Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Have you ever sat down and thought to yourself, "Why am I here in the first place?" I'm not even talking about all the philosophical questions of whether humans, a higher being, the Earth, or anything exists, but simply about the origins of our living where we do and interacting in the particular environments that we have.
I remember the first time I had this thought at five years old. I can't recall what inspired this sudden metaphysical plunge, but I remember the waters clearly. An aura of fluffy clouds and blue skies--presumably my idea of heaven--surrounded every corner of my mind, submerging me in a deep and temporarily inescapable rumination. "Who am I? What am I? How did I get here?" I thought. Of course, at that delicate age I wasn't quite aware of the biological answers of these questions, but even with this knowledge, I still mull over many of the same queries today.
Over the past few weeks, my sociology class, Reputations and Rumors, has been discussing the Sand Creek Massacre, a mass genocide of more than a hundred Cheyenne and Arapahoe men, women, and children on November 29, 1864, near Denver, CO, for the professed purpose of eliminating the "Indian problem". This egregious scar of history is pertinent to Northwestern in particular because our university founder and chief benefactor John Evans was, in the words of University of Denver Professor Alan Gilbert, "at least an enabler, if not the brains of the operation." Ironically, both Professor Gilbert and my own professor, Gary A. Fine, are distinguished "John Evans Professors," a title to which they now react with discomfort and even ire at times. I highly encourage you to check out both professor's research on this topic, along with that of my friend, Heather Menefee, leader of the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance at Northwestern:
The assignment with which we students have been tasked is to determine how to address this issue in the present day. As so happens, the university has just recently established a commission to confront this challenge. Seeing as though I am not yet sufficiently knowledgeable on this subject and have no right to decide what is and isn't a proper solution that serves our native population, I believe, as do most of my colleagues, that we must reach out to the small but mighty group of native peoples in this country and ask them, "What can we do to prove our commitment to humanity and equity? What WILL we do to honor YOU?"
So, the salient question is not "Am I here?" but "Why am I here?" and "How am I here?" The immigration of my ancestors over the last 350 years explains the former. Unfortunately yet inevitably, some variety of shame underlies the latter, for me and for every American.
Think about it.
Though controversial and uneasy at times, such discussions are essential to a thriving, progressive, intellectual environment, and their timely address and our sincere engagement therein allow us to corroborate our dedication to the the principle on which this country was founded: "equality and justice for all."
Thank you so much for reading and contemplating with me, and have a fantastic Halloween, everyone!
Reflect and never neglect,
Scarf: Marc Jacobs. Blazer: J. Crew (old; similar here). T-shirt: J. Crew. Shorts: J. Crew (old; similar here.) Shoes: Nike. Bag: Miu Miu.
All photos courtesy of Eric Pan.