America, the Bully: We Grew Up This Way | Sojourners

America, the Bully: We Grew Up This Way


My 5-year-old son sent a letter to Donald Trump a few months ago in which he referred to him as a bully, because he watches the way this man speaks of and to others. If my 5-year-old can catch the palpable tension in the United States today, we must have a lot of questions to ask of our nation’s values. I am not a political scientist, nor do I pretend to be, but I love culture and the way people come together to create the historical rituals of a nation, and it’s important to notice how those rituals carry on generation after generation.

But the truth about the United States is that we grew up a bully from the very beginning, and the recent decision to put Trump in the leader’s seat has certainly made that more apparent.

Alongside his rise, oppressed minority groups continue to make their voices heard, such as the water protectors of Standing Rock and the Black Lives Matter movement.

I am a Native American woman of Potawatomi and Cherokee ancestry, and I am also a Christian. As a worship leader, I stand in the tension that lies between Native American spirituality and the church, an over-arching rejection of Indigenous beliefs and any attempt for those beliefs to have a place in Western worship.

Over the past months, along with the elections and the events at Standing Rock, the reality of my Native American ancestors' suffering at the hands of the leaders, not only of this country, but the Christian faith, has become appallingly more clear. We owe a great deal of thanks to the water protectors at Standing Rock and others like them for reminding the world that, while Trump is a new challenge, this nation has always bullied those that they thought shouldn’t belong.

While school violence and the fight against bullying is an absolute horror today, we mustn’t forget what it was like in Native American boarding schools across the country where Native American children had their native languages and cultures beaten out of them for the “greater good” and the sake of conversion to Christianity. The motion to make America great again has been this nation’s cry every few generations, as the privileged have felt threatened by someone who didn't fit the American model of perfect individualism or western Christian faith.

If we really want something to shift under the reign of Donald Trump, we need to realize that he is not the first bully to head the gang; the very DNA of this land that was "made for you and me" was made at the expense of my ancestors so men like Trump could rise to the top and trample those who seemed to be in their way.

If we are going to create a better America for our children, one in which we are truly followers of morality and peace, then let's begin at the beginning.

Cornel West, when speaking at Standing Rock, called America’s original sin the “mistreatment and dispossession” of Native American peoples. So to root out that original sin and give back to native peoples a place of honor at the table, America must first acknowledge the sin, which is going to mean a breakdown of the very core of Western privilege.

There's an ancient Indigenous story about the Iroquois and the great Tree of Peace, under which the five nations buried all their weapons of war to begin a new world of harmony and justice together, to reject the forces of danger that threatened all tribes and peoples.

It is not possible to go back to the beginning, nor is it possible to root out a bully's actions and attitudes of the past.

But there is a de-colonization that must take place in our everyday languages and actions, in our churches and faith places, and in our government. The events at Standing Rock in the wake of this election have shown us this, and we cannot forget.

We do not forget the Thanksgiving table, the Trail of Tears, the Trail of Death, Wounded Knee, pipeline spills, Mount Rushmore, the digging up of sacred burial sites, the building of the railroad over native lands, and the extreme poverty and depression faced by native peoples.

And those historic moments have made room for more and more bullying, for the oppression of more and more minorities and peoples of color, for Western culture to say that this is the way a civilization becomes great.

The work we have to do will take longer than Trumps’ election cycle, but it must begin now, in our homes around the dinner table, and in our churches at the pulpit.

And there, in those honest spaces, the Great Peace buries weapons of war, and slowly but surely, the bully loses his power and his oppressive and violent voice.

One of the most powerful things that a bully can do is apologize for what’s been done and transform into a new creation, which, of course, is what the Christian faith is all about for as long as we’ve been taught.

So it must be time for the church and the culture of oppression that is the American way to find a place in which to apologize and restore an honoring relationship with the oppressed who first walked this land, and put the culture of bullying behind us for good.