"I said, ‘No. You have to tell the truth.’"
September 11, 2015 2:46 AM   Subscribe

 
A slightly more detailed updated. The University makes clear that a professor cannot unilaterally disenroll a student. This doesn't mean, of course, that he didn't tell her she was disenrolled.
“He made it a point to say indigenous people were not peaceful. I was upset for obvious reasons. He'd mentioned how the French and the Dutch were allies and made it a point to say native people were killing each other before white settlers arrived."
Oh, honest to God. Like the Europeans weren't killing each other before they arrived in the Americas and started murdering the Americans. This smacks of the same racist logic that attempts to excuse police-on-black crime with "well, what about black on black crime."

Professor Wiseman, perhaps, doesn't deserve his surname.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:20 AM on September 11, 2015 [24 favorites]


"I don't appreciate you making me sound like a racist and a bigot in my classroom."


"I'm the only one who gets to do that."
posted by louche mustachio at 3:20 AM on September 11, 2015 [73 favorites]


She wasn't expelled, it was simply her manifest destiny to move out.
posted by Segundus at 4:08 AM on September 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


Kudos to the student for her bravery. And what an asshole the professor was to behave in this fashion. There actually is a lot of room for discussion in this sort of course what happened to the (many and varied!) native peoples of North America, and why; and and who the European settlers were and why they immigrated. After looking at extensive evidence as to what happened, including articles that make the case it's genocide, the class should talk about what we should call the near-total extinction of the various people groups here in North America. How is it like things that we all call genocide: Rwanda, Holocaust. How is it like what happened in Armenia? Or China during the Cultural Revolution, or Cambodia in the late 1970s? Let the class think through what happened here in North America and what has happened elsewhere at different times and then come to their own conclusions. Do group work with opposing views. There was such an opportunity for real instruction and learning here, while taking the student's concerns seriously and treating her with respect. This could have been a fantastic college history class.
posted by persona au gratin at 4:08 AM on September 11, 2015 [28 favorites]


I remember this argument in Survey.
It was genocide, as it targeted native Americans using methods that would destroy land, culture, and body.

I think some professionals have a problem with it being called genocide because of criteria and the fact that it failed.
posted by clavdivs at 4:24 AM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


The cultural revoltion was not a genocide. Cambodia experienced auto-genocide.
posted by clavdivs at 4:28 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


For many years I wondered about history--how they say that the victors write the history books--and how it could ever be possible for, say, the Nazis to have won. It seemed like their history would have to be so falsified in order to make themselves not seem like terrible monsters. But recently I have realized that that really can happen, and that the horrors of the American genocide are a perfect example. And that is why this professor was having so much trouble; the cognitive dissonance between the awful truth and everything he believes in.
posted by bitslayer at 4:48 AM on September 11, 2015 [34 favorites]


Not so much the Cultural Revolution as the Great Leap Forward.
posted by escabeche at 4:51 AM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


You said genocide implies the purposeful extermination of people and that they were mostly wiped out by European diseases.That is not a true statement.

But... it is, right?

If he's intentionally portraying the Europeans as peaceful saviors that accidentally killed everyone without mentioning atrocities and slavery, he's obviously wrong. But so is she if she's saying the majority of Americans at the time weren't accidentally wiped out by disease. That happened... and then the Europeans committed genocide or at least huge oppression on the survivors and their descendants over the centuries.
posted by timdiggerm at 4:55 AM on September 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


I don't think we should use the word 'expelled,' because I think it is too strong for what happened. Expulsion implies that she was thrown out of class, while Johnson clearly left the classroom herself, after the professor had ended the class.

hamburger
posted by Oxydude at 5:01 AM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the correction. I had in mind the whole postwar period that includes the Great Leap Forward and its aftermath.
posted by persona au gratin at 5:11 AM on September 11, 2015


The "accidentally wiped out by disease" argument has a problem in that the diseases were sometimes deliberately introduced to native populations. Combine that with the deliberate institutional attempts to eradicate cultures by mass kidnapping and indoctrination of children, and I can't see any way to avoid calling it genocide.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:24 AM on September 11, 2015 [31 favorites]


Kirth Gerson, you just beat me to it.
The Native Americans being wiped out by European diseases far from excludes genocide, considering the literal distribution of smallpox blankets.

Which, even typing that out, is such a horrible thing to contemplate. How little you would have to think of a people to purposely infect them with something so vile. Utterly inhumane.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 5:28 AM on September 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think some professionals have a problem with it being called genocide because of criteria and the fact that it failed.

I can see the argument that the disease was (largely) not a deliberate act, although the deliberate attempts to kill the remaining native populations and destroy native cultures mean that I think that argument is wrong, but the fact that it failed? Do you mean it failed in the sense that native Americans survived? If that's a criteria than the Holocaust isn't a genocide either. There doesn't seem to be much to gain by differentiating between attempted and successful genocide.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:29 AM on September 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


So since I'm pretty sure that we all agree that the professor demonstrated schockingly poor judgement in handling this situation, I think it'd be interesting to talk about the use of the word genocide.

As a European-Canadian, it's something I think about somewhat often. I have to say, that I'm sort of on the side of people who wouldn't define what happend to native Americans as genocide. The problem is that making this statement sounds a lot like saying that what the natives went through wasn't as bad as what was suffered by jews and Armenians, because genocide is a word which we associate with the worst kind of evil. Just to lay my cards out on the table, I would say that what natives experienced was worse.

I think the core problem with the word genocide, at least as I understand it, is that the intent of the aggressor is built into its definition. Because colonizers were not deliberately, at least on mass, trying to wipe out the natives, it's hard to compare it to the aforementioned genocides. However, whether someone was first or second degree murdered makes little difference to them or their families, and similarly, I can entirely sympathize with natives who get extremely frustrated by people arguing about the definition of genocide when the historical intent of the Europeans changes nothing about the fact that native peoples and cultures were brought to the edge of extermination by European activity.

Last time I checked the numbers, on the order of 80% of the native population of North America died from European diseases. After suffering a human tragedy across an entire continent comparable to what Polish Jews experienced, they were then subjected to hundreds of years of cultural genocide on their homeland as every aspect their "primitive" cultures was actively undermined. I don't know what to call what happened to the natives, or the miracle that natives and their culture managed to survive at all, but when I do try to imagine what it must have been like for them, as a people, over hundreds of years, it is about the worst thing I can imagine.

I'm generally pretty optimistic about humanity, but one of the darker things I imagine about humanity as a whole is that even when contemplating the worst events in human history, it's still easier for people to imagine themselves as the aggressors rather than the victims. It's easier to imagine being a Nazi then a Polish jew during world war two because we can imagine doing evil things, and see our hands commit evil acts, whereas to imagine being a victim of these events, and having to imagine everything you know and love annihilated before your eyes is simply too harrowing and dehumanizing.

And so this leads me to think that it is more human to be evil than a victim. It is easier to argue over the intent of the aggressors, rather than empathize with the sea of the dead and the few survivors. Although this might allow us to avoid what the aggressors did, it does not show us how to answer to the survivors.
posted by Alex404 at 5:32 AM on September 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


Because colonizers were not deliberately, at least on mass, trying to wipe out the natives...

I think you give them too much credit. Example:
On July 16 [Lord Jeffrey] Amherst replied, also in a postscript:

P.S. You will Do well to try to Innoculate the Indians by means of Blanketts, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race. I should be very glad your Scheme for Hunting them Down by Dogs could take Effect, but England is at too great a Distance to think of that at present.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:38 AM on September 11, 2015 [28 favorites]


You said genocide implies the purposeful extermination of people and that they were mostly wiped out by European diseases.That is not a true statement.

But... it is, right?


Yes. It's difficult to fathom just how decimated the American populations were (north and south) by diseases brought over by European explorers and fur-traders, long before there was any sort of occupying force. In some populations, 90% fatality. Can you imagine? I can't. I'd bet a 5% die-off would destroy our culture today -- anything above 50% is unimaginable.

And that was good for the Europeans, of course. They wouldn't have stood a chance against a fully healthy or even unified American force. But the destruction of disease splintered alliances and made nomads out many communities. The Americans "won" by a twist of fate, essentially, and little else. The comment above about the Nazis writing their own history? You know that saying about how thank God we're not all speaking German? It's just as much a miracle we're not all speaking Quechua.

So the professor is correct that Native Americas were mostly wiped out by European diseases. But it's a false dichotomy to then say there wasn't a genocide. Clearly, there was a purposeful extermination of Native American populations, particularly in North America. It can be both. It is both.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:41 AM on September 11, 2015 [19 favorites]


Colonel John Milton Chivington said, "nits make lice." That's the kind of statement you find in genocide, because once you say that you are killing children. A lot of it gets a pass because it was closer in some periods to what was called in the '90s "ethnic cleansing," that is, the forcible removal of people from their lands to make those lands available to others. It seems to me that people are making the point too refined if they don't think that the policy was, as per the definition of genocide, was "intent to destroy." You can't remove the intent to destroy from "nits make lice."
posted by graymouser at 5:44 AM on September 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


Alex404, as a Canadian of European descent, you should be aware that genocide as defihed by the United Nations includes attempts to destroy a culture by kidnapping and re-educating its children, for example the Canadian Residential Schools program.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:51 AM on September 11, 2015 [30 favorites]


One of the issues surrounding genocide is that it's difficult to really determine what is, and isn't, genocide in most circumstances.

Ok, put down the pitchforks and let me explain myself.

Here in the West, we generally have a "standard measurement" of genocide, namely, the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a situation where, in lieu of invasion, government officials were given (usually verbal) orders to round up and kill as many Jews as they could possibly find. Initially, this took the form of overworking and underfeeding prisoners in camps or death squads doing mass firing squads in the countryside. As the war started to go badly for Germany, it eventually became train ride->gas chambers and skipped the hard labor entirely.

So, this is a very obvious case of genocide. Soldiers were under (at least tacit, and often explicit) orders that no Jews should be left in the New German Empire. It was a very bureaucratic, formal affair with clear policy directives, implications and well-defined political outcomes.

Now think of the Armenian genocide. It's clear that a genocide took place: about 1.5 million Armenians who were alive before the war, weren't alive after the war. It's also clear that the Turkish government had a policy of deporting Armenians to remote areas and didn't really care what happened to them. Turkish officers killed many individual Armenians and massacred many Armenian villages, but were they under orders to do so? As a means to wipe out their race? Was it Turkish policy to wipe out the Armenian race? Or just extremely malevolent neglect during wartime, coupled with many individual acts of violence? Is there a difference between the two? Is Genocide-by-neglect something that can happen?

Now the American genocide, to which this post is in reference. There were many tens of millions of indigenous people in the Americas before 1492. Within a century of Columbus, that number had declined sharply, perhaps by as much as 90% or more. Virtually all of these people were killed by new diseases of which they had no natural immunity. The truly tragic thing about this is that it's unlikely that the vast majorities of indigenous people in the Americas would have survived any contact with Europeans, no matter how peaceful, since viruses and bacteria obey no laws and kill indiscriminately.

After this initial catastrophe, there was a long period (lasting centuries) of low-level violence and forced population transfers which resulted in Native Americans becoming an incredibly tiny minority in their homelands, dwarfed by the onslaught of heavily-armed settlers. That being said, it's unclear if there was ever a systematic policy of racial extermination. Certainly, at times and places, European settlers declared their intention to kill natives and remove them from the land, and this happened with stunning regularity. But to say that there was a systematic and official government plan (spanning multiple colonial governments and administrations) to exterminate an entire racial group from 1492 to 1900 is a bit of a stretch. This is where comparisons to the Holocaust break down. It might be more accurate to call what happened to the Native Americans "widespread inter-ethnic violence, brought about by colonial settlement, tacitly supported by various governments" rather than the kind of systematic and total elimination implied by the word "genocide".

In all seriousness, the genocide of Native Americans more closely resembles the current situation in Palestine than anything that we currently recognize as "genocide". There is no overt plan, after all, to exterminate the Palestinian race (that we are aware of) but Jewish settlers and soldiers are doing a fine job of it on an individual basis, with the tacit support of the State. Nobody really cares what happens to Palestinians, and if a few dozen (or a few thousand) get killed in a military operation here or there, or if they get forced off their land "for security reasons", then nobody really minds that much.

But is that genocide?

Well, it may be, but good luck getting anybody to recognize it as such.
posted by Avenger at 5:57 AM on September 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


Thanks for pointing that out, justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow. I hope my point is still clear though, that there's something weird about arguing over definitions and the intent of aggressors, rather than attempting to understand what happened, regardless of what we call it.
posted by Alex404 at 6:01 AM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I sometimes wonder how things would have gone if smallpox had been an North American disease and syphilis a European one.

they say that the victors write the history books

Less so when you look into it. Thucydides wrote from the losing side, as did his follow upper Xenophon. Caesar wrote brilliantly on his time in Britain, but bottom line, it was one of his failures. Josephus. Any number of southern historians of the American Civil War.
posted by BWA at 6:01 AM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


As I recall, there isn't a lot of evidence that deliberate introduction of European disease was a factor in depopulating the Americas to the extent that the Americas were depopulated. Disease does seem to account for the majority of indigenous deaths that raced ahead of European contact so swiftly that many people to this day think most of the Americas were empty and undisturbed virgin land when European people settled. The Columbian Exchange had some remarkable effects that were unnoticed at the time because of how effective it proved to be.

Genocidal intent was often there, demonstrated by centuries of conflict. But perhaps the biggest factor for indigenous population decline does not look to be intentional.

The whole expulsion story, though, sounds like we're relying on incomplete testimony. I can buy that a student insist the conditions of genocide in North America were met. I can also buy a history class teaching that indigenous peoples were not peaceful noble savages, but the same violent, self interested beings, just like everyone else around the globe. And writing off the depopulation of the Americas as genocide is a glib oversimplification of the process that was largely responsible.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:02 AM on September 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


After my (Mexican) grandmother died when I was a teenager--not particularly young or anything, my dad was the baby of a big family--I made it more of a point in high school to speak up about being Hispanic. I mean, I was a kid, I wasn't super-savvy about this, but I pass, and so most people hadn't actually known until then. I promptly, the next year, landed an Honors World History teacher who assigned topics to students for papers that presented a huge chunk of our grade for that semester, and required me to submit a paper defending European imperialism in India and Latin America. I got knocked out of the honors track in history for doing poorly in that course, despite consistently good grades in history before that point. Which, ironically, forced me to take economics from the same woman. On the up side, by that point I was angry enough to do well just to spite her.

The point isn't specifically what is and isn't "genocide". As an instructor, you might have a differing opinion of what constitutes genocide and not be a racist asshole about it. If this happened as described, this guy wasn't just differing about a technical opinion of genocide. He was saying, overtly, that the people who were colonized deserved to be colonized and that the colonizers were entitled to live here but the native population was not. That's the fundamental problem. Specific numbers of who died and how are not actually particularly relevant.
posted by Sequence at 6:06 AM on September 11, 2015 [23 favorites]


But to say that there was a systematic and official government plan (spanning multiple colonial governments and administrations) to exterminate an entire racial group from 1492 to 1900 is a bit of a stretch.

Even if we assume this to be completely inarguably true, there were multiple colonial governments and administrations that DID have systematic plans to exterminate entire racial groups within their borders. So really, what you're saying here is that there were many somewhat smaller genocides.
posted by Dysk at 6:14 AM on September 11, 2015 [33 favorites]


If the main argument against applying the term "genocide" toward the U.S.'s historical treatment of Native Americans is that it wasn't sufficiently systemic or organized enough, that's a pretty weak argument. And certainly not anything that's appropriate to shut down an entire class and tell a student to get out over.

I hope we don't lose sight of the context in making all these actually points about history, because this is the conversation that student never got to have. The silencing and (in this case, thankfully non-literal) expulsion of the Native American voice is the status quo. So is the doubting of her account. There's nothing "glib" about calling it genocide, that's not "writing off" anything -- not for that student, and not for me.
posted by automatic cabinet at 6:20 AM on September 11, 2015 [30 favorites]


Even if we assume this to be completely inarguably true, there were multiple colonial governments and administrations that DID have systematic plans to exterminate entire racial groups within their borders. So really, what you're saying here is that there were many somewhat smaller genocides.
posted by Dysk at 6:14 AM on September 11 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


This is a really astute observation. Although I'm not aware of any specific instance (although I'd be very interested to be proved wrong) in which an American government attempted to systematically organize the deaths of an entire race within it's borders ala the Holocaust. (The Fort Pitt letter, noted in this thread, is the closest thing that I can think of to such an example, although it can be argued that it suggests the intent of a colonial administrator, rather than some kind of systematic policy).

There WERE lots of efforts to expel tribal groups from land that they previously inhabited, and the violence which resulted from these expulsions and settlement expansions resulted in many native deaths. But again, this runs into the modern "I/P problem" of describing genocide: if kicking natives off their land for "security reasons" or for "settlement expansion" is genocide, then we've all got big problems, right now, in the 21st century with a major, ongoing genocide, that nobody is really doing anything to stop. Admitting as such is politically impossible in the West, so the issue is largely moot.
posted by Avenger at 6:24 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


This situation sucks but none of us have any idea what actually happened in the classroom.
posted by k8t at 6:27 AM on September 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


The Taino were hit hard by disease, with an estimated 90% being killed. However, that in no way can paper over that the rest were forced into slavery to mine gold or for sex, hunted with dogs, and victimized with countless other atrocities. The Taino are now extinct. How can this not be genocide?

This is the legacy of Christopher Columbus and the attitude of European "conquerors" since the beginning.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:38 AM on September 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


Quibbling over the semantics of the word "genocide" in situations like this really puts a bad taste in my mouth. Like, "Sure, I hear your complaints, your people were systematically killed en masse, you were driven off your land by people who saw themselves as a superior race worthy of your belongings, your children were kidnapped and indoctrinated because their culture was seen as inferior, and even today you are discriminated against based on your ethnicity. But you didn't experience *genocide* because it wasn't on purpose. Easy mistake to make! Let me, a member of the group that systematically oppressed you, explain why."

I get that it's worthwhile to have technical discussions of terminology, but splitting hairs just so and using these terms to silence and exclude oppressed people is not the right way to do it.

I'm not just talking about what happened in the classroom, by the way. The arguing here over, wellll, is it exactly genocide though? bothers me as well.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:56 AM on September 11, 2015 [81 favorites]


"This situation sucks, but none of us have any idea what happened" sounds like a pretty good summary of the professor's stance.
posted by CMcG at 6:56 AM on September 11, 2015 [11 favorites]


I've always thought the more contingent thing was warfare that wasn't genocidal.

The numerosity of ethnic groups obeys a radical inequality (Han Chinese: O(1.3 billion worldwide), Korowai: O(2,900)), and there is also a radical inequality in the internal coherence of definitions of the ethnic group, or at least our envisionment of the ethnic group (compare being Han Chinese to being American White). But that means that Pareto's law applies: 20% of ethnic groups have 80% the people, and so on, so one ethnic group (Han Chinese) has a solidly appreciable part of the whole population of the world. But it means that if you randomly choose an ethnic group, it's comparatively small. (Apple Computers has an appreciable fraction of the whole wealth of the world, but if you randomly choose a random company, it's some mom-and-pop small business most likely. Interestingly, this also goes for problems of definition: Coca-Cola is a nebulous entity spanning the globe and many thousand actual corporate entities, but your corner bodega is not. Han Chinese is a problematic word to use and kind of a fiction, but Korowai is much less so).

But an ethnicity of 1 thousand people is fundamentally more vulnerable to extirpation than an ethnicity of 1 billion people, even if there's no possibility of the 1 billion people being as united as the 1 thousand. Any organized group of maybe 5,000 or more could do it.

If N Chagnon determined that Yanomamo hunter-gatherers died at about 30% by interpersonal violence (this is not an uncontroversial statement, rather the subject of a good ol' decades-long anthropology fight), this seems not incompatible with a view of the typical organized violent action being inter-ethnic (because coherent ethnicities of humongous size are only possible with the codification of ethnicity under nationalism and coherent communication over vast distances) and really violent and really possibly successful at genocide, where "successful at genocide" means "total extirpation, including from the historical record". Could you do it for the modern Han Chinese? ... No.

Even within the genocides we know about in the historical record, the nature of the history is focused upon the survivors: do we know if Chelmno was a more terrible place than Auschwitz? It probably actually was, but we think of Auschwitz when we think the Holocaust, because less than dozen people survived Chelmno, from about 200,000. How would we know if it was a regular occurrence that non-literate ethnicities of small sizes were regularly systematically killed by their enemies, whether that was the norm for war?

We might have our conception of the typical war as being less genocidal and more nation-states fighting each other in the same way we have our conception of the typical ethnicity distorted as something more like the nebulous Han Chinese or White and the typical corporation distorted as being something more like Coca-Cola than Bob's Burgers.
posted by curuinor at 7:11 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the question of whether it was genocide and more generally what genocide is is an important one. But, in a classroom--with Native American students!-- the question must be addressed with respect and compassion and humility. I mean, that question always deserves those virtues. But even more so with undergraduate students.
posted by persona au gratin at 7:15 AM on September 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


Now that I'm thinking about it, another reason why describing what happened to indigenous peoples in the same terms as the Holocaust is because the way in which indigenous peoples were devestated by disease can't really happen again. This particular situation of large, formerly isolated populations sharing diseases is a thing of the past in our globalized world, and so by putting these various tragedies under the same rubric, we run the risk of forgetting what made this one so uniquely horrible.
posted by Alex404 at 7:45 AM on September 11, 2015


This was a terrible reaction, because clearly there were a number of actions by Europeans any one of which would constitute genocide if we saw other people doing it in Africa or Southeast Asia. But be careful about the smallpox blankets claims: most Native Americans who died of smallpox and other European diseases died more than a century and a half before the siege of Fort Pitt.

We can actually see the smallpox ravaging Native Americans in the geological record: it's called the Orbis Spike and it gives us good evidence that about 50 million indigenous people died and so left their farms fallow to be reclaimed by forest and jungle. Just terrible, scary numbers, but it was not intentional.

That said, Europeans were also cruel and vicious colonizers. But by 1763, the Delaware were likely already immune to smallpox, and certainly there was no record of an outbreak after the blankets were given, so again it's better to think of this as unsuccessful biological warfare that indicates the European frame of mind. "Attempted genocide," I guess.

And really, our treatment of indigenous peoples in mission schools, stealing children from their families and trying to eliminate their language, religion, and culture, would obviously count as traditional genocide. So it seems like a weird objection for a professor to make a fool of himself over in class. "Yeah, we committed genocide, but not the way you said," is a terrible defense.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:48 AM on September 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


There are several things here:

(1) Anyone who teaches American history should know, and be prepared to explain, that what happened to the Native nations was genocide.

(2) This particular situation... doesn't sound as awful as anyone is describing it. It sounds like she stood up in class and wanted to read some things, the professor said (pretty much rightly) "okay, we can do that, but not now, as we're talking about something else, sorry," and she took that as a horribly crude offense.

(3) I am skeptical that the professor told her "you're making me look like a racist and a bigot." More likely, I think, the professor told her "I really don't like it when you stand up and disrupt class like that," and she read that as "I think your disruption makes me look bad." But – this is the thing – we really don't have any idea. Same with the "expel" and "disenroll" – I'm not sure these words would apply even if the professor did kick her out of the class, which is apparently not what actually happened. There are a lot of things the professor might have said that could have sounded a lot like that to the student (i.e. "if you're disruptive like this a lot, it's going to be hard to last very long in the class," etc) and anyway a professor ought to have the power to remove disruptive people from her or his class.

In sum: no professional historian should be under the impression that the genocide of the Native peoples wasn't genocide. But this professor still had a job to do, and aside from having a wrong opinion, he seems to have done it correctly. I guess the main thing is that we have no idea what actually was said, and there seems to be some confusion about it.
posted by koeselitz at 7:51 AM on September 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Here in the West, we generally have a "standard measurement" of genocide ...

Yeah, I think "not by us" seems to be part of that definition. Even in the case of Aboriginal Tasmanians, who were entirely wiped off the face of the earth during British colonisation of Australasia, there still seems to be some debate whether to use the term.
posted by iotic at 7:51 AM on September 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Avenger: “Certainly, at times and places, European settlers declared their intention to kill natives and remove them from the land, and this happened with stunning regularity. But to say that there was a systematic and official government plan (spanning multiple colonial governments and administrations) to exterminate an entire racial group from 1492 to 1900 is a bit of a stretch.”

So – your argument seems to be 'there were a lot of genocidal people – people who had the intention to kill all Natives, and who acted wholeheartedly toward that goal – but not enough to make a genocide.' There were, I guess we can both agree, millions upon millions of Europeans who worked toward genocide of the Native American population, over the course of many centuries. What you're saying is it wasn't enough of them. They weren't organized enough; they didn't announce their intentions officially enough; they didn't work hard enough to enshrine their genocidal ideals in clearly-worded government documents. They just declared, with the odious bastard Chivington, that "I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians. ... Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice" – and then made good on their promise by slaughtering men, women, and children by the hundreds and thousands.

This definition of genocide is remarkable and problematic for many reasons; the central, of course, is that being well-organized is hardly an essential part of the general conception of what genocide is. It's a bit like hemming and hawing and saying that a person who's killed three different people over the course of three decades isn't really a serial killer, because usually serial killers kill a lot more people in a much shorter time. Well, okay – but who the hell cares? Those people are dead anyway, and it was wrong to kill them. Over the course of centuries, Europeans like Chivington said and did the same things, slaughtering as many Native people as they could get their hands on; this happened with an alarming regularity, a hundred people here, a hundred people there, over and over across the decades. You can hem and haw and say 'well, bad, but maybe not genocide,' but who cares? What matters is that generations of Native people were slaughtered for no reason beyond the fact that they were Native, at the hands of Europeans who killed them simply because they thought Natives ought to be killed. If you don't define that as genocide, fine – but I think that probably means your definition of genocide is rather uselessly narrow.

(Besides all this, I don't think your definition of genocide even fits the Holocaust, which was not nearly so organized as you're portraying it.)
posted by koeselitz at 8:05 AM on September 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think koeslitz is right to ask for us to be a little more skeptical of the student's report. It's possible that she is misrepresenting his words in important ways, especially in those moments when she makes him sound the most objectionable. I always shudder to think about the ways things I say in class might be misrepresented or edited by an enterprising young James O'Keefe wannabe. After what we've seen with the Planned Parenthood and Acorn videos, it's clear that there's a serious market for this kind of outrage.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:06 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am going to add the same thing: Please withhold judgement before tarring the professor as a racist. It isn't uncommon for students to have very different views of a classroom discussion than I or my colleagues do (never anything this extreme, but still). Miscommunication and misunderstandings occur, discussions can be more intense for some people than others, professors can be arrogant, as can students, and so on. Managing these issues is a hard skill, and not everyone is good at it. I think a lot of teachers worry about something like this happening when discussing difficult topics. It could be that he is hateful and terrible, or it could be something else.

Cal State is investigating, there is nothing on Prof. Wiseman online that suggests that he is always a hateful racist, and it would be best to wait to see what happens.
posted by blahblahblah at 8:13 AM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Here in the West, we generally have a "standard measurement" of genocide ...

Yeah, I think "not by us" seems to be part of that definition. Even in the case of Aboriginal Tasmanians, who were entirely wiped off the face of the earth during British colonisation of Australasia, there still seems to be some debate whether to use the term.
But they weren't "entirely wiped off the face of the earth." That's a myth based on the more or less racist 19th- or early 20th-century ideal category of "full bloodedness." There are plenty of people alive today who identify as Tasmanian Aboriginal based on ancestry and shared culture.

In terms of smallpox, it's also perhaps worth pointing out how pervasive and deadly it was in the occidental world as well. If you lived in Britain in the eighteenth century, there was perhaps a one in four chance that it would kill you.
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:17 AM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes, and – I do want to emphasize this, to make it clear that I'm not simply saying she's in the wrong here – students are generally younger people, and even when they're not, perfectly adult people quite often hear things wrong, or don't quite get the gist of what's being said in a heated moment. It's also possible the professor misunderstood her – again, nothing's really clear. One thing that is odd to me is that she said she was being "expelled" from a class; but in my experience, being "expelled" means you're being removed from every class and told to leave school entirely. Maybe that term is used differently in Sacramento, but that in itself is a good reason why this kind of conversation can easily become confused.

Probably a big takeaway here is that, if this kind of thing happens to you as a student, it's probably a good idea to talk to someone else (another professor you trust, the Dean, one of your advisors, etc) and try to get it all clarified before going to a news source to publicize it. That kind of seems like a nuclear option to me. But – I guess to play devil's advocate, and emphasize how little we know – we don't even have much from her side on this; maybe she doesn't trust anybody at the school, maybe she's been systematically disregarded by all of them and this was the only recourse she felt she had left. We just aren't sure.
posted by koeselitz at 8:17 AM on September 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


koeselitz, I think you misunderstand my post. I wasn't really communicating my private, personal thoughts on genocide, but rather the current understandings of genocide and their origins in recent decades. Maybe I asked too many rhetorical questions to make my views clear.

I fully recognize that the forced removal, relocation and associated violence committed against native Americans was genocidal in practice, intent and outcomes.

My broader point was that our current legal, political and historical structures prohibit us from considering it as such, for obvious and troubling reasons.
posted by Avenger at 8:20 AM on September 11, 2015


'If you want to come talk to me after class, now is not the time, you are hijacking my class.'

If I know first year undergrads (and I do), this is the only accurate quote attributed to that professor in this article.

She 'presented her research' to him. Later in the article she says "“Within 10 minutes of me asking these questions and trying to read pieces from the article, he shut me down. He wasn't listening."

So what happened, according to her own account, is this student stood up in class and began lecturing, essentially, making points about extremely complex issues that history teachers typically approach very carefully and slowly, demanding explanations for comments that might have been offhand or misinterpreted.

This went on for ten minutes. Out of, probably, a fifty minute class. This first year student lecturing your class and you let it go on for ten minutes before shutting it down.

I would have asked her to leave after two minutes. That's completely unacceptable behaviour from a student at the tertiary level. You're not only stressing out some poor, underpaid adjunct, you're completely disrupting the educational experience of the other students.

Lectures take time and art to prepare, and they're meant to be absorbed over time in series over many weeks. They are, in a very real sense, a performance with a purpose. When you come to class, you participate on the understanding that the lecturer (who is, by the way, being paid about minimum wage to do this in most cases) gets to steer the discussion.

Look, I happen to disagree with this particular prof about the issue of genocide. But genocide is a really complex term, and people legitimately disagree about what it applies to, or if it can even apply to anything before it was invented as a term during WWII. Who knows what this guy actually said or how he really handled the situation. But I know one thing: he was a good deal more tactful and forgiving than I would have been if one of my students tried pulling a stunt like this.
posted by Dreadnought at 8:21 AM on September 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


That we are debating here the meaning of the term "genocide" and whether it may be applied to Native Americans suggests that it's perfectly legitimate for the professor to say he doesn't believe it to be so. And the fact that the student is native is immaterial, even if he knew she is.

If I'd spent 10 mins talking during a group discussion in my English lit and drama undergraduate tutorials, I'd expect to be shut down, as well.
posted by Pericles at 8:32 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I fully recognize that the forced removal, relocation and associated violence committed against native Americans was genocidal in practice, intent and outcomes.

My broader point was that our current legal, political and historical structures prohibit us from considering it as such, for obvious and troubling reasons.


I really, really don't think your initial post made these points clearly. Maybe the second point. I'm glad you clarified.
posted by jeather at 8:36 AM on September 11, 2015


Even if you don't describe the unintended mass deaths from newly arrived diseases as genocide, if you don't describe it as a tragedy, you are a racist asshole. There was a clear concerted effort to kill the native peoples with disease, with forced resettlement, with acts of war, and to destroy native cultures. Yes, that's genocide.

I'm looking forward to hearing from anyone who has read the professor's other work, other students who have taken his classes, and getting some context. The student did research and tried to rebut the professor with facts, and that takes brains, effort, and courage.
posted by theora55 at 8:39 AM on September 11, 2015


While I would like to hear from other students who were in the classroom (preferably nonwhite, nonconservative ones), I think automatically assuming the old white guy is in the right and the Native student is lying/exaggerating is a bit of a stretch. less than 10 years ago I had professors who were just like this guy, who would quibble with anything that contested their backward "noble savage" ideas about indigenous people or the horrors they faced.
posted by SassHat at 8:52 AM on September 11, 2015 [17 favorites]


But they weren't "entirely wiped off the face of the earth." That's a myth based on the more or less racist 19th- or early 20th-century ideal category of "full bloodedness."

Not entirely a myth: before the Europeans came, presumably pretty much all Tasmanians were "full blooded". The fact that people with Tasmanian blood do remain is unsurprising and doesn't really affect the argument about whether the (almost) total annihilation of the culture, and death of every single one of the people on that island with Tasmanian but no European blood, was genocide or not.

In America, the smallpox thing is such a red herring. Native Americans died in their thousands because settlers were working their way across the land, slaughtering them and taking their land. Sure smallpox killed a lot of people on both sides (and as stated above was one of the weapons used, in the form of blankets), but to imagine that a disease takes all responsibility for this genocide out of the settlers hands, and wholly into the domain of natural causes, is simply wishful thinking - and being willfully blind to the evidence.
posted by iotic at 8:52 AM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


My first grader's teacher put up a someecard on the wall last night during the open house. It said something like "if you agree to not immediately believe everything your child says happens in this classroom, I promise not to immediately believe everything your child says happens in your home."

As a university professor this resonated with me. As Dreadnought describes above, this sort of hijacking in the class is real. And as I said earlier none of us really knows what happened in the classroom.
posted by k8t at 8:54 AM on September 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Like SassHat, I'm uncomfortable with the assumption that the student is automatically the one whose view about what happened is wrong. I mean, have you never in your schooling\professional life met a professor who acts like the one described? I have. I fail to see why "not knowing what went on" means we have to assume the best of the professor and the worst of the student.

I guess my other question is, even if we assume that the student is completely off base on how the exchange went (which, I don't know, I tend to believe marginalized people when they say "hey, the thing that just happened was _____ist"), why is it completely her fault for not dealing with the professor correctly? The professor's a trained professional, paid to be able to lead discussions with students, surely he bears some responsibility when that goes wrong.
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:57 AM on September 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


In America, the smallpox thing is such a red herring. Native Americans died in their thousands because settlers were working their way across the land, slaughtering them and taking their land. Sure smallpox killed a lot of people on both sides (and as stated above was one of the weapons used, in the form of blankets), but to imagine that a disease takes all responsibility for this genocide out of the settlers hands, and wholly into the domain of natural causes, is simply wishful thinking - and being willfully blind to the evidence.

I thought that the small pox thing actually started back in the early 1500s when the Spanish were first exploring the US, so that by the time what we in the US think of as settlers were even beginning to arrive on the continent 100 years later, the native population that they encountered had already been begun to be killed off by the disease.
posted by hippybear at 8:59 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm uncomfortable with the assumption that the student is automatically the one whose view about what happened is wrong

I, on the other hand, am uncomfortable with the assumption that the victim of an attack is somehow 'asking for it'.

'Attack?' you say... well lets look at the real world consequences for each of these people (in light of today's academic job market) compared to what they were accused of doing:

This student admits that she was doing something completely unacceptable in an academic setting. Consequences: she was asked to behave properly in the setting or leave the class.

This adjunct professor, working on contract for almost no pay after years of dedicated education, is accused of the following specific charges:

- Eye rolling in the context of flagrant misbehaviour from a student.
- Making unconvincing rebuttals about issues so complex fully fledged experts argue about them at great length.
- Becoming flustered and speaking sharply.
- Being upset when his lecture (which he probably spent somewhere on the order of twenty hours preparing) was cut short by said student.

Consequences: he is being shamed across the internet as a flagrant racist, he is under investigation from the university, his contract will almost certainly not be renewed, and his career is over after years of training.

So yes, until some more serious charges are substantiated, I have no difficulty assuming this guy is innocent until proven guilty. Because the consequences to the student were minimal and seemingly appropriate. The consequences to this adjunct lecturer is that he gets his career destroyed.
posted by Dreadnought at 9:19 AM on September 11, 2015 [11 favorites]


Solon and Thanks: "I get that it's worthwhile to have technical discussions of terminology, but splitting hairs just so and using these terms to silence and exclude oppressed people is not the right way to do it."

If I were the professor, I would have said something like, "You raise a really interesting point, and it's somewhat off our topic but I think it's important, so let's dig into it a little bit. Scholars differ about whether we should call what happened to the Native American genocide. Remember that there were more than a thousand politically distinct tribes (there are 564 recognized by the US government today) when European colonizers arrived, and historians now think that many communities suffered death rates of 80 to 90% just from novel diseases that the Europeans didn't know they were introducing. By any account, before we get to questions of colonization and genocide, that was a complete and largely inadvertent catastrophe unmatched anywhere else in history. It's hard for us to even understand as modern people what it would be like to see such a rapid and unchecked and universal pace of death across an entire continent. But to the deliberate atrocities -- keep in mind we're talking about not one set of colonizers and colonized, but more than a thousand distinct tribes with pre-existing alliances and wars, and then we're talking about the English and the Dutch and the French and the Spanish and the Portuguese, and later the Americans and the Canadians and Mexicans, over the course of three hundred years or so, and there was no single policy in play. When we say "genocide" in English, we tend to think of the Holocaust -- the deliberate, programmed destruction of an ethnic group by a single government taking place over the course of about six years. When we talk about Native American history with European colonizers, we're talking about four or five hundred years of alliances, wars, novel illnesses, intermarriage, relocation, forced marches, atrocities, treaties -- it's extremely complicated. Some scholars do prefer to use the term "genocide" because Native American culture was nearly wiped out and there was a great deal of deliberateness to that process -- and even when it wasn't deliberate, the choices of the colonizing Europeans did enormous damage to Native communities. Other scholars -- and I'm among them -- feel like "genocide" elides too much of that complicated history, because it makes us think of the six-year, one-to-one Nazi Holocaust. I'm not comfortable treating the Navajo and the Oneida as if they're the same people with the same experience -- especially when European-descended scholars so often erase differences among Native Americans -- and I'm not comfortable acting as if there was a single European program to wipe out Natives, and I'm not comfortable eliding 300 years of hugely complicated history in a single word. So for me, while I understand why many would use the world -- and I don't think it's wrong to use -- I personally prefer to be more specific about individual interactions and specific atrocities." And then if it seemed to be landing properly, I'd add, "I think you have a unique perspective among your peers here on this history, and how the history of colonial interactions with indigenous Americans continues to affect all of us today, and I hope that you'll share that perspective with the class as we go along this semester."

If it didn't go well, I would have said, "I don't want to cut you off because this is a valuable discussion, but I also want to get through today's material so everyone is prepared for the quiz/writing assignment/whatever this weekend -- can you and I speak after class? And then we'll come back to it as a class next week in discussion section, I promise." And then when we spoke after class I'd acknowledge that it is really hard to stop in the middle of an argument, especially one that she felt so passionate about, and I appreciated her indulgence in letting me press pause on it.

Whatever happened specifically, this guy sounds like he just fell off the turnip truck and has never before met a college student. If you deal with history that involves genocides, this is like fight #1 you can expect to come up, and if you can't gracefully acknowledge your students' point and try to educate them to your point of view, you maybe should not be teaching undergrads. Especially if you're teaching in the western states, you've got to assume you're going to have Native students who have specific and often passionate views on the dominant historical narratives, and some of them are going to want to fight about it. That's your dang job!

I feel like even if we read this in a light really favorable to the professor, he had a bit of a classroom management failure where he didn't adequately get a controversial point across to an emotionally-involved student, and where he wasn't able to regain control of the classroom short of kicking her out (which ought to be a super-rare occurrence). Maybe she was way over the top, I don't know, but I tend to think he had a couple of failures here.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:25 AM on September 11, 2015 [49 favorites]


(PS I actually have no strong opinion on whether it's appropriate called a genocide, I was just trying to outline what I'd guess his argument would be.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:26 AM on September 11, 2015


Unless I missed it no one referenced the American attack of the Buffalo. This animal was the basis of the Plains Indian culture, It is clearly obvious that the American attack to eliminate the huge herd was a genocidal act to eliminate that culture. A coordinated attack involving government, the new trains and thousands of white hunters, white settlers and white "tourists". Indiscriminate killings that left the plains littered with rotting carcasses.
posted by shnarg at 9:32 AM on September 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


Gygesringtone: “Like SassHat, I'm uncomfortable with the assumption that the student is automatically the one whose view about what happened is wrong. I mean, have you never in your schooling\professional life met a professor who acts like the one described? I have.”

I'm not as bothered as Dreadnought about this, I think – maybe because this isn't what I do for a living – but maybe it's worth pointing out: even if we assume that everything the student says is true, then the professor is actually in the right completely in his behavior in front of the class. As several people have pointed out, letting a student give an impromptu and completely unsolicited 10-minute presentation in front of the class with no warning whatsoever is – well, it's pretty darned accommodating, and some would say too accommodating. But according to her account, that's exactly what the professor did.

To be a little more straightforward: I don't think anyone is assuming that the student is "automatically" wrong. I think the student actually doesn't say enough to decide what happened here. For example, she says the professor ended the class after discussion got "heated." That's literally all she says about that conversation – that it was "heated," which can mean a lot of different things. And that's a pretty essential part of the story, isn't it? So we really don't know what happened, even if we assume that 100% of what she said was the truth.
posted by koeselitz at 9:33 AM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


This could have gone so well for all of the students, had the professor exercised some better classroom management skills. A student listened to what her professor said, was interested, did some extra research and came to class prepared to share!

A long long time ago in my first German class, the professor referred to the Holocaust being the worst genocide ever. A student raised his hand and told her she was wrong, and proceeded to give a very brief summary of the Atlantic slave trade. It was pretty clear that his statements challenged a deeply held belief of hers and she made her argument for why the Holocaust was so particularly bad as far as murder goes. However, I could tell that she was really listening to what he was saying and we had a good discussion about it. Our class didn't get through all the grammar on the schedule that day, but we learned a lot.
posted by stowaway at 9:35 AM on September 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


While I would like to hear from other students who were in the classroom (preferably nonwhite, nonconservative ones), I think automatically assuming the old white guy is in the right and the Native student is lying/exaggerating is a bit of a stretch.

I don't think that is what anyone is assuming.

When I read my comments, and those of other MeFi professors, I think we are trying to say that the knee-jerk outrage at the professor (from the thread: "And what an asshole the professor was to behave in this fashion" etc.) is also misplaced. I think that every one of us in front of the classroom can easily imagine things going wrong in a way where nobody is "at fault" but that a situation spins out of control. Even the best classroom management approaches can fail sometimes, and we have no idea what happened in that class.

Wiseman could be a racist, the student could be mistaken, both things can be true. But if you look up the thread, it is pretty clear that MeFi was choosing the "professor is a racist" option. I think the comments were merely pushing back at making that choice, absent any evidence.
posted by blahblahblah at 10:15 AM on September 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Slight derail: I'm surprised that, at a university (not a school for kids) a professor is expected to have classroom management skills. When I was at Uni (UK, 80s) we were told explicitly that professors were primarily researchers rather than schoolteachers. If you didn't show to lectures, fine; no-one would check up on you. If you came to discussion tutorials unprepared, or tried to monopolise the groups' time (we collectively had 1 hour with the tutor a week) we were asked to leave.
posted by Pericles at 10:22 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


While I do value the pushback against leaping to conclusions about what exactly happened, if anything this girl said is true, this situation is pretty exceptional. This isn't the story of some entitled student used to getting their way sabotaging a class for their own vanity and amusement, this is the story of a native girl who has presumeably experienced plenty of racism in her life, heard plenty of times how natives need to get over what happened, and worked against a lot of adversity to finally get into a well respected university. And what she experiences when she gets there is a white guy telling a room full of non natives that genocide is too strong of a word for what happened to the natives.

Look, I truly respect the sanctity of the classroom and know how much work it takes to prepare lectures, but all of this is nothing next to a girl having to hear an apparent voice of truth tell a class of impressionable young people that the bullshit she hears on the street is not totally invalid. Even if she were way out of line, presumeably someone lecturing on native history could have some sympathy for her position. The idea that her being native is irrelevant seems naive and privaleged to me.

But in any case, it would be really good to hear any follow up information that people might find on this case. It's certainly not outside the realm of possibility that a well meaning lecturer has been ambushed in his classroom. I'm very uncomfortable with the idea, however, that we have no evidence to the contrary.
posted by Alex404 at 10:39 AM on September 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


Wiseman could be a racist, the student could be mistaken, both things can be true. But if you look up the thread, it is pretty clear that MeFi was choosing the "professor is a racist" option. I think the comments were merely pushing back at making that choice, absent any evidence.

I absolutely agree that we don't have enough details of the incident to make any sort of claim to assign percentages of blame to both parties. I mean, even with a video recording there'd still be debate as to the roll race played in the exchange and what either party could have done differently, and if they had a responsibility to do those things. It's a complex issue.

What makes me uncomfortable is that we DO have evidence about what happened. Eyewitness evidence. Yes, it's as biased as anyone describing an altercation they were involved in would be and skips over details we'd like to know, but there's no reason to dismiss it out of hand when we're considering what we do know. We know parts of how at least one party perceived what went down. I'm not saying that anyone's consciously deeming that as inherently unreliable, I'd be shocked if anyone was. It makes sense that people are identifying with the professor, when they themselves are professors. I just think it's worth examining if the glossing over the student's account is part of a larger cultural pattern. Especially in the context of a Native American student discussing the destruction of her ancestors' culture and lives, which itself is glossed over in so many discussions of American History.
posted by Gygesringtone at 11:52 AM on September 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Denying the genocide against Indians is not simply "offensive" and doesn't affect only Indians. It's an unpardonable lie about American history. I doubt the pro-prof commenters would be so generous had he denied another well-known holocaust.
posted by LonnieK at 12:03 PM on September 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


What makes me uncomfortable is that we DO have evidence about what happened

You are right, of course, and I apologize for implying otherwise, I didn't intend to. Her words need to be taken seriously. But given that people do seem to be taking it seriously - the University is investigating, the head of the history department reached out to her immediately, etc. - I think it is worth waiting for more information.
posted by blahblahblah at 12:34 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just think it's worth examining if the glossing over the student's account is part of a larger cultural pattern.

Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Viewing her report with skepticism doesn't require any more than that. The people responsible for investigating apparently are, and I don't see any reason I am obligated to come to any judgement at this point beyond "that's a distressing failure, if accurate".
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:47 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ok, so, to get a bit more nuanced here, let's acknowledge that the original people of the Americas weren't a homogeneous group anymore than the French, Dutch, Germans, English and Portuguese were a single group of people. There were many different cultural identities in the Americas before European contact.

I mention this because what happened in the Americas wasn't just an effort to stamp out a single, monolithic culture by a single group of people but a broad attempt to stamp out many cultures by many different groups of people - some with government support and some just out of their own personal ignorance and malice. When the United States was formalized, there were broad federal (and continued state) efforts to slaughter (often, but not exclusively, in the guise of war), relocate, reeducate and otherwise eliminate the remaining native people and cultures. There are cultural groups that existed 400 years ago that are extinct and close to extinct today.

The point I'm trying to work towards is that white Europeans worked actively against Native Americans (sometimes on their own and sometimes with a government mandate) to effectively wipe out some of the native cultures and significantly impact the rest. I doubt that there is a single nation that has survived more or less unmolested by European settlers or their descendant in North America.

Anyhow, there wasn't just one genocide in the North America. Each native culture got to experience its own unique genocide. The fact that the main driver over the centuries was a general belief in white and Christian supremacy (which was sometimes government policy and sometimes just plain old homespun bigotry with guns) doesn't obviate the deliberate attempt to eliminate the cultures entirely.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:06 PM on September 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


Even in the case of Aboriginal Tasmanians, who were entirely wiped off the face of the earth during British colonisation of Australasia,

Oh, for fuck sake, can you nuke this tired false trope into orbit? Aboriginal Tasmanians were not entirely wiped off the face of the earth. This negation of living people today really pisses me off.
posted by Thella at 2:03 PM on September 11, 2015


I doubt that there is a single nation that has survived more or less unmolested by European settlers or their descendant in North America.

There are two who minimized the damage the Huichol and the Inca. One of them retreated into the desert, and the other to the highlands. Ironically, it's what makes them targets of anthropologists now. Every other tribe I know of has been ruinously affected - from the slaughter and destruction of sources of food, to the destruction and theft of places to live, to the mass kidnapping of children on the part of the Canadian and US governments. Being allies to the colonialists didn't help at all, either; treaties were routinely broken throughout US history, and I don't believe Canada was any more honorable or honest.

I am baffled that the concept of genocide can exist and not include what European colonialists did to the Americas and the Antipodes.
posted by Deoridhe at 2:26 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


@alex404 said "The idea that her being native is irrelevant seems naive and privaleged to me."

If she brought new facts/ documentation / eye-witness accounts along with her ethnicity, then those are relevant. Otherwise, that she is from a certain ethnicity (and how would he know?) should not influence a history professor from speaking his mind about the history he's teaching. I'm not an American, so I don't know enough about American history. But the fact that plenty of Americans here disagree suggests that the facts are legitimately up for debate.
posted by Pericles at 3:53 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


FTFA:

“I know these things are true. I have been told about them personally from my great-grand parents and grandparents and my mother who was in boarding school.”
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:59 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


"my mother who was in boarding school"

possibly a phrase that is way more loaded for Native Americans than many white Americans realize.
posted by hippybear at 4:04 PM on September 11, 2015 [16 favorites]


"possibly a phrase that is way more loaded for Native Americans than many white Americans realize."

And, as a brit, entirely opaque to me, but I wondered about it when I read it. In what sense "loaded"?
posted by Pericles at 4:13 PM on September 11, 2015


I'm not a Native American, so I won't tell this story with the justice it deserves...

... but there was a program of enforced removal of children from their families to be raised in government boarding schools designed to erase the native from the children.

It's probably more complex than that, but yes, this is a thing that went on, and may even still be going on. (Not doing Google at the moment.)
posted by hippybear at 4:17 PM on September 11, 2015


They were forced re-education camps. Children were required to go live at the boarding schools where they were prevented from learning their own language and culture and made to speak English, convert to Christianity, adopt European/western dress, etc. Similar schools were run in Canada. (wikipedia: American Indian boarding schools)
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:19 PM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Our here in Hawaii, I have a friend whose Tutu told us about how when she was in school, they would beat the soles of her feet whenever she spoke Hawaiian.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:44 PM on September 11, 2015


"There doesn't seem to be much to gain by differentiating between attempted and successful genocide."

All genocides fail by your criteria. Has there ever been a successful genocide? Of course it failed but what is important is that other cultures used our methods and refined them.
The use of cattle car. Massive buffalo hunts, relocation, attack a settlement for no reason, the use of law and military supported by a indifferent population. So yeah, it serves a purpose to compare genocides.
posted by clavdivs at 5:49 PM on September 11, 2015


they would beat the soles of her feet

My understanding is that when you hit somebody on the underside of their feet, it doesn't leave bruises. So to cause pain and not leave a mark would mean they couldn't prove they'd been hit. That kind of planning is next-level brutality.
posted by datawrangler at 7:30 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


My policy regarding when people of color state their experience of racism is exactly the same as my policy regarding when women say they were abused by a man:

I tend to believe them, and, statistically, unfortunately, it's the safe bet,
posted by maxsparber at 8:25 PM on September 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


No you can visibly bruise. It's just you have to then walk on the bruised foot and that causes ongoing self-caused pain as the abused person has to walk with their full weight on their damaged feet, unlike an arm which can be favoured or even a face which will just be tender and might elicit sympathy. Feet are great places for abuse.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:28 PM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


All this talk about whether she acted correctly is exactly how institutional racism is perpetuated. Racist things were being taught in the classroom, and there is no "proper" avenue for calling that out and educating fellow students. There's no way to correct that with the power imbalance that exists between teachers and students. Your choice is between making a scene and allowing yourself to be erased, belittled and elided.

And so, we often choose to shut up because we don't want people tut tutting over how we're savages who can't be trusted to act properly and we know our account will be given little weight. Because the power balance is weighted against us in all ways.

We don't know proper respect. We will see it differently when we're properly educated. The professor's friends and coworkers will all know that he was in the right, because have you met college students? It couldn't be that he has unexamined unchallenged racism, because she acted out of line.

And so the institution protects its own. It perpetuates racism. It discounts those with less power.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:14 AM on September 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


In all seriousness, the genocide of Native Americans more closely resembles the current situation in Palestine than anything that we currently recognize as "genocide". There is no overt plan, after all, to exterminate the Palestinian race (that we are aware of) but Jewish settlers and soldiers are doing a fine job of it on an individual basis, with the tacit support of the State.

That's pretty much an inverse of the truth, like those "White activists" who claim that their "race" is the victim of discrimination in Indian reservations.

Seventy years ago, there were Jewish communities all over the Middle East, some dating back thousands of years. Now almost all their survivors have been confined to one tiny area,about one tenth of one percent of the total. All those separate communities, their distinct cultures and languages, have been squished together. That's genocide. And the fact their individual members survived even in Israel was miraculous: the Arab forces - including ones who were later described as Palestinians - tried to kill them all. That was at least attempted genocide.

And I don't know if I've ever seen anything more disgraceful than the slur you imply by saying "there is no overt plan, after all, to exterminate the Palestinian race (that we are aware of)". You know very well there is no plan, overt or covert, or any actual "extermination". I wish Palestinians were better off, individually and collectively, but there are vastly more Palestinians today than ever before, with vastly more social and political power than at any previous time. It is the opposite of genocide, and it only serves as an excuse and disguise for the very real genocide of the Jews.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:20 PM on September 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Much more detailed coverage from Inside Higher Ed. [link]
posted by k8t at 7:18 AM on September 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


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