With Friends Like These…

With all the horrible events going on in the world recently, I find myself daydreaming about being back up in the mountains of Colorado. I harbor wistful thoughts of seeking isolation and insulation from more bad news and the resulting heaviness of heart.

Although being a hermit has its appeal, I am a somewhat social creature and often appease those leanings by checking in on Facebook. It can be a good distraction but more and more I find it disappointing.

I find some “friends” disappointing. Are these the people I grew up with?  I see posts shared and comments made that are a reflection of the real problem that has led to so much discord and tragedy. Yes, these are the people I grew up with.

This morning a Facebook friend shared a meme/post that criticized President Obama for the horrible indecency of how he was holding his head during a prayer. Really? As if the degree to which you bow your head is proportionate to how Christian you are. I guess I should read the Christian Handbook so I’m aware of the acceptable degree to which you are supposed to bow your head when praying. Oh there is no Handbook? That’s okay, I’m not even Christian.

A few days ago, another friend posted a lighthearted meme that was a Native in theme. I got a chuckle out of it as did some of his other friends. Then I noticed a comment posted by one of our former non-Diné classmates that had the word “firewater” and referenced a mutual native friend of theirs as not being able to hold his alcohol. It was made in jest but I found it offensive for two reasons.

First,  it’s kind of a case of the pot  calling the kettle black. The last time I saw the classmate who made the comment was at our high school reunion. I was left with the impression that he needed to seek help as he spent most of the weekend quite inebriated to the point of making people uncomfortable. He was “that” guy.

Second, the fact that Native Americans have a rate of alcoholism that could be described as epidemic is not a joking matter. Given our physical make-up (an enzyme thing) and the socioeconomic issues that affect reservations the cards are stacked against most Native Americans in that respect.

It was common when I was growing in Page America to see drunks in the park, sleeping it off under trees. They were always native. Kids in school had taken to calling them TROGs, a term most likely they heard from adults or older teens. TROG was an acronym for Total Reject of God. I always hated that word. It was crude, harsh, ugly and only reserved for Navajos in our town of Page America. From time to time I’d even hear someone recounting a courageous tale of beating up the drunks in the park for fun.

In fifth grade, caught up in a moment of teasing and roughhousing with a boy that I had a crush on, that epithet was hurled at me. He called me a TROG. I remember my face became flushed and hot. I was embarrassed and felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach. Of all the people in Page America, this boy had been one that never seemed to see my skin color. We had been friends since the third grade and shared a warped sense of humor. I was crushed and confused.

One morning, years later, I found myself in a rickety truck squeezed into the front seat with a couple other river rats on our way to the dam. The conversation turned to one co-worker telling another about how a neighbor in his hometown had trained their dog to attack “black” people. He didn’t tell this in a disgusted tone but a matter of fact and even comical tone. I was the only one who seemed bothered. Following in the nature of that story, my fellow rat (and friend) started telling the newbie about Navajos and how they get money from the government, take jobs at the power plant and buy new pickup trucks every year with all that “free” money they get. I was kind of dumbfounded as he continued on….then interrupted him.

“Donald*, …. I’m Navajo!”

“But you’re different,” he countered. I asked him to explain how I was different. He mumbled something but I couldn’t understand for his foot being firmly planted in his mouth.

These weren’t the only times I felt the sting of racism. Throughout my young life, I would become accustomed to it. When attending school on the reservation, I was a “billagona” (white.) When we moved to Page to attend school…. I was definitely not white enough. Sadly, it was many adults who made that very clear. Thank goodness for people like Mrs. Michelson, my third grade teacher. She made me feel like I was just another kid but at the same time, not just another kid. She would be the standard to which I would hold my teachers for the rest of my school years.

In high school, we learned about genocide in the form of concentration camps during WWII. We learned about slavery, segregation and the civil rights movement of the 60’s. We even touched on the Trail of Tears, which back then was portrayed less as act of Native American genocide and more a footnote of bad treatment. I feel that I was so naive because I thought our generation was more informed and enlightened. We would never repeat these wrongs and we certainly wouldn’t cultivate bigotry, hatred and intolerance.

Was I ever wrong. The proof is in my Facebook feed. What is with this insistence that if someone is different, they are less than?

Embrace our differences! How boring it would be if we were all the same color…the same religions…the same culture… the same stories. I don’t want to live in that world. Do you? I certainly don’t want my children to live in that world.

When speaking about my children and sharing my thoughts on raising them, my ultimate goal always been that I raise a good human. At times that has led to quizzical looks or chuckles because my statement doesn’t focus on their scholarly or physical abilities. Yet, I’m serious about that statement. To me, it means teaching them to be thoughtful, kind, observant, helpful and honest. Have I succeeded? So far so good but I have another 9 years to go with the youngest. It feels more challenging than ever given all the outside influences. With that said, I still have hope……and a mighty pen in the form of a laptop.

My hope is that in 20 years, perhaps she’ll be writing a blog of the same title but with better memories to share.

*not his real name but quite fitting