Judging The Past

I’m going to open myself up to criticism. Criticism, that is, from future generations. I submit that we can basically judge people in the past by our current standards.

Unfair? Maybe. But consider: If there were people like Roger Williams, who could see Native Americans as humans back in the 1600’s, it must have been possible for other people to see them as humans as well.

I thought about this because a book award named after Laura’s Ingalls Wilder has been changed so it is not named after her. The reason for the change? Racism against African Americans and Native Americans in her books.

Some folks might suggest we shouldn’t apply our current standards to Wilder. The current standard (I hope…) is that Native Americans are people. Wilder seems to have been blind to this:

“The novels are full of phrases that are unacceptable today. Even in her own lifetime Wilder apologised for her thoughtlessness and amended a line in Little House on the Prairie that said Kansas had ‘no people, only Indians’. It now reads, ‘no settlers, only Indians’.”

So Kansas had no people. Only Indians, eh? And she apologized in her own time for it, too.

As much as I’d like to think I’m perfect, I’m not. And so I know suggesting that we judge Wilder by our own standards puts me at risk for future judgement. So be it. There were Europeans and Euroamericans who came way before Wilder who could see Native American and Black people as human.

I can’t say why seeing Native Americans and Black people as human wasn’t the prevailing view. I do know that some philosophers are working hard on those very questions. But there was, just as there is today, a lot of government propaganda, which probably shaped the views of the white population just as it does today.