Narrating Racism

In the 1956 movie The Searchers, two white girls are abducted from their family homestead during a raid by Comanche Native Americans. With their parents murdered and one sister raped and left for dead, the youngest girl remains with the Comanche for over five years. Throughout this time, her uncle, played by John Wayne, has been searching for her. Finding his niece now living as a Comanche and wife to the leader of the tribe, he attempts to kill her rather than leave her. In the end, she is “rescued” and returned to her family.

The film, a cinematic adaptation of a book written two years earlier by an American author of Western classics, Alan Le May, is well-known for its depiction of white racism toward Native Americans, and was used as a proxy during the civil rights movement (Native Americans as proxy for blacks), as well as its treatment of miscegenation. Yet despite its hateful narrative, The Searchers is widely cited as one of the best movies of all time.

Four years later, another book by Le May was dramatized in the movie The Unforgiven. The Unforgiven, though not held in nearly as high regard as The Searchers, delves even further into these problematic themes surrounding race, goodness, and family identity.

The Zachary family consists of mother, three sons and an adopted white daughter, Rachel, presumed rescued from a Kiowa raid on a settler wagon train. As the plot progresses, we learn that Rachel is, in fact, a Kiowa who was abducted during a raid on her village by the patriarch of the Zachary family. Rachel was brought back by the patriarch as a means of consoling his wife after the death of their own newborn daughter.

As they say, history is written by the victors. And in the United States, for the greater part of the twentieth century, the entertainment industry has touted narratives that vindicate, as opposed to liberate, those whose land has been stolen and people, massacred.

Again, the racism of the Zachary’s friends and neighbors toward Native Americans is depicted explicitly. Even Rachel, who was raised as part of this white settler family, is subject to it. One of Rachel’s adopted brothers, played by World War II veteran Audie Murphy, cannot handle the thought of his sister being a “red-hide nigger.” Rachel herself struggles with the realization that she is Kiowa. And when the Kiowa tribe attempts to recover her, she not only actively takes part in defending the Zachary homestead, but in the process, kills her Kiowa brother, thus solidifying her loyalty to whiteness and the Zachary family, and denouncing her ancestry by birth.

As they say, history is written by the victors. And in the United States, for the greater part of the twentieth century, the entertainment industry has touted narratives that vindicate, as opposed to liberate, those whose land has been stolen and people, massacred. Across our popular culture, they have been portrayed as vicious, bad, and somehow deserving of their tragic fate.

This is a common thread in the history of those who perpetrate genocide, in which victims continue to suffer the psychological trauma of the genocide. The continued depiction of the dishonest, disloyal, treacherous Armenians, for example, within the Turkish educational system perpetuates the stereotypes against them that have endured since the Ottoman Empire. To this day, being Armenian is a dirty word to many in Turkey and used as a weapon against political adversaries.

Like many of the Armenians in Turkey, native communities in America live in poverty, without rights, and without recognition; their realities invisible to the average citizen, yet their image continues to be appropriated again and again without their permission—distilled, as it were, and injected into the margins of American life. They are reduced either to performing as the ‘bad guy’ in a cult classic Western film or as a trivialized accessory to beloved American holidays.

Over the decades, Thanksgiving, it must be said, has taken on a life of its own, independent of the horrors committed against Native peoples. All the commercialization aside, it has essentially become a federally-mandated vacation, in which you are expected to get together with family and friends you love, and eat and be merry. To be honest, we need more of that. It’s just unfortunate that the cultural narrative upon which we engage in this merrymaking requires belittling the struggles of native peoples.

Regardless, we at the Armenian Weekly hope all our readers enjoy happy days this week with good friends and good food, and to, yes, be thankful for what we have; and thankful that Native communities continue to persist and fight for visibility in spite of it all. We hope that one day soon, they will be recognized as the authors of their own pasts, as well as their futures.

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16 Comments

  1. Sadly, White racism has, and will always be a huge part of American culture. Although the Native American Indians and Blacks have most certainly been the biggest victims of White American racism, there have also been many other groups such as Mexicans, Salvadorans, Puerto Ricans, Japanese, Arabs, Hindus, and even Armenians who have also been subjected to White American racism.

    On the subject of genocide, it makes perfect sense why the United States government is not capable of publicly recognizing the Armenian Genocide. After all, how can we possibly expect them to recognize our genocide when they’re not even capable of accepting the fact that they committed a genocide against the Native American Indian people?

    And here’s a speech by Martin Luther King Jr., in regard to America’s genocide against the Native American Indians:

    “Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shore, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it. Our children are still taught to respect the violence which reduced a red-skinned people of an earlier culture into a few fragmented groups herded into impoverished reservations.”

  2. Bravo Armenian Weekly!

    “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act!” Kevork Orwell

  3. Thank you from me too for making these connections among genocides rather than singling out the Armenian genocide as being exceptional. While all genocides have particular histories and causal factors, they all attempt to destroy a people for the benefit of the dominant group. A tragic outcome is that often the victims become perpetrators. In the case of so-called white ethics in the US, beginning with the Irish in the 1840s, they adopted whiteness and went from victim to perpetrator.

  4. Wonderful article. The cultural dimension of racism must be exposed and discredited. Art plays a key role, without it as GBS said, “the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”

  5. ‘The Unforgiven’ is A favorite movie of mine. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn play the starring roles. Unfortunately, it rarly shows up on tv.

  6. And yet racial, ethnic, and religious minorities throughout the world continue to flock to America, work here and become citizens.

    • Yeah, that’s true. But then again, America spends more money than any other country to attract all these people to immigrate to America. On the other hand, many people who immigrate to America, end up becoming very disenchanted with it.

      In terms of Armenians, there are enormously more Armenians who immigrated to Russia than to America. As a matter of fact, Russia’s Armenian population happens to be over three times larger than America’s Armenian population, which obviously shows that Russia has more to offer Armenians than America does.

  7. It is right to denounce racism wherever one finds it. And yes, Armenians were victimized by it in the Central Valley of California where, until 1960-‘s, they could not buy residential property in certain neighborhoods, and, two generations earlier had to prove themselves white to gain certain privileges. In a society that prized the looks of Grace Kelly, it took Kim Kardashian to establish the beauty of Armenian looks in the popular mind.

    But let’s keep America in perspective. All societies have racism. Unlike many others, the United States has changed its laws and practices to combat it.

    • Furthermore, up until the 1960’s, Armenians were not allowed to play on the high school football teams in Fresno, because of the reason that they were not White.

      Central California, is not the only place in California where Armenians have been subjected to White American racism. Armenians have also been subjected to White American racism in the greater Los Angeles area(Glendale, Hollywood, Burbank, Pasadena). In these particular communities, going all the way back to the early 1990’s, there has actually been more White hatred against Armenians than against the Blacks or Latinos.

      And unlike many other countries who have never committed a genocide in their history, the United States is guilty of committing two genocides in its history (one against the Native American Indians, and one against the African-Americans), which it still refuses to accept.

      There’s another thing that I would like to point out. By publicly recognizing the Jewish Holocaust, as the United States has always done on such a gigantic scale (after all, the Zionists control the Hollywood movie industry, the American media, and United States foreign policy), but not publicly recognizing the Armenian Genocide, is also an act of racism against the Armenian people. By doing this, the United States is telling the Armenian people that Jews are much more important than Armenians.

  8. This Mr Yerevanyan person is spreading propaganda and lies. Pure anti white lies. It’s actually pathetic. He went as far as to say Armenians have experienced more racism than Latinos and blacks which is total garbage. All this idiot does is come here and spew anti Semitic and anti “white” garbage. In much of the world Armenians are viewed as “white” the same people who you seemingly hate so much. Not only do Armenians in the USA live in the safest and well off cities like Glendale, but Armenians have don’t very well in America in general. You are spreading leftist identity politics and trying to destroy our accomplishments by trying to be a victim. Every single ethnic group has faced some sort of racism, the Irish the Italians Greeks the Germans and many more have faced a lot more racism than Armenians and we’re viewed as non whites. And I’m sure all of those listed belong in your category of white today. These western diaspora Armenians are so brainwashed by leftist propaganda is pathetic. Just understand this, real Armenians don’t buy your bullshit.

    • Well, for somebody like you who desperately aspires to be a member of the “White group”, it would therefore make perfect sense for you to be deeply offended by my accurate comments.

      When I stated that “There has actually been more White hatred against Armenians than against the Blacks or Latinos”, I certainly was not referring to all of America, nor all of California, nor even all of greater Los Angeles; I was specifically referring to the four communities of Glendale, Hollywood, Burbank, and Pasadena. And again, in these communities as well as the rest of greater Los Angeles, Armenians are not viewed as being “White”; they are viewed as being “Middle Eastern”. As a matter of fact, one of the racial slurs used against Armenians in those particular communities is “Middle Eastern Armenian butt rag”. But of course, for somebody like you who is such an intense admirer of the White folks and wishes to be accepted by them as being “White”, you will therefore overlook every act of White American racism against Armenians.

  9. Agian, Mr Leftist idiot spreading lies. No idiot. Armenians are not viewed as middle eastern in Los Angeles. Armenians are viewed as Armenians, you are truly a delusional person. You want to be a victim of this “white racism” so desperately you are now trying to play the middle eastern card lmao. identity politics has made you delusional. Keep your hate filled liberalism to yourself and go to a safe space and cry. You are mentally deranged, I have lived in Los Angeles and I have never heard this so called racial slur “middle Eastern Armenian but rag” Armenians have been called many things but that’s definitely not one of them. All those cities you listed Armenians live in the safest and cleanest and most well off places compared to your Latinos and blacks you so desperately want to be a part of their “POC” category EVERY single ethnic grouP faced racism the Jews the Italians the Greeks the Irish the German all races extreme racism even changing their last names to be more white and American. Same with Armenians. No I would be offended is someone called me white, I’m Armenian. Racially yes I’m white. All Armenians are. Your kids 5 generations down the line will be WHITE. not Armenian if they stay in America. They won’t be black Latino brown or whatever POC term you liberals use. Armenians are so well off the Latinos and blacks here “real people of color” say “you are rich like an Armenian” “why are Armenians so rich” quit playing victim. Literally every immigrant group faced racism. You should see the racism Jews went through yet they are now one of the most respected people in America and the most powerfull. Go take your bullshit elsewhere away from Armenians. We don’t need people like you. Scumbags trying to destroy all our achievements and go backward instead of moving forward and achieving greatness. The Jews also faced a genocide 6 million to our 1.5 yet look at what they achieved. I wonder is they sat down and cried victimhood where they’d be? It’s people like you who tarnish our name. Armenians have faced much more and are facing a lot worse in Armenia currently than your bullshit fake racism claims. Go to Artsakh where young kids are being sniped and killed and talk to them about “white racism” I wish they would slap your idiot face and spit on you. While you live like a king here crying like a bitch about your imagination of Armenian racism go to Armenia where they are surrounded by real racist Muslims who hate Armenians on all sides. Maybe then you’ll understand. Life is much more than black and white. America is the only place where those terms mean anything. The fact remains that Armenians have done extremely well for themselves and are very much white in the eyes of real people of color. So stop with your reverse racism and wake up.

    • What a horrible display of English writing. You’ve lived in America for all this time and this is your level of English? How shameful!

      “Middle Eastern” is actually not regarded as being a race, which therefore means that all of the peoples of West Asia (along with Pakistanis and Hindus) are ridiculously placed into the “White group.” However, White Americans certainly do not view these peoples as being White; they view them as being “Middle Eastern.” Contrary to the view of White Americans, I do not view the Armenian people as being “Middle Eastern.” As I’ve said before, Armenians do not belong to any particular “color group;” and therefore, they do not belong to any particular race. By desiring to be a part of any particular race, an Armenian is therefore attempting to be less than Armenian.

      In terms of the racial slur, “Middle Eastern Armenian butt rag,” I heard it for the first time over in Glendale, back in 1991. And then after that, I heard it many more times, along with other racial slurs directed at Armenians, such as: “armpit,” “sand nigger,” and “welfare abuser.”

      “The Jews also faced a genocide, yet look at what they achieved. I wonder if they sat down and cried victimhood where they’d be?”

      Actually, even after obtaining so many billions of dollars from Germany; stealing Palestine away from the Palestinians; and obtaining billions of dollars from the United States (on a yearly basis) for assistance to the illegitimate, genocidal, terrorist state of Israel, what are the Zionists doing? Just like spoiled, rotten bitches, they’re still crying that they are victims. How horribly absurd! Victims of what? It is they, the Zionists, who are the victimizers.

      “Why are Armenians so rich?”

      Actually, most of the Armenians who live in the overpriced United States are not rich; many of them are struggling to pay their expenses.

      “Go to Armenia where they are surrounded by real racist Muslims who hate Armenians on all sides.”

      I’m actually in Armenia right now. And since your knowledge of Armenia’s neighbors is so deficient, I will go out of my way to educate you on this particular subject. In terms of Armenia’s western and eastern neighbors (Turkey and Azerbaijan), yes, they are both Muslim countries who hate Armenians. On the other hand, Armenia’s northern neighbor (Georgia) is not a Muslim country; it’s a Christian country. As for Armenia’s southern neighbor (the Islamic Republic of Iran), it happens to be one of Armenia’s two allies. Furthermore, the Armenian people have always been the most respected culture of Iran. They are adored in Iran. On the other hand, the Jews of Iran are the least respected culture of Iran.

      “Go to Artsakh where young kids are being sniped and killed and talk to them about white racism.”

      Yes, I’ve been to Artsakh; but why is there a need for me to speak about White racism to my Artsakhtsi brothers and sisters? There are no White folks living in Artsakh; the whole entire population of Artsakh happens to be Armenian. Therefore, how can White racism possibly be taking place over in Artsakh? As for those precious Armenian soldiers who are being killed on the Artsakh-Azerbaijan border, it happens to be Israeli military weapons that are being used to kill them.

      “Your kids 5 generations down the line will be White. not Armenian if they stay in America.”

      Again, another horribly stupid statement. Do you even comprehend what it is that you’re writing on here?

      “No, I would be offended if someone called me white; I’m Armenian.”

      But yet, this whole entire time, you’ve been deeply offended, because of my correct comments that “Armenians are not White.” Well, this comes to show that you are indeed mentally deranged. You don’t even know which group you want to be from.

  10. An interesting and in many ways on-point editorial, but nevertheless I think you are selling The Searchers short. There is a lot in the film that is disturbing but to assume its *depiction* of white racism must necessarily be an *endorsement* of white racism is to smooth out all of the complexities of the film and its director John Ford. It is hard for me to believe any thoughtful viewer of the film would see John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards as an admirable character or would take his racist views as being endorsed by the film as a whole. There’s a reason he’s left standing outside alone at the end of the film.

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