In her essay, “The Complexity of Identity: “Who Am I?””, Beverly Daniel Tatum discusses the concept of identity and explains what one’s identity is shaped by. She identifies shaping factors of identity as one’s individual characteristics, family dynamics, historical factors (Tatum). In Layli Long Soldier’s poem, “Whereas”, she incorporates these factors of her own identity in a response to the Congressional resolution of apology to Native Americans, which former President Obama signed in obscurity in 2009.
As an illustration of these aforementioned factors, Long Soldier lays out the realities of certain aspects of identity in everyday life. These aspects include her roles as an Oglala Lakota, poet, mother, and daughter. She utilizes the literary device of anaphora, placing the word “Whereas” at the beginning of each successive statement (“Whereas”). Long Soldier portrays a sense of restraint that she’s felt in certain aspects of her life by recalling things she wanted to do, yet didn’t, and things she thought, but never said. The most prominent aspect of her poem which contrasts beautifully with the Apology Resolution is when Long Soldier speaks of the way in which her own father apologized to her for not being a part of her childhood.
With this in mind, amid both her father and the Federal Government’s apologies, both perpetrators offer recognition for their actions, yet only one actually accepts responsibility for them. This can be seen in the language that each apology utilizes. For example, in the apology given by Long Soldier’s father, there is a sense of sincerity and humanity, “I have come now. I am seated across from a Whereas smile” (“Whereas”). The simple structure of the phrase “I have come now” sounds reassuring and even relieving when it is read, and the word “smile” has a positive connotation, and encompasses emotions of happiness and joy (“Whereas”). Her father not only offers recognition for his actions and past wrong doings, but he also accepts responsibility for them.
The apology made by Long Soldier’s father contrasts with the Congressional apology to Native Americans. This apology is faulty in itself as no Native Americans were present to receive the apology. In the apology, it is written, “The United States…apologizes…for the…violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States” (S.J. Res. 14). However, how is it possible for an apology to even be received when it is included in legal document and is not formally presented to who it is directed towards?
Soldier, Layli Long. “From WHEREAS by Layli Long Soldier.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/91697/from-whereas.
Tatum, Beverly D. “The Complexity of Identity: Who Am I?” Scribd, www.scribd.com/doc/47686971/Who-Am-I-Tatum.
The Library of Congress, “Bill Text: 111th Congress (2009-2010) S.J. Res. 14.IS,” www.congress.gov/bill/111th-congress/senate-joint-resolution/14/text.