Living up to NO expectations

Sherman Institute Validictory Speech, class 1920

“…When the Indian girl or boy reaches a certain point aimed at it occurs to me that their problems are much greater than other races. The public eye is upon them, many to watch with pleasure and gratitude their success; others to look for, expect, and may we dare say, hope for the failures that will substantiate their belief that has prompted them to say, “does it pay.” So it seems to me our task is doubly hard. We must go out to meet the crude conditions of life and compete with other races who have the advantages of centuries of history-making ancestors, and upon our shoulders to a large extent rests the possibilities of schools for Indian generations.  How different is our case from that of our white brother and sister graduates.  They are under a certain obligation to their parents, the people in their community and their race in general. The Indian owes nothing in particular to his parents, nor to the members of his tribe.  No high standard of any kind has been set before him; there is no inducement but to follow the same routine that has been the custom for generations.”

I sensed at times, reading through this yearbook,  that perhaps some of the ” students’ ”  words were first suggested by their teachers and/or administrators.  These words, though, do ring true in many ways–though not necessarily as they apply to Native Americans.  

Through my job at the DA’s office I am fortunate enough to be working on a project to address homelessness.  Often I suspect that many of these folks suffer from a distinct disadvantage. Life is challenging enough and if one is raised in a low functioning family with low expectations… it takes an exceptionally strong person to recognize the possibilities and work, really work, to achieve more than is expected.  More than is even known or can be imagined.    

Though, though… I just read that yearbook excerpt to my daughter and realize how racist it is (sometimes I am so slow it scares me).  I wanted to use the quote to make a simple point regarding the challenges inherant in low expectations but this is about so much more than that.

It assumes that Native Americans in 1920, perhaps with different priorities, different values, had achieved nothing.  Just because they were different.  Though many had to give up everything they knew and loved just to live.  

They were forced to accept and grow dependent on a government that took away their freedom, their culture.

Oh boy, this is too complicated to adequately address right now. I need to think on it.


2 Responses to Living up to NO expectations

  1. skippy says:

    This is an astounding indictment about expectations, real or implied.

    As the 4th of July approaches tomorrow, we’re reminded of the 3 most important words of our Constitution’s preamble: We the People… We also know Thomas Jefferson’s famous words contained in our Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…

    Fewer still may know the more contrasting and unusually ill-chosen 4 words, and thereafter, following the Declaration of Independence passage, “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers…”

    I’m not going to give the benefit of an answer here. To see that foregone conclusion, you’ll have to research this for yourself. Granted, the context of the language related more to King George III, Great Britain, and the conditions of the times; however, the chosen language following the last passge is surprisingly offensive compared to the equanimity of the ideas of the first two, as you’ll soon find out. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this one– and the founding of our country.

    ‘Living up to NO expectations?’ Indeed, the idea has had a deep and rooted history long before the Sherman School Valedictory Speech of 1920.

    Have a good 4th of July, folks. Be safe and be kind.

    • Lynette M says:

      When I was in high school, a long-time friend became determined to take a different path than his family’s and stopped drinking. His parents and siblings mocked and ostracized him until he gave up and joined them once again in their self-destructive behavior (as an aside, his mother gave me my first beer when I was 13-twelve, actually I think I was twelve- and told me not to tell my mother). Somehow this ties in as well.

      Folks who are striving for better must fight those who would marginalize and reject them–as well as their friends and family–people trapped in the patterns they need to break.
      Fear is so powerful–it clouds judgement and good will. Good sense.
      So does ego. Unearned self confidence (not my phrase but I love it).

      I’m stuck. Yes, this ties into the history of our country. The foundation of our collective attitudes and values. I know this also ties into the effort to address the homeless. The us/them mentality that allows people to marginalize. To ignore needs and pick and chose when and to whom their values apply.

      Thanks, Skippy, for this historical perspective and mind twisting twist.

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