On Indigenous People’s Day, the Daily Wire, which is the conservative opinion website founded by firebrand Ben Shapiro, posted a video ‘satirizing’ indigenous people’s day.
In the cartoon, Native Americans are depicted as savages who ate each other, and were in a state of constant war. Then, it shows the onshore arrival of the white man (Christopher Columbus) in 1492. Columbus hopes off his ship, begins to build, domesticate animals, and grow food. The Native Americans are in shock and awe over their savior. It fast forwards to 2017 and shows the modern bustling city in all of its glory. In the next frame, there’s a ‘list of contributions’ from the pre-Columbus and after-Columbus era. The pre-Columbia list shows only 3 contributions, and the after-Columbus era shows a laundry list of modern contributions. It signs off with ‘Happy Indigenous People’s Day!’
Soon after the video was posted on the website, there was backlash against it for its racist connotations. Ben Shapiro was quick to fire back. Here is his statement, which was originally posted as a Tweet by CNN correspondent Oliver Darcy at the following link:
"I’ve been on vacation for the last two weeks, and I’m only just seeing the video now. While I didn’t greenlight it, it’s obvious to me that it’s satire and must be evaluated by those standards. Everybody needs to calm the hell down. The video is obviously a response to the Left’s decision to turn Columbus Day into a story purely about Western civilization “genociding” Native Americans rather than the great gain Western civilization brought the world via entry into the Americas, despite awful wrongs committed in the process, as I tweeted. Conservatives are allowed to make satire, too."
In response to his statement I have two things to say. One, satire is supposed to be funny. And I am stunned about how a Harvard law graduate can’t seem to comprehend that racist satire is not funny to most people. He actually feels attacked that empathetic people don’t find it funny, and resorts to the usual ‘conservatives are oppressed’ talking point. The real satire isn’t the video, it’s Ben Shapiro himself. How could anyone take his constant self-victimization seriously?
Two, his defense of the video is whitewashing, plain and simple. Nobody says that Hitler helped to modernize Germany, even though under his tyranny Germany developed the Autobahn and Volkswagen was created. We call Hitler for what he is. “Entry” into the Americas? Is that what we call land invasion now? With a force of 17 ships, Columbus “entered” the Americas in 1493 by appointing himself as governor of the Caribbean and the mainland of America. As “governor”, Columbus set up his headquarters in Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti) and implemented policies of slavery and extermination of the native Taino population. Prior to Columbus’s arrival to Hispaniola, it is estimated that the Taino population in Hispañola was upwards of a million. After just 25 years of Columbus’s policies, the Tainos were reduced to tens of thousands or less. In 1542, only 200 were left. I’m sorry – is that not genocide? Anyone who tries to claim otherwise doesn’t want to face the truth. Even one of those among the early invaders recognized this. Bartolome de Las Casas, was a prominent Spanish Dominican friar whose family became wealthy from their trips to the Americas. After seeing the treatment of native Americans in Hispaniola, which included unwarranted killings and the encomienda system (a form of slavery), he underwent a profound change and began writing about what he had seen. He writes in Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies:
Yet into this sheepfold, into this land of meek outcasts there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days. And Spaniards have behaved in no other way during the past forty years, down to the present time, for they are still acting like ravening beasts, killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this island of Hispaniola once so populous (having a population that I estimated to be no more than three million), has now a population of barely two hundred persons.
In what is the present day United States, the story wasn’t much different. European settlers did not suddenly have a change of heart, as the writings of Las Casas resulted in virtually no immediate change. It is true, that disease is thought to have killed as much as 90% of Native Americans. And in some cases, Native Americans attacked English settlements. However, most people would take issue with strange men with muskets claiming land that you’ve occupied for generations. For the remaining 10%, what can we say? We can say that the Sand Creek, Gnadenhutten, Conestoga, and Camp Grant massacres, Indian Removal Act (Trail of Tears), forced assimilation policies and white supremacy of Manifest Destiny point to how the colonizers viewed Native Americans. A Century of Dishonor by Helen Hunt Jackson highlights some of the key points that Ben Shapiro seems to not want to face. Why massacring women and children is considered ‘civilized’ to anyone, is beyond me.
Which brings me to my next point. Ben’s statement (and the video) reflect an all-too-common sentiment that Western civilization has magically manifested all good into the world, all by itself. This is called Eurocentrism. And history textbooks are known for being Eurocentric, as shown over and over again in Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen.
Sacagawea was invaluable to the Lewis and Clarke expedition. She was also adopted as an early feminist figure by the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Native Americans were crucial to many expeditions throughout North America, when they weren’t being massacred. Benjamin Franklin was inspired by the Iroquois confederacy (which is the subject matter of a Senate resolution in 1987). Native Americans first learned how to grow potatoes, beans, corn, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, wild rice as well other foods, and in the moments of relative peace, taught the colonizers their farming knowledge. And with Thanksgiving around the corner, I’d like to mention that they were the first to raise turkeys.
Over 60% of the global food supply comes from Native American agriculture. They introduced colonizers to Tobacco. They introduced them to snow shoes, canoes, kayaks, lacrosse, cotton, rubber, etc. They were the first to extract valuable metals like gold. They were the first ecologists, and long ago preached the need to live in harmony with the natural world, an idea that we are just now ‘rediscovering’.
As Ben Shapiro would say, “facts don’t care about your feelings”. I couldn’t agree more. And let me rephrase that in a more appropriate fashion, facts don’t care about your Eurocentrism.
Penn State College