Genocide and its cousin slavery are two of the most heinous words and practices in the modern world. Most recently genocide has occurred in Burma, and we have earlier examples in Armenia, Darfur, Rwanda, and Bosnia. In the 21st century, after so much history, why are we still talking about eliminating these from our world? After the Holocaust, in which over 6 million Jewish people were executed, the cry against genocide has been “Never Again!”
A group in Colorado is intent on keeping this conversation viable and vibrant and they are inviting the participation of all our communities. The Colorado Coalition for Genocide Awareness and Action (CCGAA, soon to be known as the Coalition Against Global Genocide) will hold a conference Genocide and Slavery: Social Death for Economic Gain, on Nov. 14 at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Co-sponsors as of this date for this conference are comprised of academics and community members from Metropolitan State University of Denever’s Office of International Studies and Africana Studies; University of Denver Committee on Human Rights Education (COHRE); Denver African Community Center; Colorado Black Roundtable; City and County of Denver Office of Human Rights and Community Partnerships; Jewish Colorado and Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble.
In a posting on their Facebook page just over a year ago, CCGAA stated:
“When we say that we will never forget, we will never make the same mistakesthatbeen made before, that we will protect those who should not have to cry out for safety we should look at our actions today. To know history’s mistakes is nothing if we replicate them. We know better. Turning away refugees out of fear is wrong. #holocaustremembrance – 1/27/17”
This was in reaction to the rhetoric, policiesand actions of the current administration. We would all agree that the degradation and exploitation of other human beings is wrong. This goes across cultures, yet we still see instances of genocide and slavery today. This broad moral agreement has largely been on paper, and often there is little remorse, regret, let alone enforcement against it. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized this. It’s unfortunately in America’s DNA.
“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – 2/22/17 post CCGAA
Clearly the United States was built at the expense of Native Americans and on the backs of Black Americans forcibly brought here as slaves. Not something to glorify, it has been given unspoken approval even by those we might consider progressive, moderate and even heroic. As progress was made, communities like Rosewood were burnt to the ground by white mobs. It happened. What can be done about it?
Genocide received a formal definition in the United Nations in 1948 as a response to the Holocaust.
…Any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
a). Killing members of the group;
b). Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c). Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction in whole or in part;
d). Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e). Forcibly transferring the children of the group to another group;
(Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2, 1948)
Generally, when we think about or discuss genocide the first point is only considered. This broad definition developed after the war has importance in our history, but it has been easily glossed over and forgotten because of the complicated intersection of these acts and politics. Our issues seem to be addressed only when it is politically expedient. We have had several Civil Rights Acts and Amendments to the Constitution but for decades these lacked enforcement, because even those government officials we might have considered allies, were wary of losing the support of the powerful southern Democrat contingent for other initiatives.
Yet this didn’t deter William L. Patterson of the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) from bringing the charge of genocide against the United States federal government on the behalf of Black Americans to the United Nations in 1951. The evidence was the over 150 murders and lynching that occurred throughout the nation from 1945-51 in the era of Jim Crow, the psychological mental harm that the Ku Klux Klan imposed on Black Americans, and a delineation of the rampant discriminatory practices impacting living, survival, and mobility. Most of America looked the other way, yet this act ofindictingAmerica, brought the mistreatment of African Americans to the attention of the rest of the world.
America was not the bastion of freedom anddemocracy, because all of its citizens did not enjoy equal rights. But the CRC had roots in something perceived as more dangerous to America than Black Americans, communism. CRC disbanded in 1956 during the McCarthy era. Not much happened as a result of the charge of genocide brought to the U.N., other than the exposure. The mantle of civil rights was taken up by moderate organizations like the NAACP.
The vestiges of slavery have impacted our historical memory, and the conference CCGAA proposes will examine these intersections of slavery and genocide. Major issues it will bring into the conversation are:
1. What are the Experiences of “Social Death” in Slavery and Genocide? How do genocide and Slavery rob their victims of full membership in society? How does stripping victims of names, cultural traditions, and other forms of identity allow crimes against humanity?
2. What Economic Incentives Link Genocide and Slavery? Genocide and Slavery may be seenasseparate phenomenon, yet common to both is that the exclusion of one population from society will benefit another. What are the theoretical assumptions, and legal or economic practices used to justify these profitable exclusions?
3. Slavery, Genocide, and the Issue of Reparations. The question of reparations is contentious, but in light of the above, we ask: Must reparations be only in the form of financial compensation for illicit economic gains, or might reparations include social and emotional responses to restore the injuries associated with social death?
The pervasive ‘otherism’ that is historically the spark for genocide has been normalized through the current president’s rhetoric and tweets, the events of Charlottesville, and the tacit acceptance of praises and cheerleading by people like David Duke. The social death of African Americans through widespread poverty, mass incarcerations, and the denial of voting and civil rights has the same effect of killing usoff, because our full participation and mobility for generations has been deterred or impeded. If we are to keep moving forward, we must have these conversations and dispel this notion in the marketplace of ideas that this practice is either right or tolerable. Join the conversation.
Editor’s note: For more information and/or to parti-cipate in the conference, email CCGAA Executive Director Roz Duman at email@example.com, call 303-856-7334 or follow CCGAA on Facebook.