John Trudell of the Santee Sioux talks about one of the founding truths of America, on why white people have a hard time seeing others as human beings (the bolding, italics and division into paragraphs are mine):
When Columbus got off the boat, he asked us who we were. We said we’re the Human Beings, we’re the People.
Conceptually the Europeans didn’t understand that, it was beyond their conceptual reality. They didn’t see us. They couldn’t see who we were.
Historically speaking, we went from being Indians to pagans to savages to hostiles to militants to activists to Native Americans. It’s five hundred years later and they still can’t see us. We are still invisible.
They don’t see us as human beings, but we’ve been saying to them all along that’s what we are.
We are invisible to them because we are still the Human Beings, we’re still the People, but they will never call us that. They taught us to call ourselves Indians, now they’re teaching us to call ourselves Native Americans. It’s not who we are. We’re the People.
They can’t see us as human beings. But they can’t see themselves as human beings. The invisibility is at every level, it’s not just that we’re tucked away out of sight. We’re the evidence of the crime. They can’t deal with the reality of who we are because then they have to deal with the reality of what they have done. If they deal with the reality of who we are, they have to deal with the reality of who they aren’t.
So they have to fear us, not recognize us, not like us.
The very fact of calling us Indians creates a new identity for us, an identity that began with their arrival. Changing identity, creating a new perceptual reality, is another form of genocide. It’s like severing a spiritual umbilical cord that reaches into the ancestral past.
The history of the Indians begins with the arrival of the Europeans. The history of the People begins with the beginning of the history of the People.
The history of the People is one of cooperation, collectivity, and living in balance. The history of the Indians is one of being attacked and genocide, rather than a history of peace and balance. The history of the People under attack, the Indians, in an evolutionary context, is not very long, it’s only five hundred years.
The objective of civilizing us is to make Indian history become our permanent reality.
The necessary objective of Native people is to outlast this attack, however long it takes, to keep our identity alive.
White people are not racist because they do not know any better or because of some kind of natural us-and-them “tribalism”. It goes far deeper than that. To see people of colour as the human beings they truly are would mean whites would have to see themselves as they truly are – and deep down they know it is not pretty.