As a white, middle-class, American from Nebraska, I never thought there was a need to learn the stories of colonization. In my mind, colonization and imperialism were distant and past ideas that had no impact on the average person nowadays. Like most high school students, I had heard stories of Native Americans in history class throughout my education. I understood how Europeans colonized North America without considering how it harmed the native people. What I failed to realize was the lasting effect colonization had not only on Native Americans but on the nation as a whole.
As I dived into Mean Spirit, I wondered, “how I’m I supposed to connect to this book?” I’ve never experienced the injustice that the Osage people dealt with nearly a century ago. This book – which is based on the murders of Native Americans committed at the hands of greedy, white men – seemingly had nothing to do with my life. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe I’m not supposed to see myself in these characters because I have never taken the time to understand them. I’m not supposed to feel a connection to the events of this book because I never learned about them. I realize now that maybe the point of this book is to point out how much I don’t know.
The main reason I don’t know much about the topics of colonization and imperialism is because I’ve never made the personal effort to discover them. I usually ignore these stories is because they seem so far away, both in distance and in time. I figure that things like that don’t happen here anymore so why should I care. Yet if I were to take a moment and step into the shoes of these people, I would probably feel as strongly as they did.
One way to think of colonization and imperialism is as a spectrum. On one end of this spectrum is those being colonized; those who are receiving both the negative and positive effects. On the opposite end of the spectrum is those who are doing the colonization; the people who believe imperialism is necessary and beneficial. Before this unit, I was on that side of the spectrum. I never looked at the issue from the perspective of those being colonized. Instead, I fell captive to the one-sided story of white man’s imperialistic attitude.
This idea of a one-sided story continually had an impact on my over the last few weeks. From the moment our class listened to Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk, I was intrigued by the idea of a “single story”. Looking back, I was fascinated by this topic because it spoke so clearly to my life. I was the victim of telling and believing single stories. The single story of a white person’s point of view when it came to colonization was the only perspective I was accustomed to. Yet this unit opened me up to many different stories, each one unique and powerful. Adichie used the word power to describe the danger of single stories, relating the two by saying, “power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.” As an average, white American, I had this power and ability and used it throughout my life to make a single story of colonization.
Now that I realize the danger of a single story, I hope to continue looking at the world from new perspectives. Although we cannot change the negative impact colonization and imperialism had years ago, I can do something to change my own attitude on the topic. One way I plan to do this is by understanding that the more “powerful” group is not always the right one. In Mean Spirit, the white community definitely had the power and ability to force the Osage people to do whatever they wanted. As the character Belle said, “the law is on their side because it’s their law (p. 113).” The law was one the side of the white community, allowing them to do whatever they saw fit at the cost of the Indians. Unfortunately, this attitude is common in our world today. Many Americans believe that since they are the more “powerful and mighty” nation, they can do whatever pleases them despite the cost it may have on others. After this unit, I now realize how damaging this perspective can be on the world and I hope I can avoid it in my own life.
When I started this unit, I didn’t understand it. Yet now I realize the importance of understanding colonization and imperialism as they continue to be prevalent in today’s world. I hope now that I will make an effort to learn these stories and understand them from multiple perspectives, including my own and of those being affected by these issues. It may be difficult to go out of my way to find these stories, but it would be more damaging to ignore them and allow my power to harm other cultures. Every culture is valuable and worth learning about, leaving a world of stories to be discovered.