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The Invisible Truth: What makes a Genocide a Genocide?

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

What makes a Genocide a Genocide?

I heard a man from Columbia University questioning the unanimous condemnation of the situation in Darfur as a bonafide genocide by US officials. The African Congress has been hesitant to come to the same conclusion because it recognizes the ideological motivations behind naming some events genocide and not others. Genocide becomes something "over there," perpetrated by "monsters."

He argues, however, that we hesitate to call the colonization of the Western Hemisphere genocide when we teach history, which was exactly what it was. First Nations populations were as high as almost 100 million when settlers first arrived (hardly an uninhabited continent at all), and dropped to as low as 6 million! Sure, many died from smallpox, but many were simply slaughtered. And the middle passage’s name itself is a euphemism.

Many slaves never survived the middle passage; some preferred to throw themselves overboard in the middle of the ocean than live in the filthy conditions imposed upon them. For that reason, they had nets around to ships, because the slave owners did not want their "property" to get damaged. And even some abolitionists were not pro-emancipation. They wanted to abolish the slave trade, but continue to harness the labour power of slaves through the rape of women already in slavery. These were people who founded our countries. It’s one thing to be proud of your heritage; it’s quite another to sweep all the bad things our ancestors did under the rug. That aside, we still need to find forgiveness in our hearts, or else the cycle of vengeance continues.

African-americans and first nations have inherited this legacy of genocide that still weighs on all humanity. In Canada this legacy finds expression in the contamination of water on reservations. Many of them have been on boil water advisories for years. Let's be honest and call it what it was. Although we might not like to admit it, not only are there monsters overseas, there are monsters in our governments, and there are probably monsters in our family trees.

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