The Basics

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It is very easy to spin in circles when the topic is racism. Usually this is because people are confused about what racism means and sometimes why it is bad. It is time to unravel this.

A discussion on racism needs a basic starting point. A good one is a definition:

Racism:

The belief that all members of every race possess characteristics or abilities specific to each race,  so as to distinguish a race as inferior or superior to other races.

There is absolutely no evidence to support this belief. Every race has developed civilizations, rules of law, agriculture, inventions, systems of writing and reading, methods of travel and survival skills from basic to more advanced over time. All medical research while indicating differences in superficial characteristics shows no inherent differences in intelligence, ability or basic health between or among the different physical groups of humans. In face no one race is “superior” to any other race. Every person is a member of the human race.

It is illegal to act on this belief, no matter how sincerely if wrongly held,  in many settings especially if the action is by a government, business or corporation in the United States of America.

Why is the name Indians racist?

It was given to an entire continent of people by a man believing in the superiority of his race and his religion. It also happens that he was lost, seriously lost.

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The origin of the name Indians for the indigenous populations of the Americas tracks back to Christopher Columbus. When he arrived in the Caribbean he believed he had found islands off the coast of China in what was then known as the Indies. Columbus named the people he found Indians. He died believing he had found the route to China from Europe. When Columbus arrived his mission was to convert the native people to Christianity, to send some of them back to Europe to study and to be studied. A major aim of the trip was to exploit the natural resources on the lands he found with the goal of enriching himself and his King and Queen..

Before his first voyage of Columbus had obtained a contract with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain to receive 10% of all profits from his voyage or voyages. On his second voyage Columbus sent a group of natives back to Europe to be enslaved. Many died from diseases they contracted in Europe for which they had no immunity.

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During the time Columbus was on his third voyage in the Americas his inability to adequately govern was recognized in Spain. Queen Isabella refused to accept the natives as slaves, returning many to their homes on future voyages. Additionally a new governor, Francisco de Bobadilla, was sent to the Americas to replace Columbus and his brothers in 1500. The new governor, with 500 armed men under his command,  had more authority than Columbus. To remove a combative Columbus and his brothers he placed Columbus in chains aboard one of Columbus’ own vessels for the return of the 3rd voyage to Spain.

In 1502 Columbus began his fourth and final voyage. Before he would again see Spain he would be shipwrecked on a Caribbean island for over a year, endure a mutiny on the island, be unwelcome in the colony of Hispaniola which he had originally founded, encounter Mayan traders on a river but neglect to explore their lands or culture and find, upon his delayed return to Spain, that his single major benefactor, Queen Isabella, was dying. Columbus himself died less than two years later. At his death he was still insisting he had found the route to China and the Indies and believed that with the wealth in gold and silver soon to be found there Spain would convert the entire world to Christianity which would then soon bring the end of the world.

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This is the real Columbus, the man who on his own whim named an entire continent’s people the name of the wrong continent. He did shape history. He did bring change. It is time to bring change again. Perpetuating his racist wrong essentially because this history is not widely known is itself wrong.

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