The sad legacy of white supremacy casts a shadow | Comment


The term white supremacist has been used a lot lately. White supremacists were prominent among the insurgents who stormed the United States Capitol on January 6; the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff attributed the aggression to “white rage”. White supremacist charges surrounded the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis as well as the deaths of other African Americans. Remnants of white supremacy surely animate some of the nostalgia for Confederacy’s “lost cause” as well as resistance to renaming military bases named in honor of Confederate generals or removing statues honoring Confederate heroes. .

The former president, whose political ascent was fueled by false claims that the first African-American president of the United States was not born in the United States and was therefore an illegitimate president, speaks the language of the supremacy with remarkable ease.

White supremacy generally refers to the attitudes and actions of whites directed against African Americans. And for good reason. Racism has often been called America’s original sin, and any responsible narrative in American history must address the crucible of slavery, the Dred Scott and Plessy Supreme Court decisions, the proliferation of codes. black people and government policies that made it impossible for black Americans to get mortgages in white neighborhoods.

But white supremacy has affected other groups as well. The Exclusion Act of 1882 targeted Chinese immigrants, requiring that “the entry of Chinese workers into the United States be, and the same is hereby, suspended.” The Reed-Smoot Act, signed by Calvin Coolidge in 1924, imposed strict quotas on immigrants from Asia as well as southern and eastern Europe because they were considered genetically inferior. More recently, refugees from Latin America have been targeted by white supremacists on the pretext that they are lazy or criminals.

One of the groups most affected by white supremacy is the Native American Indians, known in Canada as the First Nations. The recent discovery of 215 anonymous graves at the Kamloops Indian Reserve School in British Columbia and 751 at the Marieval Indian Reserve School in Saskatchewan underscores the tragic consequences of white supremacy.

From 1883 to 1998, official Canadian policy dictated the forcible removal of First Nations children from their parents to attend special schools, most of which are run by religious groups. There, native children were forced to cut their hair, change their names, convert to Christianity, and wear European-style clothing. Under the threat of punishment, they were prohibited from speaking their mother tongue.

The unofficial motto was “Kill the Indian, save the man”.

The United States was also complicit in the cultural genocide. The Indian Removal Act, enacted by Andrew Jackson in 1830, resulted in the removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands in the name of what would later become Manifest Destiny, the white man’s supposed right to occupy land until at the end. to the Pacific Ocean. The most famous of these moves led to the Trail of Tears, where more than 5,000 Cherokees died of disease and starvation on the southeast journey to the “Indian Settlement Zone” west of the Mississippi. (In 1889, Indian territory was opened to a succession of white settlers, the “Sooners” of Oklahoma, again displacing Native Americans.)

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School, founded by Richard Henry Pratt in Pennsylvania in 1879, employed many of the same biases and strategies as Canadian schools. School instruction usually only took half the day, so children worked at other times, a system that exploited their labor. So far, the graves of 186 students attending Carlisle during its 39 years of activity have been discovered.

“The process of civilization in Carlisle began with clothing,” recalls Luther Standing Bear. “White people believed that Indian children could not be civilized by wearing moccasins and blankets. Their hair was cut because, in a mysterious way, long hair was in the way of our development. They were given the clothes of white men.

The cultural genocide of Native Americans in North America, led by white supremacy, has led to other tragedies. On New Years Day 1889, a Paiute named Wovoka from Mason Valley in Nevada had a vision during a solar eclipse. “The ancestors indulged in their old sports and occupations, all happy and still young,” said Wovoka. “It was a pleasant land full of game.” The world, he predicted, would be restored to its original state, buffaloes would roam the plains again, and tribal lanes would be restored for those who engaged in the ghost dance.

Wovoka’s prophecies spread rapidly among Native Americans, especially Plains Indians. Faced with white supremacy, the ghost dancers, many of whom wore special shirts that they believed would protect them from harm, engaged in ecstatic dances to revert to their native ways. Some claimed to communicate with the ancestors.

Then, during a ghost dance in South Dakota on December 29, 1890, a minor skirmish between a young Lakota ghost dancer and a trooper sparked the Wounded Knee massacre, when the soldiers fired their Hotchkiss rifles on the dancers.

The sad legacy of white supremacy continues to this day, evident in everything from law enforcement to the effects of climate change, as any visit to the Navajo Nation or Alaska Native villages will attest. African Americans may have borne the brunt of white supremacy, but other groups have suffered as well.

Randall Balmer, a resident of Santa Fe, teaches at Dartmouth College.

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