American India

As an American, I was lucky to be raised in one of the most sophisticated propaganda machines yet known to humankind.  The memories of my indoctrination are still vivid and poignant enough to bring a puke-flavored tear to my eye, just like that of the Indian played by Russell Means (who was a real Indian too, unlike so many of the actors who played them in Hollywood western movies before Kevin Costner came along and evened up the score by using genuine Native Americans in Dances With Wolves) in one of the few great TV commercials I’ve ever seen, the one in which he encounters a land embattled by nihilistic litterbugs.

(The exhortation at the end was to “Keep America Beautiful.”  I imagine if you showed it to a Native American trapped in some fetid hellhole of a reservation today, instead of the fertile paradise his ancestors knew and roamed upon–if you’ll forgive the knee-jerk, stereotypical, oversimplified, “noble savage” reference–he’d have some puking of his own to do.)

For instance, I recall as a child how if one kid gave another a small present, such as, for example, a crayon, then asked for it back later, he’d be denounced as an “Indian-giver.”

The flagrant hypocrisy of such a term is so mind-boggling as to be breath-taking; it’s almost enough to earn a standing ovation from the U. S. Congress.  (Funny how Barack Obama didn’t get one when he used the platform of his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech several years ago as an opportunity to rationalize his nation’s incorrigibly bellicose foreign policy; I guess the distinguished members of his European audience were in no mood for irony that day.)

But of course the snub doesn’t end there.  Anglo-America has done a fine job usurping Native American names for its own purposes, be they commercial (for example, Shawmut Bank), geographical, or militaristic.

The invention that competes to be the most destructive of nature extant–namely, the automobile–has been “christened” with Indian names to give it a more palatable patina for those who like their gasoline evergreen-scented:  Jeep Cherokee, Winnebago, Mustang.

Then there are all the states born of the land we white folks stole given Indian names as a consolation prize redolent of the dead chiseled in tombstones:  Alaska, Nebraska, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Utah, Arkansas, North and South Dakota.

And let’s not forget the use by that indispensable and relentlessly sensitive institution, the U. S. military:  Tomahawk missiles, Apache and Blackhawk helicopters, or the insulting name given to the hunt for Osama bin Has-Been, Operation Geronimo. 

At least we can sometimes still be straightforwardly racist.  Why not call an NFL team the Washington Redskins, with a goofy image of an American Indian’s grinning cartoonish face emblazoned on the uniform’s jersey?

It’s the kind of thing that would make me proud to be American if my name were Amerigo Vespucci.

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