A failure of institutions ctd.
Commenter Sam M. writes, in response to my last post:
But isn’t the full implication of this diconcerting to a lot of people? To affect this change, I think it presupposes that you accept that the culture you are from is fundamentally flawed, or at least so far gone as to be irretrievable. How else can you accept or take advantage of “a decent cultural education”?
Accepting it would seem to mean accepting that your previous cultural education–on the rez, in the ghetto, in the trailer park–was “indecent.” Which of course leads to all kinds of charges of cultural imperialism, cultural genocide, etc. Most of you probably aren’t old enough to remember the blow up over Ebonics, but ultimately, that plays a huge role in this. A “decent cultural education” basically means telling people that their language, their customs, are wrong. If they weren’t why would anyone be telling them to change them?
This is controversial stuff, man. Can we accept that people form the rez or the inner city need culturally reprogrammed without first agreeing that… well, what CAN we say about those cultures?
I think Sam is missing my point. What I wrote was that many of these communities are suffering because they are between institutions:
I think what plagues not only many Native American communities but all sorts of communities in this country is this place between institutions: old institutions that we have relied on are in crisis or gone altogether and no new institutions have risen up to replace them. This is true both economically and culturally. For many Native Americans those institutions were often forcibly wiped out, not just their traditions or their land but the very languages they spoke. This was achieved at least in part by forcing Native American children to attend boarding school (see picture above) and occurred well into the 20th century.
What do you call the genocide of a language*? How does a people recover from that?
The point is that many of these places – the rez, the ghetto, the trailer park – have lost much of the cultural foundation that once defined them – they exist in a sort of cultural purgatory. The cultural institutions or economic forces that defined previous generations have withered. We can say that other institutions elsewhere can replace them, on the one hand, or we can work to revamp or resuscitate older institutions that have died out or gone away. I’m not sure what the better choice is. It is a difficult question. The reservation is almost a sure path to poverty, but a lot of people won’t leave it because that’s where their people are, where what remains of their culture still exists. And can you blame them for that?
There are no simple answers here, even if their are cautionary tales. I’m not sure how Sam comes by the idea of cultural reprogramming. TNC’s commenter made it sound much more like widening his perspective, not sacrificing his past at the altar of his present. We don’t have to scrap one culture to broaden someone’s perspective, but I do think there is a risk of that. Assimilation has its dangers. But what else can people do? How do you revitalize these places, these communities? I honestly can’t say.