It Didn’t Go Away in 2011: Racism Continued

Many people in Indian country thought it would be hard to top New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s racist comments in August, 2010, when he advised then Gov. David Paterson on how to collect taxes from cigarettes sold on Indian reservations. Using images of racial stereotypes from Hollywood’s shoot ‘em up cowboys-and-Indians movies, the Jewish mayor encouraged the African American governor to act with violence. “I told David Paterson, I said, you know, ‘Get yourself a cowboy hat and a shotgun. If there’s ever a great video, it’s you standing in the middle of the New York State Thruway saying, you know, ‘Read my lips – the law of the land is this, and we’re going to enforce the law,’” Bloomberg said in a television interview. He now has the dubious honor of being outdone in his racist remarks by others in 2011.

  • In January, in an article called The Language of Savagery Indian Country Today Media Network staff reporter Rob Capriccioso summarized the remarkable casualness with which elected officials, celebrities, and the mainstream media express racial disrespect, even hatred, toward Indigenous Peoples. The article notes the feeding frenzy of bigotry that took place when Carlos Gonzales—a Pascua Yaqui citizen and medical doctor— offered a prayer at a public event for the recovery of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who had survived an assassination attempt a few days earlier. Fox News analyst Brit Hume, syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin, conservative websites, including Power Line and CNSNews.com and others all attacked Gonzales for expressing elements of his religion, including using the word “Creator” instead of “God.” Capriccioso told readers that Robert Williams, a law professor and director of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona, has come up with a label for the phenomenon: the “language of savagery.”  “Some conservative commentators have an agenda against Indians, (Williams) said, noting that some see any minority as representative of an ‘us versus them’ threat. In his state, some conservatives conflate illegal immigrants and Indians, he said, although the irony there is that all non-Indians are (and were) the illegal immigrants.”
  • In February, March and April, Maine’s Regional School Unit 12, struggled over the issue of banning the offensive Redskins mascot from Wiscasset High School. The previous summer, the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission had asked the board to drop the name, because it offends Native Americans in general and Maine’s four Wabanaki nations in particular: The Passamaquoddy, the Penobscot, the Maliseets, and the Micmacs view the name as symbolic of the region’s historic racist policy of genocide toward indigenous people. The battle to remove the name was so contentious that during an unofficial survey when Wiscasset residents voted 503-128 against the change, someone wrote on a ballot slip, “Those who want to change this should be shot.” The board banned the offensive name in February, reinstated it in March until the end of the school year after students walked out of class in protest, and held a poll for a new name in April. When students returned to school in September, the new team name was the Wolverines.
  • In March, Fox News contributor John Stossel contributed some astonishingly ill informed and gratuitously offensive remarks on the air, limping together Indians, Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and the Irish in a kind of melting pot of the socio-economically need. “Why is there a Bureau of Indian Affairs?” Stossel asked with incredulity. “There is no Bureau of Puerto Rican Affairs or Black Affairs or Irish Affairs. And no group in America has been more helped by the government than the American Indians, because we have the treaties, we stole their land. But 200 years later, no group does worse.” No further comment is needed.
  • Maine was in the headlines again in April when Philip Congdon, the commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, drew fire after allegations that he made offensive and racist statements at a Chamber of Commerce awards banquet in Aroostook County. He blamed problems among youth on “bad parents,” education and economic declines on educating African-Americans, and said those who want economic opportunities should “get off the reservation.” He resigned a few days later.
  • But perhaps the most audacious example of racist expression came in May when Indian country learned that the executive branch of the federal government had used the codename Geronimo for Osama bin Laden in the May 1 operation in which the U.S. military assassinated the world’s most infamous terrorist. Indian country reaction was swift and angry and spread throughout the world. Jeff Houser, the chairman of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe – the successor to Geronimo’s Chiricahua Apache Tribe – asked Obama to issue an apology, but none was forthcoming.
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It Didn't Go Away in 2011: Racism Continued

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