How can I not talk about Oregon? How can I not talk about the armed terrorists (aka, depending on who you’re listening to: militia, angry old white men, activists, “patriots*” — don’t worry that link takes you to Media Matters, not Fox News, which is the group saying that) who are occupying a wildlife refuge in Burns, and who say they are willing to kill and be killed to continue to occupy the land?
How can I not talk about how the disputed land is Northern Paiute, and that in North America we’re nearly all living on occupied territories, and that if we’re going to talk about jurisdiction of the land, that should absolutely be part of the discussion, even though I know it won’t be?
It would be irresponsible not to mention that if these men weren’t white, and they engaged the authorities on this level, they would be dead.
It would be irresponsible not to mention that unarmed people of color die at the hands of cops far too often in this country.
It would be irresponsible not to mention that Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, was murdered for holding a toy gun in Ohio, an open carry state, and that his killer was not indicted.
It would be irresponsible not to mention that this shit keeps happening to people of color while white terrorists are put in bullet-proof vests and fed Burger King.
It would be irresponsible not to mention that the US government murdered members of the Black Panthers for having weapons in their own homes.
In a Facebook post, Terry Tempest Williams, a prominent environmental writer whose work focuses on the American West, linked to an article about the occupation of the wildlife refuge. A person who responded to the post said that we shouldn’t give these extremists attention — it’s what they’re seeking. This is, in many ways, the bad puppy argument. We know that if we’re training puppies, we should reward the positive and ignore the negative behaviors; the puppy will put together those positive behaviors with rewards. We know this makes training a puppy easier.
It is the wrong argument to use here.
While I understand that sentiment to a degree (and that is part of my decision not to use the prominent last name associated with this occupation, or the name of the white terrorist who was fed Burger King after he was apprehended), we cannot remain silent about this. We must call out the difference in the way the government, and the media, is treating this group compared to the way peaceful and unarmed Black Lives Matter protesters are treated by police in cities around the United States. We must point out the discrepancy between the media narrative of armed occupation of a federal building by white extremists and the murders of black and brown people by cops across the nation.
We must point out that people who are sitting in trees to keep those trees from being felled for “industrial progress” are not labeled as activists, but as terrorists and that Occupy and Black Lives Matter protesters, in our recent history, have been met with, and brutalized, by riot police. We must talk about how, in our not too distant past, peaceful student protesters have been murdered by the National Guard. We must point out that in 2015 police shot and killed a Native man in Denver for holding a knife to his own throat.
We must talk about the racially coded language that’s so repeatedly used to talk about people of color in the news.
We must point out to each of these things, and a multitude of other examples because we still live in a society that is shaped by systemic racism, a society which privileges certain bodies and certain lives over others.
We must talk about how this reaction to the armed occupation of the refuge — to simply wait them out — is not a consideration extended to so many other groups. We should do more than just talk about it, but talking is a start because too many white people, too many people who look like me, still don’t see these things.
To do anything less is irresponsible. To do anything less is to demonstrate our compliance in a system that favors white men, especially middle-aged white men.
*Actually, I guess that’s a pretty fair definition of patriot, given the historical context of looting by European-Americans in North America.
(The image associated with this post was taken in Oregon, but in the occupied Takelma, Galice, and Applegate territories.)