Thursday, October 19, 2006

How the English Dominated the Irish and the Native Americans

The growth of racism in English culture, according to Ronald Takaki, begins with the English conquest of Ireland in the sixteenth century. The English justified their conquest of Ireland by calling the Irish “savages.” Savage in this context referred to cultural differences. The Irish were considered savages because they lived outside the framework of what the English considered civilization. This implied that the Irish could be educated and brought into the realm of what the English defined as civilization. While the English held out the possibility for the improvement of Irish culture, they considered the Irish lazy, wicked and as living like beasts.

One of the important functions of identifying another culture as inferior is that it provides a justification for economic exploitation and political control. Therefore, the English believed that the Irish would benefit by being controlled by the superior culture of England. In addition, since the Irish were considered savages, the English believed that it would be in the best interest of the Irish to deny them political and economic rights. Consequently, English colonizers of Ireland passed laws that gave the death penalty to any Irishman carrying a weapon and denied the Irish the right to purchase land, hold a public office, and serve on a jury.

By branding a culture as inferior and considering that inferiority as biologically inherent, the English could not only justify control and management of a group of people but also their eradication. Genocide is justified with the argument that a group of people is inherently inferior.

While Native Americans retained a sense of the superiority of their culture, English culture was characterized by racist attitudes which branded Native Americans as savages and inferior, and which justified not only moving them off their lands but, in some cases, the practice of genocide. Native Americans thought of social differences in terms of wisdom and the ability to contribute to the welfare of the tribe. The English thought of society in terms of social classes – the rich and the poor.

It is important to understand the relationship between the English concept of “civilizing” Native Americans and economic exploitation. Just as branding the Irish as inferior justified the conquest of Ireland, branding Indian culture as inferior justified the conquest of Indian lands. Turning Native Americans into yeoman farmers as opposed to hunters would reduce the amount of land needed by Indian tribes. Contained on farms, Indian lands would become available to English settlers.

In the 1820s and 1830s, Andrew Jackson adopted the position that Indians were racially inferior and, consequently, incapable of civilization. The only hope was to move them from their lands to the area west of the Mississippi that became known as Indian Territory. Under Andrew Jackson, the forced march of the Five Civilized Tribes to Indian Territory became known as the “Trail of Tears” because of the forced abandonment of homes and the large number of Indians who died on the trail. It was one of the major acts of genocide in human history.
(Quoted from “The
Intersection of Cultures” by Joel Spring)


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