Kyle Mays: Native and African histories need fuller examination

Kyle Mays. Photo from Twitter

Kyle Mays, a member of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan, addresses the relationship between Native Americans and African Americans:
As I reflect on his life on the eve of his assassination, I can’t help but think about a passage I recently read after doing my annual re-reading of The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965). Malcolm’s comment, at the level of discourse, both acknowledged that settler colonialism and simultaneously erased indigeneity.

Malcolm commented on the predicament of Indigenous people in the United States, correctly stating, “Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race.”

He said, “We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it. Our children are still taught to respect the violence which reduced a red-skinned people of an earlier culture into a few fragmented groups herded into impoverished reservations.”

Malcolm’s initial history is correct: the United States was born in settler colonialism and remains so. He was also spot on about the United States making the genocide of indigenous people part of a noble crusade, especially within the American cultural imagination. Hell, Malcolm couldn’t have known that we’d still be fighting against that Washington team. The key point, though, is analyzing how Malcolm understood the development of U.S. settler colonial history.

Get the Story:
Kyle T. Mays: Black-Indigenous Histories Beyond the Norm: Malcolm X and the Erasure of Indigeneity (Indian Country Today 2/24)

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