Walking that mile in their moccasins or high heels

ALICE STEINBACH

October 04, 1992|By ALICE STEINBACH

Few things in life are easier to let slip by than anniversaries. But, hey, that's what newspaper columnists are here for: to remind you of things you might forget if we didn't remind you not to forget them.

For instance: Did you remember that next weekend marks the first anniversary of the televised Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas debacle? And, quick, what's the first image that comes to mind when you hear those names?

Is it the sight of the all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary Committee members who publicly eviscerated Hill?

Or is it Hill's own calm recitation of the ugly details behind her sexual harassment charges?

Or is it the memory of Thomas' angry characterization of the hearing as "a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks?"

Or do you immediately think of the self-promoting, swaggering John Doggett, the witness for Thomas who seemed to think the entire procedure revolved around him.

The hearings, which began on October 11 and ended in the wee, small hours of October 14, were as riveting as any Oprah or Geraldo or Sally Jessy show.

But unlike such shows -- which recede from memory as soon as the television is turned off -- the Hill-Thomas hearings proved to -- be a watershed event for many women -- and some men -- in this country.

It didn't matter that all those white, male senators couldn't understand why Anita Hill would continue to work for a man who sexually harassed her. Or why she hadn't made public her accusations at the time she claimed the harassment occurred.

It didn't matter because women knew why. Every woman who's ever worked knows deep down in her bones why a woman would decline to blow the sexual harassment whistle on her boss. It resonated with women. And it galvanized them politically, throwing into bold relief the fact that a total of two females in the Senate does not constitute equal representation. If 1992 is indeed the Year of the Woman, politically speaking, it was fueled by the Hill-Thomas hearings.

Which brings me to the Year of the Indigenous People and my second anniversary alert: October 12, 1992, marks the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Americas.

We used to say that Columbus "discovered" America. But that point of view has been revised in the last few years. Now the explorer who once was presented as a hero to school children is being looked at from a different point of view.

Here's the deal, as Ross Perot would say: Many people -- particularly the descendants of those who lived in the Americas when Columbus arrived -- object to the idea that they were "discovered" just because someone who didn't know they existed happened to stumble across their land mass. From their point of view, they woke up one morning and suddenly saw all these boats and strangers in armor walking around their shores.

And not only that, but these strangers brought with them diseases and ideas of superiority that led to the torture and deaths of millions of the natives of the new lands. It is the kind of revisionism that has led members of the American Indian Movement and other groups to rename Columbus Day: They call it "Indigenous People's Day."

Others, of course, are offended by this revisionism. But as someone pointed out, being offended is a natural consequence of leaving one's house. Particularly in these days of Eurocentrism, Afrocentrism, Ecocentrism, Femocentrism, Egocentrism, Co-dependentcentrism, Inner-childcentrism and the most powerful centrism of them all: Selfocentrism.

On the other hand, some of us wonder why it's taken 500 years for someone to get on Columbus' case. It all seems so clear if you put yourself in the moccasins of the Indigenous People of the Americas. How would you feel if, for example, you lived way out in the country and some city slickers out on a Sunday drive stumbled across your house, your family and your community and declared they'd "discovered" you? And then proceeded to change everything in your life?

But better late than never. And there's progress being made when it comes to the art of seeing the world from the perspective of The Other.

Yes, it's taken 500 years to begin reassessing the way we look at history, to understand that sometimes we confuse mythology with history. But separating Selfocentrism -- the self-centered place from which most of us view the world -- from history is a daunting task.

Still the process seems to be speeding up. We're only a year out from the Hill-Thomas hearings and already there's a sense of change in the air about understanding gender perspectives.

By my calculation, that's a tidy savings of 499 years.

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