A Column By
Native American Studies
University of California, Davis
The Privateers (pirates) who control our economic and political system today have as a major tool the maintainence of distrust between white workers and people of color, as well as the fostering of antagonisms between the working class and the unemployed, between different ethnic groups, between Spanish-surnamed Americans and African-Americans, and between non-Native Americans and Native tribal citizens.
Many politicians, as well as most of the media, favor the rich and the powerful at the expense of the general citizenry. A key strategy has been the concept of "defunding the public sector," that is, to take away finanical support for any and all government programs which have the general public as their primary beneficiaries, and especially those which tend to assist the poor more than the rich. In other words, the slogans are "privatization" and the virtues of "free markets" (slogans used in slavery days, and when Native lands were being stolen).
"Defunding the public sector" is a very clever concept because it serves to empower private, for-profit groups as well as to provide tremendous tax-breaks and advantages for the already-rich. For example, defunding public television and radio in the U.S. has driven the latter into the arms of private corporations seeking to commercialize the public stations, to place their adverts there, and to influence content in a pro-big business direction. One notices that very few non-whites serve on public television's various panels, and the ones selected are usually safely conservative. (Have you ever seen a Native First Nations intellectual or writer on any such shows?).
Giving huge tax-breaks to the rich (with a few crumbs to the middle-income taxpayers) has also served to create insufficient public funds for public schools, colleges, hospitals, mental health centers, et cetera, thus causing a decline in the quality of the public schools and fostering the growth of private schools, voucher plans, and so on. The tremedous growth in tuition fees (a form of taxation) for college students has been a direct result of the transfer of wealth from the public sector to the private, wealthy classes. The result is, of course, to strengthen the position of private universities and to make it much more difficult for poor and middle-class students to attend.
Of course, our tribal colleges have never been adequately funded and Congress has never appropriated the authorized amounts specified in the Tribally-Controlled College's authorizing legislation which they passed.
Defunding public education has many other effects, including the forcing of many students to work long hours in order to pay for their fees, books, et cetera, thus seriously diminishing any inclination to engage in political activity. Moreover, at the elementary and secondary levels it has the effect of denying poorer families the opportunity for their children to engage in extracurricular activities which require fees or the purchase of special equipment no longer provided by cash-poor schools.
Defunding the public sector is, of course, only one element in the Privateer's strategy of dismantaling the gains which working people made in the 1930s and 1940s. "Downsizing" and dismissing longtime employees has become a characteristic of our times, a totally arbitrary behavior not caused by anything except the politics of favoring the rich. The owners and CEOs of corporations are generally making such huge profits that there clearly is no economic reason for the savaging of employees.
All of this enriching the rich has led to great insecurity on the part of the working people of North America. The steady loss of real income, the decline in living standards, the legitimate fear of becoming unemployed or a part-timer, all of these things could be expected to lead to a new radicalization of the general public and to a new politics which would demand social justice.
And that is precisely where racism and anti-Native People moves come in so handy! Time and time again the powerful have made use of "divide and conquer" strategies in order to retain their power or to obtain more. If whites can be made to fear "affirmative action," if Blacks can be made to fear "immigrants," and if non-Natives can be made to be jealous of Native First Nations' sovereign status, then the rich can play off one group against another.
If we are to achieve a just society, and one which cares for all of its citizens, then we must be very careful not to fall into the hands of rich, elitist script-writers who have written a play which they expect us to blindly act out.
They want us to play out our predetermined roles as fearful and divided victims, each jealous of the "other." When they attack "affirmative action" they expect us to react by defending, if we are "of color," and joining the attack, if we are "white." But how about being a bit more clever and responding by saying that we want all people who are the victims of oppression, be they of whatever color, to be eligible for positive action?
If the right-wingers want to make it all "color-blind" then maybe we should show them what a "color-blind" society should really be like! (And it ain't what Utah Senator Orrin Hatch has in mind!). If they want to use the white working-class against people of color, then let us broaden our target group to include all victims of racism and corporate greed!
Racism is a form of mental illness, but it is also a political weapon used over and over again by evil persons seeking to manipulate us. The "bloody flag" is being waved , but we do not have to become its victims again.
[Professor Jack D. Forbes, Powhatan-Delaware, is the author of COLUMBUS AND OTHER CANNIBALS (Autonomedia), RED BLOOD (Theytus), AFRICANS AND NATIVE AMERICANS (Univ. of Illinois Press) and other books.] ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Phone 530-752-3237.