things, Galton became notorious for photos in
the late 19th century that purported to reveal the ‘Jewish type’. At the
time, people believed that Irish, Jewish, Japanese, Chinese or German
denoted races. When Jews were a race, people thought that they could
tell who was Jewish by looking at them. Today, many Jewish people recoil
at the idea that there is a Jewish ‘race’, and find the suggestion that
there is a Jewish ‘look’ inherently racist. At various times, then, the
US Army, Thomas Nast and the father of the statistical method of
regression analysis all believed that there were visually distinct and
observable races that many Americans today would be generally unable to
identify – certainly not with the level of certainty they’d feel with
respect to racial categories such as Caucasian, African American, Latino
I suspect that a visitor from a planet without race would have a very
difficult time slotting anyone on Earth into the racial categories we
use today. If they were asked to group people visually, there is no
statistical possibility that they’d use the same set of arbitrary boxes,
and even if these categories were described for them in detail, they
would probably not sort actual people in the same way as the modern US
As they come nearer, the Shoshoni group sees that we are not ready for
war. They slow their horses but are still very careful. Merriwether
Lewis holds up a open hand as a sign of peace. The leader of the
Shoshoni does the same. They come closer.
That we think we see race naturally, when in fact it’s socially
constructed, is the third eye through which we see the world. The census
prediction that the US will be majority minority is less a conclusion
than a question: ‘What future will immigrants of colour build in the
US?’ The answer involves not just changes that transpire between one
group and another, but changes to the membership of those groups and
their symbolic meaning. In response to demographic shifts, the very
boundaries of whiteness are likely to shift, as indeed they’ve done
In the worst case, a majority non-white US could take its cue from
apartheid-era South Africa
The Shoshoni are dressed in clothes made from animal skin. Most of these
skins are from deer or the American buffalo. The shirts they wear have
many designs, and tell stories like the designs on the horses. One shows
a man has fought in a battle. Another shows a man has been in many raids
to capture horses. Still another shows the man saved the life of a
【梅高美】招待翻译|The Clash between the Dreams of 印度共和国ns and American Settlers。In 【梅高美】招待翻译|The Clash between the Dreams of 印度共和国ns and American Settlers。The History of White People (2011), Nell Irvin Painter argues
that the idea of ‘whiteness’ has expanded several times to include more
and more people. First came the Irish and previously ‘suspect’
non-Protestants, who ‘gained’ whiteness in the late 1800s. The next
great expansion of whiteness came with the social upheaval and physical
relocation of both servicemen and migrating industrial workers during
the Second World War. In the war economy, groups including Italians,
Jews and Mexicans became upwardly mobile, and sought to present
themselves in allegiance with Anglo-Saxon beauty ideals (the only Jewish
Miss America was crowned in 1945) – all of which helped to recast them
as ‘white’. The narrative of white inclusivity continued from the
Roosevelt era into the postwar period. Finally, intermarriage eventually
dissolved previous notions of racial boundaries. Few white Americans
could claim a single national race (Swedish, German, French) with any
confidence, and whiteness could no longer sustain the idea of
nation-based races. For Painter, this most recent change closed the book
on any scientific basis for race, and helped to make the US a country
where people are much more mixed, across old racial boundaries, than
Perhaps this mixing means that the US is finally warming to multiracial
identity. But if that is indeed happening, it’s not because of
demographics, but because of the tireless efforts of activists who
continue to fight racism and racial segregation. Movements for racial
justice succeed not simply because of demographic shifts but because
racial privileges cannot justify themselves in the face of an organised
alternative. Many countries have been minority white yet held on to
whiteness; to the extent that whiteness meant citizenship, these were
states that were ruled by a minority and oversaw the hyper-exploitation
of a much larger part of the country. In the worst case, a majority
non-white US could take its cue from apartheid-era South Africa, or
Brazil, or Guatemala, where a small light-skinned group has enjoyed
privileges at the expense of many more who are excluded.
The path to justice therefore involves attacking the prerogative to
categorise people in order to justify their exploitation or
colonisation. That means acknowledging and challenging the basis of
racial categories. It’s not about a token embrace of multicultural
colour: it’s about power, and power is far too wily for us to expect it
to stand still and be overtaken by demographic change. We need to
confront the force of racial privilege no matter who inhabits the
privileged caste at any given moment. It’s no good imagining that innate
human diversity will render the system powerless.
Captain Lewis smiles at these men. He again makes a hand sign that means
peace. The signs are now returned. Lewis and the Shoshoni chief cannot
speak each other’s language. They can communicate using hand signs.
The US shift towards majority non-whiteness is not destiny, but it is an
opportunity. Painter notes that when external conditions change, it
becomes possible to imagine different racial hierarchies. The
geographical and social remixing of the Second World War cooked down the
diverse European identities in the US into a single racial category of
‘white’. Likewise, Asian immigrants occupied one role when Asian
immigration was largely working class, West Coast, limited in numbers,
and male, as it was at the end of the 19th century. But the racial
constraints on Asian Americans shifted when immigration law came to
favour professionals, and brought middle- and working-class people,
women and men, in larger numbers than before to more US cities.
Using shifting social situations to upend racial hierarchies is not just
about challenging racism, but race itself. This doesn’t mean the
disingenuous denial of race when racism still very much exists, but a
collective challenge to its right to determine our lives. The Black
Lives Matter movement seeks to take away the police’s prerogative to use
violence against African Americans with no legal sanctions; success
would undermine an important means of maintaining racial segregation and
inequality. What would it mean, once and for all, to bury the shameful,
misplaced pride some white people have for the South’s role in the Civil
War, and acknowledge instead the irredeemable mistakes of their
forefathers? What would it mean to frankly acknowledge each nation’s
racial past, and think about what reparations would set us on a path to
greater prosperity? Race is neither inevitable nor something we can wish
away. Instead, we must take advantage of the instability in what we
perceive, and redistribute the power that perpetuates race.
Race never stays still. As the sociologist Richard Alba pointed out
in The Washington Post last month, the prediction that the US will be
majority non-white by 2044 relies on a definition of race that is
static, and doesn’t acknowledge the surprising reality that people’s
races change. Nearly 10
listed their racial identification differently on the 2010 census than
they had in 2000. Alba criticises the census for ‘binary thinking’ which
counts anyone with Hispanic heritage as Hispanic, and through a quirk in
the census questions, effectively ignores any other racial identity that
they could claim. ‘[A] majority-minority society should be seen as a
hypothesis, not a foreordained result,’ Alba wrote, of the 2044 claim.
This is important, because when it comes to fighting racism, we can’t
rely on demographic shifts to do the work for us. Instead, if we
recognise that race looks solid but is shifting, we can find additional
ways to destabilise the structures of racial inequality.
One young Shoshoni man comes near. He drops to the ground from his
horse. He is tall and looks strong. His hair is black in color and long.
He wears one long bird feather in the back of his hair. Some of his hair
is held in place by animal fur.
Getting rid of racism requires clarity about the nature of the enemy.
The way to defeat white supremacy is to destroy it. The US will truly be
‘majority non-white’ only when white is no longer the privileged
citizenship category, when white is no more meaningful than the archaic
Octoroon or Irish. This is not to discount the anxiety about cultural
loss conjured by talk of an imagined colourblind future, but to
recognise the inextricability of racial identities and power inequality.
With work, perhaps the next expansion of whiteness will be into
Gregory Smithsimon is associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn
College at the City University of New York, and the CUNY Graduate
His arms have been painted with long lines. We learn that each line
represents a battle. There are many lines. But we leave the Shoshoni
without him adding another one.
The Shoshoni were only one of many tribes of native people who lived in
the Great Plains area. The life, culture and society of these tribes
developed because of the land that was their home.
The Great Plains today is still huge. Even in a car, traveling at one
hundred kilometers an hour, it can take two long days of driving to
cross the Great Plains. The plains reach from several hundred kilometers
north in Canada across the middle of the continent to Mexico in the
south. In the East, the Great Plains begin near the Mississippi River
and go west to the huge Rocky Mountains. It is the center of the United
There are big rivers here, deserts and mountains. Other areas are so
flat that a person can see for hundreds of kilometers. Millions of
kilometers of this land were once covered by a thick ocean of grass.
The grass provided food for an animal that made possible the culture of
the Indians of the Great Plains. The grass fed the bison, the American
buffalo. The buffalo was the center of native Indian culture in the
The huge animal provided meat for the Indians. But it was much more than
just food. It was an important part of the religion of most of the
native people in the Great Plains.
The Lakota tribe is one of the people of the Great Plains. The Lakota
are sometimes called the Sioux. They believed that everything necessary
to life was within the buffalo. Another Plains tribe, the Blackfeet,
called the animal “My home and my protection.”
The back of the huge buffalo provided thick skin that was used to make
homes for the Plains Indians. Other parts were made into clothing. Still
other parts became warm blankets. Buffalo bones were made into tools.
Nothing of the animal was wasted.
No one knows how many buffalo were in North America when Merriwether
Lewis first met the Shoshoni. But experts say it was probably between
sixty million to seventy-five million.
Another animal also helped make possible the Indian cultures of the
Great Plains. Native Americans first called these animals mystery dogs,
or big dogs. They had no word for this animal in their language. We know
it as the horse.
No horses existed in North America before the Spanish arrived in the
fifteen hundreds in what is now the southern part of the United States.
Native peoples hunted, moved and traveled by foot. Traveling long
distances was difficult, so was hunting buffalo.
The horse greatly changed the life of all the people of the Great
Plains. It gave them a method of travel. It provided a way to carry food
and equipment. It made it easier and safer to follow and hunt the
buffalo. The horse made it possible to attack an enemy far away and
return safely. The number of horses owned became the measure of a
Spanish settlers rode horses to the small town of Santa Fe in what is
now the southwestern state of New Mexico. They arrived there in about
the year sixteen-oh-nine.
It is not known how native peoples in Santa Fe got the first horses in
the country. Perhaps they traded for them. Perhaps they captured them in
an attack. Many tribes soon were trading and capturing horses.
By the seventeen fifties, all the tribes of the Great Plains had horses.
They had become experts at raising, training and riding horses. They
became experts at horse medicine.
Each Indian of the Great Plains could ride a horse by the age of five.
As an adult, a young man would have a special horse for work. Another
horse would be trained for hunting. And another would be trained for
war. An Indian warrior’s success depended upon how closely he and his
horses worked together.
George Catlin was an artist who traveled a great deal in the early
American west. He painted many beautiful pictures of American Indians.
Mister Catlin said the Plains Indian was the greatest horse rider the
world has ever known. He said the moment an Indian rider laid a hand on
his horse he became part of the animal.
The buffalo and horse were extremely important to the Plains Indian.
Because the horse made hunting easier, more time could be spent on
things like art. The Plains Indians began to make designs on their
clothing, and on special blankets their horses wore. Even common objects
were painted with designs.
The coming of white settlers to the Great Plains was the beginning of
the end of the buffalo and horse culture of the American Indians.
Settlers did not want buffalo destroying their crops. The buffalo were
killed. By the year eighteen eighty-five, the Indians of the Great
Plains were mostly restricted to area of land called reservations.
Many of the Great Plains tribes that survive today work hard to keep
their traditional cultures. They produce art, music, and clothing. They
keep alive the memory of these people who added greatly to the history
This MAKING OF A NATION program was written by Paul Thompson. This is
And this is Rich Kleinfeldt. Join us again next week for another VOA
Special English program about the history of the United States.