This is our Thanksgiving Day post. The late Dale Carnegie might not like this post entirely. It is not a post designed to win friends, but it might influence some people. If anything, it might even offend some people. Any such offense is not my intent. I just want you to think about an unconscious issue that may not have crossed your conscious mind.
The largest living generation of Americans is the baby boomer generation. My spouse and I are members of that generation. Today most of us are celebrating Thanksgiving with our children and grandchildren. The actual history of Thanksgiving Day and why we celebrate it on a particular day in November is a bit complicated. However, our most basic thoughts about Thanksgiving Day hearken back to Plymouth, Massachusetts, circa 1620 when some religious dissidents arrived in the New World, found themselves befriended by local Native Americans, and ended up celebrating the first informal Thanksgiving Day with their new Native American friends.
Unfortunately, with a sprinkling of isolated historical exceptions here and there, the relationship between Euroamerican immigrants and Native Americans went straight downhill from there, often as a direct result of the white man thinking and behaving badly—and laying all of the blame for it on Native Americans—all the while demonizing and dehumanizing them with an on-and-off program of warfare and conquest. Baby boomers were the first generation of Americans to grow up in front of a technological device once referred to as a television set. The long historical process of dehumanizing Native Americans was presented to us in capsule on numerous television shows and screenings of movie westerns where Native Americans were portrayed as little more than heartless savages who had nothing better to do than perform war dances around campfires and viciously attack white settlers. In particular, they enjoyed killing women and children, thus violating one of the white man’s most sacred moral cows.
The propaganda message was clear. Native Americans were not humans. They were vicious beasts who possessed primitive, animal-like minds. While the central messages of such propaganda were overt and clear, I would submit that its effects on us baby boomers and our own behavior were often subtle in nature and unconscious—and we have inadvertently passed these unconscious subtleties on to our children and grandchildren. In particular, I think we professional archaeologists are presented with at least one minor manifestation of these unconscious effects on an almost daily basis.
Members of the American public love to send items of stone to American archaeologists, and they are inevitably accompanied by the same question: “Is this an American Indian artifact?” The answer is quite often: “No, that is just an amorphous rock.” This happens so often that every archaeologist begins to wonder why people are bringing them truckloads of amorphous rocks—always accompanied by the strong feeling that these rocks might be something worked or made by a Native American. How could anyone possibly think that a crude lump like that could be an artifact? To be perfectly honest about it, it just blows our archaeological minds. Of course, many archaeologists love to view the assorted rocks people set before us, and some are indeed real artifacts. But what is going on with all those amorphous rocks? I believe it is the subtle, unconscious influence of anti-Native American propaganda on the American mind.
The American people have been hammered with propaganda indicating that historical-era Native Americans are vicious beasts with primitive minds. It only follows naturally that ancient Native Americans were much less evolved. This means they were even more beastly and must have possessed far more primitive minds—in fact minds so utterly primitive that any rock they worked with their hands would look almost as if it had not been worked at all—and only a properly trained professional archaeologist can spot that incredibly subtle difference.
I stand ready for the rejoinder here. A citizen with an amorphous rock will inevitably say, “You are not being fair about this. We have never studied Native American artifacts like you have. How are we going to know the difference between an artifact and an ordinary rock?” The answer is very easy and simple. Native Americans are (and always have been) as fully human as you are. You need to fully understand that very simple fact in both your conscious and unconscious minds. Something that is made by a human being is going to look as if it were clearly made by a human being.
Take your amorphous rock out to your driveway and place it on the concrete next to your Ford truck. Look closely at the truck. Now, look closely at the rock. Now, look closely at the truck again. Which one was clearly made by a human being? This is how you tell the difference. If you have a rock in your hand and you have to sit there in deep, long-abiding, and agonizing puzzlement as to whether it is or is not a prehistoric artifact worked by human hands, it is most likely just an ordinary rock with an unusual shape. The long-standing negative propaganda about Native Americans that you absorbed from American culture as a child was all wrong, and it is adversely affecting your worldview. Ancient Native Americans were just as fully human as you are, and most any artifact they made is going to look like something that was obviously worked by human hands—just like your Ford truck.
Propaganda can be a powerful force with devastating effects that move from one generation to the next and poison our outlook on even the simplest and most obvious things in our lives. Whenever someone brings me an amorphous rock, feeling it might be an ancient Native American artifact, I sometimes wonder if we should change the name of our November holiday from Thanksgiving Day to National Native Americans Are Human Day. Given the tsunami of anti-Native American propaganda that ensued in the years after 1620, I think we Euroamericans should use the traditional and peaceful story of the first Thanksgiving Day to remind ourselves of the subtle and unconscious effects generations of negative propaganda about Native Americans can have on our worldview and use it to reorient ourselves to the reality that all Native Americans are our fully human brothers and sisters in the worldwide human family—and family members should always seek new ways to love and respect each other with every passing day. Happy Thanksgiving Day!!!