… To that deluxe apartment in the brain
I learned the truth … and the truth is … deep inside of me …exist a racist. The racist has always been there. The racist will always be there. Everyone I know and love, associate with or admire, has a racist inside them. I was born with this racist inside of me and will die with this racist. And this is OK with me. I can deal with it.
Back in late 1800s, there was this captain in the U.S. Army named Richard Henry Pratt. Now Pratt, by today’s standards would be considered a progressive sort of person, a social justice warrior. Pratt had served during the Civil War, Reconstruction and the cruel and bloody subduing of Native Americans. Pratt, being the progressive he was, believed it a sinful thing to cull out a race of people … to separate out a minority from the majority. In 1902 he said, “Segregating any class or race of people apart from the rest of the people kills the progress of the segregated people or makes their growth very slow. Association of races and classes is necessary to destroy racism and classism.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this was the first time the word ‘racism’ had been used.
This was forward thinking. Pratt lived during a time of post-civil war atrocities, the rise of the KKK and when the First Americans were being driven like animals to concentration camps called ‘reservations’ to be starved out of existence, at a time when another U.S Army officer, one General Philip Henry Sheridan had said, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”
Pratt was right … sort of. It is indeed a wretched and pernicious sort of thing to segregate people according to class or race. But Capt. Pratt’s progressiveness was not completely evolved. While he believed it to be wrong to segregate African Americans or First Americans from the human race as a whole, he defined the human race as white. Pratt believed in assimilation …that other races should be brought into the fold of the human race, the white race, by stripping away their culture and replacing it with the culture of white people. To this end, he instituted the Indian school.
The Indian school was a place where Native American children, taken from their parents on reservations, were forced to cut their hair, learn English, forbade to even speak their native tongue, de-programmed of the religions of their fathers and obligated to accept the religion of others, to eat roast beef and to dress like white people … assimilated … like by the Borg.
So we have this hero of social consciousness, who believes in the innate right of others to exist … as long as they exist as part of the majority … the superior. The concept of the Indian school was a concept of cultural genocide. It wasn’t an effort to accept others but an attempt to change others into something more acceptable. It was Capt. Richard Henry Pratt who also said, “Kill the Indian, save the man.”
So how do we judge Capt. Richard Henry Pratt? Was he a warrior for social justice? Or was he just another soldier of the Imperial Army?
As with Pratt, the racist living inside of me has an address. It is 1400 Amygdala Ave. It’s not a grand, white house. It’s more of an old and dilapidated hovel, a place in need of repair. Its first tenants were my very distant ancestors … my grunting, foraging, knuckle dragging ancestors.
At that time, the amygdala was the state of the art piece of survival equipment. It deserves a great deal of credit for keeping my ancestors alive for generations enough to eventually produce me. Thanks amygdala.
The amygdala’s main function in facilitating my ancestor’s survival was to make my ancestors fear. To fear thunder, to fear sounds in the forest, to fear others, to fear everything not understood … which was at that time … was everything.
But at the same time, there is another address in my brain … #1 Frontal Lobe Tower. The amygdala doesn’t think. It only understands pictures. When it hears the sounds in the night, coming from a bush, it sees a picture of a frightening apparition instead of a whip-poor-will. The frontal lobe wonders, investigates and learns that the whip-poor-will is a funny looking sort of bird and likes to makes strange sounds from dusk till dawn. #1 Frontal Lobe Tower is where Einstein was living when he first envisioned space and time connected, where Faulkner resided as he wrote, the home of Martin Luther King as he led and the birthplace of every thought that brought the moon to humankind’s feet.
I do not advocate for the condemning of the property at 1400 Amygdala Avenue where the racist within me resides, just its gentrification, its transformation.
To turn my head from the fundamental reality that my brain is hardwired to fear is to circumvent the possible solutions my brain has been re-wired to discover. Over time, since the time of my knuckle-dragging ancestors, the amygdala in human beings has shrunk while the frontal lobe has grown. If I fail to acknowledge the racist living within me at 1400 Amygdala Avenue the larger part of me will never become completely at home at #1 Frontal Lobe Tower … a grand place …the place I want to live … where I will find the wisdom to know the only thing standing between me and the racist inside of me …is me. This is all I have learned today.
James Wares lives in Marshalltown and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org