Celebrating white supremacy, that’s what. Count me out.
Supposedly, slavery and the wars of genocide against Native Americans were over in the nineteenth century. Lincoln declared slavery to be illegal in 1863, even though the slaves in Texas were not told about it until “Juneteenth” in 1865. And, officially, the last massacre of Natives by whites in America was at Wounded Knee in 1890.
But, even with the official ending of slavery and of Native massacres, the slaughter continued in other forms. You could even say that the peak year was 1921, and the best place in the world to be a white supremacist was near Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I live. I am writing to you as an almost-white man in Tulsa in 2020.
The year 1921 was when the Tulsa Race Massacre took place, in which whites killed blacks with a ferocity and determination that they would never have used against slaves. The 1920’s were also the peak of lynching, of which Tulsa was a local capital. I will say nothing more about this.
But 1921 was also the official start of the Osage Murders just west of Tulsa. The Osages were the richest people in the world at that time. The U.S. government had forced them to live in dry, rocky hills that were considered to be of no value. But the Osages managed to keep, in writing, their control over the mineral (including oil) rights to their lands. When it was discovered that the Osage Reservation had the richest oil reserves in America, the Osages became very wealthy. They even had white servants. But then white men began killing Osage Natives, after marrying into their families in order to get control of their mineral rights.
The most famous example was five Osage sisters, who died one by one (by gunshot or poisoning) until only one remained, as explained by David Grann in Killers of the Flower Moon, one of the most gripping books I have ever read. The white murderers killed their own Osage family members. This started in 1921. By 1926, the murderers (led by the richest white man in Osage County, William Hale) had been identified and the case appeared to be closed. This photo is of the surviving Osage sister, Molly Burkhardt.
But Grann’s book also presented evidence that there were a lot of other deaths that were never recognized as murders. The murders orchestrated by William Hale were simply the most spectacular, culminating in blowing up a house with dynamite. But there were many other cases in which white courts appointed white guardians for Osages, who were considered incompetent to handle their own affairs; and in scores of cases, the Osage wards died at a much higher rate than the general population. These were probably poisonings.
These were not just isolated instances of bad white people. They were indicators of a widespread and murderous hostility. The Osage Murders were not simply a few evil white men. The Oklahoma soil is drenched with the blood that whites have shed from black and Native victims.
(In case you have heard of Osage County before, let me tell you where. Tracy Letts’s stage play about the incredibly dysfunctional Okie family was August: Osage County.)
It wasn’t just the Osages. My own tribe, the Cherokees, had our land allotments taken away from us by white judges and swindlers. This included by grandfather’s land. Today, hardly any Cherokees have their original land allotments. I have always borne resentment toward the governments of the United States and of Oklahoma ever since I learned this aspect of my family history.
But, at least, the Cherokee land grab was peaceful. It happened in courtrooms and bank boardrooms, and did not involve murders, as it did with the Osages. Or, at least, that is what I always thought, until I read Grann’s book.
Grann describes, among many other things that whites did to the Osages, cases in which doctors would pretend to treat Osages for ailments by giving them injections they claimed were insulin but turned out to be poison. Murders by poison were undoubtedly much more common than by more violent means. Usually, no inquest was made. In some cases, the victims died of “consumption.”
“Consumption” is tuberculosis, or TB. In the early twentieth century, lots of people had TB. One of them was my grandfather’s brother William. He died at a sanatorium in 1917. My family has always accepted this version of his death. But what if he was actually poisoned? And what if his white overseers got his land as a result of it? The photo is of Great Uncle William Carroll Hicks.
Another aspect to the white oppression of Native Americans is that maybe my grandfather was lucky to be swindled. If he had managed to hold onto his land and whatever oil it might have contained, might he have been murdered? Maybe the swindle that took his land away from him was what allowed his family, and ultimately me, to exist.
Presumably, such murderous oppression is no longer going on today. But maybe it does continue. The American government used Vietnam War military equipment against the Pine Ridge protestors in 1973, and had them ready to use against the Standing Rock protestors in 2016. Native Americans are considered to be enemy combatants by our own government.
This is the background against which white police shootings of black men take place. It is impossible for us humans to be so logical as to see each shooting independently on its own merits. It is inevitable that the world—everyone except white Americans—see this as a potentially murderous oppression of black people. But it isn’t just blacks. The rate at which Native Americans are shot by white police is greater even than the rate at which white police shoot blacks. Each year, white police shoot an average of 2.9 Natives per million population. For blacks, it is 2.6; for Hispanics, 1.7; for whites, 0.9; for Asians, 0.6. See here for more information. Every time a Native or black person is shot, we inevitably see this against a background of slavery and genocide.
You don’t even have to be completely black or Native to suffer oppression. My grandfather was only one-quarter Cherokee, but he had no more rights to his land than did the full-bloods. And don’t forget the famous civil rights case of Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the “black man” Homer Plessy was seven-eighths white.
Go ahead and celebrate freedom, if you are completely white.
This essay has appeared in a blog about evolution primarily because, from an evolutionary viewpoint, human races do not actually exist.