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Sunday, November 11, 2012

ONCE A REDSKIN ALWAYS A REDSKIN

jim dine, tomatoes 1974


A notice by email today from high school class about a hall of fame, a list of names unfamiliar to me. I went to high school at North in Wichita, Kansas. Wichita is an island in the vast sea of Kansas prairie. It's a couple hundred miles by road (bridge) to anyplace you can set foot. Parents moved to Wichita when I was beginning the 10th grade. The week before we moved from Kansas City, the news told about a 19 yr old guy in Wichita killed by bikers (1957). I was thinking: Thanks, daddy, just where I don't want to go. It happened only about a mile from the house we were moving into. That was my first impression of Wichita. After landing there, I thought it was the ugliest place on earth. I despised it from the first day because it took me away from my life where I knew everybody and locked me down in a place where I knew nobody. Even the church was worse. I had a real respect for the preacher in the KC church, but respect for the preacher in Wichita diminished as time went by until he threw what respect I had down the toilet. He is someone I'd prefer to forget, but he hangs on in my memory as the mf'er who betrayed my trust unforgivably. I still have a grain of sand in my heart for the memory of him. I don't even care what his justifications were, my contempt for him as a human being is unparalleled by anyone else I have ever known. I don't wish anything on him for punishment other than what came back to him for the betrayal. I'm sure something bounced back to him. I don't care what.

Strangely, that's the first memory to pop up when Wichita comes to mind. I kind of had a little bit of an urge to go to the 50th class reunion. But I went to the 30th college reunion and regretted it, because I didn't know anybody. I read names of high school classmates and only about three do I recognize. It would have cost about $1500 to go, a thousand of it gas. I didn't have the money and wasn't about to borrow it, knowing in advance it would not be worth the expense. I'd rather spend that kind of money on a piece of art. It would have meant standing around with a plastic cup and a paper napkin in my hand with probably gingerale in the cup, "glass," whatever it's called, running my mouth with somebody I don't know, everybody dressed up, a couples party, everybody acting like their parents they swore they'd never be like, everybody grandparents with adorable great grandbabies. I would feel like I'd died and went to the Ozzie & Harriet Show. Ozzie and Harriet were 1950s America like Beavis and Butthead were 1980s America, the grandchildren of Ozzie and Harriet. Their son died free-basing cocaine in a private plane.

The letterhead from Wichita North said at the bottom, "Once a Redskin, always a Redskin." I had to double-take. After all these years of political correctness, they're still hanging onto Redskin. Back before that kind of "awareness," which is the wrong word to use where PC is concerned--PC is unawareness, Parrot Chatter--redskins meant Indians to me. I was caught up inside with the Indians, sympathetic with them. Couldn't talk about it much, because all the white guys around me were sympathetic with the US Army killing Indians. Indians were the enemy. Over years of knowing people, I've come to suspect that ones who are Civil War buffs participated in the Civil War a few lifetimes ago. I have been an Indian buff all my life, leading me to believe I was likely involved in the Indian Wars on the Indian side. I have no interest in the Civil War except as an historical force in the evolution of the nation. But I'm deeply interested in the stories of the Indians.

There was a time I wanted to possibly teach at a school on a reservation, do some kind of work to benefit the people in the concentration camps called reservations. I felt like my white people were the ones making it so hard for the Indian people that I was drawn to do something to help people on reservations. But I also came to realize that I did not know what would benefit them, and surely would end up doing the opposite of benefiting them, as presumption from outsiders always does. Among them I would be a representative of the white world, no matter what I was like inside and my motivation, and I'd be feeling apologetic about context I had nothing to do with. At least living in the white world I don't represent the white world. In Kansas I felt like all the ground was Indian land taken from them. It almost was like walking on a grave for me. To some extent, I feel that way here in the Southern Appalachian mountains. It's difficult for me not to feel sorrow for the genocide of an entire continent of people, the survivors kept in concentration camps over a century with FBI for reservation police. I have a problem with being part of the whiteness that keeps these people incarcerated in the worst kind of poverty. I applaud casinos on reservations, white people giving their money to the Indians.

Once a redskin, always a redskin ran through me as a minor quake. In high school I did not miss the irony of killing off the Indians, then naming places after them, like Wichita. That's not an English name like Wellington Chase. I was told once what Wichita meant in Indian language, but didn't want to know and forgot it right away. Out there on the prairie in Kansas I imagined herds of buffalo horizon to horizon in all directions. I imagined arrows flying through the air. I imagined riding a horse full tilt inside the buffalo herd. It was Indian country for me. I felt like the cities and towns in that prairie were a travesty. The buffalo kill-off and the Indian kill-off, both so incredibly without conscience, inspired a streak of shame through my whiteness. I wear my white skin without pride. It's for the way my race historically has regarded everyone of any color. I am not one to believe the privilege of race is legitimate. So I've never used it, that I know of. I can't solve any of those big racial issues beyond myself. Inside myself I can be as I am and it doesn't have to be political. I've come to see that if I, an individual of any race, this time white, regard everyone I come in contact with, of any race, even my own, with basic human respect, that's what all the movements are about. In myself I can handle that part easily. It's an individual thing for everyone concerned. For myself, I like the Buddhist principle, do no harm.

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