Per the historian’s creed, it does pay to actually check the primary source before spouting off about something.
There was an AP story this morning headlined “Colorado resolution compares Indians’ deaths to Holocaust.” (I have posted the text of the story after the jump.) While I actually tend to support official apologies and reparations and such, I started to write a post complaining about the needless, Ward Churchillian provocation of dropping the H-word on every event in human history where a lot of people got killed. It seemed like the kind of thing that was more likely to engender anger, misunderstanding, and cynicism than heightened awareness of real historical crime.
The only problem with the post I was going to write was that it was the AP that dropped the H-word, not the Colorado legislature. The story seemed to be missing a real money quote, so I looked up the resolution in question. It turned out to be a rather mild piece that referenced the Holocaust only as one of several cases of ethnic genocide that Colorado lawmakers had already memorialized. Here’s an excerpt:
21 WHEREAS, The Colorado General Assembly has recognized and
22 memorialized the victims of genocide in Europe against the Jews, in the
23 Middle East against the Armenians, and in Africa against the Sudanese;
25 WHEREAS, A common element in genocide is the creation of a
26 myth that the victims are in some way not part of the human family; and
27 WHEREAS, This element was present in the European treatment
28 of the American Indians, as well; now, therefore,
29 Be It Resolved by the Senate of the Sixty-sixth General Assembly
30 of the State of Colorado, the House of Representatives concurring herein:
31 (1) That we, the members of the General Assembly, express our
32 grief at the millions of deaths of American . . .
Now, I don’t fully endorse the accuracy of every historical interpretation embedded within the resolution, but it seemed quite reasonable and unobjectionable as such things go. It was the Associated Press headline, which ran in newspapers across the country, that turned the resolution into something Euro-Americans could be offended by, Jews and gentiles for their own reasons.
This story is today’s example (of one of them) of the media’s habit of finding or creating racial little scabs to pick. Whether born of laziness or malice I could not say, but the chief effect of little offenso-nuggets like this is to give middle-class white readers additional excuses to feel huffy and complacent and self-serving in their views of American society and American history.
Gosh, thanks, AP!
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
DENVER — The Colorado Legislature passed a resolution Wednesday comparing the deaths of millions of American Indians to the Holocaust and other acts of genocide around the world.
The nonbinding measure passed 22-12 in the Senate and 59-4 in the House after some lawmakers protested that it unfairly condemned all Europeans for injustices against Indians.
The resolution says Europeans intentionally caused many American Indian deaths and that early American settlers often treated Indians with “cruelty and inhumanity.”
It specifically mentions the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation in 1838 and the 1864 Sand Creek massacre in Colorado. It also refers to deaths due to disease that were intensified by forced migrations, food deprivation and enslavement by Europeans.
“Colleagues, this resolution is a recognition that up 120 million indigenous people have died as a result of European migration to what is now the United States of America,” said sponsor Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, a Comanche Indian.
Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, said the resolution painted all Europeans with a broad brush.
Sen. Paula Sandoval, D-Denver, said the resolution wasn’t meant to blame all Europeans.
Members of a group of American Indians who came to the Capitol to watch the vote said they wanted recognition of what happened to their ancestors.
“It’s nothing personal to the people of today but we have to recognize the past,” said Theresa Gutierrez, who works with American Indian students at the University of Colorado in Denver. A resolution formally apologizing to American Indians for centuries of government mistreatment was passed by the U.S. Senate in February but has not cleared the House.