On Denial

By Natsu Taylor Saito

Natsu Taylor Saito is a renowned human rights attorney, scholar, and professor. But, she tells us, “this definitely does not reflect the views of my employer. I was supposed to write a nice academic essay. But only a rant came out.”

Climate change. Global warming.
A big chunk of Antarctica just fell off.
The seas are rising. Palau is sinking.
Can the ICJ fix it?

Great case study for my students.
Ever heard of Palau? Did you know it was a U.S. colony?
But I digress.

While we weren’t looking the clowns came in. The scary kind.
Go to sleep one night, joking about them.
Wake up the next day and they’re in charge.
All oil pipelines are hereby approved
The EPA is run by a guy who wants to disappear it.
The Park Service can’t tweet.
The USDA can’t tell us what’s in our food.
And ExxonMobil’s CEO is in charge of world peace.

Climate change is a hoax, the clowns tell us.
The Chinese invented it to steal our jobs. Or maybe our
hair spray.

Do people really believe this? Maybe so.
Apparently one in four Americans doesn’t know the earth
revolves around the sun.
What have they been teaching our kids?
But that’s another story.

What is to be done?
March for Science. March for Truth. March, march, march.
Those marchers are mad.
They want to know why so many people deny the facts.
Don’t those deniers know that science brought us progress?
Made us rich?
That we need it to fix everything we screwed up?

Wait. Is this that science that brought us nuclear power?
Drones? Roundup?
Told us to drink the water in Flint?
Put beads in skulls to figure out who’s smartest?
Sterilized us for our own good?
Put our ancestors’ bones in their museums?
This is getting a little messy.

Maybe they’re talking about the science that’s so proud of
itself for figuring out
That there really were ages of fire and ice.
That animals do talk to each other.
That without bees, nothing is going to grow.
One day science might even tell us we’re all related.

But in the meantime, what about those people who believe all
those other stories?
That we can keep digging up dead stuff and burn it and
still breathe the air.
That we can keep bombing other people’s countries and
not have enemies.
That locking up babies makes life safer.
That Black and Brown and Red and Yellow people
are scary. And stealing their jobs, their schools,
their country.
Who taught them this?

Maybe we do have to get back to that what-did-you-learn-in-
school-today story.
Let me guess.
Christopher Columbus discovered America. And it was a good thing.
Pretty sure everyone’s taught that.

They say origin stories tell us who we are.
Where we come from. Where we are going.

So, who was this guy, anyway?
Cristóbal Colon, they called him. Crystal Ball the
Italian? Spanish? Portuguese? A converso?
No one really seems to know.
But that’s ok. Definitely a White guy.
(Heard a Black guy had to show him the way, but why mess up a good story?)

And there’s America, just waiting to be discovered.
It was already America, the most powerful country
on the planet.
Ripe for the picking.
It wasn’t Turtle Island, home to hundreds of nations. Nope.
No one was here. Well, almost no one.
We have the Pilgrims and John Wayne to take care of that.
And those diseases no one is responsible for.
Those Indians, they just disappeared.
But don’t worry, we honor them every day.
The Redskins. The Braves. Squaw Peak.

In any case, if you discover something, you get to keep it, right?
In law school we teach it this way:
On the discovery of this immense continent . . . blah,
blah . . . the character and religion of its inhabitants
afforded an apology for considering them as people
over whom the superior genius of Europe might
claim an ascendency. 1

Blah, blah, and to keep the Europeans from killing
each other, they decided that discovery gave title . . .
which title might be consummated by possession. 2
That John Marshall had a way with words.
But it’s the same story.

Columbus discovered America.
The land of the free. Or was it the brave?
Those colonizers worked hard.
Their science and industry brought riches, power,
Stolen lands and enslaved labor? Those were just
passing phases.
Unfortunate, no doubt. Sort of like collateral damage.
But worth it.

You who are now so outraged about the denial of truth:
Did you contest this origin story? Do you?
It surrounds us, smothers us, every day.
“But don’t you think things are getting better?”
Here comes that Progress again.
No, actually, I don’t.

“You can’t replace us,” those blond boys proclaim from their
torchlit parade.
“Blood and Soil!” Heard that somewhere before.
Clearly these guys have drunk the Koolaid.
But who’s been making it and passing it out, all these
Why wouldn’t they think that Columbus discovered
America, for them?
Their blood. Their soil.

When the Tainos don’t matter, or the Pequots, or Sand
Creek, or Wounded Knee, or Standing Rock, or Puerto
Rico, why would anyone care about Palau, just another
little colony sinking below the waves?

If we can pretend that we’re not on illegally occupied lands,
benefitting daily from slave labor of one kind or another,
locking up or killing those who are inconvenient, why
can’t we pretend the oceans aren’t rising?

Which truths are ok to deny, and which ones are we supposed
to be mad about?
It’s hard for me to see the cutline.
Except maybe that it’s your kids now.

My father told me to never trust a liberal.
But then he had a chip on his shoulder.
Something about being a kid in an internment camp.
And the resounding silence of the liberals.
But that’s another story.
1. Excerpted from Johnson v. M’Intosh, 21 U.S. 543, 572-73 (1823).
2. Id.

Image: Hurricane Irma over the Virgin Islands at peak intensity on September 6, 2017 as the second most intense Atlantic hurricane on record in terms of sustained winds.  (Photo: NASA.gov)