“Whose Story?”

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When I was 11 and in New York visiting our East Coast cousins, my 12 year old cousin asked me about cowboys and Indians. He had the impression that they were a regular part of my life in Oregon. I had to tell him, in no uncertain terms, that he had a very wrong impression of Oregon! We lived normal lives, free of shoot outs on the back 40 acres. We did frequently play at cowboys and Indians, though we were always all cowboys. No one in my circle wanted to be an Indian. We weren’t sure why, but we knew on some level that the Indians lost.

Donald Trump and I were near contemporaries in school. We both were taught American history as a story of constant progress, exceptionalism and power. We were not taught about the “losers” in America, those people displaced, enslaved, deported and exploited. Slavery was an unfortunate blip in an otherwise sterling American story. When he says he wants to “Make America Great Again,” he implies that somehow we need to get back to that sense of the United States our textbooks portrayed.

I reflected on that a lot when visiting Plymouth. I thought about it most deeply when I encountered this plaque:oChYeQhJSpK5iBav05G6UQ.jpg

I began, not for the first time, to wonder whose story I had been taught so many years ago when we dressed up like Pilgrims and Indians to share a Happy Thanksgiving.

22 thoughts on ““Whose Story?”

  1. Some of our founding fathers, including George Washington, had slaves. Washington even pursued those of his who ran away (I’m currently reading a book about one who ran away after he became President, eluded capture, and managed to remain free for the rest of her life). They may have been noble men for the most part, but it’s not an untarnished nobility by any means.

    1. None of us are purely good or bad. I am a little tired of finding a flaw in a hero and thinking that negates all the rest. That is going on in politics right now and in comment sections and is driving me crazy. What is the title of the book? Sounds good.

  2. When I was growing up (not far behind you), we learned that everyone who wasn’t American wished that they were. Then at age 12, I started corresponding with a Canadian pen pal who very gently and nicely pointed out that people in other countries were just as proud of who they were as we were. This shouldn’t have come as such a revelation, but that was the education I’d gotten!

  3. We were all lied to. And I would wager if you check the current history books, nothing much has changed. I watched a documentary on the History channel (cannot remember the name) about the founding of America and it was so sad to watch. Things we were never taught.

  4. The British have a lot to answer for, when it comes to our exploitation of native peoples all around the world, and forcing our strict religions upon them too. But it is too late to go back and change anything now, so we must ensure that such mistakes are never repeated.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. I think all over the globe people have been terrible to other people. The Normans weren’t exactly a piece of cake either! And I imagine we will be looked upon with horror by future generations for our disregard for the earth.

  5. Pete above is right. We stamped across the globe following in many footsteps. And it only now that a more balanced view emerges. British universities are currently undergoing some hand wringing about how they have benefited from their links to slavery and an exploitative past, which I think is right even if the idea of reparations is tricky since it isn’t clear to whom any might go. And I do laugh at the Chinese who are rather holier than though about how they suffered in the opium wars, rather ignoring their past and present exploitations. We’re all a touch hypocritical and sensitive about our role

  6. I was lucky to be taught history where, when, and by whom I was. There was a bit of the American Exceptionalism in there but also a healthy dose of “Hey, we’re not always the good guys.” We did talk about WWII as if we were responding to something that happened in a vacuum, but we also talked about what the US had been up to in Latin America and how perhaps what we’d done in Vietnam not only wasn’t good for Vietnam, it was really terrible for our own people.

    Years later, I would read a couple of good books: “A People’s History of the United States” and “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and got a bit more perspective.

    The tricky part of this all is the “Well, we’re here now.” part. Whether we’re talking about the US, the Balkans, Afghanistan, the middle east, or elsewhere terrible things have been done that still echo today (so pretty much everywhere) there is so much terrible history to overcome to get people to talk, and so much entrenched privilege for the ones who came out on top. It takes a better mind than mine to figure out where to go from here.

    1. I think you benefited from the change in history teaching that came with your generation. My generation was sent to Viet Nam. As for the what do we do now question, I
      think at least a little shared knowledge might go a long way. Trump doesn’t even seem to know, for instance, that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Nor does he seem to realize that Mexico owned much of what is now the US.

  7. I see MAGA differently. I do not look back to a age I did not know. I look back to a time I knew and want to see again.

    The USA after WW2 and before the disappoinment of Vietnam. Americans rebuilt the defeated and ravished Europe and Asia. We had the Marshall Plan not imperial subjegation. We passed laws that ended segregation and guaranteed voter rights. The USA put a man on the moon, developed technology that puts most all knowledge of mankind in the palm of my hand. I can set in a coffee shop and wonder who was the model for the face of Adam in the Cistine Chapel, and have an answer in an instant.

    This is the American greatness I want to see again. I want to see middle class America prospering again. I want to see people of every color, religion, sexual orientation, whatever; all Americans prospering and raising educated families living their own American dream. Pursuing happiness.

    1. I would like to see that American greatness again too. Sadly for some people the idea really is to return to a much whiter America. That is the return I disagree with. Besides it is demographically impossible.

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