There are certain cultural mores in American society. Every person in every age grouping is expected to perform certain tasks or talk about and act a certain way about things. This is particularly true of womxn* of a certain age, yes, those of us who identify as womxn have some extra things to take care of. Yes, I am talking about any femme over the age of 29. The problem with this is that these cultural mores require us to be untruthful and unauthentic to ourselves and others.
29 is around the time in our lives that we are expected to begin lying about our ages. In a culture that values youth, or at least the appearance of youth. (You have probably noticed when one is actually young, everyone older than one acts like one does not have any sense, and one continuously hear things like, “when you are older you will understand”, or “you will change your mind when you are older”. Sometimes, these things ring true, but many times they are simply a way of discounting your ideas or opinions.) We have all seen this countless times. The womxn who have 30 29th birthdays. My own mother was 32 for at least a decade. If one decides not to lie about one’s age, then one is expected to refuse to answer at all and find it bad manners that anyone ever asked at all.
Our culture tells us it rude or offensive to be asked one’s age, when one is a womxn, in normal conversation (I use “normal conversation” to refer to subjects that come up organically in everyday conversations with people of various levels of relationships. It should go without saying that to ask in order to criticize, oppress, or degrade, or discriminate against someone in anyway should never occur) if the subject of age comes up, or they say, it is undiplomatic to ask a woman her age.
There are countless blogs and articles about how to respond to someone when they ask your age, mostly it is a matter of deflecting, changing the subject, or blaming the other person for asking at all. In addition, to this there are numerous articles on how to ask someone’s age without asking them, like asking about childhood experience etc. this is a sneakier way to ask someone without asking someone. Some call this old fashion; however, it is very much alive today.
As we grow older, many womxn, like me begin to find more and more gray hair. Some earlier than others, but for most of us, who are lucky enough to make it to an older age, will have it happen at some point. Hair turning gray or white with aging goes against the cultural mores that the appearance of youth is much more valuable than the appearance of age. When this happens, usually in our 30’s or 40’s we are expected to eradicate the gray/white hair so that our illusion about it being our 29th birthday for 20 years, and the illusion that youth should be more important and valuable than age is more palatable.
We are expected to spend countless hours and dollars on chemicals and treatments in order to keep the gray/white out and our roots their “natural” color.
All these cultural mores or unwritten rules, lead us to deny our experiences and the number of experiences we have in order to keep up the colonial idea that womxn should appear to be young forever. In doing this womxn are encouraged to be inauthentic and discourages our own authenticity. Being allowed to be authentic, means we are able to be ourselves, no matter what age that self may be or the color of that self’s hair. It means we not only accept our ages, but we enjoy them as well and all the perks that come with them.
My personal solution: Because I am not one to challenge social mores (wink wink), I continue to lie about my age. On my 30th birthday, I began telling people I was 42 years old. Now, that I am 40, I am telling people I am 58. This means that society will get its lie and be given a chance to think about it if it is willing.
The reactions I get to this get more and more extreme the older I get. Firstly, because most people think I look much younger than my age (I do not see it), and secondly, because people are not sure how to respond. Sometimes, they will just laugh it off as a joke, others tell me, “hey you can’t do that!” and sometimes, people get a bit angry with me for telling them an older age.
But as we have seen, just lying about our ages is not enough. We must hide the gray/white in our hair to mask our age and make sure we are really working toward the illusion of youth.**
My personal solution: When I was a teenager, I would dye my hair pretty regularly. It was something fun to do. As I grew up, I found with the pressure from peers, work, professors etc. I pretty much stopped dying my hair. So, for a long time, my hair stayed pretty much my natural dark brown color with the exception of dying it “acceptable colors” from time to time like red or black. Until, pretty recently, a couple of years ago, when I noticed quite a bit of gray growing in. To be clear, I am not opposed to gray or white hair, I believe it is beautiful! However, it was then that I had some decisions to make. Do I let these salt and pepper locks grow out? Do I do what is laid out for me and cover my roots so no one can see my gray hairs? Or do I do something a little different. I chose the latter. Since I noticed those gray hairs multiplying more and more, I have decided society is right, I should dye my hair. So, I have had shamrock green hair, blue hair, turquois hair, and I currently have “orchid” hair (it is a very vibrant purple) in the past few years. This way society gets what it wants, and I get what I want.
Except, now they tell me that such colors are not suitable for a womxn my age. And I just laugh. When people ask me about my hair color, and they very often do, I usually explain why, in pretty much the same way I have here and add that these colors have really made me happy. Some take it as a joke, others start thinking a little more about such things, and others get angry because I am challenging their perceptions and values. This is how I work towards authenticity and the decolonization of my own mind and views of beauty, something I find to be a continuous process.
You my friend, should work toward your own authenticity and decolonization in whatever way that gives you joy and peace. We do not have to stay within the colonial cultural mores and norms. We are beautiful at every age as long as we are ourselves. We do not have to value the appearance of youth, but can rather value our own authenticity.
*The use of the term “womxn” is used here to be inclusive of all of my relatives who are nonbinary (like myself) trans women relatives, and relatives who are women of color.
**Clearly, there are a lot more products that womxn are encouraged to use in order to appear younger. Everything from wrinkle creams, cosmetics, surgery etc. However, there is not enough time/space here to address all of them, since there really are too many to mention and I am sure I do not even know about all of them.
Growing up, and being philosophically trained in the Western world, means that one has heard, on many occasions, the wisdom passed down by Rene Descartes: “I think therefore I am.” Descartes began from a point of “complete” skepticism. Doubting everything around him as well as his own existence. His goal was to justify existence. Why does something (anything) exist, and why do we exist. So, he doubted everything in order to justify why he, and thus all of us, exist. His answer: because he, the individual, had the ability to think, then he must exist. One’s ability to think, then, justifies one’s own existence as an autonomous individual. This means one does not need anyone else to explain or justify their existence. Existence then comes, or is justified, from the internal process of thought without any external justification. It is put solely on the individual, unconnected, and alone. One’s sense of self is dependent on one’s self.
On the other hand, there is an African philosophical concept of Ubuntu. Ubuntu means, “I am because we are”. I have been thinking a lot about this concept lately, and how it seems closer to lived experience than, “I think therefore I am”.
“I am because we are” means that our sense of self does not depend solely on one’s self, but that it is intertwined with our relationships with others. One’s sense of self is molded through one’s relationships and the roles one plays in them. In fact, it recognizes our inherent connection to others.
When life begins, we do not sprout independently of others. When life begins our relationships begin. We become a daughter or a son and a grandchild. You may even become a cousin, a sibling, a niece or nephew and so on and so forth. In short, when life begins, we are never alone. We are born into a web of relationships.
These relationships do not even speak to the past relationships that had to occur for one to come into existence. As we know, the rule of causation tells us that in order for there to be a result, there must be a cause for that result. In terms of the causation of a single person, there must have been certain circumstances which caused the existence of that person. Those causes, or the relationships that had to happen for one to come into existence, are the relationships of our ancestors. In Buddhism, this is called Dependent Origination.
We can do some simple ancestor math to get an idea of how many relationships had to occur for a single human to exist. In order to be born one needs: 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, 16 2g grandparents, 32 3g grandparents, 64 4g grandparents, 128 5g grandparents, 256 6g grandparents, 512 7g grandparents, 1024 8g grandparents, 2048 9g great grandparents, and 4096 10g grandparents. There is certainly a pattern here, each generation doubles. This is only going 10 generations back, so there are even more. However, by only going back 10 generations we know that it took at least 4096 people to find each other, form relationships of some kind, and procreate in order for one person to exist here and now. The formula is X=2n. X is the number of direct line, blood ancestors you have. n is the generation back from you.
These are the relationships we can generally track; we know that they were necessary in order for us to happen. But, what about the other relationships we cannot track, like all of our great grandparents’ relationships, their friends, families, and communities that helped to form their senses of self? Our ancestors, like us, belonged to different communities and had many relationships, and roles to fulfill, each of which influenced their sense of self, their ideas, their perceptions of the world etc. This tells us, that although we may not be able to prove or track these relationships, if we look at our own webs of relationships, we get an idea of how vast that which caused us really is.
I will, use my web as an example, and will probably forget some relationships or communities. I belong to a family (genetic) in which I am a daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, aunt, and cousin. In my non-genetic family, I am a partner and a friend. I live within a community in which I am a neighbor, activist, and organizer actively working to improve that community. In addition, in my professional relationships, I am an advisee, a philosopher, an intellectual, a writer, an artist, an adviser, educator, and a teacher. I am also live in a country and the global community and have relationships within those realms, whether they are direct or indirect. Each of these relationships, and my belonging to these communities, influences my sense of self and have helped me to perceive the world in certain ways as well as influence my daily life and decisions. In fact, I met my partner through other friends, which means without their relationships with him and my relationships with them, we may not have connected when and how we did.
This shows us that the number 4096 is conservative, even for 10 generations. So, while Descartes justifies and proves his own existence as an untethered individual, Ubuntu, on the other hand, acknowledges the 4096+ ancestors and their relationships. “We” gets bigger and bigger the more we think about what “we” means.
What about the rest of the “we”? We have relationships and are dependent upon outside of human animals. The plant and animal life that we need in order to survive, not only as nutrients, but the ecosystems and habitats they create that make up our world. All of these influence our environment and how we live in the world. If plant and animal life had not evolved as it has then none of us would exist, the way we do now.
The modern food justice movement began in 1996. Food justice aims to ensure the benefits and risks of what we eat, where it comes from, how it is grown, produced, distributed, accessed (including access to culturally important foods), and eaten are shared equally. It seeks to transform the current food system in order to eliminate disparities and inequalities. This includes those issues very often ignored by those in a privileged position such as, workers’ rights, the affordability and accessibility of healthy food, sustainability of food production, and racial and economic justice. Food justice has been approached in many ways without considering the foundations of food injustice and inequality in colonization. However, in order to make positive long-term changes to the food system and eliminate inequalities and disparities one must put food justice in the larger context of colonization and how it is connected to the dispossession of land, racism, and sexism. After understanding how food insecurity in North America is founded in the colonization of the Americas, we can see how decolonizing the North American food systems can, indeed, help us to achieve and secure food justice and food security in the long term. In this way, rather than treating the symptoms of food insecurity, we can get to the root of and find real solutions to the problem.
Colonization Colonization is the practices, both formal and informal, that perpetuate the exploitation and subjugation of Indigenous peoples, their lands, and resources. These practices include, but are not limited to behaviors, ideologies, policies, institutions, and economics. Colonization occurs when one power subjugates another. During the process of colonization one power, in the case of North America European powers, dominates and overpowers another, Indigenous peoples. In order to do this, the colonizing power, enslaves, kills, forcefully assimilates, and exploits those they seek power over. Colonization is brutal, violent, and genocidal. Our colonial foundation is based on inequality, sexism, and white supremacy.
Arthur Manuel, in Whose Land is it Anyway: A Manual for Decolonization, argues that colonization is based on three fundamental components; Dispossession, dependence, and oppression. (McFarline & Schabus, 2017)
Dispossession is the act of depriving someone of property, land, or other resources. When colonizers arrived in America from Europe, they claimed the land they were now on as their own. The land they had “discovered” now arbitrarily belonged to them to the exclusion of those who had lived in North America for thousands of years. By doing so colonizers excluded Indigenous populations from their ancestral homes where they lived and where everything they needed, from clothing and tools to food, was provided for them by the land. This is the beginning of food injustice and food insecurity in North America.
Before sustained contact with colonial forces the diets of Indigenous peoples were varied and contained all the nutrients they needed to survive and be healthy. Through horticulture and hunting and gathering Indigenous people provided for themselves and their communities. When colonization began and prolonged contact with colonial forces became inevitable, Indigenous people were no longer able to provide the proper nutrients for themselves or for their communities. “Not withstanding regional variations, the precontact Native American diet was relatively nutrient dense, incorporating varied macronutrients and micronutrients through hunting and gathering practices and indigenous forms of horticulture and agriculture that were subsequently disrupted. Thanks to the deleterious and often deliberate effects of colonization deeply rooted food systems were ruptured.” (Mailer & Hale, 2018, p. 15)
Before colonization a staple in the Indigenous diet was acorns. Acorns, which are found throughout North America, were used in order to supplement Indigenous diets. Acorns were processed in order to remove the tannic acid they contain by pulverizing, soaking, and chemically binding to iron sources. In fact, acorns were the predominant plant staple in the Southeast until the introduction of maize. Acorns were ground into a powder resembling grain flour; however, this acorn powder was much more nutrient dense than maize or grain flour. “Acorn was the dominant plant staple in the southeast until the introduction of maize, particularly as populations grew, and continued to be consumed later in indigenous history. Nuts and acorns were often ground up into flours that resembled grain or maize flour, but were in fact higher in fat and lower in carbohydrate.” (Mailer & Hale, 2018, p. 84) After, colonization and extended contact with colonizers, acorns became harder to access and use.
Grazing Animals & Hunting & Gathering Practices
As grazing animals and grain agriculture were introduced in California by the Spanish, traditional indigenous subsistence methods and ecology were disrupted. Before colonization, and the introduction of “private property” by Europeans, Indigenous populations were able to access shared hunting and gathering spaces. When colonizers brought the idea of private property with them, they began to fence off places they arbitrarily considered theirs. They used fences to exclude the Indigenous people who had been hunting and gathering in those spaces for thousands of years. This became an even more serious problem in 1848 with the discovery of gold in California. “The discovery of California gold in 1848 marked a sudden turn toward the encouragement of private property rights in horticulture and hunting centers.” (Mailer & Hale, 2018, p. 178)
Much of the hunting zones that remained were divided. The livestock the colonizers brought with them ate the food sources that Indigenous people counted on for nutrition and survival. This means, not only were they cut off from their traditional hunting and gathering spaces, but now there was more competition for these nutritious resources. “Domesticated livestock, such as cattle, pigs, and sheep consumed native food sources, such as acorns while farmers prevented California Indians from hunting and harvesting on what they suddenly announced was private property.” (Mailer & Hale, 2018, p. 178)
The American Bison
Before colonization the American bison was a hunting staple. Bison used to roam North America in vast herds. In the 1500’s, there was an estimate of 30 to 60 million bison roaming in North America. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife, 2014) When European colonizers arrived in North America, they brought with them livestock and all the issues that comes with raising livestock, such as cattle diseases. In addition to cattle diseases new livestock needed to eat. This created competition for resources affecting the American bison. As European settlements expanded, they changed the native habitat through farming which affected the population of bison.
By the 19th century, the mass destruction of bison began. What was once a healthy staple hunted by Indigenous peoples in North America became scarce. In 1870 alone it is estimated that 2 million bison were killed on the southern plains. In addition, at this time Germany developed a process to tan bison hides into a fine leather and it was discovered that bison were very useful and profitable to own. With this in mind colonizers began to round up wild bison that once roamed freely to establish private herds. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife, 2014) This had a massive effect on the Indigenous people who depended on hunting bison for their survival. “By 1889, William Hornaday estimated total bison population to be just over 1000 animals.” (U.S. Fish and Wildlife, 2014) A nutritious source of lean protein Indigenous people had depended on for thousands of years was now yanked away from them and arbitrarily turned into private property. “When that lean, high protein source was eliminated, the people starved, further weakening them and making them more susceptible to disease.” (Wilson & Yellowbird, 2005, p. 69) Bison were now controlled by the colonizers to the exclusion of Indigenous people, creating food insecurity and injustice.
Food Cultivation Before Colonization
There is a common belief that before colonization Indigenous peoples did not cultivate the land or have agriculture. This belief has been spread by colonizers in order to support the idea that Indigenous peoples were lazy and unable to take care of themselves. “Within the bundle of colonial strategies, a particularly useful tool was the notion that Indigenous peoples were incompetent, lazy, and unable to cultivate their land, making it open for – indeed requiring – seizure.” (Rotz, 2007, p. 163) However, before colonization, Indigenous peoples cultivated more than three hundred food crops in addition to hunting and gathering. “Indigenous populations throughout the Americas also maintained their health and nutrition by cultivating more than three hundred food crops (many with dozens of varieties or strains).” (Wilson & Yellowbird, 2005, p. 68)
In addition to hunting and gathering practices, Indigenous diets consisted of many cultivated foods such as many varieties of maize, beans, squash, and potatoes. All of which were harvested and planted by many Indigenous Peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere. “Our [Indigenous People] rich and varied diets included such basics as numerous varieties of corn, beans, squash and three thousand varieties of potatoes, planted and harvested by Indigenous Peoples covering a broad geographical sweep in the Western hemisphere.” (Wilson & Yellowbird, 2005, p. 68) There were also regional foods which were cultivated by the Indigenous Peoples in that region, such as, black walnuts, wild rice, blueberries, and cranberries. Like their hunting and gathering practices, Indigenous people’s agricultural practices were disrupted and replaced by their colonizers. Indigenous plants and animals were often eliminated as farm lands and grazing lands were created for foreign animals such as cattle and sheep. These acts of invasion and colonization meant a total disruption of Indigenous ways of life and a tremendous loss of life. (Wilson & Yellowbird, 2005, p. 69)
The Three Sisters
The Indigenous system of cultivation was biodiverse. For instance, Indigenous peoples cultivated what is called the Three Sisters; maize, beans, and squash. The Three Sisters were cultivated in order to compliment hunting and gathering. When planted together the Three Sisters work together to help each other thrive. Today, this is called mixed cropping. The maize, with its long stalks grew first and was perfect for supporting the crawling vines of beans. The beans provide nitrogen to the soil and help to strengthen the stalks of the maize to protect against strong winds. Beans provide nitrogen to fertilize the soil while also stabilizing the tall corn during heavy winds. Beans are nitrogen-fixers meaning they host rhizobia on their roots that can take nitrogen, a much needed plant nutrient, from the air and convert it into forms that can be absorbed by plant roots. (Kruse-Peeples, 2016)
The squash, with its big leaves, is able to provide the ground with shade which helps the soil retain moisture and helps in the prevention of weeds.
The Three Sisters provided needed nutrients to the Indigenous populations who grew them. Maize provides amino acids and carbohydrates. Beans provide amino acids and dietary fiber along with vitamins and minerals such as, B6, B2, zinc, iron, magnesium, and potassium. While squash provides Vitamin A. (Hirst, 2019) Together, the Three Sisters provided a great deal of nutrition to compliment the nutrition acquired from hunting and gathering. However, upon colonization and prolonged contact the Three Sisters garden was replaced by the European model of monoculture.
Monoculture is the practice of growing a single crop or raising a single type of livestock in a field or farming system. European settlers directed their energy and land on cash crops such as tobacco in addition to livestock. “New European markets inspired European settlers to focus on monocultured cash crops, most notably tobacco and maize.” (Mailer & Hale, 2018, p. 137)
The expansion of monoculture, brought by European settlers, and prolonged contact with them, effected the ecology of the plants and animals that Indigenous peoples relied on. Indigenous peoples saw the ecology of tubers, grasses, and squash as well as the wild animals that roamed around them being affected by monoculture practices. This change in ecology was noted by Miantonomi, chief of the Narrangansett, in the summer of 1642. Maintonomi summarized the ways in which the European agricultural colonization had disrupted subsistence strategies already in place in a letter to the Montauk communities of Eastern Long Island. For so are we all Indians, as the English now are, and say brother to one another; so we must be one as they are, otherwise we will be gone shortly, for you know our fathers had plenty of deer skins, our plains were full of deer, as also our woods, and of turkies, and our coves full of fish and fowl. But these English who have gotten our land, they with scythe cut down the grass, and with axes fell trees; their cows and horses eat the grass, and their hogs spoil our clam banks, and we shall all be starved. (Mailer & Hale, 2018, p. 152)
Food sources which were once biodiverse and plentiful were now scarce and being replaced with food with lower nutritional value.
Before colonization and prolonged contact Indigenous peoples enjoyed a high protein, low carbohydrate, vitamin rich diet making them healthy and strong. Because of their biodiverse methods of subsistence and the harmony between those methods Indigenous peoples were able to have healthy bodies and immune systems. “Native American subsistence strategies prevented the problematic health effects of agricultural intensification from becoming chronic. The continued synergy between hunting and gathering, horticulture and agriculture provided nutrient mixtures that we can now identify as vital for optimal immune function.” (Mailer & Hale, 2018, p. 110) This changed with the intensification of agriculture which meant the intensification of the consumption of dairy, grains, and foods high in carbohydrates.
Once the original inhabitants were dispossessed from the land (and put onto reservations or enslaved) that provided all the things they needed, they now became dependent upon their colonizers. The colonizers did not think of the health of those they colonized. Instead, Indigenous peoples, whose diets included various plants and wild life, were transformed into diets that consisted of highly processed, high in carbohydrates, salted, and sugared foods. These foods, because they were the only foods Indigenous people now had access to, were now what Indigenous peoples relied on. Instead of eating hand-grown and harvested fruits, nuts, and vegetables, the lean meat of wild game, and fish loaded with essential fats, Indigenous Peoples instead consumed highly processed canned, salted, and sugared foods, canned fatty meats and high quantities of refined sugar, and bleached white flour. (Wilson & Yellow Bird, 2005, p. 69)
This food inequality and the lack of access to healthy foods has been detrimental to Indigenous people’s health.
Because Indigenous peoples were forced into a state of dependency colonial settlers saw an opening to forcefully assimilate Indigenous people’s diets to the standards of Western Europeans. They saw their ways as inherently superior and, thus, thrust them onto the original inhabitants of this land. As an effect of making Indigenous peoples eat their high carbohydrate, low nutrient diets, Indigenous peoples today have some of the shortest life spans and the highest rates of diseases, like heart disease and diabetes. Europeans and Euro-Americans maintained their sense of superiority and forcefully imposed their ways, including their comparatively unhealthy diets, upon us [Indigenous Americans]. This has only served to deteriorate the health of our people [Indigenous Americans]. Now our people [Indigenous Americans] have some of the shortest life spans and the highest rates of diseases. Diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are killing our people [Indigenous Americans]. Our bodies [Indigenous bodies] clearly have not benefited from colonization. (Wilson & Yellow Bird, 2005, p. 68)
One example of this is the consumption of dairy, which in Native America was unheard of, apart from children consuming breast milk.
Colonizers emphasize the consumption of dairy, in fact, the U.S. Food Pyramid suggests that in order to maintain a healthy diet one ought to consume at least two to three servings of dairy per day. However, around 65% of the adult population, worldwide, is lactose intolerant. GB Vogelsang M.D. (2019) states, normal adults lose the ability to digest lactose. It is actually a genetic variant that allows adults to continue to produce lactase, the enzyme which breaks down lactose. If the lactose is not broken down, the typical symptoms of bloating, cramps, diarrhea, and gas occur. As humans grow up and mature lactase levels, that were once high at birth and as children, decrease to very low levels making it challenging if not impossible for adults to effectively break down lactose.
Indigenous people are more susceptible to lactose intolerance than other populations. It is estimated that 75-80% of Indigenous Americans are lactose intolerant. Thus, being fed dairy products only serves to aggravate health problems. The dairy products only served to exacerbate health problems as an extremely high percentage of Indigenous peoples are lactose intolerant. In fact adults in general are not built to consume dairy products. At birth humans have an enzyme called lactase that allows them to break down the lactose in human breast milk so that it can be absorbed and utilized by the body. As humans mature, lactase decreases to very low levels, making it difficult or impossible for adults to effectively break down lactose. […] Our bodies simply cannot efficiently process dairy products. (Wilson & Yellow Bird, 2005, p. 69)
Food injustice and oppression, is experienced when one is hungry and dependent on foods, such as dairy, to satiate that hunger. This is what happened to Indigenous peoples in North America. Their lands were stolen from them creating food injustice and inequality. This was the beginning of food inequality and food injustice in North America.
The reason colonizers believed they were justified in taking the land of the Indigenous peoples that had resided in North America for thousands of years was/is a false sense of superiority. When the Western European colonizers arrived in the Americas, they saw that the residence here looked, spoke, and worshiped differently than they did themselves. We can see the beginnings of white supremacy in North America by looking at the names colonizers use to refer to Indigenous peoples.
When colonizers arrived in the Americas rather than learning the names of Indigenous peoples, they began to name them themselves. In doing so, the names chosen for Indigenous people were disrespectful and degrading. They were given names that conveyed that they were inferior, vicious, enemies.
European invaders often called Indigenous people “Sioux”. This name was given to the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people. Sioux comes from the Anishinaabe word for “enemy” or “snake”. In the Christian belief system, the snake is the character who tempted Eve to eat the apple. The snake is seen as an untrustworthy deceiver. For some Apache peoples they used the word “Tonto”. “Tonto” is a Spanish word that means stupid or silly. The Tsistsistas Nation was designated as “Cheyenne”, which is a French word for “talks funny.” (Wilson & Yellow Bird, 2005, p. 31-2) This clearly shows, that the colonizers did not see Indigenous people as equal to themselves. They certainly did/do not go around calling each other stupid, untrustworthy, or as funny talkers. The colonizers view of Indigenous people as inferior is clearly shown through the language they use when referring to the colonized.
When the thief, murderer, and slave trader Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas and came into contact with the Arawak of the Bahamas, he found that because of the Arawak’s generosity and peacefulness they were inferior to him and were to be subjugated. Columbus states, They…brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance…. With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want. (Horgan, 2016) Columbus decided that his colonial, capitalist, violent ways were superior to the generous and peaceful ways of the Indigenous populations. Because of this, he and his counterparts decided it was right to subjugate, enslave, steal from, and kill Indigenous people.
In the 1600’s we get a clear example of the dehumanization of Indigenous people. Colonizers not only saw themselves as superior to Indigenous people, they argued that Indigenous people were not people at all. Indigenous people were seen as less than human, as something disposable, a pest that needed to be removed. It was around this time that European colonizers introduced commercial bounty hunting in North America. They paid bounty hunters and mercenaries to kill Indigenous women, men, and children. Indigenous people were to be extinguished, no matter their age or sex. “They first paid fur trappers and other mercenaries for the heads and whole bodies of Native men, women, and children.” (Wilson & Yellow Bird, 2005, p. 33) When this became too arduous the payers of the bounties began to accept, “bloody red skins and scalps as proof of ‘Indian Kill.’” (Wilson & Yellow Bird, 2005, p. 33)
The United States government cemented the idea that Indigenous peoples were inferior in the Declaration of Independence. This contradictory document begins by saying, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” (The Declaration of Independence, 1775) Later in the document, Indigenous people are accused of being cruel, brutal, and without mercy. “He has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions.” (The Declaration of Independence, 1775) Here we see that inequality is ingrained in the United States government. It is also embedded in the Canadian government.
In 1876, upon the creation of the colonial state known as Canada, Indigenous people were infantilized and treated as if they were unable to run their own lives and be autonomous even though they had done so for thousands of years before colonization. It was at this time that the “Indian Act” was born. The “Indian Act” determined who possesses “Indian status,” which refers to the specific legal identity of Indigenous persons in Canada. Under the “Indian Act”, anyone who has “Indian status” is considered a ward of the state and considered to be childlike and in need of someone to “civilize” them. The Department of the Interior, in their 1876 Annual Report, states, “Our Indian legislation generally rests on the principle, that the aborigines are to be kept in a condition of tutelage and treated as wards or children of the State. …the true interests of the aborigines and of the State alike require that every effort should be made to aid the Red man in lifting himself out of his condition of tutelage and dependence, and that is clearly our wisdom and our duty, through education and every other means, to prepare him for a higher civilization by encouraging him to assume the privileges and responsibilities of full citizenship.” (Department of the Interior, Annual Report, 1877, p. xiv)
In addition to the racism built into colonialism, which perpetuates food insecurity and food injustice, is sexism. Sexism, like racism, is inherently connected to colonialism. When colonizers arrived in the Americas, they brought with them Christianity and preconceived gender notions. Rather than an equal relationship where everyone has their roles, this balance was destroyed by the enforcement of patriarchy.
Before colonization women were revered and respected. They were considered the keepers of culture who tell the next generation the stories of those who came before. Women propel the family forward and keep them alive and well. In the Lakota tradition of the North American plains, the equal, though different, roles of men and women were taught to them by the holy person White Buffalo Calf Woman.
White Buffalo Calf Woman came during a time that the Lakota were struggling. They had forgotten how to live in harmony. White Buffalo Calf Woman came to them to help them restore harmony with each other and all things. Part of doing this was explaining the Lakota’s roles to them and how these roles are essential.
When explaining their roles, White Buffalo Calf Woman turned to the women and said: My dear sisters, the women: You have a hard life in this world, yet without you this life would not be like it is. Wakantanka [the Creator, the Great Mystery] intends that you shall bear much sorrow—comfort others in times of sorrow. By your hands the family moves. You have been given the knowledge of making clothing and of feeding the family. Wakantanka is with you in your sorrows and joins you in your griefs. He has given you the great gift of kindness toward every living creature on earth. You he has chosen to have a feeling for the dead who are gone. He knows that you remember the dead longer than do men. He knows that you love your children dearly. (Alexander, 1953, p. 156)
She then turns to the men and says: “Now my dear brothers: […] The tribe as a whole depend upon it [the Sacred Pipe] for their necessary needs. You realize that all your necessities of life come from the earth below, the sky above, and the four winds. Whenever you do anything wrong against these elements they will always take some revenge on you. You should reverence them. Offer sacrifices through this pipe. When you are in need of buffalo meat, smoke this pipe and ask for what you need and it shall be granted to you. On you it depends to be a strong help to the women in raising the children. Share the women’s sorrow. Wakantanka smiles on the man who has a kind feeling for woman …” (Alexander, 1953, p. 157)
Here White Buffalo Calf Woman is telling the men their roles to provide the tribe with the necessities of life, to pray for everyone, and to make sacrifices. They will hunt for the buffalo that will nourish the tribe and provide hides and bones for clothes and tools to provide for the community. It is through their prayer and sacrifices that they can assure that the necessities of life are provided. They are the protectors of women and must share their burden with them.
(It is important to note that though these roles are essential for men and women, they are not rigid. Two-spirit people are regarded very highly and as sacred. There is no shame or taboo in a person who was born “male” to take on the characteristics and role of a “female” or vice versa.)
The Christian culture of the European colonizers contradicts this balance between the feminine and masculine and declared that men are superior to women. In the creation story of Christianity, nature is flipped on Her head. In reality, it is a simple truth that man is born of woman. Women bear both male and female children. Yet, in the Christian story this is not the case. In the story of the Garden of Eden, Adam is created first and from his rib Eve is created. In this cosmological story, the power of creation is taken from woman and given to man. This serves to cement man’s supposed superiority over woman, for it is now man who is the creator of life.
Before prolonged contact with colonizers women were responsible for most of what Indigenous communities ate in New England. “[…] the gendered division of labor between hunting and gathering and agriculture in New England demonstrates that women became responsible for 90% of the precontact Native American Diet. (Mailer & Hale, 2018, p. 93) Women were cultivating the Three Sisters of maize, beans, and squash, but these were not the only plants they cultivated. Women also grew pumpkins, cucumbers, and artichokes among other crops. However, this was not the way of the European colonizers.
European colonizer’s gender notions intruded upon the balance that Indigenous women and men had achieved. When the English saw women working out in the fields, they thought it was unwomanly and uncivilized. Thus, the English sought to discourage and sabotage this system. They even used this as a reason to steal more land. Gendered English notions of domesticity further undermined the hybrid between agriculture and hunting and gathering in New England and Iroquois country. Where Native American Women worked in plant cultivation their physical labor was perceived by English settlers as uncivilized and discouraged or even sabotaged. English settlers replaced gendered physical spaces with new animals lots or wheat fields (Mailer & Hale, 2018, p. 154)
Colonizers brought with them their preconceived notions about gender roles. They forced their ideas of gender on the Indigenous populations they colonized, in effect creating and continually propagating sexism in the Americas. We can now see how sexism is deeply embedded in the colonization of the Americas.
Colonization as an Ongoing Process/System
It is important that we do not misinterpret colonization of the Americas as a single event with a distinct end, because this is not the case. Colonization is an ongoing system that includes continued oppression. Oppression is prolonged cruel and/or unjust treatment.It is important that we do not misinterpret colonization of the Americas as a single event with a distinct end, because this is not the case. Colonization is an ongoing system that includes continued oppression. Oppression is prolonged cruel and/or unjust treatment.
Some of the poorest counties in the United States are found on the Western Plains where the U.S. government has forced Indigenous people onto reservations. When Indigenous people were gathered and forced to live on reservations, they were mandated to use European farming methods on the unfertile land. However, the amount of useable farm land is not nearly large enough to support the entire population. In addition, the unemployment rates and household incomes are well below the federal poverty guidelines creating food deserts.
Food deserts, as defined by the American Nutrition Association, “are parts of the country lacking in adequate supply of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthy whole foods, usually in impoverished areas.” (Food Deserts, 2018) This does not only mean lack of access to grocery stores, but it also includes lack of access to food pantries and food sharing programs. Fig. 1 shows food deserts in green.
The unemployment rates on reservations is much higher than the United States average unemployment rate. There are very few jobs on reservations and very few jobs nearby. This makes finding work on reservations extremely hard. On the Pine Ridge reservation of the Oglala, according to the 2005 Department of Interior report, there was an 89% unemployment rate. After 2005, “the Department of the Interior has since ceased producing estimates of “unemployment.” (Pine Ridge, 2020) In Navajo Nation, the unemployment rate is 44.25%. (Donovan, 2017) The Sokaogon Chippewa Community has an unemployment rate of 93%. The Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians in California has an unemployment rate of 91%. The Cheyenne River Sioux tribe has an unemployment rate of 88%. (Schilling, 2013) The United States average unemployment rate is 5.74%, much lower than the unemployment rates on reservations.
In addition to high unemployment rates, the median income for people living on reservations is drastically lower than the median income for people living off reservations. The U.S. capita is $51,638. The Navajo reservation median income is $7,751. (Donovan, 2017) For the Oglala the median income is $7,773. (Pine Ridge, 2020) The Acoma Pueblo has a median income of $13,895. (Acoma Pueblo, 2018) It is easy to see that the median income for people living on reservations is drastically lower than that of people living off the reservation.
These sky-high unemployment rates and incredibly low incomes that help create food deserts are no accident. When someone is born on the reservation and grow up, they have a choice. They can either live in total poverty or they can move off reservation, leaving their traditions, spirituality, and families behind to assimilate. They are forced to assimilate or live in poverty.
Through the inspection of figure 1 and figure 2, it becomes clear that there is a definite overlap between reservations and food deserts. This means that Indigenous people are continually being denied access to the healthy food needed to live a healthy life and to experience their culture fully.
Food Consumption & Preparations as Culturally Significant
Food consumption and preparation are very culturally significant to Indigenous peoples. For them, food, culture, and health are interrelated and connected. Eating traditional cultural foods helps keep those who are part of that culture connected to nature and the land, to traditions, and to spirituality. When interviewed, Yukon First Nations people “indicated that eating cultural food supported basic cultural values including keeping people ‘in tune’ with nature, facilitating sharing, was a way for adults to display responsibility for their children, and to practice spirituality.” (Cidro, Adekunle, Peters, & Martens, 2015, p. 27)
The activities that are involved in the acquisition and distribution of food are connected to deep seeded values such as sharing and cooperation and the knowledge associated with cultivating food is deeply intertwined with the larger understanding of the people’s relationships to each other, the environment, and spirituality. “The knowledge and understanding associated with growing and nurturing your own food are connected to larger understandings of the relationship between the environment, spirituality, and people.” (Cidro et. al, 2015, p. 34)
For Indigenous people, food is not just something profane to simply consume, it is sacred. Harvesting and cultivation methods always contain an element of ceremony, in fact, in most instances, Indigenous people learn about the cultivation and hunting of traditional foods from their holy people. For instance, in the Navajo tradition, which heavily relied on deer meat and deer products for survival, were taught to hunt deer from the holy deer people themselves. “When food harvesting, preparation and consumption contain an element of ceremony and spirituality, a different kind of intention becomes embodied. Careful consideration of technique, and appreciation for the broader connections between food, land and past and future generations become part of the connection to food.” (Cidro et. al., 2015, p. 34-5) Without this sense of connection and tradition, Indigenous people are denied their culture and belief systems. Not only do they go hungry for lack of access to healthy foods and traditional foods, they also suffer spiritually.
Decolonizing Our Food System
In order to get to the root of these issues then, we must decolonize our food system. Because of the nature of colonization as an active process, decolonization cannot be passive. We must actively reflect upon the world and ourselves to transform it. This is what Brazilian liberatory educator Paulo Freire calls “praxis”. According to Freire, praxis is, “refection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” (Wilson & Yellow Bird, 2005, p. 2) Through this reflection and action we are able to question the legitimacy of colonization and the roles it has each of us playing. The Tunisian decolonization activist Albert Memmi, wrote, “In order for the colonizer to be the complete master, it is not enough for him to be so in actual fact, he must also believe in the legitimacy. In order for that legitimacy to be complete, it is not enough for the colonized to be a slave, he must also accept his role.” (Wilson & Yellow Bird, 2005, p. 2)
We must wake up to the injustice of the colonial system so we can find ways to challenge and resist colonial ideologies and institutions. Decolonization is reflective and intelligent. Waziyatawin Angela Wilson and Michael Yellow Bird (2005) define decolonization as, the intelligent, calculated, and active resistance to the forces of colonialism that perpetuate the subjugation and/or exploitation of our minds, bodies, and lands, and it is engaged for the ultimate purpose of overturning the colonial structure and realizing Indigenous liberation. (p. 5) This means, in the context of food injustice, to decolonize our food system we must actively overturn the colonial food system now in place. Only when we are able to do so will we be able to obtain long term food justice and food security.
Shared Values of a Decolonized Food System
The decolonization of the colonial food system will look different in different regions throughout North America. There are, however, some basic shared values that will be found throughout different regions.
Such values will include, but certainly not limited to, a return to sustainable biodiverse farming practices which allow for natural cycles. In fact, many farmers are already calling for a return to biodiverse farming practices. “Farmers and activists inside and outside Native America are renewing the call for biodiverse farming practices, which allow a natural cycle where pasture-raised roaming animals convert grass into nutrient-dense meat, while also fertilizing the soil and providing context for other plants and crops to grow, and other smaller animals to reproduce.” (Mailer & Hale, 2018, p. 213) When farming practices adhere to more the natural cycle of things it becomes more sustainable.
A decolonized food system must also ensure that those most affected by food insecurity and food injustice, those who are most marginalized and disempowered, are part of the decision-making process when deciding on the solutions. As Olivier De Schutter, the previous FAO Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food argues, “we must ensure that the weakest, the most disempowered and marginalized take part in shaping the answers, in identifying solutions.” (Slocum & Cadieux, 2015, p. 39) In fact, it is these marginalized and disempowered communities who often know exactly what is required. This means our decolonized food system must be participatory and inclusive.
Decolonizing our food system does not mean romanticizing the past, nor does it mean that we want to return to the past or a pre-modern lifestyle. It is about using the knowledge we have gained from the past and the knowledge we are currently gaining in order to incorporate better practices and live healthier lives. “Decolonizing the Diet in this way need not reflect a romanticized attempt to return to a premodern lifestyle. Rather it incorporates what we now realize are better practices in ecological science which in turn supply diverse micronutrients and reduce reliance on nutrient-poor and energy-dense foods, which have contributed to metabolic syndromes in and out of Native America during the last half century.” (Mailer & Hale, 2018, p. 217)
In North America food insecurity and inequality is inseparably intertwined with colonization. With the colonization of the Americas came the introduction of food injustice and food insecurity. During colonization, historically and in present day, food is used as a weapon of oppression. Colonizers use dispossession, dependency, and oppression to gain and maintain power over the colonized. These methods were used in the Americas to steal land from Indigenous people, taking away that which provided everything they needed, making them dependent, and cruelly denying them access to the land and food they once enjoyed. Therefore, if we want to achieve long lasting food justice and food equality in North America, food injustice and inequality must be understood in the context of colonization. This means that the food justice movement must focus on decolonizing the food system in order to have long lasting food justice and equality.
References Alexander, Hartley Burr. (1953). The World’s Rim: Great Mysteries of the North American Indians. University of Nebraska Press.
Alkan, Allison Hope. (2014). Food Justice and the Challenge to Neoliberalism. Gastronomica, 14(2), 27-40.
Biel, Robert. (2016). Food, Imperialism, and Dependency. Sustainable Food Systems the Role of the City, 74-89.
Canadian Department of the Interior, Annual Report for the year ended 30th June, 1876 (1876). Parliament, Sessional Papers, No. 11, 1877, p. xiv.
Cidro, J., Adekunle, B., Peters, E., & Martens, T. (2015). Beyond Food Security: Understanding Access to Cultural Food for Urban Indigenous People in Winnipeg as Indigenous Food Sovereignty. Canadian Journal of Urban Research, 24(1), 24-43.
People across the world are panicking over COVID-19 (the coronavirus). This panic has been pushed along by the media. This panic has led to people abandoning reason, thoughtfulness, and compassion. These are the exact things which we need to maintain during such an event as a pandemic. I have seen shelves of soap, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer fly off shelves and seen people whose carts overflow with these things. There has even been violence over the last package of toilet paper.1 People are taking way more than they need. By doing so these hoarders are depriving those who need it most of the products they rely on. The elderly and immunocompromised are at the highest risk of infection and not only need things like soap and hand sanitizer during a pandemic, but rely on these things to keep them protected and well on a day to day basis. These communities of people who are more susceptible are NOT DISPOSABLE and should be thought of first, before purchasing more than what one and one’s family may need. Those of us who are less vulnerable than others have a responsibility to those who are more vulnerable.
You do not need to hoard supplies to stay safe. This is a time to think of our communities and how we can best help our communities get through this the best we can. Yes, your community includes you and your family, so do not worry about being ignored. With that in mind here are some tips on how you can get what you and your family need without sacrificing your community or inadvertently depriving those in need of those things they need to be well.
Before you go out to purchase things in case of a quarantine look around and see what you already have. This is incredibly important. Be thoughtful about what you have and what you may need. Then try to calculate how long what you already have will last you and yours. I did this, and found that my, relatively meager, pantry contained enough rice and canned goods for me and my partner to survive for at least a couple weeks if we absolutely needed to. Our diets would be nothing fancy, mostly rice, beans, some frozen foods already in the freezer, and some canned goods, but in a real pinch we could make it work. This meant when I went to the store, I did not need much in terms of food. I picked up a bag of brown rice, I only had white at home, extra beans, and a few things we needed anyway, like coconut milk and some bananas. My guess, is that most of the people stockpiling (they can afford to) are in a similar situation as my own, if you stop and look and then evaluate you may already have all of the food you would absolutely need if you had to be quarantined for a couple of weeks. Remember, what we need to survive is very different than the capitalist consumer notion that we need pretty much everything they are trying to sell us in bulk. What we need for survival is food, water, and shelter.
Next, water. Now, in my neck of the woods, at this point, there is no foreseen water shortage. If you want to be prepared be sure you know where there are local sources of water that you can boil and filter if needed. In addition, go ahead and buy a couple gallons of water. However, leave most of it for others who may need it. Many people, particularly in rural areas, do not have clean drinking water that comes from the faucet. Their water may have chemicals, metals, or other undesirable materials in it and they often depend on store-bought for drinking water. This is something they need for the day to day. By taking more than you need you are depriving others of the water they need to survive. I live in a pretty rural area and we are often under boil orders, so we already have some drinking water for “just in case we get another boil order”.
If you have medications and can get extra, if you need it, then go ahead and get that extra medication.
The hoarding of toilet paper we have been seeing is completely unreasonable. Sure, pick up an extra pack of what you usually buy, just in case you are unable to make it to the store later. However, I have seen carts filled with toilet paper! People buying more toilet paper than they will probably need for months, unless they of course live with 20 other people or more. In addition, COVID-19 is a respiratory virus. This means that it mainly affects one’s breathing. The primary organ in the respiratory system is the lungs. It does not attack the bowels or intestines. So, there should not be that much of an extra need for toilet paper.
The point is, only take what you need and leave the rest. It is very good for you to wash your hands regularly with soap and water, um you should have been doing this anyway, but if you buy up all the soap and yours are the only clean hands, then you are going to have a problem. Do not just think of yourself and your family, but about your entire community as well. We are all in this together, let us not forget that.
Many states are taking precautions in order to mitigate the effects the virus may have on their communities. Some are saying, these precautions are outrageous that COVID-19 is nothing more than the regular flu that we deal with every year. These people are not part of the most vulnerable communities. They say, “stop making such a big deal out of it”. On the other hand, we have those who are completely freaking out because they feel like this is the worst illness that has ever hit the world. Well, as usual, these are two extreme opinions and the reality is somewhere in the middle. Is this the flu we deal with every season, no it isn’t. It is completely reasonable to monitor the situation and take reasonable precautions.
My state, Illinois, is doing things like cancelling all big events that draw huge crowds, like sports events. They say either cancel or play without fans for a while. This is reasonable. Viruses spread more in large crowds of people, so avoiding large crowds. Avoiding large crowds is something many, like myself, do during flu season anyway. But is cancelling too much? Personally, I do not think so. A lot of people would probably show up anyway if they were not cancelled. To me this seems reasonable to protect our communities.
Do not forget to be patient and compassionate to those you meet. This is a good practice at all times, but even more important during a pandemic. We are all experiencing this together and we are all having a hard time so let us remember that and act accordingly. I particularly want to mention that our patients and compassion should be kicked up a level for those in the service industry right now. Be nice and patient with the person ringing up your purchases. They are doing the best they can and are overworked in times like these and remember they have their own families and communities to worry about. If you are going to a drive-through, be nice and patient to your server. Another part of the community I would like to mention that may need a little extra patience and compassion for our health care workers. These people are working as hard as they can and doing their best to help us and our communities stay healthy and to treat us when we are sick.
Whatever you do, don’t panic. Anxiety and stress affect the immune system, so in effect, panicking makes one more susceptible to illness. “If you repeatedly feel anxious and stressed or it lasts a long time, your body never gets the signal to return to normal functioning. This can weaken your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to viral infections and frequent illnesses. Also, your regular vaccines may not work as well if you have anxiety.”2 If you are feeling anxious or panicked there are lots of ways you can reduce anxiety. Some of my favorite methods are breath work, meditation, and reading. For those of us with anxiety and panic disorders experiences, such as having a world-wide pandemic, can make this anxiety and panic even worse. Be sure to check in on your community members who suffer from anxiety and panic disorders and make sure they are ok. Believe me, just checking in with someone with anxiety and/or panic disorders can help relieve some of that anxiety.
Panic and anxiety also affect one’s ability to reason and make good decisions. Decision making is a cognative process of the prefrontal cortex in the frontal lobe of our brains. Our ability to make good decisions is based on the activity of certain neurons and their ability to engage with each other. “The PFC [prefrontal cortex] plays a pivotal role in executive functions that include: long-term planning, understanding rules, calculating the consequences of risk and reward, regulating emotions, problem-solving, and decision-making. Anxiety, in both animals and humans, appears to disrupt brain neurons in the PFC that are critical for making smart decisions.”3 What this comes down to is that if you are panicking and anxious, you will be unable to make good decisions. When we are in a state of anxiety we may do something like hoard toilet paper when there is a respitory virus pandemic. If one takes a moment to reduce their anxieties one improves decision making skills.4 Controling anxiety in our day to day lives is important, however, it is even more important in times of crisis and chaos. “Reducing anxiety is especially important during chaotic times, when you feel overwhelmed, or that your life is out of control. During times of distress, the latest research shows that people are likely to make poor decisions which can exacerbate anxiety, lead to more bad decisions and snowball into a downward spiral.”5
Things are chaotic now, and we all have a lot to deal with. However, it is no time for selfishness and thoughtlessness. In fact, this is a time that pettiness and selfishness should be put aside in favor of the health of the community. Even though our world may be threatened by a pandemic it is not the time to think only of yourself, be unreasonable, and lack compassion. If we take only what we need, take reasonable precautions, and be patient and compassionate we can help mitigate this disaster and improve our communities and our own qualities of life during these troubling times.
In order to find a link between colonialism and racism we do not have to look very hard. White supremacy survives and thrives in colonial states even today, as we try harder and harder to show that white supremacy is wrong and damaging to everyone. When Columbus first came to the Americas, he clearly saw the indigenous populations as weaker and less than his European brethren. We can see this by the names colonizers gave to the occupants of the Americas. As history in the Americas lumbered on there is a lot of evidence showing that colonial states perpetually reinforce the idea that people of color are inferior and do not deserve the same rights as those descendants of white Europeans.
When Europeans first arrived, they saw that the people in the Americas looked differently than they did, were not Christian, and spoke strange languages. For European invaders, this meant that they were superior than the Indigenous populations already residing on the land. For instance, when the thief, murderer, and slave trader Christopher Columbus first arrived in the Americas and observed the Arawak of the Bahamas he stated, “They…brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance…. With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”1 In short, he found that the Arawak people were so generous and peaceful that they should be subjugated. Clearly, he found that his colonial, capitalist, violent, Christian ways were superior to the Arawak. After all, what kind of person gives all that they have and feels no need for violent weapons?
When Europeans came to the Americas, rather than learning the names of the people that were established here, began designating them in their own ways. The European invaders named many of the Indigenous peoples “Sioux”. Sioux is from the Anishinaabe word for “enemy” or “snake”. This was the name given to the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota peoples. Designating someone or something as “enemy” or “snake” shows a great disrespect and a racist ideology. In European/Christian mythology the snake is not to be trusted. It was the snake that tempted Eve to eat the Apple (A very nutritious food) and thus lead to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. They called the Tsistsistas Nation “Cheyenne”, a French version of the Lakota meaning for “talks funny”. They used “Tonto”, which means “stupid” or “silly” in Spanish, for some Apache peoples.2 This list goes on. What all the names have in common is that they are derogatory and they show us that the white European invaders believed themselves to be superior to the inhabitants of the Americas.
In the 1600’s Europeans brought commercial bounty-hunting to North America. “They first paid fur trappers and other mercenaries for the heads and whole bodies of Native men, women, and children.”3 However, this became too difficult, so the payers of the bounties would accept “bloody red skins and scalps as proof of ‘Indian Kill’”4 These people did not see Indigenous people as people, but less than. They saw them as something to be dealt with and extinguished, solely on the basis that they were the Indigenous inhabitants of this land that the European colonizers were violently stealing.
Let us move forward in time a bit to July of 1776. This date may seem familiar since it was during this time that the Declaration of Independence was written and distributed. This is a document that many white people from the United States hold dear. It was a revolutionary document which tells us that, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”5 This is a great start and it would be something to be proud of if it were not for the later declaration that, “He has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions.”6 Indigenous peoples are here referred to as without mercy, brutal, and cruel. Here again, and in a foundational document no less, we see derogatory words being used in order to declare white supremacy and reinforce the idea that Indigenous people are inferior and thus must be subjugated.
Then there were the boarding schools in North America, which had the goal of “Killing the Indian and saving the man”. Boarding schools were terrible places that wanted to completely and forcibly assimilate Indigenous children. Based on the fact that they were Indigenous, colonizers argued that because Indigenous peoples were not white, Christian, English speaking capitalist, they should be taught the right way to live, the white European way. Children were stolen from their families and forced to live at or spend their days at the government funded boarding schools. The boarding schools were a terrible environment where children would be brutally punished for speaking their native languages, practicing traditional religions, or doing anything that was “Indian”.
Upon the creation of Canada in 1876, the Indian Act was born. This act determined who had “Indian Status”. “Indian Status” refers to the specific legal identity of Indigenous persons in Canada. Within this act we find that under the Indian Act those with “Indian Status” are considered wards of the state and treated like children who need to be led to the path which could “civilize” them. The Department of the Interior, in their 1876 Annual Report, states, “Our Indian legislation generally rests on the principle, that the aborigines are to be kept in a condition of tutelage and treated as wards or children of the State. …the true interests of the aborigines and of the State alike require that every effort should be made to aid the Red man in lifting himself out of his condition of tutelage and dependence, and that is clearly our wisdom and our duty, through education and every other means, to prepare him for a higher civilization by encouraging him to assume the privileges and responsibilities of full citizenship.”7
These are only a few instances and examples of how colonialism breads white supremacy and racism. There are many more examples historically and many more continuing today, like the invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory by Royal Canadian Mounted Police in order to put a pipeline on their unceded territory or the fact that settler/colonial Americans continually use Native American imagery as mascots.
When colonizers first invaded the Americas, they immediately saw that the Indigenous populations were different from themselves. They looked different, spoke strange languages, practiced non-Christian religions, and were extremely generous, thus, the invaders came to the conclusion that the Indigenous populations in the Americas were theirs for the taking. They wrongly decided that they were superior to the Indigenous peoples, this is reflected in language used to describe Indigenous peoples, government policies, and in so much more.
When we talk about colonialism and all the issues it brings, we encounter many critics who argue that the problem of sexism is separate and distinct from colonialism and thus, they require separate treatment. Sexism, not unlike the idea that humans are independent and unattached, is viewed as an island. Such islands are treated as if they are unconnected and the work done on one island, has absolutely no effect on any other island. This view, however, denies the deeper connections between people, ideas, and all things. One who wants to address sexism, but wants to deny its connection to colonialism only wants to mask the symptoms of sexism, without getting to the root of the problem. Sexism, in the Americas, is intimately connected with, taught by, and promoted by colonialism. This means that in order to really address sexism one must also address colonization.
When European colonizers first came to the land of the Americas, they brought with them many preconceived notions about the world and how both men and womxn are to interact and how they are to treat each other. Christians are responsible for a great deal of colonization throughout the world. With them, comes the idea that Christians are supreme and anyone that is not Christian is inferior and must be assimilated.
With the colonizers came the patriarchy and sexism of Christianity.
Before colonization, womxn and their roles in society and tribal life were revered and respected. In many Indigenous cultures men and womxn have separate roles, however, each role is, rightly, seen as equally valuable and equally important. Let’s take for example the Lakota of the North American plains, who learned their roles from the Holy Woman, White Buffalo Calf Woman.
White Buffalo Calf Woman came to the Lakota during a time of suffering. They had lost their way. However, White Buffalo Calf Woman came to help them find their way back to harmony with each other, nature, and all things. Part of doing this, was explaining their roles to them and how those roles are indispensable.
White Buffalo Calf Woman turns to the womxn and says: “My dear sisters, the women: You have a hard life to live in this world, yet without you this life would not be what it is. Wakantanka [the Creator, the Great Mystery] intends that you shall bear much sorrow—comfort others in times of sorrow. By your hands the family moves. You have been given the knowledge of making clothing and of feeding the family. Wakantanka is with you in your sorrows and joins you in your griefs. He has given you the great gift of kindness toward every living creature on earth. You he has chosen to have a feeling for the dead who are gone. He knows that you remember the dead longer than do men. He knows that you love your children dearly.” (The World’s Rim 156)
Here, White Buffalo Calf Woman is describing womxn as the culture keepers, those who tell the stories to the children, who propel the family forward, keeping the family alive and well. Remembering those who have come before and the wisdom they possessed, and bearing the sorrow that comes with such remembrance. In many Indigenous cultures womxn are respected for their decision making and listened to closely. For they are the keepers of the children and the home, they are tempered with kindness, and can see how the living and the dead are effected by our actions and decisions through keeping and passing on the stories of the culture. It is the role of the womxn to make the clothing and care for the children and the home.
When White Buffalo Calf Woman turned to the men she said: “Now my dear brothers: […] The tribe as a whole depend upon it [the Sacred Pipe] for their necessary needs. You realize that all your necessities of life come from the earth below, the sky above, and the four winds. Whenever you do anything wrong against these elements they will always take some revenge on you. You should reverence them. Offer sacrifices through this pipe. When you are in need of buffalo meat, smoke this pipe and ask for what you need and it shall be granted to you. On you it depends to be a strong help to the women in raising the children. Share the women’s sorrow. Wakantanka smiles on the man who has a kind feeling for woman …” (The World’s Rim 157)
White Buffalo Calf Woman, tells the men that they are called upon to provide the necessities of life to the tribe, to pray, and to make sacrifices. This includes hunting and procuring buffalo meat and all the buffalo provides. Through their prayer and sacrifices they can assure that the necessities of life will be provided. They are protectors of the womxn and must share in their burdens.
We see, that for the Lakota, the roles of womxn and men and their domains are different. However, both roles are necessary for life to continue as it does. One role is not dominant or superior to the other. There is a balance of male and female powers.
We also see this in the Holy People of many Indigenous cultures. There is always a balance of male and female powers. Each male Holy Person is paired with a female Holy Person. For instance, the first Holy People of the Navajo, First Man and First Woman, who, together, lead the others to the Earth’s surface and created the Navajo.
The European culture of the colonizers contradicts this balance of male and female to proclaim that man is superior to womxn. In the creation of humans, in the Christian tradition, nature is flipped on its head. In the reality of nature man is born of woman. It is woman who bears children, both male and female. Yet, in the Christian story, this is not the case. Adam is created first and from his rib Lilith (who was rejected by Adam, because she was too independent and strong) and then Eve. Thus, in this cosmological story, the power of creation is taken from the womxn and given to the man, making his superiority to womxn more concrete, for now it is man who is the creator of life.
In addition, when reading the Bible, we find that the importance of womxn is only through their relationships with men. The Mother Mary is important because of her relationship to her son, Jesus, and Sarah is only important through her relationship with Abraham. You will find no independent, unwed, strong womxn in the Bible. We are told that womxn will be saved by man, and in fact it was a man (Jesus Christ) who came to save the entire human race. This devalues womxn and their roles. Womxn cannot be saviors, they can only be saved and follow and serve the men who can.
Through forced assimilation the Indigenous ideas of balance and harmony of womxn and men are stolen and replaced with patriarchy, a system in which men hold the power and womxn are largely excluded from it. The Christian/patriarchal roles of men and womxn were, and are, forced upon Indigenous communities destroying Indigenous gender relations.
Colonizers brought with them patriarchy and unequal gender roles. They forced these roles and views upon the Indigenous populations, in effect creating and propagating sexism in the Americas. Thus, we see that colonization and sexism are not separate problems. Sexism in the Americas is a symptom and result of colonization. So, if we treat sexism as problem independent of the context of colonization, we are merely attempting to mask the symptom of a much deeper problem. However, if we treat sexism in the context of its relation and foundations in colonialism we can get to the roots of the problem and pull them up!
*This is the second installment of a series on colonization and decolonization
References: Alexander, Hartly Burr, The World’s Rim: Great Mysteries of the North American Indians, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1953), 156-7.
In our turbulent times there are so many problems that need to be addressed. So many issues that need to be considered and a great many changes that need to be made. We see North America, namely the U.S. and Canada devolving. Sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, violent crimes, and lies plague our society. Yet, how can we possibly address all of these problems? Each one, to our colonized minds, seems like its own separate problem. In fact, while speaking with my mother recently, I was talking about a Convergence I had recently attended and I mentioned how things like Climate Change, sexism, and racism are related. Her response was a common one, “It seems to me those are very separate problems.”
On the surface, this may seem to be the case. That each problem is its own island that must be addressed. However, looking at the problems in this way takes each issue out of its context, as if it existed in a vacuum. Without context we cannot possibly understand the problems we are facing as a society much less solve them.
Rather than looking at the issues we face as secluded and unrelated we have to take a more holistic approach and look at society itself, its roots, how these roots have led us to where we are, and how by recognizing the cause of the problems rather than the separate symptoms we can truly build a better life. A better life for all of us, not just one segment or class. As the Lakota say, when we pray for ourselves, we pray for everyone and everything.
Our American society, as we know and recognize it, began with a system of colonization. Colonialism is defined by Merriam Webster as the control of one power over a dependent area or people. Colonization occurs when one power subjugates another. During this process one power conquers, enslaves, and exploits those they seek power over, this includes forced assimilation. Forced assimilation aims to make the cultural norms, languages, religions etc. of the colonial power onto the people it subjugates and exploits. Least we forget the Boarding Schools that wanted to “Kill the Indian and save the man”. Colonial powers use ethos or policy of using power or force to control another nation or powers. Colonialism cannot be seen as a single event, but as a process and a system which always aims to eliminate indigenous populations and take their land. It is an ongoing process within a system of Eurocentric values and culture.
The impact of colonialism has been and continues to be, the degradation of the environment, the spread of disease, economic instabilities, ethnic rivalries, and human rights violations to name a few. 1 Colonization has never been friendly, as the story we are taught in school about “Thanksgiving” suggests. It is violent, genocidal, and brutal. Our colonial foundation is based on exploitation, slavery, racism, sexism, and white supremacy. Thus, in order for us to get to the root of these issues we have recognize the foundation of our current society and that it has led us to our current state.
Colonialism makes many assumptions, and we are indoctrinated with these assumptions. For example these assumptions include things like, that one must comodify their labor and themselves in order to be valuable, that people and our environment are not inherently valuable, that the lives of women are worth less than the lives of men, that the lives of people of color are less valuable than the lives of people who are white or Caucasian. Such assumptions have led us to the issues we face today including, white supremacy, climate denial, of thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, fake news, and so much more.
In Whose Land is It Anyway: A Manuel for Decolonization, Arthur Manuel tells us that there are three basic components on which colonialism is founded. Firstly is dispossession. Dispossession is the action of depriving someone of land, property, or other possessions. With the colonial invasion comes dispossession. When colonizers arrived in the Americas, they claimed the land they now stood on as their own and treated it as such. Because the land they “discovered” was now arbitrarily “theirs” they would exclude anyone else from the use of it. By doing so the First Nations, who had been on this land for thousands of years, became excluded from the use of their ancestral lands where they lived and all that it provided them. The land that the Native Americans had always used, always lived on, and preserved was stolen due to the assumption that the white Europeans who arrived were superior to those who had lived on this land for so many years.
In fact, the colonizers found that because the people who already lived in the Americas were so different from them, that they must be worth less and not people at all. Some of the reasons colonizers came to this conclusion was that the Native Americans were much too generous. They lived in a gift economy, where giving is better than having and generosity is supreme. In short, one of the main reasons colonizers concluded that Native Americans were less than was because they were too generous and did not horde things in order to have it all or in order to have more than someone else.
The second component of colonization is dependence. Dependence is the state of relying on or being controlled by someone or something else. In order to control others one must keep them dependent on the colonizing power. Dependency keeps people impoverished and dependent. After all, it is harder to rise up if you are looking for your next meal and are impoverished than if you are rich and have the time and energy to expend on resistance.
Colonialism leads to complete dependency. As soon as the dispossession kicks in dependency is right there. Once colonizers began to steal the land, they were able to force the dispossessed into dependency. The people who lived here before colonization depended on the land on which they lived for survival. The land provided food and clothing and shelter and medicine. Their land provided everything they needed to survive and flourish. However, when that land was taken away they no longer had their independence, because the land was the source of that independence. Once this has happened, one becomes dependent on those that dominate and dispossess them.
The third element of colonialism is oppression. It is prolonged cruel or unjust treatment. We can see the oppression of Native Americans everywhere we turn. For instance, the poorest counties in the U.S. are not in the deep south as one may suppose. The poorest counties in the United States are those located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the American Southwest. This is no accident. When Native Americans were rounded up onto reservations, they were told to use the European farming techniques taught to them by their colonizers. However, the usable land, that is land that can be farmed, is not nearly enough to support the population. This means that they must depend on “State” support because food needs cannot be met. In addition, there are very few employment opportunities in this area, which means finding a job is nearly impossible. This forces residents to dependency and treats them unfairly. This is done through policies and regulations that continue. In addition, the fact that each family and each tribe was forced onto reservations in the first place is cruel and unjust. Native Americans were killed as if their lives did not matter, enslaved as if they were not people, and forced to abandon their land, and controlled.
Our colonial systems were are based on dispossession, dependency, and oppression. Built into these elements are white supremacy, sexism, ableism, homophobia, Climate Change etc. In order then, for us to address the problems we face as a society today we cannot face each problem out of context and separate. We must attack the root from which all of these issues grow out of. This root is the system of colonization and all that it entails. This means we must decolonize! We must reject colonization and everything it stands for. We must question those values and ideals indoctrinated into us by our colonial governments and cultures.
*This is the first part of a series on colonization and decolonization.
For some time, many of us “horror enthusiast” have been honoring the Halloween season (early Autumn to October 31st) by watching a different horror movie every night in October. Hence, the name 31 days of Halloween. There are formal schedules released by different television networks, websites, and organizations, however, most of us watch what we want. Throughout the month of October, every night, we watch a horror movie. These movies can be from any subgenre of horror from psychological and slasher, to zombie, supernatural, and thriller. Participating in watching horror movies has many benefits that horror enthusiasts enjoy.
I personally favor the supernatural horror sub-genre. However, any true horror enthusiast will go from sub-genre to sub-genre and have their favorites in each. I mix in old favorites with new films I have not seen before. In short, for the horror enthusiast, our Octobers are filled with images of death, blood, the occult, the unknown, the dark, ghosts, and ghouls. In fact, it is our favorite time of year. Nightly, we hear characters screaming, the tearing of flesh, and the gasps of unknown terrors.
For many, who are not horror enthusiast, the idea of surrounding one’s self with images and sounds of death and horror night after night sounds troubling. I have been asked more than once, “why would you do that to yourself”, “do you sleep at all in October”, along with other questions indicating that my behavior is strange or out of the ordinary. However, the horror movie industry is booming. In fact, in 2017, thirty-two horror movies earned $983.7 million.
Box office sales like these tell a different story. It is not so unusual to enjoy horror movies. Some people enjoy the genre more than others, and there are some of course who dislike the genre all together. Horror enthusiast go further than the occasional horror film. Urbandictionary.com tells us that, “If you enjoy horror such as watching horror movies, games, stories; anything to do with horror. You enjoy it to the point that it’s your passion, driving people to get weirded out by you when you talk about it, then you are a horror enthusiast.”
But what is the point? Why watch these movies that can be so unsettling? Why dive into a genre that is dark, violent, and strange? Why use one’s leisure time engaged in the frightening and macabre?
One reason we enjoy the experience of horror movies in what is called “the excitation transfer process.” This has to do with how we feel after we watch a horror movie. Dr. Glenn Sparks tells us that, “when people watch frightening films, their heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increases.” 1 This stimulation continues after the film is finished and we go on with our lives. This means that any emotions we feel will be heightened. Positive feelings will be enhanced. Negative feelings will also be intensified. A person who has had a positive experience during and after watching a horror film will come back for more. They will remember how much fun they had. On the other hand, those who have a negative experience, or have a “bad night/day” after watching a horror film may be more hesitant to watch another.
In addition to, “the excitation transfer process”, Dr. Sparks, states that some people are just wired in a way that they enjoy high levels of physiological arousal. In short, some of us enjoy the adrenaline rush we get by being scared.
Malcolm Turvey, director of the Film and Media Studies program and a professor, presents another theory that is referred to as the “beast inside” theory. According to this theory, “an unconscious, repressed part of every human is actually savage; that the veneer of civility is very thin, and beneath that is essentially a monster,”2 This means, that although we, as spectators, disapprove of what the “monster” in the film is doing, we also believe that part of us is not only capable of doing such a thing, but that deep down we enjoy watching it and that if we could “get away with it” or if we could, we would do the same.
Though each of these theories explains part of the reason why we watch horror movies and participate in things like the 31 days of Halloween, they fail to tell the whole story. Though, I do not believe I alone can tell the whole story, I can, however, fill in some gaps.
I often watch horror movies in order to aid in the understanding of human nature, the world in which we live, and the existence of evil. (I use the term evil pretty broadly here, because the discussion of the nature of evil will be for another day.)
We live in a world where the unspeakable happens. Acts of violence and hate occur daily and we see it. We see it everywhere. Having been on the internet and lived a while, I am well aware that terrible and awful things happen. Violence against our fellow humans, violence against our non-human brethren, and violence against the earth herself.
There is a dark side to life, after all, life must destroy other life in order to exist. These movies help me and others to explore this darker side from a safe distance. We want to understand not only why someone/thing would act so savagely as what we may see in a film, but also how. What is it in the nature of the darkness that allows such things to happen? Watching horror films helps us to understand our own fears, and the fears of what we may be capable of. We willingly engage in the macabre to understand the macabre. The macabre within ourselves, as the “beast within” theory suggests and the macabre of others. Even when we are hiding behind a pillow or yelling at an antagonist.
Watching horror movies also helps the existentialist in me to question whether or not there is such a thing as human nature, that is a nature that would include the “beast within”. Is it in fact the case that humans as a whole have a single nature and that nature includes the “beast”. Yet, experience and statistics tell me that more people do not perform acts of sadism, violence, vengeance, or hate than do. It certainly appears to be the case that some of the population is capable of unthinkable acts, acts that terrify and cause terrible harm. However, we cannot use the few to define the many. Just because some are capable of horrendous acts, it does not logically follow that all are capable of terrible acts. So, though the “beast within” theory can explain the few, it cannot give us a picture of human nature as such. But that glimpse that it does give can be very valuable.
Another important reason to watch horror movies is catharsis. Horror movies often mirror societal concerns and collective fears. How many horror movies begin with an apocalypse? A lot! Popular themes in horror movies are apocalypse, biological or technological experiments gone awry, psychopaths, zombies, and monsters. Each of these themes express different collective fears.
By watching horror movies we are able to conquer our collective fears and thus experience catharsis. That is, we can be released from those fears and repressed emotions. Scienceabc.com tells us, “Godzilla, the classic 1954 sci-fi film, featured a monster created by nuclear radiation. This was a thinly veiled representation of the shared anxiety in Japan about the lingering effects of the nuclear attacks that ended World War II. Defeating this nuclear monster may be seen as a way to achieve collective catharsis. Other films like Friday the 13th tapped into the growing fear of random acts of violence and serial killings in the 1980s.” 3
There have also been scientific studies that show that watching horror movies has health benefits. Yes! It is healthy to watch horror movies!
In one study, from the University of Westminster, it was shown that a person watching a horror movie can burn more calories than another genre of movie. 4 Researchers monitored heart rates and other stress related signs of participants. They found that the increased heart rate and rush of adrenaline one gets when watching a horror movie helps to burn calories.
Watching scary movies also provides a boost to your immune system. In the same study that found that watching horror movies burns calories also found that it can strengthen your immune system. “One proposed reason for this is an increase in leukocytes, which protect the body against both infectious disease and foreign invaders.”5 So not only are horror movies fun but they are healthy!
Watching horror movies and diving into the macabre may not be for everyone, but for some of us it is a passion. It is an exploration of the darkness and of the unknown. We participate in things like the 31 days of Halloween, because it helps us deal with life. Whether it be a distraction, a quest for an adrenaline rush, or on our journey of understanding, watching horror movies and engaging in horror culture gives us valuable experiences that can be used to navigate life.
In my mid 20s, I was diagnosed with cataracts in my left eye. At the time, it did not interfere with my vision. Unfortunately as time creeped by the cataract in my left eye progressed further and further. Until finally it swallowed my left eye leaving me legally blind in that eye.
Now in my late 30s, after having completed a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, I still could not pay for the surgery to have the cataracts removed. Of course, I did not have insurance. Who could afford that? My eyesight had gotten progressively worse. Not only in my left eye, but also in my right, or what I referred to as “my good eye.”
I have worn specs for most of my life. Since around age 7-8, so I have spent much more time behind a pair of specs than I haven’t.
Yes, I had always worn specs, I had never worn contact lenses. I had never really wanted to, the thought of putting them in my eyes daily, all the infections that were possible, it was never very appealing to me.
Before about 6 months ago I had not been to an optometrist or gotten new specs for at least 5 years. Why? You may ask. I would ask the same question. Doesn’t this woman give a damn about her eyesight? Her general health? See, I am what many would call “poor.” I grew up poor and I have lived in the lower socioeconomic brackets for as long as I can remember. I have gone in debt to gain my education, knowing that as a philosopher I would never become a millionaire, but doing it for the love of education and my passion for philosophy.
This leaves me, as it does millions of others in the United States, in a very precarious position. How do we pay for the health care we need? Insurance? That is much too expensive! The average cost of health insurance is over $300 dollars a month! 1 For those of us in the lower socioeconomic brackets this is an impossible amount to pay. Some of us do qualify for government benefits, medicaid or medicare, but this only covers the bare minimum and does not include things like dentists and optometrists. This means, those of us like me, have no way of paying for frivolous things like new specs or yearly optometrist appointments.
It becomes a financial dream, I said more than once, “when I make it big, I am going to get new glasses,” or “when I get a little money I am going to see about cataract surgery.” However, that day never seemed to come. In fact, I even lost my job last year, through no fault of my own (that is another story.) So the day that I could get my cataract surgery, which cost around $3500 per eye not including doctors appointments, just got further away. 2
So there I was, going blind unable to see the things that matter to me, unable to read all the great works I had longed to read, unable to see the beauty around me clearly. Next, I even had to give up driving. The financial dream of better sight seemed out of reach. For most of the people in the U.S. the story unfortunately ends with legal blindness, disability, and the myriad of problems which comes with those things.
I however, have gotten lucky. My parents, who have risen in socioeconomic status, have taken pity on me and offered to pay for my surgeries. Yes, two surgeries.
Everytime I have seen a doctor in the past ten years, they would not really tell me anything. They knew I did not have vision insurance, so I was not worth their time or effort. They would examine my eyes briefly, then tell me I had cataracts in my left eye and that I was “awfully young to have cataracts,” and sent me on my way with a new lens prescription. That was it. They would not explain anything to me, or even refer me to a surgeon. I guess they figured I was a lost cause, because I could never afford the costs of the doctors and surgeons.
Recently, upon my parents’ request I went to see my father’s optometrist. I had not had such a thorough examination in ages. I did however, fail my eye exam. Yes “failed!” The phrase “blind as a bat” was not used lightly. I had of course known my vision was bad, but I had not realized how bad until I was being examined. I now understood that my “good eye” was not so good, and my “bad eye” was horrible.
The optometrist explained to me how bad my left eye was, and then told me about the cataract in my right eye that “needs to be taken care of soon.” However, my left eye, “must be dealt with as soon as possible.” The optometrist’s assistants then tried to find a “rush” surgical consultation.
I came home with mixed emotions, hoping my terrible insurance would cover something since it was a medical diagnosis, regretting the fact that I could not pay for any of this myself, and hopeful that I might gain my eyesight back in the not so distant future.
The next day the phone rang, it was an unknown number but it was from the town the optometrist was located so I answered it. My government issued insurance would pay for nothing. They were sorry, but I owed them $120 for the appointment. I had them send it to my parents, as we had discussed. So rises a new level of guilt for taking all this money from them.
A few days later, they called again. It turns out, as soon as the optometrists’ office had found out that my insurance would not pay, they had taken me off the appointment books! They had not asked if they should, and I certainly did not tell them to. Rather than trying to help someone who was losing their sight, they simply cancelled. They did not try to find options for payment, perhaps a payment plan, or who knows what, all they did was take me off the books.
Thankfully, the woman on the other end of the line was trying to move my appointment to later in the day. She said, “we just assumed since the insurance would not pay for it you would cancel like everyone else does.” My head began to spin. What kind of system is this? I am one of the lucky ones. I know this, and will forever be grateful for that. But, what happens to the unlucky ones? When one reasons this out, one sees how ridiculous this is and how much more costly it is to let preventable blindness and other preventable and treatable conditions go untreated than it is to treat them and have a healthy community.
My story would have turned out much differently had I not had the sympathy of parents who could afford to help me. The path I was doomed to follow happens to way too many people. I could no longer drive, and I was getting to the point that work was becoming almost impossible. I live in a rural community. This means to get just about anywhere I have to travel several miles. However, I could no longer drive. How could I work outside the home? I then found employment online. The problem here is that I could not really see my computer screen anymore. How can I work on things that require sight when I have gone blind?
Had my eyesight gotten any worse, I would have been forced to apply for disability. With no other feasible option without the ability to drive or work. After a little research and rifling through old documents sent to me by the Social Security office. I found that had I actually applied for and received Social Security disability I would have gotten around $700.00 a month. This is where the fun arithmetic comes in. At $700 a month for the rest of my life (I am currently 38 years old) which would be until I am around 78 years old. 3 That is 40 years at $700 a month which ends up being around $336,000! That does not even include food stamps or Medicaid.
Here’s the point. The U.S. government would rather let its citizens go blind than invest in their health, specifically our vision. Rather than investing $7000 to improve my vision which in turn would give me back my ability to drive and work. For an investment of $7000 I could be a more “productive” member of society (like now that I have my vision back I am working and starting my own business). This relatively small investment would save over $329,000 and give citizens a better quality of life. Yet, there is an unwillingness to make such small investments in our citizens which would allow for larger investments in the people that make up this society.
We so often hear the rhetoric that investing in people hurts the economy. “Pull yourself up with your own bootstraps” they say. Something we would all gladly do, if we could see the bootstraps!
There has been a time in all of our young lives when we resolved that when we became adults, and could thus do what we want, we would eat cake (or whatever your favorite treat is) for breakfast. And there was not a darn thing anyone could do about it! Take that mom & dad (parent or guardian)!
It has occured to me, being a woman on the cusp of forty, that not many people enjoy, or get excited about getting to have cake for breakfast anymore. One of those things that in our childhoods made adulthood so appealing, like staying up as late as we want. Yet, as we continue through our adult lives we forget to be excited about having cake for breakfast – a sin our younger selves would not easily forgive.
So, why is it we have forgotten about the important freedom of having cake for breakfast?
First a bit of history:
The word cake itself is said to be of Viking origins. Coming from the Norse word “kaka.” The ancient Greeks called it plakous which was derived from the word “plakoeis” meaning flat. In ancient Rome, breads were sometimes made with honey and butter, making it sweet. Cake has been around for a very long time and has played a part in history and our lives as social beings.
Cake has its great place in history. Let us remember Marie Antoinette who when (around 1789) found that her French subjects had no bread to eat is attributed with saying “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”—“Let them eat cake.” In fact, it is said by historians that Marie Antoinette spent large amounts of money of lavish cakes. Ahhh the important history of cake!
Cake also plays a great role in our social interactions. Cake is so often used in our rituals and ceremonies of celebration. We eat cake on birthdays to celebrate that we have made it another year through life. We eat cake to celebrate graduations from kindergarten to PhD’s. When a couple decides to register their relationship and get married we celebrate with cake. In fact, almost every celebration in life is a call for cake. Got a new job? Cake. Retiring? Cake.
We have our cake on special celebrations, but not exclusively. Sometimes it is just nice to have a slice for dessert on an ordinary day.
In spite of all this, our young lives were plagued with the idea that there is a time and place to enjoy cake, and breakfast was not one of them. To our despair if there was cake left over from a celebration, and we requested it for breakfast, we would be met with a disapproving “not for breakfast.” That hope we had for the treat for breakfast was dashed by the all powerful adult. I mean, why wouldn’t they want cake for breakfast too?
Many of you, like me, after reaching adulthood indulged in cake for breakfast once or twice after gaining the freedom of young adulthood. But, somewhere along the way we have forgotten the importance of this freedom. Maybe it was when we became “responsible,” and decided real grown ups do not have cake for breakfast.
I get it, adulthood is hard. The word “adulting” has emerged into the English language as describing grown up responsibilities. Activities such as going to work, paying bills, grocery shopping, and paying taxes all qualify as “adulting” activities. We get wrapped up in the stress of being an adult person. Especially now, with all the problems and challenges in society, we often feel it is even more imperative that we try to make the world a better place. This often means even more adulting is required, and fewer and fewer blatant opportunities to celebrate present themselves. In fact there are many days we may feel beaten, as if the crushing world of adulthood has won.
However, this gives us even more reason to indulge in cake for breakfast from time to time. To be clear, I am certainly not advocating for daily cake or even weekly cake. That would be much too unhealthy, we must take care of ourselves! And admittedly, the cake I make now is different from the cake I had in childhood, because my cake now is low fat, dairy free, usually with hemp or chia seeds for added nutrition. What I am advocating is firstly, appreciating the freedom we possess as adults to have cake for breakfast any morning we choose and secondly, that occasionally we exercise that freedom.
Cake is a celebration! And our lives are worth celebrating! Even if the sometimes mundane activities in our lives become overbearing. The freedom to and the action of having a slice of cake for breakfast can lighten that weight. It can remind us of those things that made adulthood so appealing, and not only can we be reminded, but with a clever smile and frosting upon our lips we can indulge in one of adulthoods great treats and have cake for breakfast. Take that mom & dad!
I guess what I am really saying is “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”—“Let them eat cake!”