Category Archives: Colonialism

Tumblr Q&A: The Myth of the Aryan Race

Q: I know you’re trying to do something good here, but do you really think white people are the only ones who are capable of being racist? Even in ancient times, Aryans from central asia created what became the Indian caste system to separate themselves from the darker dravidians. There are several examples of this throughout all of history. Please, before you tell people to check their privilege, check your facts.

A: Here’s the interesting thing about the facts I’ve checked: The word “Aryan” was used to describe folks with white skin in the eighteenth century by Europeans (one in particular, a French Orientalist thinker, by the name of Abrham-Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron) and was created through European translation of the Sanskrit word arya (a word that has its own specific history in India). Nothing ancient about that. It was a term Europeans appropriated and changed to describe their own white racial identity around the myth of a “pure Aryan race,” and it became popular within racial anthropology as a racist term to favorably refer to a dominant white ethnic group that supposedly “emerged” in India—also known as “Indo-Europeans.” There is a whole historical perspective of linguistic, religious, and racial classification behind the European division of Aryans and Dravidians, one that can be further understood in Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science by Stefan Arvidsson.

There are many scholarly studies that show the imposition of romantic European ideas and colonial thinking that created the mythology of an “Aryan race,” which was taken to violent extremes by Nazi Germany’s Third Reich. Orientalist histories and colonial racial “science”—conceived by British and fellow European colonizers—have also contributed to the idea that there were racial divisions in caste systems in India. There are also studies, both genetic and scholarly, that show archaeologists having an incredibly difficult time proving the racial difference and/or dominance of ancient Aryans. It was 17th, 18th, and 19th century European ideas of race that inscribed ancient caste systems in India (which had more to do with language, religion, and region) with racial meaning. Ideas of race, white supremacy, and racism started in these eras—not in ancient times.

Here’s what needs to be checked: colonial whitewashed ideas about cultural histories, ignored complexities and specifics of historical events, and, once again, white privilege.

—DD

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Colonialism 101: white Privilege in a “Nation of Immigrants”

In last night’s second Presidential debate, Mitt Romney used the phrase “We are a nation of immigrants” as his opening line to a voter’s question on immigration policy. This romantic idea, dripping with political correctness, manages to erase history, ignore social stigma, and homogenize the category of “immigrants” in a single sentence. The statement is horizontal; immigration is not. It suggests that the US has been a nebulous collection of travelers (which it hasn’t), all of them coming and going willfully and with agency (which they haven’t). It makes it seem as if there are no walls crossed and no lives risked, there is no degrading bureaucracy to contend with and no uniformed mercenaries waiting to harass, profile, and deport certain immigrants. It pretends as though there are not human beings designated as “legal” and “illegal.” It fails to recognize the sovereign territories of Indigenous peoples—the original inhabitants of this land—that exist within this “nation of immigrants.” The fact that Indigenous cultures are still thriving and still present in the US today invalidates that idea altogether.

Before we even get into this, let’s clear the air about Mitt Romney’s “roots.” His Mormon relatives fled to Chihuahua to escape anti-polygamy laws and his father returned to the US before Romney was born. Does that make him an immigrant? No. Do white people born to white people living in Mexico make them Mexican? No. Are US citizens living in Mexico who decide to return to the US immigrants? No.

First and foremost, the US Nation-State was created by European colonizers, and their descendents are now citizens enjoying privileged positions within the dominant culture of white supremacy. Then there were white settlers who either occupied stolen land or forcibly seized it from Indigenous peoples, and their descendants are privileged citizens also. The slaves on whose backs the US economy was built did not willfully migrate to the thirteen colonies. As a WOC professor of mine once said: “No one stood around on the shores of African countries and said ‘I wonder which slave ship I’ll take to the ‘New World’ today.’” Slave labor from Africa, imported labor from China, victims of human trafficking, and refugees don’t qualify as immigrants. Even the Bracero Program that imported laborers from Mexico, followed by a policy (“Operation Wetback”) designed to hunt down and deport disposable laborers of color… still not a “nation of immigrants.” Territories of the present-day Southwest were stolen from Mexico and colonized in the midst of violent Westward Expansionism, which means the US-Mexico border fence, US immigration policy, and white nativism are the only factors that construct folks from south of the border as “immigrants” in their homeland.

So let’s talk about US immigration policy and the creation of the US as a Nation-State direct from Mae M. Ngai, author of Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Fast forward to neocolonialism in the 20th century with the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 codifying the exclusion of Chinese, Japanese, and API folks in general, and establishing a system of allowing/disallowing immigrants from certain countries by numbers (national quotas) based on their “National origin.” With the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act (McCarran-Walter Act of 1952), quotas were replaced with numerical “caps” on immigration and, for the first time, it somewhat limited previously unhindered immigration from the “Western hemisphere.” This law, still in use today, established a legal preference for “skilled professional labor” as well, creating a hierarchy of ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ immigrants in the US. When immigrants have been divided along lines of race, and when race continues to determine inclusion and exclusion within immigration politics, there is no cohesive or equitable “nation of immigrants.”

But hold up—isn’t that a good a thing to say? Not if you’re white, and here’s why: Which immigrants are we? Are we the immigrants who have been excluded by law from entering the country? Are we the immigrants who live in fear of racial profiling? Are we the immigrants who get deported with our children left behind? Can we really claim to be immigrants when we are still colonizing and occupying Indigenous land?

Recent white immigrants have automatic racial belonging to the national body, and white colonizers of the past created the national body, giving whites tremendous privilege in migration power dynamics. As Toni Morrison said, “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” Immigrants with white skin have the privilege and physical safety of being read as American simply according to their color, which is a privilege immigrants of color do not have. When white politicians like Mitt Romney use the “nation of immigrants” phrase, he is pandering to reformist attitudes about immigration while supporting racist immigration policies like E-verify, secure communities, and “self-deportation.” He is also making it possible for whites to benignly say we came from “immigrants” rather than admit our ancestors were Native slaughtering slave owners responsible for colonialism and genocide. “Immigrants” sounds a lot nicer, doesn’t it?

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Tumblr Q&A: Manifest Destiny and The Holocaust

Q: i’d appreciate it if you could keep this ask private, as i don’t want to derail any discussion, but i’m somewhat uncomfortable with the holocaust mentions in your post about the gaps “manifest destiny” shirts. jews weren’t considered white at the time of the holocaust (as the many anti-semitic references to “the jewish race” will attest) and even today jewish racial identity is very complex, especially with anti-semitism on the rise in europe again. that said, the rest of that post is excellent.

A: I hope you won’t mind too much that I published this ask. Although I could be wrong since I say this from a position of white privilege, I think it adds to the larger discussion of race, genocide, and remembrance around this issue (as opposed to derailing it) and I think it provides an important opportunity to engage this discussion by clarifying some of the points that were made in the post.

First, I’m grateful you brought this critical feedback to the blog and I appreciate all the points you have made. I agree with you completely about the complexity of past and present Jewish racial identity and, to be honest, I was concerned that someone might see this comparison being drawn. No, the Nazis were not exterminating the white race during the Holocaust, they were exterminating the “Jewish race” as you said—a flawed, problematic, and inaccurate concept to say the least. It’s crucial to see this specific difference in these historical perspectives, especially when folks argue the Holocaust was proof of the intentional mass genocide of white people, which was not the case. I personally think this distinction needs to be made, and this is a big reason why I chose to publish your ask.

In the Gap post I wanted to make a point about the hypocritical moral outrage that would ensue if holocaust terms and ideas were on t-shirts in megastores, while most consumers see this Manifest Destiny shirt and they’re like “uhhh…what’s the big deal I don’t even know what that means.” I wanted to communicate two different ideas: one about white folks not knowing what the experience of fun with violent words/events at our expense is like, and one that involves making one act of genocide more important and better known than another. However, these ideas were only separated by some punctuation and the word “also,” which is definitely my mistake and my error in judgment. Although I will say the post was not about the Holocaust, it was about the popular celebration of the genocide of Indigenous peoples in the US, and I think these issues need different spaces.

Hopefully this clarifies and thanks again.

—DD

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Genocide on Trend: white Violence, Ignorance, and Fashion

“Apparel manufacturer The Gap is currently selling a black t-shirt bearing — with no explanation — the words “MANIFEST DESTINY.” Manifest Destiny is a polite term for the popular 19th-century belief that the United States — a white, European nation — was destined to expand westward across the continent, by any means necessary. In Indian country, the term Manifest Destiny calls to mind the suffering of previous generations of Natives through forced relocation and genocide.”

—from Indian Country Today Media Network (full article here)

On the left is an altered ad campaign image for The Gap’s new pro-genocide statement t shirt, bearing the words “Manifest Destiny.” On the right is a response from the Settler Colonial facebook page. The designer, Mark McNairy, issued a non-apology on twitter—something along the lines of “I’m sorry you thought I was racist”—after he tweeted “MANIFEST DESTINY. SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST.” Sure, these are both racist white ideas, but they mean very different things. Manifest Destiny is more so “survival of the whitest.” The philosophy behind it also involved European colonialism and genocide of Indigenous peoples being sanctioned by “God,” which doesn’t quite work with a scientific theory of evolution. If white folks don’t know the meaning of Manifest Destiny, we don’t get to create a new one that we imagine is completely separate from its specific historical and social context.

For whites to wear the Gap original, it would be continuing our long legacy of racist disregard for Indigenous peoples, our appropriation of violent ideas (or violent appropriation as an act in and of itself) to make a fashion statement, and our privilege of never knowing the harm of racist ideas and language. Folks with white skin are repeat offenders when it comes to cultural theft, and it may seem acceptable, innocuous, or even meaningless because we have absolutely no idea what that experience is like. There are no t shirts printed with statements signifying the genocide, removal, displacement, colonization, and mass killing of white folks. There are also no corporate megastores selling shirts that say “Auschwitz” or “Sieg Heil.” It’s only because of our positions on the safe and privileged (therefore ignorant) side of Manifest Destiny that we can have fun with the term and turn it into a consumer product. The good news is that The Gap has apparently agreed to stop selling the shirt. The bad news is that racism doesn’t go out of style with it.

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Woody Guthrie RE-WRITTEN

This land is not your land This land is not my land
From California to theNew York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was never made for you and Me.

As I was colonizing that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was never made for you and me.

I’ve stolen and settled and charted my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me white folks were sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was occupying,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting white folks were chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw private property
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
Both sides were stolen for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw white people,
By the relief office I seen white people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land enough for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go colonizing that white freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was stolen for you and me.

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