Jezebel uses ‘#trailoftears’ to describe Megan McCain

By Guest Contributor Adrienne Keene, cross-posted from Native Appropriations
Notice anything distinctive about this Sept. 8 posting from Jezebel? Please direct your gaze to the upper right-hand corner of the photo. See the hash tag? Here, I blew it up for you:

Yes, that says #trailoftears. Trail of Tears. The forced relocation of my ancestors, where they were unlawfully and forcibly removed from their homelands in the Southeast and marched over 1000 miles, in the dead of winter, to what is now modern day Oklahoma. Over 4,000 of the 15,000 Cherokees who began the journey died along the way from exposure, hunger, and disease.

The Trail of Tears was also unlawful in the truest sense of the word. Chief John Ross of the Cherokee Nation took the case to court, fighting for the right for his people to remain in their homelands, where they had been for thousands of years. The Cherokees argued that as a sovereign nation, the state of Georgia had no right to enforce a removal within Cherokee territory.

The case worked it’s way up through the court system, ended up in the supreme court. In a series of decisions, Justice John Marshall and his court sided with the Cherokees, stating that only the national government had the right to intervene in Indian Affairs, a decision on which President Andrew Jackson reportedly stated: “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!”

With the signing of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, Jackson took matters into his own hands, authorizing the removal of thousands of Native people from throughout North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and Alabama. To put this in perspective, this is the mid 1800′s. The Cherokee Nation was a successful and prosperous community, with large plantations, farms, schools, printing presses that produced books and a newspaper in the written Cherokee language, a literacy rate exponentially higher than the local white community, and a system of colleges that educated members of the “Five Civilized Tribes” (I hate that term) in a way that incorporated both mainstream and tribal education traditions.

The federal government sent in troops to enforce the removal, and without warning, they swooped into these communities, burning homes, killing livestock, and removing families without even time for them to gather belongings. They were then rounded up into concentration camps where conditions were squalid and supplies limited, and then forced to begin their journey.

My great-great-great grandparents came over on that journey, a time that is called Nunna daul Isunyi in the Cherokee Language–The Trail Where They Cried. So, Jezebel, calling Megan McCain crying over her dad picking Sarah Palin as his running mate a #trailoftears? You are dismissing the pain and legacy of my community’s genocide — and that’s not something I take lightly.

The #trailoftears tag is still there. On the day the post went up, I tweeted my thoughts on the tagging to Jessica Coen (@JessicaCoen), the Jezebel editor who authored the post, and received no response. Later, I tweeted this post, and again received no response. I received numerous emails from Native Appropriations readers who said they emailed the editors, and they received responses from the site ranging from “complaint noted” to “thank you for your response” to “dissent noted”. There are also multiple comments on the Jezebel post expressing concern over the tag, and then there is this comment thread,  complete with the typical “stop whining” troll.

Am I surprised they didn’t take the tag down? Not really. Jezebel is not exactly known for sensitivity about issues pertaining to race. Of course it’s still upsetting and frustrating, and the most annoying part to me is it seemed like such a simple fix — something that they could have gone in and corrected with little fanfare and no one would have been the wiser. I know it’s embarrassing to get called out when you eff up, but, I’m sorry Jezebel, ignoring the issue isn’t gonna fix it. This may seem small and inconsequential to you, but these are my ancestors and my community, and the way this was handled does nothing to restore my faith in how people of color are treated on your site.