Native American Issues Just Aren't Cool Enough
Originally featured on Across The Culture. Click here to see it!
The Dakota Access Pipeline is fucked up. Period. The US government took Native American lands while they were sovereign, reissued them, and continues to abuse the them. It’s like giving back a dollar bill from someone you just robbed for $1,000 saying you didn’t *completely* rob them, just to come back and rob you of that $1.
Now that the pipeline is temporarily halted, all talk about it has disappeared. Which brings me to my point: we only care about Native Americans when we have to.
The same can be said about any other marginalized social group, but there are many more social and political forces that make sure we continue to talk about the issues of groups such as Black Americans and the LGBTQ+ community.
Yes, social injustice is political. Advocating for any of the groups I just mentioned is a great thing to do. But what we don’t like to admit is that many of us only advocate when doing so is trendy. Even more sobering than that is why advocating for certain groups gets trendy in the first place.
In the cases of Black Americans and LGBTQ+ Americans, significant social and political figures represent each of these populations in the public eye. Their presences keep their issues circulating in mainstream news cycles. In the case of the LGBTQ+ community, it helps that many of its most visible figures come from privileged gender or racial identities. In simpler terms, famous White men. Harvey Milk, Liberace, George Michael, you name it. Notice the increased difficulty gay and trans Black people still have in representing themselves, despite figures like Wanda Sykes and Laverne Cox.
In the case of Black Americans, their roots in the United States are as old as any White family. Despite centuries of disenfranchisement, Black Americans are the next most prominent racial group behind White Americans in many visible fields of work, most notably entertainment (too many to name) and politics (i.e. Keith Ellison, Barack Obama, Loretta Lynch, the NAACP). These social and political factors allow Black Americans to broadcast their narrative as long time sufferers at the hands of White America’s cruelty. While their story deserves great attention, injustices toward other racial and ethnic groups get drowned out because so much of the racial injustice narrative has been seized by prominent Black people looking to push their own agendas.
Simply put, people invested in Black issues (i.e. fair-weather social justice warriors, Hollywood, major news networks) know Black issues are the most compelling. Yes, Black people do get horrendously shit on by every facet of U.S. society. But beyond that, you cannot afford to neglect Black people if you want to look like you care about social injustice because they occupy too many important positions in society to be ignored.
This is also the case with the LGBTQ+ community. If you’re an American who wants to seem up on things, you have to be aware of how many prominent cultural figures identify with the community. These days, a slight against the gay community becomes trending news about as quickly as an incident involving a Black person.
It’s not that you should be discriminating against any of these groups. The point is you’ll be in deeper shit if you go after certain groups for political reasons, not moral ones.
If you use Twitter, you know how quickly information can circulate. Twitter’s most savvy influencers understand a couple of basic rules in order to be the shit: tweet about what’s relevant, and tweet about it first.
Ex: if you tweet a meme of the Views album cover now, the reaction to it will be super dead compared to a meme posted in April 2016. If you make an argument about Harambe the Gorilla being a proxy for closeted racism now, you won’t get the response you would have gotten this past summer.
You’re probably like, “Duh bitch. That shit got old so we don’t talk about it no more.” And I’m like, “Bet, I get it, trust me.”
But isn’t that also how we think about social and political issues? And if it is, isn’t that…dangerous?
For instance, you might have heard about Chicago’s gun violence problem over the past several years. But when the media doesn’t talk about it…do you?
“Damn, Z. That was deep.”
But for real though. If you were truly invested in the issue of gun violence, why have you not done more research to learn that rates of homicide and violent crime are actually higher in Detroit, St. Louis, Newark, Oakland, and Baltimore than they are in Chicago? Why does it seem like no one cares about the issue of homicide in United States metro areas when it’s about a city other than Chicago?
I say that to make this next point: we, the average smartphone-wielding Americans, don’t truly decide which social issues are more relevant than others. Special interest groups who do a better job at appearing to matter in society capture our attention. The media supports this, we buy into it, and we never dig further.
In other words, if a social group doesn’t have a viral sensation, movie star, professional athlete, or visible politician speaking out for the team, why the fuck would we talk about them?
Isn’t that essentially what we’re saying when we bring up #OscarsSoWhite every year instead of the complete absence of Native Americans in the public eye? Or when we talk about Chicago as if it’s the only city where low-income neighborhoods suffer from violent crime?
I get it. You’re trying to use your voice and social privileges to support a population that needs it. But when you see all of these ferociously trending issues disappear as quickly as they pop up, you should probably do more to figure out why. It might actually do more in the long-run than your on-and-off rants about something you don’t even think about when you don’t see it on your timeline.
It’s not that every sporadic social justice warrior is a no-courage-havin-ass bitch, it’s that we’ve been trained to not speak on shit unless we get immediate positive feedback. And in a world of likes, RTs, and actual overnight celebrities, it’s really fucking hard to care about someone else unless there’s an immediate reward for caring.
For as much as we cared about #NoDAPL, it still seems like Native American issues just aren’t cool enough to talk about.