Posted: 01/31/2012 08:16 PM EST

Chris Rock used to tell a joke in which he said that the best boxers are always the people who have it the worst in society. In earlier generations, you found tough kids from immigrant groups — Irish, Italian and Jewish — dominating the ring, with African-Americans coming on strong in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Then it was Latinos. “It seems the lower you go on the social ladder, the better the boxer,” went Rock’s punch line. “If there’s a Puerto Rican who is a good boxer, there’s a Native American waiting to kick his ass.”

It was a funny joke on its face, of course, but it was also an important bit of social commentary, too. Rock’s point: Though people often forget them when discussing America’s minority groups, Native Americans frequently have it worse than anyone.

Tiya Miles, a MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient and chair of the African-American Studies Department at the University of Michigan, is working hard to make sure people don’t forget the rich and difficult history of Native Americans. For instance, did you know that Native Americans were held as slaves, too?

In an interview with NPR, Miles explains:

Native American people in the Great Lakes were engaged in conflict, warfare with other groups of native people. And in these conflicts, Great Lakes Indians would take captives of war. Those captives of war were, for the most part, treated as slaves of a certain kind, and native people who captured these slaves brought them back to the Great Lakes and then would trade them to French settlers and to British settlers.

Miles goes on to explain that some Native Americans also owned and sold Blacks as slaves as well, capturing them from the South and then taking them North to trade. As we know now, of course, despite initially being able to participate in the slave trade with whites, eventually the native peoples were slaughtered or forced onto scrubby reservations, where they continue to struggle with poverty and substance abuse. Today, Native Americans die at rates far higher than those of anyone else in America, even Blacks.

Hopefully Miles’ research, which she’s still busy working on, will help African-Americans and Native Americans better realize that their shared history of oppression should help them work together to progress — at least more than they’ve been doing recently.

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When Lucas approached the major Hollywood studios about backing “Red Tails,” he was told: Thanks, but no thanks.
“There’s no major white roles in it at all … I showed it to all of them and they said no, we don’t know how to market a movie like this,” Lucas told Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.
Let’s juxtapose that against some other facts:
– In 2008, 69 million people voted for Barack Hussein Obama as president of the United States;
– The most talked-about woman in America over the past 25 years was Oprah Winfrey, who redefined the talk show genre;
– Which athlete has the top-selling jersey in the NBA? LeBron James;
– Who is considered the top-grossing actor? Samuel L. Jackson;
– Arguably the greatest entertainer of all time is Michael Jackson;
– The greatest golfer in the world? Tiger Woods;
– The most dominating players in women’s tennis? Venus and Serena Williams;
– The top singer today? Beyonce;
– And hip-hop, an outgrowth of black culture, is a worldwide phenemonon. And 80% of the consumers of hip-hop music in America are white kids.
So whites all across America have come to accept African-Americans in a variety of public media, but Hollywood continues to want to tell us that somehow seeing blacks on the big screen is anathema to their values…
What’s interesting in Hollywood is that if you’re Will Smith, Denzel Washington or a handful of others, you really aren’t seen as “black.” For them, they have crossed the post-racial threshold, and in Hollywood’s eyes, white America will watch them.
But if you talk to them and so many other top Hollywood actors, they will also tell you stories of having doors slammed in their faces, and trying to get movies made featuring mostly blacks and were told, “Can’t you make the characters white?”

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Eric Holder, Attorney General, Feb. 2009

Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about things racial… If we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another and tolerant enough of each other to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.

(interestingly the first part of this quote is everywhere, but the second part, about ‘frank conversations’ was hard to find)