The latest fiasco I’ve read about is the renaming of the “Laura Ingalls Wilder Award” to the “Children’s Literature Legacy Award.” Why? Because the renowned author of Little House On The Prairie portrayed Native Americans (American Indians) in stereotypical language.
I must inject a personal experience here. A great friend of mine many years ago was Red Thundercloud, the last of the Catawba speaking people and a respected elder and healer. When we first met I inquired if he preferred ‘Native American’ as a description of his birthright. “Where were you born?” he asked me. “In the United States,” I replied. He smiled and said, “Aren’t you, then, a native American? I am an American Indian and proud of my heritage.” Of course he wasn’t speaking for all people of his background, but I thought it a good example of our desire to be politically correct.
We have a tendency today to semantically revise history and make it more palatable for this generation. We question the fact that Thomas Jefferson kept slaves, even though he wrote the Declaration of Independence and freed his slaves thereafter. By the way, George Washington also kept slaves. Somehow he hasn’t been tainted yet.
Slavery was and is deplorable and as we evolve we learn from our past mistakes, but we cannot change history by forgetting the good in people and remembering only what we now know as the wrongs committed when the times allowed it. We also pick and choose who to vilify. President Franklin Roosevelt relocated American citizens of Japanese descent into holding camps and interrupted the lives of innocent people. Why haven’t we maligned him? He also turned away a ship full of European Jews seeking asylum sending them back to Nazi Germany and, in essence, signing their death warrants. Will it change history if we posthumously impeach him?
We cannot change history: The Spanish Inquisition, the burning of witches in Salem, Senator McCarthy’s plunder of innocent people, with, usually forgotten, Robert Kennedy sitting on his right. We have never by the way, accused Senator Kennedy in any part of that debacle. Why are some historical figures singled out and not others? We all have feet of clay and I doubt if any one of us is entitled to sainthood.
Shall we burn some of Shakespeare’s writings because they describe the bias of his time? How about the Bible, old and new testaments, and other religious writings, that extol war and slavery and stoning and question the validity of religions that differ from theirs?
We must learn from our ancestor’s mistakes, but changing the names of awards, actions or people will teach us nothing. Changing a name will not change the world but changing an attitude will. We cannot revise what has happened in the past, that’s called history. But we can change the future by paying attention to the mistakes we’ve made in the past, that’s called learning.
Changing a name will not change the deed, only understanding and acceptance can do that. No matter what words you use, we’re all part of the human race. Let’s start from there.
Contact Adrienne at firstname.lastname@example.org