Salt in the Wounded Knee: Psychopathy in the Commemoration of GenocideSonasha Braxton I Race & Ethnicity I Analysis I November 24th, 2015
Hannibal Lecter, Jason Voorhees, Norman Bates. What do these people have in common? They tormented us in our dreams. There was something particularly callous in the way that they engaged in their homicidal acts, which left us shuddering. Cold, calculated, without remorse or feeling, we might casually call them psychopathic. But what actually is "psychopathy"? Psychopathy assessed with the PCL-R 9  includes a grandiose sense of self-worth, lack of remorse or guilt, lack of empathy, and failure to accept responsibility for actions. Does anything about the history of the United States, more specifically its celebration of holidays, makes sense within the context of this symptomology? While we could most certainly name quite a few, let us take for example just two holidays, Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day. To understand how the celebration of each of these holidays resembles psychopathy, then we must have a clear comprehension of the history and reason for celebration.
The Myth: In fourteen hundred ninety-two,/Columbus sailed the ocean blue/ He had three ships and left from Spain/ He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain … /Ninety sailors were on board;/ Some men worked while others snored … / Day after day they looked for land;/ They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand./ October 12 their dream came true,/ You never saw a happier crew!/ " Indians! Indians!" Columbus cried;/His heart was filled with joyful pride./ But "India" the land was not;/ It was the Bahamas, and it was hot./ The Arakawa natives were very nice;/ They gave the sailors food and spice./ Columbus sailed on to find some gold/To bring back home, as he'd been told./ He made the trip again and again,/ Trading gold to bring to Spain./ The first American? No, not quite./ But Columbus was brave, and he was bright. 
Many of us may be familiar with this poem. I remember learning it at some point in my actually quite progressive elementary school. Columbus's first voyage had about 90 men. Some men probably snored. It is possible they dreamed of sand. It is more than likely they were quite happy when they reached land. They were not in India. The indigenous Arawak population gave them gifts and Columbus did come back. I deny none of the veracity of the poem. But I do have questions, like why it exists. Why is it taught to children in an educative setting? While it is only a children's rhyme, it is the omissions, and the implied "happily ever after" that beyond problematic, are in fact quite insidious. Almost immediately after meeting the "very nice" Arawak natives, the rhyme conveniently ends, thus implying that this is the conclusion, when it most certainly is not. It is selective, exclusionary detailing, where the most important facts simply are not there. One might argue that a children's rhyme should not include a story about mass murder, and therefore the rhyme appropriate as-is. To this I would reply that there should be no children's rhymes about mass murderers. For those of us who best understand the deplorability of such when compared to the Jewish experience, allow me to ask, were you ever taught a delightful ditty about Hitler in primary school, which talked about his mustache, what he dreamed about, and how smart he was, and then conveniently left out the Holocaust?
In Columbus and his crew's multiple interactions with the Indigenous People, the word "discovery", while now admittedly less widely circulated, is still used erroneously in describing Columbus's encounters with several Caribbean islands, and countries in Central America. Columbus never saw the present day United States. He embarked on four different voyages while looking for the "East Indies", in search of King Solomon's gold mines, riches, and a route to India. By accident, he stumbled upon the Bahamas, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Trinidad, and parts of North Eastern Central America. Much of what we know about the atrocities Columbus committed against the indigenous Arawak/Taino populations was documented by Bartolome de Las Casas, a Spanish Historian and Dominican Friar in A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies.  Take for example the following quotes from the book:
" The Christians with their horses and swords and lances, began to slaughter and practice strange cruelty among [the Arawak]. They penetrated into the country and spared neither children nor the aged, nor pregnant women, nor those in child labour, all of whom they ran through the body and lacerated as though they were assaulting so many lambs herded in their sheepfold "
" In this Kingdom or (I'm certain) in some Province of New Spain, A Spaniard Hunting and intent on his game, phancyed that his Beagles wanted food; and to supply their hunger snatcht a young little Babe from the Mothers breast, cutting off his Arms and Legs, cast a part of them to every Dog, which they having devour'd, he threw the remainder of the Body to them. "
" [The Spaniards] made bets as to who would slit a man in two or cut off his head at one blow: or they opened up his bowels. They tore the babes from their mother ' s breast by their feet and dashed their heads against the rocks … They ' spitted ' the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers on their swords … They made a gallows just high enough for the feet to nearly touch the ground … they put wood underneath and with fire, they burned the Indians alive " .
In one incident, a member of Columbus's crew "drew his sword. Then the whole hundred drew theirs and began to rip open the bellies, to cut and kill a group of Taino … roasted them, cut off their hands and burned them alive"
" [the Spanish] rode the backs of the Indians as if they were in a hurry, " and they " thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades. "
As if this were not enough, rape too was a common occurrence. In 1493, Columbus had already began rewarding members of his crew with Arawak/Taino women to rape. This was not simply confined to women, but extended to pre-pubescent girls. In Columbus's own words he stated "… girls… from 9-10 … are … in demand" . In one single day, de Las Casas saw Columbus's soldiers "dismember, behead or rape 3,000 natives". It is clear that the Arawak/Taino population were not considered sufficiently human to be treated as such. And distant from the eyes of the crown, no one policed Colmbus nor his crew's despicable moral engagement with the people he miraculously discovered and subsequently made extinct.
The Tribute and Encomienda Systems
In 1495 Columbus created the "tribute system" in Haiti and the Dominican Republic (Hispaniola). Columbus at this time, still seeking the source of gold that he had not yet managed to find, implemented a system in which non-compliance, resistance, or inability to produce the expected results, bore the consequence of torture and capital punishment. According to Ferdinand Columbus, Columbus's son, "[The Indians] all promised to pay tribute to the Catholic Sovereigns every three months, as follows: In the Cibao, where the gold mines were located, every person of 14 years of age or upward was to pay a large hawk's bell of gold dust; all others were each to pay 25 pounds of cotton. Whenever an Indian delivered his tribute, he was to receive a brass or copper token which he must wear about his neck as proof that he had made his payment. Any Indian found without such a token was to be punished" .  The punishment was that those who did not provide sufficient gold every three months, had their hands cut off, and were left to bleed to death. Columbus had grossly overestimated the amount of gold that existed and it soon became clear that he had to exploit the Arawak/Taino by other means in order to reap profit. By then over 10,000 Arawak/Taino had been killed this way. Thus the encomienda system was created around the time of Columbus's third voyage.
There are a variety of arguments which examine if the encomienda system was actually slavery. These become important because this distinction contributed directly to the total extinction of the Arawak/Taino population; encomienderos did not own the Arawak/Taino, so they could not be bought or sold. The encomiendas were not inheritable by subsequent generations. And the Indigenous populations could not be moved from one geographical location to another.  Because the Arawak/Taino were not inheritable under the encomienda system, there was no impetus for the conquistadors to keep the Indigenous people alive. If the Arawak/Taino attempted to escape, they were hunted and killed. Thus the system thus sought to regulate Indigenous labor and behavior, in order to profit the conquistadors. Under the encomienda system, encomienderos received grants of a number of Arawak/Taino, from whom they could exact "tribute" in the form of gold or labor. In turn, the benevolent encomienderos were supposed to "protect" the physical bodies of the Indigenous population on the very land they had stolen from them, as well as "protect" their immortal souls by Christianizing them. This was a lose-lose for the Indigenous people who in an exchange under duress, gained the bible, and lost their land, many spiritual concepts, language, history, and lives.
Another untold story is that of the Indigenous resistance. Even when aspects of the true history of Columbus's genocide are told, the narrative is one written in the passive voice, in which Indigenous people, are not the agents, rather the objects, and one which excludes their narratives of resistance and survival. The Arawak/Taino fought back frequently in multiple uprisings and even the "Indian wars" on Hispaniola. However, the conquistadors had the advantage of "advanced" weaponry. The conquistadors deterred future uprisings by torturing and killing prisoners of war in the way de Las Casas described. This was by no means unfamiliar to the conquistadors as the exact same system had been used against the Black Moors in Spain.
Slavery and Capitalism
Columbus, who had already been engaged in slave trade on the West African coast years prior, familiar with systemic dehumanization, and the encomienda system's success against the Moors in Spain, became one the most "successful" European slave traders in the Americas. The Spanish, under the leadership of Columbus, selected 500 Arawak/Taino to be sent to Spain as enslaved people (of whom less than half survived the journey). In 1493 there were approximately 8 million Arawak/Taino. The disease that the conquistadors brought with them, combined with the destruction of the ecosystem by European livestock and rodents and the intentional systemic genocide of the Arawak/Taino people resulted in a population of 100,000 remaining by 1504.
Having nearly totally depleted the Arawak/Taino population, and the conquistadors unwilling to do the work themselves, Columbus continued to look for an alternative work force to exploit in the gold and silver mines and in agriculture. The "protector of the Indians" Bartolome de Las Casas initially supported the idea that African enslaved people be used to replace the massacred Arawak/Taino. Columbus had created the perfect model for other Europeans who were fast on his heels to guarantee their own wealth in the "New World". The same method of dehumanizing, destroying, murdering, and enslaving Arawak/Taino was used with the enslaved African population. The encomienda system was done away with and the trans-Atlantic slavery system erected in its place. Capitalism built on the backs of Arawak/Taino and African populations became a leading source of Spain's wealth for centuries. By 1555, not a single Arawak/Taino remained.
How it Became a Holiday
In 1828 Washington Irving, perhaps best known for his fictional, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, with the same imaginative zest, constructed a purely fictitious account of Christopher Columbus, in A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. In the book Columbus was a brave and benevolent leader who treated the Arawak/Taino with respect, kindness and dignity. This book was responsible for much of the myth-making around who Columbus was, and the ever-present invented version of the man and his legacy. In 1892, president Benjamin Harrison established the day as one to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's landing in the Bahamas to spite the British. And in the 1890s large swells of Italian immigrants, who at the time were facing ethnic discrimination in the United States, held tightly to and propagated the image of the great Italian Columbus who had "discovered America" and used it as a way to ease their integration into the United States. By 1972, President Nixon, well-known for his incredibly honest and scrupulous behavior, made it a holiday.
The Myth: One hundred two passengers on the ship,/ Sixty-five days was a very long trip./ 'Twas November 11 when there was a shout./ "Land ho! We've made it!" a voice yelled out./ Their very first winter was cold and was gray./ The Pilgrims worked hard in the new land each day./ People got sick and some even died./ Still others continued to work side by side./ To the Pilgrims, Squanto was a teacher and friend./ He helped them from sunrise until each day's end./ He told them to plant corn in rows long and narrow./ He taught them to hunt with a bow and an arrow./ When the leaves once again turned gold in the fall,/ Enough food for the winter was stored up for all./ The Pilgrims felt joy they wanted to share./ They wanted their Indian friends to be there./ There were tables piled high with fish and with meat./ Vegetables, fruits, and good things to eat./ The Pilgrims gave thanks for all that they had. / Pilgrims and Indians together were glad.
Like Irving's account of Columbus, this poem goes beyond exclusionary detailing, and is almost pure invention. We can acquiesce certain details like the date, the coldness of the winter, and Squanto's teaching the Pilgrims how to plan corn. But Squanto's relationship to the Pilgrims, how Thanksgiving came about, and most certainly the idea that the "Indians" were somehow "glad" is pure fallacy. Prior to the Pilgrims' arrival John Smith and the colony at Jamestown had already set an early precedent for the Indigenous encounter. In summation, the English colonists who arrived in the United States, were always wholly unprepared for the harsh conditions they would find upon arrival, and in their times of desperation, reverted to animalistic means of survival, including cannibalism. Captain John Smith wrote, "So great was our famine that a savage we slew and buried, the poorer sort took him up again and ate him; and so did divers ones another boiled and stewed with herbs. And one amongst the rest did kill his wife, powdered her and had eaten part of her" 
For the Pilgrims in particular, after a series of successions of the throne, feeling that their religious beliefs were resulting in persecution, and seeking potential wealth and a fresh start in the "New World," they left South Hampton, England in the Mayflower with a total of 102 people. After about two months the ship landed in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. On December 16, 1920, according to the dark humor of Will Rogers, the Pilgrims "fell upon their knees… then fell upon the aborigines".  The Pilgrims, unused to the harsh winter, incapable of finding food on their own, with little idea how to engage in agriculture, lost about half of their population. At that time, the Pilgrims were half-crazed from loss, grief, hunger, and their unpredictable and consistent deaths. George Thorpe, wrote a first-hand account of what he witnessed, stating "more do die here of the disease of the mind than of the body" 
Enter Squanto (Tisquantum), whose existence is highly contested. If and when the "friendly savage" appeared, he was not seen as a teacher and friend but rather a clear sign of God's deliverance, as Squanto was a baptized, educated, English-speaking Christian. What more lucid sign of God's favor? Squanto, who had been formerly enslaved by John Smith's men was able to escape to England and return to the U.S. to find most of his tribe had been wiped out by the Plague. Members of the Pokaoket and other tribes, having lived in the area over 10,000 years were also able to communicate with the Europeans as they had already had interactions with European fishermen. They taught the colonists how to plant and where to hunt fish and beaver. In fall of 1621, Governor Bradford of Massachusetts issued a proclamation calling for a three-day feast to commemorate the first harvest and survival throughout the winter, to which the Wampanoag were invited in order to negotiate a treaty that would secure the lands of the Plymouth Plantation for the Pilgrims and to be placated to ensure the Pilgrims' survival. Perhaps it was a feast in the name of brotherhood, but with dual and duplicitous intentions.
More ships came. The Pilgrim settlement expanded exponentially. European-borne diseases spread rampantly through the Indigenous population, killing them off with precision. There were multiple tribes living in the area, each with particular alliances with one another. As tribes engaged in numerous alliances with the Pilgrims, relations were ruptured amongst the other Indigenous American tribes living in the area, and power differentials substantially altered.
In 1637, when the first, officially proclaimed "Thanksgiving" took place another event was actually celebrated. At that feast, the New England colonists celebrated their massacre of the Pequots in the Connecticut Valley. William B. Newell, a Penobscot Indian and former chairman of the Anthropology department at the University of Connecticut, says that the first official Thanksgiving Day celebrated the massacre of 700 Indian men, women and children during their annual Green Corn Dance… William Bradford, the former Governor of Plymouth and one of the chroniclers described it in the following detail:
" Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire … horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory. " 
Once the Pilgrims had become self-sufficient, their reliance on the Indigenous population dwindled. In 1675, continued aggression by the European invaders led to King Phillip's war, resulting in the massacre of over 3000 Indigenous people and about 1000 Pilgrims. At the end of the conflict most of the surviving Indigenous population were either hung, burned, killed or sold into slavery in the Carolinas. The enslavement of Indigenous people was highly successful, but raiding the Ivory Coast of Africa to enslave Africans and sell to the Southern colonies proved even more successful, and thus perpetuated the trade of enslaved Africans and their uncelebrated Holocaust.
While in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, it had already been celebrated annually for centuries. Dr. Ishakamusa Barashango sums up what Thanksgiving celebration is quite nicely, describing it as "a holiday celebrating the beginning of the almost total extermination of an entire race of people, commonly called "Indians" and the enslavement, continued oppression and genocide of the Afrikan, by European settlers". 
Article 2 of the The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm; (c) deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births; (e) forcibly transferring children from one group to another group".  Given the history of the calculated intent of destroying in whole or in part both Indigenous and African people, there is no doubt that both of these holidays are based in historical genocide. The colonists cut off hands, fed babies to dogs, raped and sold children, and burned people alive. The Indigenous Holocaust and even embryonic stages of the African Holocaust, are the epitome of genocide. However, the truth is conveniently erased from the rhymes that are taught in class, and in its place a revisionist victor's history, which not only scrubs away the horrendous war crimes perpetrated by the English and Spanish invaders, but takes a white paintbrush and layers it finely in a beautiful coat of glorification. In celebration, the U.S. not only honors genocide, but its literal whitewashing as well.
Colonization of Narrative
The idea that we live in a post-colonial society, is perhaps as ridiculous as the thought that we live in a post-racial society. We cannot separate the repercussions and systemic infrastructure built as a result of the exploitative nature of the European encounter, from colonialism itself. Colonialism is a dynamic process, not simply a static moment in time that has now passed. And just as colonialism exists as the exploitation and subsequent domination of a people, it is just as assuredly a domination of history and narrative. To the victor goes the spoils and the rights for the victor to write history however he likes. The loss of ownership of one's own narrative, a narrative of genocide and resistance, especially in favor of one that honors the sordid actions of the victor's in triumph over the defeated, is surely salt in the wound of an already grotesque injury. The narrative represents an interactive relationship between the teller and the listener. The teller (dominant U.S culture) exercises its power over the controlled narrative and to some extent the audience, by legitimizing 1) its right to tell the story and 2) the truthfulness of the narrative . The colonization of the Indigenous and African destruction and resistance narrative, using the fallacious "discovery narrative" thus honors manifest destiny, imperialist occupation, and dehumanization of "the other".
Collective Memory and American Identity
The way in which events are remembered has particular importance, especially within the context of celebratory ritual within American (U.S.) cultural memory. Cultural memory relates to fixed points of the past… "whose memory is maintained through cultural formation (texts, rites, monuments) and institutional communication (recitation, practice, observance)" called figures of memory.  These figures of memory, the observance of celebration, Columbus and Thanksgiving poems, festivals, parades, etc., create "islands of a completely different temporality suspended from time" which maintain preservation. The memory is not questioned, as the narrative, dominated by the conquerer, is clear. This cultural memory provides "concretion of identity or the relation to the group… from which a group derives an awareness of its unity and peculiarity" . Thus the reconstructed narrative supports the cultural memory which supports the construction of American identity and our normative self-image as independent, brave, righteous and benevolent. This is then reinforced by the ritual celebration.
Equally important are the existence of various forms of denial and silence. In response to blatant historical violence, the U.S. has exercised both literal and interpretive denial in collective forgetting. This manifests on a spectrum from wholesale literal denial, "that genocide never happened" to the deliberate construction of historical violence "in ways that make them appear less atrocious".  " Silence and forgetting also result from particular forms of presence or mention that transform potentially threatening events into transgression-denying objects" .  This is calling genocide an "encounter" or using "meeting" to replace "massacre". Perhaps most reprehensible continues to be the anti-silence, which is the commemorative glorification of genocide exercising both literal and interpretive denial.
That Country Crazy.
In the DSM-V "antisocial personality disorder" has replaced the "psychopathy" diagnosis. It provides multiple areas of dysfunction which meet the criteria for this particular psychopathology. Let's see how the U.S. fares with respect to just the two discussed holidays:
"Ego-centrism; self-esteem derived from personal gain, power, or pleasure. Goal-setting based on personal gratification; The colonists (to be Americans) came to the "New World" for gold, the acquisition of a different socio-economic level, or power their religion did not allow them to exercise in England.
Empathy: Lack of concern for feelings, needs, or suffering of others; lack of remorse after hurting or mistreating another. The colonists exterminated millions of Indigenous people, and initiated the Indigenous and African slave trade as well as the Indigenous and African Holocausts and didn't seem too concerned about it.
Antagonism, characterized by: Manipulativeness, dishonesty, callousness and disinhibition:
The colonists used the Indigenous population's assistance for their own survival…then killed them. They created narratives which became holidays that destructed truth and reconstructed a collective cultural memory of benevolence as well as a cultural amnesia around the genocide. The U.S. continues to celebrate and commemorate these genocides annually with turkey and parades.
The influence of American (U.S) culture is not always obvious. Many of us fully embrace it and many of us deliberately remove ourselves from it, denouncing citizenship, changing our last names, consider ourselves part of it solely by hyphenation, or understand ourselves as distinct from it due to lack of legal recognition of citizenship. But we cannot escape from it. We drive to work in it. We must operate in its systems. We use its currency. We breathe its air. We pay its bills. We bury our heads in work that funds it. We get lost in its distractions. We depend on its functionality for our survival. We celebrate its holidays. Yet if we think critically about why we engage in celebration we might consider also calling these reasons crazy, insane, pathological, and an affront to both indigeneity and humanity.
The narrative of resistance exists, but is rarely told. There are numerous active Global Indigenous Advocacy networks.There have been multiple Indigenous-led movements which have successfully changed Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day, such as in Seattle, Washington. Similarly cities and towns in the United States have adopted resolutions to change the day's name. On October 12th, Venezuela celebrates the Day of Indigenous Resistance. Thousands march in Chile in what the people celebrate as the Day of Mapuche Resistance. The American Indian Movement (AIM) has been actively engaged in petitioning government to make Thanksgiving a day of mourning. Colonialism has evolved from slavery and small pox blankets. It now unashamedly offers neo-liberal policies in the name of economic globalization, which continue to result in illegal acquisition of land, deprivation of resources and human casualties. And there continue to be countless examples of both armed and unarmed Indigenous resistance occurring throughout America, from Canada to the Cape Horn. Indigenous people did and are resisting occupation of their lands and transnational exploitation of resources, despite the frequent disproportional militarized response to their demands.
So sitting in traffic at the Columbus Day parade, or even while we are having a huge meal with our families, let's take a few seconds to be a little pensive. If perhaps, we are not willing to give up the perks of our day off, or if we use the celebration as a time to be with family or reflect on gratitude, we can also be curious about how we do so in a way that acknowledges that the struggle for Indigenous liberation is pulsing vigorously. We can challenge the dominant narrative, our distorted cultural memory and resultantly our own (inextricably) American identities, and we can reshape them. If indeed practices of commemoration "provide a unified sense of who we are now and project a sense of collective purpose into the future"  then we must approach psychopathy with the intention of constructing an identity that is both principled and "sane", and a future purpose which is directed towards being honest in this world by honoring complete truths however vicious or painful these may be.
Oh yeah. Happy Thanksgiving.
 Hare Psychopathy Checklist Revised. http://www.minddisorders.com/knowledge/Hare_Psychopathy_Checklist.html
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