Food for Thought Friday: Historical Empathy

puritan, native american, puck

On a recent visit to Ellis Island, Marabou came across this cartoon. The March 30, 1898 (Vol. 43, No. 1099) cover of Puck magazine shows a Native American man, wearing a war bonnet and deerskin pants, holding up and gesturing to a rolled document that reads “An act to prevent the country from being overrun by foreigners.” A blonde white man in Puritan dress (who, according to the Library of Congress is supposed to be Senator Henry Cabot Lodge) cowers on his knees with hands clasped, fearfully looking upward. A tag reading “A.D. 1620” hangs out of his pocket referring to the English establishment of Plymouth Colony in present-day Massachusetts. The illustration’s caption muses, “Where would WE [bolded and underscored] be?… If the real Americans had held Lodge’s view on immigration there would be no Lodge Bill now – nor anything else.” The reader is asked to consider immigration policy through an historic lens.

Although the way the Native American man is dressed in the cartoon is not completely accurate to the clothing of indigenous nations found around Massachusetts, which include the Pequot,Wampanoag, Nipmuck, and the Massachusett, Marabou appreciates the sentiment. The image makes Marabou think about the importance of historical empathy

Ellis Island provides the following explanation of the cover: “Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, a strong exponent of Anglo-Saxon racial purity, helped lead the fight to resist immigration during the 1890s, an repeatedly fought for a bill requiring immigration to pass a literacy test. The test, he told Senate, “will bear most heavily upon the Italians, Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Greeks, and Asiatics…those whose emigration to this country has begun within the last twenty years and swelled rapidly to enormous proportions, races with which the English-speaking people have never hitherto assimilated, and who are most alien to the great body of the people of the United States.”

As food for thought this Friday, Marabou is thinking about how the United States could be different if politicians, policy makers, leaders, and influences of all beliefs and opinions just took the time to think “where would WE be…” It’s easy to pass a law, make a statement, and/or stay silent when the outcome doesn’t affect you in a bad way directly. The lack of empathy shown by those in power and the bubbles of comfort and privilege they live in (like Lodge who was an heir to a shipping fortune or present-day politicians getting payouts from Big Pharma and the NRA) are just some of the fundamental reasons why the move toward social equity and justice is slow and arduous. We have the advantage of historical hindsight. Instead of holding everyone accountable and complicit in historical mistakes and wrongdoing, those who benefit from the unjust actions of the past blissfully and willfully perpetuate the status quo. Marabou finds some hope in the results of the Midterm elections. There are now more voices in the House of Representatives who will be visual and vocal reminders that we cannot allow the worst of US history to repeat itself.

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