Begging for Scraps at the Table of Justice
Native people have the greatest interest of anybody in making sure that all poor people and all people of color receive justice when they are wronged. Many times in history American justice has given Native people the shaft, and so that might make a few of us impatient, angry and not wanting to share the spotlight when an “injustice” discussion comes up.
There are a couple of Native people who don’t want to share that spotlight.
Those Natives feel that they should have a monopoly on that injustice discussion; nobody knows American injustice like Native people. How dare the media talk about injustice toward other people until they address the injustice toward us?
To wit, when I first posted about the Trayvon Martin tragedy here, it received a huge response, both agreeing and disagreeing. Thank you. Although some perspectives are better thought out than others, I appreciate you all reading my words and giving thought to my thoughts. And even though I definitely love it when someone agrees with my perspectives, I’m Blackfeet—I also love confrontation and opposition. Fighting is fun, and The Thing About Skins is specifically intended to be a forum for fearless Indigenous writers (Cetan Wanbli, Rob Chanate, Ray, me) to push ideas, think outside of the box and to say the unpopular thing that a WHOLE bunch of Native people are thinking. The Thing About Skins was designed for precisely that. Therefore I was thankful that some people disagreed with my perspective so we could fight a little bit.
Most of the Native people that responded to the piece agreed that we need to push for justice of all people in this country. Most Native people “get” justice—we know that it sucks to be on the outside looking in and we don’t want others to feel that pain.
Still, there was one small group of dissenters about the Trayvon Martin piece that troubled me, and it wasn’t because they disagreed with me. People disagree with me all the time—I cannot tell my son to go brush his teeth without him giving me 30 reasons why he shouldn’t brush his teeth at that moment. And sometimes, as a result of his reasoning skills, he gets out of brushing his teeth. So I don’t mind disagreement—I actually encourage it.
That small but very vocal group of dissenters only wanted to contextualize the tragedy around Native injustice and therefore pushed the position toward Native issues. Those readers pushed forward a laundry list of Native injustice topics that Indian Country Today Media Network should be talking about instead of this dead child who was racially profiled and then killed by a person that shot first and asked questions later. One dolt actually hinted that we should be talking about, instead of the death of this child, Native mascots, as if the undeniable disrespect of Native mascots is more horrible than (alleged) second-degree murder. Another group offered the position that “There have been Native American children killed and there was never any prosecution. Why are we talking about this NON-NATIVE child, when it happens to our children all the time?”
That’s a fair point. We certainly should be talking about any Native children that had their lives taken early. We should be screaming from the rooftops for justice for those beautiful Native children, men and women that have been waylaid by the justice system; we need to be more proactive about protecting our own. No question.
Still, that love and demand for justice that we show to our own people doesn’t need to come at the expense of other people. In fact, it shows a profound spiritual poverty if Native people believe that the only way that we will get justice is by trying to compete with other ethnicities for justice, as if justice was a plate of our favorite food that everybody else will eat if we don’t eat all that we can right now. That is a lie that we’ve been sold, and we bought it hook, line and sinker—“there is only a little bit of justice, and so you better make sure that you cut everybody else’s throat to make sure that you get it.”
Ugly. Desperate. Spiritually impoverished.
We need to be more than a bunch of people begging for the tiniest scraps of justice at the great white father’s table, competing for those scraps.
Instead, we must realize that Native people have a vested interest in making sure that everybody in this country’s rights are respected. The more that all people of color are able to enforce their rights in this country, the more likely that justice will eventually make its way to Native people. We are all inextricably linked and need each other—therefore, Indian people should be screaming for justice for Trayvon Martin specifically because we’ve seen many instances of Native people being killed by rednecks under the theory that the Native people were “threatening” before. We should be screaming for the racial profiling of Mexicans in Arizona to stop specifically because we know what it feels like to be racially profiled and to thus be robbed of our rights. When redneck legislators attempt to limit the ability of homosexuals to decide whether they want to marry or not, we should stand beside them understanding how demeaning it is to have outsiders dictate what you can and cannot do as a group. We should stand with poor and voiceless people of all colors, including poor white people. We should stand up for them, because we would want them to stand up for us when our human and civil rights are threatened. No more begging for scraps—let’s demand full justice for all of our people.
Gyasi Ross is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and his family also belongs to the Suquamish Nation. He wrote a book called “Don’t Know Much About Indians (but i wrote a book about us anyways)” which you can get at www.dkmai.com. He is also co-authoring a new book with Robert Chanate coming out in the Summer of 2012 appropriately called “The Thing About Skins,” and the website and publishing company for that handy, dandy book is www.cutbankcreekpress.com (coming soon). He also semi-does the twitter thing at twitter.com/BigIndianGyasi