Parallels with Reality, or How the U.S. Has Changed

“The cultural values exposed here are racism, nationalism, and nostalgia, which threaten the conventional historical notions of pioneers establishing a righteous American Empire in the West. It is an art form implicitly endorsing the suppression of Native Americans who are condemned as ‘savages’ for resisting white expansion into the West, or patronized for their lack of ‘culture.'”

This passage taken from J. Gray Sweeney’s expanded, originally censored essay “Racism, Nationalism, and Nostalgia” was written in the early 1990’s but, I think, still holds a lot of truth for the way America interprets itself today. His essay summarizes the fascination with the cowboy in western American art as a symbol for hard work and personal gain from the mid 1800’s through contemporary times. The author does a good job in addressing the implicit and explicit racism seen in these types of paintings (cowboy art) and also takes the time to give context to these images – considering what the attitudes of the general public were when they were painted, why a certain technique may be used, or what sources of information an artist had available to him.

I enjoy looking beyond that, in reflecting how the passage above, written some 20 odd years ago, still applies to U.S. and Native American relations today. Does the dominant white culture that still prevails “nostalgically lament” over our ancestors treatment of the Native Americans? Or do our actions suggest that we patronize these people as “other”, sequestering them to specific plots of land and claiming they lack culture while appropriating it into our own? Based on recent politically charged events such as the Dakota pipeline issue and the continued inappropriate use of Native American culture still prevalently seen in the fashion industry, I’d say no. No, our country’s attitude towards Native Americans hasn’t changed in the last 20 years, arguably even the last 150.

 

Ellee Banaszak, Class of 2017

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