Preface to "Gone to Croatan"


Preface to Gone to Croatan

Ron Sakolsky

This volume is an episodic account of the ancestral dance of our crossblood brothers and sisters across the vagaboundaries of North America. By taking a liminal, rather than only a marginal, perspective on its subjects, it seeks to open doors whose very existence may have in some cases not previously been apparent to historians. It does not claim to be a comprehensive history, but it is a start in plotting the points on this particular cognitive map.

Its subjects are the people who lived out their individual and collective dreams in the tragicomedy of survival/resistance/disappearance called North American history. The encounter of these dream warriors with the historical context provides the drama. Some dreams arose in the moment of the vision quest. Others were formulated in advance by utopian visionaries. Some burst forth in the spontaneous combustion of the uprising. Others were forged in protracted struggles of resistance to oppression. Still others bear the mark of the trickster or the festaludic embrace of Desire.

What links all of these imagined roads to freedom is that they all can be traced to Croatan. Yet, while this is a book about the origins of "drop-out" culture in North America, it is not simply about escapism. When the Roanoke settlers, who were of European descent, said to hell with Sir Walter Raleigh and the plutocrats and ran off to join the Croatan Indians, they were not merely "going native." In essence, they were challenging the newly constructed boundaries between wilderness and civilization, and, in so doing, were rocking the freshly laid colonial foundations of North America.

This is no mean feat. If we question the division of our world into the categories of "civilization" and "barbarism," then we have begun to question all forms of hierarchy. So, in spite of any false pretenses to solidity, the foundations of colonialism have been shaky ever since the original journey to Croatan, and the ensuing cultural conflicts have not ceased. Subsequently, many others have seized the opportunity (either freely or in need) to send out new fractal tremors which in turn have caused the seemingly monolithic edifice of North American "civilization" to quake.

After all, "civilized" institutional hierarchies of class, race and gender are mirrored in the psychosocial despair that defines the borders of the daily life we are expected to lead as we approach the millennium. By rejecting pseudoppositional remedies because they are rooted in the miserablist pragmatism of "the lesser of two evils," this book charts a different course. Instead of chronicling the results of such a deadening "realism," the authors within seek to celebrate the spark of transgression by examining some compelling examples of those who have "dropped out" of the striated grid of dominant Euro-American society, whether by original acts of refusal, by fanciful choice or by dire necessity. Though not without their flaws, the protagonists emerge as flesh and blood rebels.

Some will contend that oppressed groups do not "drop out"; they are pushed out. We would argue that internalized oppression produces a colonial mentality that often prevents even the members of the most oppressed groups from challenging their oppressors. Instead of either running away or resisting the dominant civilization, they (to the surprise of many observers) sometimes identify with their oppressors and blame themselves for their problems or take the kind of action that merely installs a new boss in place of the old.

Yet, many others continue to overcome this internalized oppression and forge new identities in the searing fires of rebellion or in the heady freedom of disappearance. To call only the latter (i.e., disappearance) "dropping out," is to miss the point. The act of "dropping out" is first an act of negation, whether it is carried out in reaction to the yoke of oppression, in response to the emptiness of alienation, or in the exhilaration of a newly kindled intellectual awareness.

We think of this volume, then, as encompassing a series of illuminating and inspirational communiques from the autonomous zones of our insurgent imagination as it has unfolded historically. In standard histories of North America indigenous peoples (much like the forces of nature) make a brief initial appearance only to be cut down by the inevitable "march of progress," and people of color are either absent or viewed primarily as nagging problems in need of solution. We instead, like avenging Ishmaelites, pointedly conjure up the eugenicist's nightmare: not only in the body of the book but by ending our story with the very people targeted for "removal" being the prime actors in turning history on its head and imagining a transcendent future. In stepping out of the shadows of consensus history, our immediate reflexive reaction may be to blink in wonder at the blinding light; but so much the better to then be dazzled by the splendor revealed.

Ron Sakolsky