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Whatís Up With White Women?

by David A. Yeagley
Originally published at | May 18, 2001

"Look, Dr, Yeagley, I donít see anything about my culture to be proud of. Itís all nothing. My race is just nothing."

The girl was white. She was tall and pretty, with amber hair and brown eyes. For convenienceí sake, letís call her "Rachel."

I had been leading a class on social psychology, in which we discussed patriotism Ė what it means to be a people or a nation. The discussion had been quite lively. But when Rachel spoke, everyone fell silent.

"Look at your culture," she said to me. "Look at American Indian tradition. Now I think thatís really great. You have something to be proud of. My culture is nothing."

"Youíre not proud to be American?" I asked.

"Oh, Iím happy to be American, but Iím not proud of how America came about."

Her choice of words was telling. She was "happy" to be an American. But not "proud" of it.

On one level, I wasnít surprised. I knew the head of our American History department at Oklahoma State University-OKC, and I recognized his hackneyed liberal jargon in Rachelís words. She had taken one of his courses, with predictable results.

Yet, I was still stunned. Her words disturbed and offended me in a way that I could not quite enunciate.

I could hardly concentrate the rest of the day. I lay awake that night thinking about what she had said.

On the surface, she was paying me a compliment. She was praising my Indian culture, at the expense of her own. Why, then, did it feel so much like a slap in the face?

As I lay awake that night, I thought of an old story by Kay Boyle, written in 1941, called "Defeat." Itís about the French women in the German-occupied village of Pontcharra. All the French men were away at war. It was the 14th of July, Bastille Day, when Frenchmen were usually proud to be French. The village women, however, chose that day to give in to the German men.

They did it innocently enough. The women just wanted to wear their fancy holiday dresses. They wanted to drink and dance. And the Germans were the only men around with whom they could do it.

So they gave in.

The Cheyenne people have a saying: A nation is never conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground.

Thatís what I thought about as I lay there, with Rachelís words running over and over in my mind. "My race is just nothingÖ. " she had said. "My culture is nothing."

After class, one older white student, a husband and father, had exchanged glances with me on the way out. He said to me in a low voice, "I donít want her on my team!"

I understood what he meant. Frankly, I wouldnít want her on my team either. A woman who wonít be true to her own people certainly wonít be true to someone elseís.

When Rachel denounced her people, she did it with the serene self-confidence of a High Priestess reciting a liturgy. She said it without fear of criticism or censure. And she received none. The other students listened in silence, their eyes moving timidly back and forth between me and Rachel, as if unsure which of us constituted a higher authority.

My goodness, if an Indian woman had said such a thing in front of Indian men, her ears would have burned for a week!

By giving in to the German conquerors, those French women in the Kay Boyle story had betrayed their men. But it was an understandable betrayal. Their men were gone. The Germans were in command.

Who had conquered Rachelís people? What had led her to disrespect them? Why did she behave like a woman of a defeated tribe?

They say that a warrior is measured by the strength of his enemies. As an Indian, I am proud of the fact that it took the mightiest nation on earth to defeat me.

But I donít feel so proud when I listen to Rachel. It gives me no solace to see the white man self-destruct. If Rachelís people are "nothing," what does that say about mine?

I believe in my Comanche people. I know that someday weíll stand as equals before the white man, strong, prosperous and self-sufficient. But we wonít get there by listening to empty praise from guilty white women. Weíll get there by studying the white manís ways and learning to be strong as he is.


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