Spiritual Warprayer by Saba (2019)
This week’s piece is an apology. Like everything else I have written over the past 4 months, it is from the heart. That is the only place from which I know to write.
As we hear society suddenly “awakened” to the racism of mascots, statues, and even the food pantry’s pancake syrup and processed food rice, I hear a sentiment that goes something like this. “We have now come to realize that this image, this stereotype, this caricature of a group of people is racist.”
I don’t buy it, and it isn’t about pointing the finger at anyone.
I am certain that like me, all of white America has known and always understood that these images were about dehumanizing our communities of color. We just chose to do nothing.
Now, where it is socially safe and financially beneficial to act are we making change happen.
But let’s be real.
Let’s be honest.
Let’s be humble and sincere.
We knew all along that these images were part of a sick plot to dehumanize our beautiful brothers and sisters of color.
Change is good to see, but white folks like myself and institutions that are changing would do well to add an apology.
For healing on all levels, “I am sorry” matters.
Don Juan de Onate.
I remember when I moved to New Mexico, hearing the history of Onate from Acoma Pueblo and then trying to figure out why he and so many symbols of genocide are revered hundreds of years later in a land that claims to respect and value diversity. I saw that there was an Onate Hall on our UNM campus and had a hard time understanding how orchestrating a campaign of murder and torture on Acoma Pueblo earns you the right to have a building named after you. Or why one of the city’s nicest parks, tucked in along the Bosque was named Kit Carson after another murderer whose “scorched earth” campaign says all you need to know about his legacy.
As a white person, I didn’t appreciate the violence that statues and other signs of reverence perpetuate on people and communities of color. I chose to do nothing.
Imagine an Indigenous youngster with family outside of the ABQ Museum asking mom and dad why this person who tortured their ancestors is given a heroic statue. Or being a first generation college student of color at UNM and attending your ethnic studies class in Onate Hall.
I am sorry.
I also failed to realize what it says about our society that continues to accept this reality.
Here is exactly what it says:
1) We value conquistadors and the legacy of violent, brutal conquest more than we value the original inhabitants of this land.
2) It says loud and clear that we continue to tell a story of whose land this is and how it was obtained in a way that psychiatrists would label delusional (e.g. not based in reality).
3) It says that white supremacy, a belief that white people are superior to those of all other races and should therefore dominate society, is alive and well, not limited to extremists and hate groups.
4) It says that we think it is okay to keep people of color in a perpetual state of fear as a means of exerting power and control over them.
5) It reminds me that white privilege blinds me from a large part of reality in this country (e.g. everyone’s reality who is not white) and that I need to listen deeply to what communities of color are saying if I want to have any bit of those blinders removed.
I am proud of my city, Albuquerque, that is on its way to removing all remnants of this delusional way of being from our midst. I don’t just want to see the statues and names removed – I want to apologize deeply for my inaction that kept these changes from happening sooner. I chose to do nothing, despite the moral compass that told me that Onate and Carson types have no place in the 21st century.
I am complicit in this violence of inaction.
I am ready to change our landscape, starting with my own mind and heart that tells me whether or not to stand up and act when I see others dehumanized.
I am sorry.