The Ugly American is back in a big way. Back in March of 2001, the Taliban blew up and destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan, two massive, 6th century statues of the Buddha, that were carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamwam valley of Afghanistan. The historic centuries’ old statues were destroyed by an order from the leader of the Taliban at the time, Mullah Mohammed Omar, who had declared that the statues were religious idols and thus forbidden by the First Commandment in the Bible.
The desecration of these statues caused mass outrage throughout the western world and here in America, because people just couldn’t understand how a group could destroy ancient historic relics and have such little respect for other cultures. Well, fast forward to today, and the lack of respect that the Taliban had for other cultures is being showing up right here in America.
This weekend, there was a large and illegal ATV – or All Terrain Vehicle – ride through Recapture Canyon in Utah. Prior to the ride, there had been a great deal of criticism and concern from the Navajo Nation, because the ride through Recapture Canyon would put thousands of years of cultural resources for Native Americans at risk, not to mention that the ride also went over an ancient and sacred Native American burial ground. But the concerns from the Navajo Nation and the legal requirement for the BLM to protect ancient sacred sites and artifacts were ignored, and the ride went along as planned, despite it violating federal law and putting archaeological sites at risk.
It should come as no surprise that some of the ATV-riding law breakers in Utah this weekend were members of the Cliven Bundy camp. In an email blast to his “followers,” Bundy wrote that, “We need to help the people of Blanding re-establish who is in control of the land. This is your next stand. Will you be there to help them like you helped us?”
While Bundy’s call to his followers to illegally ride on government land and put thousands of years’ worth of history and culture at risk is deplorable, it’s a symptom of a much larger problem in America, a problem which has been around since Columbus first sailed the ocean blue.
Even though it’s 2014, there is still a strong Eurocentric disdain for all other cultures throughout American society. If the culture isn’t White and European-based, much of white America pretty much doesn’t give a damn about it. And while it may not be as obviously bloody or deadly, it’s the same lack of respect that Columbus showed for the Taino people on the island of Hispaniola (the island which today is the home of Haiti and the Dominican Republic).
Prior to Columbus’s arrival, the Taino were a flourishing indigenous group, that had lived in peace for hundreds of years. But then Columbus arrived, began a campaign of mass slaughter and an active sex trade, and enslaved many of the Taino people in harsh conditions. By 1548, the once booming Taino population was down to just 500 people. There was a complete lack of respect and understanding shown by Columbus and his fellow explorers for the Taino people and way of life.
It’s was also a white Eurocentric culture that fueled hostilities between early American settlers and the Native Americans who had called America home for over ten thousand years. Rather than work to understand and appreciate Native Americans, European settlers killed them and/or drove them off their lands.
The American Indian Wars, fought on and off between 1622 and 1924 (over three hundred years), were fueled by the white Eurocentric cultural arrogance that came over with early Americans from Europe. We killed and enslaved millions of Native Americans, rather than embracing their culture. It was a genuine holocaust, which spanned centuries and continues to this day.
From how we treat members of the Muslim-American community, to immigrants from Mexico, to the ATV “ride” over sacred Native American sites, the white Eurocentric culture that has been in America since the days of Columbus continues to rear its ugly head.
If America is to live up to the values we espouse, we must respect and embrace all cultures and societies. And our media should identify and shame “Ugly Americans” like Bundy and his ATV buddies for what they are: the American Taliban.