By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
I am not exactly sure what to say about this or where I’m going with it. I just know I’ve wanted to express it for some time. Part of the problem I think is that I don’t think I’m a “writer”. I do think of myself as a laborer. Mind you, apart from getting my GED (I think I got it) one of my greatest successes was getting out of the ditch and on to the back of a machine that replaced the shovel and I now had the esteemed title, Heavy Equipment Operator. Any time one gets more money with less physical labor that’s progress.
That title was only partially true as I was not a “real” HEO like the folks in Local 3 of the Operating Engineers who turn up on a jobsite and have to operate any piece of equipment on it. But I became fairly good at my specific job I think.
So what is the “this” I am referring to above? The reader will have to wait a minute as I have not finished my thoughts. You see, I don’t plan what I am going to write about, I read something or recall something that I get pissed off about and it’s a sort of catharsis if I write about it. I have selfish motivations.
I came to the US from England 43 years ago. When I was young, I wrote a letter to either the BBC or ITV, I can’t remember which, asking them to put shows on TV like the Americans had, cartoons and stuff. My recollection is that we didn’t have TV programming at all during the day except for university classes.
But the economic and political power of the US did bring us it’s media and, like many American kids, I got to watch the Lone Ranger. He seemed to be a good guy, always clean not dusty like someone riding about on a horse in the hot weather should be. He was polite and respectful and went after the bad guys.
He had a sidekick named Tonto, and it’s Tonto that the “this” above is about. Tonto is my earliest recollection of a Native American. I might have seen Europeans playing Native Americans in movies I suppose but I have no memory of them. Tonto was not subservient though it was obvious the “white man “ was the boss, although I did not see “white” as a racial identity as we are forced to do here in the US. I saw nothing demeaning in the character. Not even in his language which was broken or pidgin English as it was pretty normal that someone whose first language isn’t English would speak like that. But I was only 12 after all. I also don’t recall the show being about cowboys killing Indians as so many of the American movies were at the time.
But when I think about the show today it makes me mad. It’s not that I feel compassion or empathy with Tonto. I can’t get Jay Silverheels out of my mind when I think about the show. More importantly I can’t stop thinking of what was in the collective consciousness of most Native Americans as well as Latino’s many of whom are connected to the indigenous population to one degree or another.
All those years I watched The Lone Ranger as a kid, I had no idea until I came to the US that Tonto meant stupid, I was in my late 40’s. So when I shift to English, the show is called, The Lone Ranger and Stupid, or The Lone Ranger and the Moron. What did Jay Silverheels think about being offered a part in a show where his name was “stupid”? It was positive in some ways I suppose, a job, more money, some notoriety, but at a price. What was the collective reaction from Native people? Maybe it was conflicting. On the one hand a Native American as an actor was probably seen as positive but surely it must have been sickening to have to even think about it. What an insulting episode. I know what I would be thinking, “F*&#k them and their Lone Ranger.
I have never really discussed this with any Native people as I don’t know too many, or the many Latino’s I’ve worked with and became friends with over the years. Where were the voices of opposition? I am sure that there were those voices among the Native population who were also probably cautious not wanting to offend or harm Jay Silverheels. What about among the white working class? What, if anything, was said about it within the labor movement?
This is what happens when the victors write history. At the same period in my history it was Irish people that were portrayed as stupid in the mass media. They were stupid, had too many kids (they were almost always Catholics and poor people tend to have more children anyway as they expect to lose a few) couldn’t speak proper English and were dirty. Of course, many of them that emigrated to England were peasants, rural people who were desperately poor.
Then again the English ruling and middle classes thought the same about their own working class. We don’t talk like them, act like them, go to their schools etc. The British peasantry was driven from the their land, the Yaqui Indians were driven from theirs. With colonialism, both the Native Americans and the Irish population had their land stolen from them and were relocated.
But, as with the US today, in order to get their own exploited class to support their imperialist policies, the US capitalist class, as it impoverishes its own workers at the same time demonizes it’s foreign victims. Those that resist are not rebels, freedom fighters, or even soldiers. They are enemy combatant’s, insurgents, militants, and above all terrorists; they have no rights and must be exterminated. There is a headline in the Wall Street Journal today that reads: “Islamic State Terrorizes Baghdad”. Well the US sanctions and two US wars “terrorized Iraq”. The US “terrorized” Vietnam. Islamic State has nothing on the CIA when it comes to terror.
I do not believe that Native American people blame white workers for the genocidal assault on them that is their history since the colonial invasions. I do not believe black people consider white workers responsible for American slavery one of the most brutal regimes in history.
But silence in the face of violence perpetrated on others or by not voicing or not validating the experiences of others, and this would include the historical war against women, places one in the camp of the oppressor. I wrote a piece some time ago about the term Redskins being used for a US football team. Supporting those that object to this would be a simple act of solidarity that costs non-Native people nothing but it would send a strong message of solidarity and would be a small step in strengthening class solidarity.
The working class of an oppressor nation, and in the US that means the European/white working class, has to break from the false notion of national and/or racial unity in the case of the US and join with all specially oppressed people in the struggle for freedom and equality, not in the way the guilt ridden middle class liberals do, but as class allies. It’s in our own self-interest. The history of the white working class in the US is also a brutal and exploitive one. But this brutality does not include a centuries old assault on us due to the color of our skin, we are exploited as workers primarily.
It is through active opposition to the market and capitalism, our efforts to change our conditions, that these imposed social barriers are overcome. All workers benefit from unity in this struggle.
We are not hurt by recognizing history as it actually is.
We are not hurt by recognizing history as it actually is.