Recent uproars in Indian Country of comedian Ralphie May’s years-old tirade about Natives, vis-à-vis his anger on “Dances With Wolves” winning the 1991 Academy Award for Best Picture over “Goodfellas,” have brought to light the reality that many Native people in the United States live with on a daily basis.
While many who’ve come to defend or support his comments as simply comedy or a joke and media outlets have generally characterized his rant as “anti-Native,” it’s important to read and hear what was actually said, regardless of context.
“Fuck a bunch of Indians, I’m sick of hearing about —we’re supposed to boo-hoo over goddamn Indians when shit was 120 years ago, fuckin’, get over it. Nobody fuckin’ 150 years ago is making you drink now. Fuckin’ dry up you bunch of fuckin’ alcoholics and go get a real fuckin’ job. Cut that fuckin’ hair, Bon Jovi cut his, you should cut yours, this shit is done, son. That shit is done. Fuck you, bunch of Indians. Fuck the Indians. I’m sorry, I’m sorry they as a group never made it to the Bronze Age, I’m sorry they never invented the motherfuckin’ wheel, I’m sorry, boo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo. Boo-fuckin’-hoo. Fuck the Indians. Maybe if they had done some of that shit, maybe we wouldn’t have taken their country with three smallpox blankets and a bag of beads. Fuck a bunch of Indians, fuck ‘em.”
So beyond any shock value, his tirade – cloaked in comedy and defended as taken out of context and added to by his protestations that he hates on everyone – is indicative of white fragility. When he says, “we’re supposed to boo-hoo over goddamn Indians when shit was 120 years ago,” it shows us that the guilt of genocide, conquest and the continued, measured effects of colonization (yes, up to and including alcoholism) is something that registers as a historical injustice.
The frustration he might feel at having to have sympathy for Native people is ineloquently expressed as, “get over it.” The worldview that allows him to espouse the notion that those with the bigger guns win and are therefore are ordained by some authority to have dominion over the less advanced, is precisely the same worldview that directly affects most people of color in this nation.
This is the attitude that Indigenous people face every day, whether we live on our reserved lands that remained after treaty violations or outright illegal seizures or out in the world that was imposed upon us. When not properly addressed or processed, it leads to what we have come to understand as historic and inter-generational trauma. Personally speaking, I know this human wasn’t addressing me directly and I can file it away under my “Ignorant Jackass Making Money Off Racism” and go on with my day. But I’m one of the privileged goddamn Indians who’ve been fortunate enough to understand how to process my own emotional baggage. Not all of us are that privileged, precisely because we’re told every day to “get over it.”
The only thing I can say for Ralphie May is that either he knows exactly what he’s doing by making money off of his ignorance, hatred and white fragility or he truly is that ignorant, hateful and fragile. Just be aware that when it comes to people of color throughout this nation who might seem angry or reactionary, this is a prime example of the white nonsense we have to deal with on a daily basis, whether spoken or unspoken.
What encourages me is knowing that despite all of this being true, I come from a long line of Lakota who have borne worse in their living days. What encourages me is knowing that despite all of this being true, my family continues on from one day to the next. When I look at my nieces, nephews and their children, I know they’ll face similar challenges in their lives, but they have the strength within them, passed down by their great-grandparents, grandparents and parents to live with greater purpose than someone who spews such ignorance.