No political pep rally
Last updated 8/28/2018 at Noon
Jim Cornelius wrote about "political correctness" in an opinion piece last week. And within that, he discussed taking a course in college regarding Native American History while at UC-Santa Cruz. Given that my wife and I own the only brick-and-mortar Native American Art Gallery in Oregon, I feel compelled to offer a follow-up letter to Jim's piece.
Jim stated that he did not agree with the ideological thrust, presented within this particular history class, that Native Americans were "victims," and white settlers were "oppressors." Back then, he vocalized his disagreement and was strongly scorned by members of the student body for disagreeing as he did. Jim used this as an example when "political correctness" was applied against him.
I agree with him on one matter, the larger issue he raises, while disagreeing with his position on the matter he used as an example.
The matter of the conquest of the Western Hemisphere, over a period of 400 years beginning in 1492, and the interactions with and the treatment of the Indigenous Peoples is poorly stated if referred to as oppressors and victims. Having lived beside and worked among various Native American peoples for 30 years, my wife 50 years, and being two courses short of an undergraduate major in Native American Studies from the University of Alaska, I feel fairly qualified to say that these two terms grossly understate what occurred to Native Americans during this period of time and contact with Western World peoples.
That debate, however, if it even needs to occur, can be done in private. To me, it is two individuals seeing things differently, no more. Neither Jim's view nor my view is going to alter what occurred nor will our views affect what is today.
Jim's discussion about the term "political correctness," however, is something I do fully embrace and agree with. This term, as others - FAKE NEWS, Elitist, Redneck - offers a shallow and lazy approach to discourse. That discourse has at its foundation the high school pep rally mentality: My team (or position) is great, your team (or position) sucks.
This immature approach to rhetoric readily succeeds with the use of labels. Positions and "reasoning" becomes concerned not with truly developing and considering other perspectives but with justifying the application of a label(s). Strangely, each side can then take the same label, i.e. political correctness, and hurl it at the "other side," in an attempt to justify a position. The actual, intended issue in a discourse can be subsumed as the debate becomes concerned with defending labels or attacking them.
Although a lifelong Democrat, rather than defend "our guy," Bill Clinton, during the 1998-99 impeachment proceedings, I quite vocally advocated for him to be found guilty by the Senate and removed from office. I found Obama so overwhelmingly dissatisfying that I have not voted since '08. My dear older brother John, a conservative of equal conviction, found George W. Bush to be a huge disappointment and Trump to be absolutely "wretched." We're not pep-rally guys, probably an important reason why our relationship has remained so strong through the years, despite taking different paths in life.
Self-examination and self-criticism, along with discourse that involves full consideration of others' ideas and how opposing perspectives and beliefs to our own came to be, are things that the Founding Fathers also hoped our society would embrace. The First Amendment stands as the shining example of that intent.
Jim played guitar and sang at our gallery during the July 4th Friday Art Stroll. Near the end of his performance, I asked and he promised, that the next time he plays he'll include "I Shall Be Released." Some things just aren't coincidences.
Chris Morin is co-owner of Raven Makes Gallery in Sisters.