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June 22, 2005

Comments

Phil Hunt

I wonder if Amerigo Vespucci owned slaves? If so, they'll have to change the name of their country :-)

Andrew

Also ironic is that several years ago they changed Lincoln Elementary to Malcolm X Elementary... If they wanted to remove associations to slavery, why didn't they target Jefferson back then, instead of Lincoln who had a much better (though still not ideal) record on slavery?

Andrew

On the other hand, it should also be said that it's quite conceivable that the people who came up with "Sequoia" were in fact thinking primarily of the tree, not the Cherokee chief, as sequoia trees are a symbol of northern California and are the state tree of California. So ignorance rather than stupidity. Though why they continue to support the name change after having it pointed out to them that sequoia trees are named after Chief Sequoyah...sigh.

Jim

"On the other hand, it should also be said that it's quite conceivable that the people who came up with "Sequoia" were in fact thinking primarily of the tree, not the Cherokee chief, as sequoia trees are a symbol of northern California and are the state tree of California."

As a Californian, I can confirm what Andrew says - a Claifornian is going to think of the tree rather than some dime-a-dozen, glut-on-the-market human. But naming the school "Chief Sequoyah" changes things.

Abiola has it right - Native Americans can do no wrong, unless it happens to be exercising an ironclad treaty right and hunting whales up off the coast of Washington.

dsquared

I suspect that if Jefferson had been called "Thomas Pine" then this whole fuss could have been avoided.

 razib

native americans learned anti-black racism and slavery from europeans. racism = race + power, and power could only be had when europeans introduced concepts of private property, christianity and weapons like guns.

dsquared

There is also an interesting unspoken presumption here; that unless a Native American can be found who is 100% morally pure, the school should remain named after a white man. I think that the underlying idea is that the namespace of American school names was colonised by white people in the same way as the physical space of the USA, and that Jefferson's existing possession is nine points of the law - as Razib points out, this is at base a concept that Europeans brought to America.

The identification of implied assumptions like the one above, by the way, is known as "deconstruction".

radek

"native americans learned anti-black racism and slavery from europeans. racism = race + power, and power could only be had when europeans introduced concepts of private property, christianity and weapons like guns"

Do you have anything to substantiate the first sentence above? Also it seems a bit fuzzy - since Native Americans did not come into contact with any African blacks before Europeans brought them over, anti-black racism could only exist after the Europeans got there.
But I'm pretty sure some Indian tribes owned slaves prior to Columbus (the practice of kidnapping women was pretty wide spread) while others simply killed all war captives. Also even though there wasn't any 'racism' in the pre-colonial era, since there was only one 'race' I'm also pretty sure that individual tribes looked at each other with feelings that pretty closely resembled 'racism'.

Also, power is always relative. Guns are more powerful than bows. But a bigger tribe is also more powerful than a smaller tribe, even though they all use bows. So to say that the concept of 'power' was introduced by Europeans also seems silly. What christianity and private property (which the Native Americans did have - you didn't want to go and take away some Brave's favorite hunting bow) have to do with it I'm not sure. It's not like the native religion was all peace and love.

This is a bit like the 'Native Americans learned scalping from the Europeans' meme, which does have some truth to it (the practice became more widespread and tribes which previously didn't scalp got in on the party once the French started offering bounties) but has been shown to be false - the practice existed before Columbus. In some way it doesn't matter - the bigger argument is about the portrayal of Native Americans as people who were great and noble and pure and beyond criticism and who then became corrupted by the Europeans. In truth, they were human like the rest of us. Sometimes great and noble and pure, sometimes brutal savage and stupid.

This isn't even to get started on the "Native Americans as Environmentalists living in harmony with nature" meme. What happened to the horse?

Abiola Lapite

"There is also an interesting unspoken presumption here; that unless a Native American can be found who is 100% morally pure, the school should remain named after a white man."

If the excuse for the renaming is because it's named after a slave trader, then shouldn't it at least be renamed to honor someone who wasn't? Why should any black person feel in the slightest bit better about the new name, just because the new slave master isn't white? And what's with this "100% morally pure" crap? Are you simply so intoxicated with striking contrarian poses that you've lost your ability to think straight? We aren't talking fine shades of morality here, this man and his outfit were big time slaveholders.

"think that the underlying idea is that the namespace of American school names was colonised by white people in the same way as the physical space of the USA, and that Jefferson's existing possession is nine points of the law - as Razib points out, this is at base a concept that Europeans brought to America."

This is at once extremely self-congratulatory and highly condescending. Do you really think it took Europeans to teach Native Americans slavery? As for all that "namespace colonization" fluff, save it for someone who cares. Black slavery was no less heinous just because the names of the slavers weren't European.

"The identification of implied assumptions like the one above, by the way, is known as "deconstruction"."

Which just goes to show how utterly stupid and trifling "deconstruction" is as a subject.

dsquared

[If the excuse for the renaming is because it's named after a slave trader(sic; I don't think either Sequoia or Jefferson actually dealt in slaves), then shouldn't it at least be renamed to honor someone who wasn't?]

But this argument cuts both ways; are you suggesting that the school should be named after one of the other parties on the list (perhaps Cesar Chavez or FLorence McDonald)? Because it certainly looks like your point of view is that the name should be left as it is? Or are you saying that you would have no real objection to simply renaming the school out of a desire to get more Native American names on schools or because Sequoia sounds nicer?

[Do you really think it took Europeans to teach Native Americans slavery?]

The abstract institution of slavery, no. The specific historical crime which was the transatlantic slave trade in Africans, obviously yes.

[Which just goes to show how utterly stupid and trifling "deconstruction" is as a subject.]

Not at all; you're already sharpening up your ideas on this one and I've only just started.

dsquared

btw, in regard to "deconstruction":

[My suspicion is that the choice to settle on "Sequoia" to replace "Jefferson" stems from an automatic association in certain circles between Native American ancestry and righteousness: underneath all the fine talk, the myth of the "noble savage" incapable of polluting the environment, hunting livestock to extinction or owning slaves remains alive and well amongst Berkeley liberals.]

I am reminded of the man who was surprised to discover that he'd been speaking prose his whole life without knowing it!

eoin

[I am reminded of the man who was surprised to discover that he'd been speaking prose his whole life without knowing it!]

I'd be surprised too, if I were that soldier, as people speak speech, not prose. Which is written.

[[Do you really think it took Europeans to teach Native Americans slavery?]

The abstract institution of slavery, no. The specific historical crime which was the transatlantic slave trade in Africans, obviously yes. ]

How abstract was "non-European" slavery? Did it really happen, or not?

Most societies held Slaves, with Christian Europen being an exception for a long period of time ( although non-Christian Europe took Christian slaves, of course. For that reason I hate the Danes). As for "European" slavery - if we are to place the silly buggers game of racial guilit for the past practices by certain elites, lets call European slavery what it was - Anglo-Saxon, and Spanish. Irish people, Poles, Slavs in general, and Hungarians were generally slave fodder througout history.

( I am amused by the non-exactness in these "anti-European" diatribes - would the Turkish genocide of Armenians be called an Asian genocide. If not, why not? )

Abiola Lapite

"are you suggesting that the school should be named after one of the other parties on the list (perhaps Cesar Chavez or FLorence McDonald)? Because it certainly looks like your point of view is that the name should be left as it is? Or are you saying that you would have no real objection to simply renaming the school out of a desire to get more Native American names on schools or because Sequoia sounds nicer?"

If you're claiming you want to rename a school because it's named after a slaveholder, you might as well get it right and make sure the next name isn't that of a slaveholder as well, and if the slaveholder thing is just a cover for some other motive, then at least admit what your real intentions are, rather than hiding behind a bullshit concern for the sensitivies of others you have no intention of respecting - unless you think the people you're concerned about are too ignorant of history to know what the new guy did. That wasn't so hard to understand, now, was it?

dsquared

[unless you think the people you're concerned about are too ignorant of history to know what the new guy did]

Bingo. I certainly wasn't aware of it. I suspect that the bloke who put them on the ballot didn't realise.

So, I take it that you'd be supporting Ohlone Elementary School, the close runner up?
If they turn out to have had slaves, we're probably on safe ground with "Berkeley's late rent-board commissioner, Florence McDonald".

dsquared

(btw, when I was at school in Oklahoma, which had a fair amount of Cherokee history on the curriculum although my school was actually named after some old fart who struck oil and went into local politics, Chief Sequoyah did not spell his name in the same way as the tree[1], which is likely to have exacerbated the confusion)

[1]Actually, I suppose that "Sequoyah" and "Sequoia" are both transliterations of the Cherokee alphabet that Sequoyah invented. However a quick google search seems to suggest that I am not far off in remembering that "Sequoyah" is more often used referring to the man and "Sequoia" to the tree

Jim

""think that the underlying idea is that the namespace of American school names was colonised by white people in the same way as the physical space of the USA, and that Jefferson's existing possession is nine points of the law "

This is as silly s saying that Catholic Cgurch namespace has been colonized by the Catholics. Who built the school in the first place? It was not Cherokees. Schools are not some self-existing phenomenon.

Ohlone would be a far better name for the school. At least that name has some connection to the East Bay, obviously. And as a matter of fact, some of the Miwok peoples are recorded as having had slaves when the Spanish arrived.

Jim

Florence MacDonald - probably descended from a slaveowner, if she was black.

 razib

"with Christian Europen being an exception for a long period of time"

of course this isn't true, just look at the anglo-saxon (the anglo-saxons who sent missionaries to the continent like st. boniface) practice of slavery which the normans eliminated by throwing the slaves and free holders together (over a period of a few decades) and eventually creating a serf class. granted, the clerisy was not usually pleased with the idea of christians en-slaving christians, but generally they were tolerant of the practice of en-slaving non-christians, you can ask the lithuanians all about it. in fact, the last non-christian pagans in europe (excluding the saami) were the possessions of german warlords in estonia and latvia who withheld baptism because it allowed them much more leverage in terms of how they could treat them. eventually the church managed to get them baptized circa 1414. the chinese also had relatively low levels of slavery for most of their history, and the initial period of most dynasties was characterized by the ascendency of free holdings run by peasants, who would eventually fall under the sway of local notables who broke free from central control.

the classical civilizations of the mediterranean were somewhat modal on as far as large bureaucratic polities go in terms of how many slaves they had as a proportion of the population. the slave farms in sicily where they were bred to feed the great wheat establishments that supplemented the egyptian harvests seem to prefigure much of the tendencies of chattel slavery in the american south. with the decline of the greco-roman pagan culture of course there was going to be a recession from the high-tide of slavery, and the concomitant rise of christianity gives the perception to some that christianity was unique in how it frowned upon slavery. but look at the history of china, there slavery was often looked down upon by the central state, perhaps more on utilitarian than moral grounds (though i'm sure confucian values could be brought to bear, as slavery certainly was not conducive to filial piety and family).

all in all the task of attributing blame, uniqueness, evil and good to any culture or group can be complicated.

btw, my initial comment was a bit of a joke.

Jim

Razib,

Glad to see your final disclaimer; 1,000 years is a fairly long period regardless of one's civliizational perspective.

You are feeling your way forward to why Europe didn't have slaves per se - Europe had a social structure with a serf class bound to the soil (as much a boon to the peasants who didn't want to be uproted as to anyone else) Why this matters is that Europeans, the English at least, tried to replicate their system of serfs and lords in America, and initially forcibly moved landless peasants to the various colonies. There were insurmountable problems eventually, the ease of escape and semi-integration into native societies among them, so the planters turned to another, much more expensive source of labor.

House slaves were the norm in China right up until the Revolution. "Field" slaves were unnecessary for about the same reasons as in Europe.

radek

" Poles, Slavs in general, and Hungarians were generally slave fodder througout history."

Yeah but that was mostly for the Byzantines and the Muslims. On the other hand slavery existed in Eastern Europe into the 13th century, though it was on the way out due to the pressure from the Church. Serfdom in a way that resembled slavery didn't really re-emerge strongly until late 16th century. So you had two or three centuries without slaves in Eastern Europe (this varied by region though and obviously the case of Russia with the Mongol Yoke was different).

This might also be a good time to mention Domar's model of slavery (this is through Brad Delong, through Krugman - first Google entry): http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2003_archives/001447.html

radek

"I think that the underlying idea is that the namespace of American school names was colonised by white people in the same way as the physical space of the USA"

It might be deconstruction, it is also silliness.
Due a google search for 'Tecumseh High School', named after a guy who after all fought the Union (how many schools are there named after Gen. Custer? Or even after Zachary Taylor, a more succesful 'Indian-fighter' and a US president to boot). Then do searches of the type 'Oglala High School'. Or consider the names of the US states; Iowa, Dakota, Alabama, Mississipi, Montana, Ohio etc. Or the names of towns near my parents house: Wytumpka, Notasulga, Loachapoka, Opelika etc. I think it's pretty clear that the American namespace was rather colonized by Native Americans rather than vice versa. Not that it does (or did) the Native Americans any good.

Of course one could turn this around and argue that the pale faces 'stole' Indian names like they stole their land. Fine, but that's inconsitent with the whole 'namespace invasion' stuff above.

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