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Old 03-28-2006, 04:29 PM   #1
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A Racist Doctrine Ensures Racist Behavior

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This Message Is Reprinted Under The Fair Use
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_http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html_
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FROM: INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY NEWSPAPER

_http://www.indiancountry.com/content.cfm?id=1096412730_
(http://www.indiancountry.com/content.cfm?id=1096412730)

Mohawk: A Racist Doctrine Ensures Racist Behavior

(javascript:PrintWindow();) Posted: March 24, 2006 by: _John Mohawk_
(http://www.indiancountry.com/author.cfm?id=220) / Indian Country Today

No one dares say anything negative about Jewish people, even if the
comment is true or partly true. When Steven Spielberg directed a movie on the
reaction to the murders of Israeli athletes in Munich more than 30 years ago,
commentators like neo-conservative ideologue Charles Krauthammer complained that
Spielberg had sided with the Palestinians, which is a no-no.

Spielberg was criticized even though his movie is not remotely racist.
Others have had their careers destroyed, and recently a historian who denied the
reality of the Holocaust (a bigoted position, no doubt) actually went to jail.
And no one dares say anything negative about black people, lest they face
(often legitimate) charges of racism. And check out Larry Summers, the
obnoxious president of Harvard who ended up resigning following, among other
ill-fated remarks, expressions of female biological limitations regarding certain
academic disciplines.

OK, so you have to be careful when talking about women, blacks and people of
Jewish heritage. There is, for those bigots who need a cause and would like
to vent some racist venom, one group upon which it is perpetually open
season: indigenous peoples, aka Indians! You can, apparently, make racist remarks
about them at will and there will be little or no outcry. This tendency is so
ingrained in the culture that people don't even recognize racist remarks
when they are directed at Indians! They're a freebie! There are at least two
reasons for this. The first is a stain on the American culture. Racist remarks
about American Indians are part of the American consensus about Indians, a
consensus which is at the center of the fabric of American culture but which
today is inadequately challenged.

The first has to do with the mythology, the founding myth, of America. Long
ago, American historians generally reached a consensus by which they
promoted as fact stories that were both inaccurate and mythological in purpose. The
myth goes all the way back to the debates in the Spanish colonies between
Juan Gines de Sepulveda and Bartolome de las Casas.

Sepulveda is the ''father of modern racism'' who claimed that the Spanish
were entitled to benefit from colonization of the Indians because of the
supposed virtues of the Spanish and the sins and other deficiencies of the Indians.
The first was that the Spanish offered to the Indians the benefits of
Spanish ''civilization,'' a term which those who used it assumed that those who
heard it would understand to designate an entitlement. The Spanish adorned
themselves with the mantle of ''civilization.'' (Forget about the origins of the
word and its connection to cities: ''civilization'' is now completely
associated with something approaching utopia, an entitlement of Christian society.)

In land-claim cases in American case law, the lawyers and judges often find
the origins of America's claim to Indian land in the ''doctrine of discover
y'' and trace it from there. The doctrine was a claim that God had given all
the lands of the Earth to Christendom (later, when the state system was
adopted, the Christian nations); that whenever these Christian peoples encountered
other peoples on previously unknown (to them) lands, they had ''discovered''
them and therefore had a right to ''pre-emption,'' the first right to divest
the indigenous of their land because it wasn't really their land - they were
just occupying it until the Christians arrived.

It's a fantastic claim: Since the beginning of time, past the Ice Ages and
centuries before the Bible appeared, the Christians ''owned'' North America
and the Indians possessed a mere ''right of occupancy'' which they could
exercise until the Christians ''discovered'' them and found a way to divest them of
it.

Sepulveda's racism was deeply ingrained with the rhetoric of civilization,
his evidence of Spanish superiority predicated on the Indians' lack of Spanish
culture. The message: You are not us (white Christians) and therefore you
have no real rights. You were born inferior to us; your cultures are inferior
to ours; God gave us rights to all that is yours. Racism is about culture.

''Civilized'' people claim qualities of personality that are nowhere evident
in the Spanish leadership of the conquest. They claimed to be gentle,
cultivated, devoted to the arts. In Christian civilization, the civilized represent
the best assumed qualities of Jesus, including compassion, generosity,
justice and righteousness. Even as Sepulveda was ascribing these qualities to the
Spanish conquerors of his day, the Inquisition was torturing and murdering
innocent people, taking their property and using the powers of government to
achieve robbery, fraud and a great litany of criminal behavior.

Civilization's children were, upon examination, given to behaviors that were
barbarous. All that talk about superior civilizations, God's will and
''discovery'' is just so much racist drivel.

Fast-forward to 18th-century North America. The early English colonists
embraced the Spanish model of superiority due to ''civilization.'' To this was
added the idea of the empty land (terra nullius), including the idea that
Indians were nomads, that they were barbarous, that they lacked attributes which
were imaged to be positive traits of the English. (As a matter of fact, the
historic English lacked exactly those qualities: honesty, a nobility of purpose
and so forth. About the only thing they could claim is that they mostly
stayed in one place most of the year. But so did many Indians; and anyway,
there's nothing wrong with being nomadic.)

Racism in the Sepulveda model involved a false and hypocritical claim to
virtues of Christendom on the one hand, and an absence of virtues among all
others as a group. We know today that the claims to virtue by the English are
unsupported in the historic and contemporary records. In the same way that the
contemporary record does not support that people with strong Christian beliefs
have more stable marriages (''red'' states have higher divorce rates than
''blue'' states), it is also true that Christians do not have a history of
less violence than other populations. Christian populations are not virtuous
because they are Christian. Like other peoples, they have to work at it to
achieve virtue.

Indian peoples continue to suffer under the pall of racist ideas that are
centuries old. Just last year, the Supreme Court re-affirmed its belief in the
racist ''doctrine of discovery'' in a land-claim case. In a recent book,
Robert Williams Jr. detailed the use of such language and sources by the court's
former chief justice, William Rehnquist. The book, ''Like a Loaded Weapon:
The Rehnquist Court, Indian Rights, and the Legal History of Racism in
America,'' is interesting reading. If Rehnquist had made those kinds of statements
about other peoples, there would have been a hue and cry. But because it was
directed at Indians, the racism beat goes on unchallenged.

John C. Mohawk, Ph.D., columnist for Indian Country Today, is a noted author
and historian. He is an associate professor of American studies and director
of Indigenous studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
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