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When The Aborigines Aren't
Alabama State Legislature image
Scott Beason, Alabama’s powerful state senator and chairman of their rules committee, has issued a mea culpa over his remarks concerning Blacks which were picked up on an FBI surveillance tape as part of the ubiquitous corruption cases that seem to plague any place where gambling is permissible. Beason was working for the FBI so he presumably knew he was being taped. Press reports indicate that the tape was played during a trial and Senator Beason has been confronted with his inflammatory remarks. Here they are:
"That's y'all's Indians," one Republican said.
"They're aborigines, but they're not Indians," Beason replied. (NYT)
His use of the term "aborigines" as an apparent stand-in for African-Americans is resulting in calls for him to step down from his leadership position, at least. The press has also called the term "racially charged."
Perhaps Scott Beason was assuming that all aborigines are black, since some are, including in Australia. Of course, aboriginal people are defined as the earliest known populations of a region, thus they may be of many other races, as they are in Canada and elsewhere.
Ironically, Native Americans (as in: "That's y'all's Indians") are American aborigines. Blacks are not only not originally from America, but were brought here forcefully and in bondage. They are the least aboriginal of peoples. Could they have gotten it more wrong?
A further irony is that in popular culture, aboriginal people, both Native Americans and Australians, are venerated for their wisdom and unique cultural folkways as in the Australian "walkabout." Thus, if the term was employed in a negative connotation, it backfired.
It is true that racism properly turns on intent, but if this qualifies, it’s only by the skin of its (aboriginal) teeth. This is far more a case of ignorance run riot. Were he to be stripped of his leadership position it should be for the far more compelling reason of a desperately low IQ. (Though admittedly, if a low IQ becomes a bar to elective office, many chairs will be empty.)
In the end, the concern with the "head on a platter" approach to all charges of racism is that we will inevitably lose our sense of moral outrage at those acts of racial hatred that are truly borne of malice and premeditation.
That would be a tragedy.
………. Eric Lamar
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