Monday, December 23, 2019
December 23, 2019: Wishes for the AmericanStudies Elves: Remember William Apess
[For this year’s installment in my annual series of holiday wishes for those mischievous AmericanStudies Elves, I’ll be expressing wishes for figures from American history whom we should better remember. Share your nominees in comments and happy holidays!]
On two of the many reasons why we should better remember the fiery preacher.
As with most of the figures I’ll highlight this week, I’ve written a number of prior posts on or featuring William Apess. So for each figure, I’ll dedicate the first paragraph to highlighting a few of those posts (and asking you to check them out if you would), so as not to repeat myself in this new one!
Welcome back! Those prior posts certainly reflect many of the reasons why we should better remember Apess, which could be boiled down to: he was a genuinely unique badass who connects to equally badass Early Republic histories and communities. But better remembering Apess would also help Americans challenge a narrative that remains frustratingly influential in 2019: the “vanishing American” narrative that positions Native Americans as part of our history rather than part of our present. You might think that prominent 21st century indigenous communities like the Standing Rock protesters would make it impossible not to recognize Native Americans as part of our contemporary society, but to my mind our national narratives continue to leave out Native Americans far more often than they include them. Few American voices have ever challenged that frustratingly persistent trend more potently and successfully than William Apess did.
As I wrote in this post, Apess also offers one of our clearest and most impressive models of a subject I’ve been thinking a lot about in recent years and will continue to in my next book project: critical patriotism. Without spoiling everything I’ll try to trace and argue in that project, I would note that our collective narratives likewise remain consistently, frustratingly bad (just ask Colin Kaepernick if ye doubt the claim) at challenging the assumption that patriotism and criticism are two different ways to engage with the nation. One way to change that trend is to better remember the many figures throughout our history who have exemplified a critically patriotic perspective, one summed up nicely by the final lines of Apess’ “An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man”: “Do not get tired, ye noble-hearted—only think how many poor Indians want their wounds done up daily; the Lord will reward you, and pray you stop not till this tree of distinction shall be leveled to the earth, and the mantle of prejudice torn from every American heart—then shall peace pervade the Union.” May we better remember that lesson, and the voice who offered it, Elves!
Next wish tomorrow,
PS. Figures (or stories, histories, texts, etc.) you wish we’d better remember?