Ethnocentrism in History

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Ethnocentrism in History Empty Ethnocentrism in History

What is ethnocentrism in history books? Ethnocentrism is the profound ability to conveniently ignore facts relating to particular ethnic groups including one's own. Examples include

1) Europeans didn't murder Native Americans. The English (as though there were no other European ethnic settlements in America) were simply trying to flee religious persecution and live innocently in the New World.

2) Native Americans died because they had weak immune systems like chemo patients and could not fight off European diseases. It's OK, though, because they were primitive savages who were not using the land as the civilized Europeans did.

3) Europeans didn't enslave Africans. Africans enslaved each other and sold slaves to Europeans. Therefore, Europeans were innocent in the slave trade.

4) The childlike Native Americans only had domesticated dogs. The civilized Europeans had domesticated dogs, fowl, cattle, and cats.

5) America was void of life. It were Europeans who introduced rats and cockroaches, not to mention several plants. The few that Native Americans did have prior were more properly used by Europeans.

Taking the first and second of these, the Americas had about 100 million people with 18-20 million living in the United States. That was roughly equivalent to the total number of people living on the entire continent of Europe in the early 1500s. Between 1500-1550, the indigenous population dropped to 10 million. Smallpox only kills 25-30% of a population. Furthermore, the Aztecs had a god who was believed to be responsible for smallpox long before Europeans came along. In addition, Native Americans had the highest percentage of type O blood, whereas Europeans were high in types A and AB. When smallpox hits a population, the As and ABs go first because the immune responses of these blood types takes longer to recognize smallpox as a threat. Types O and B recognize smallpox immediately and neutralizes the virus before it takes hold. Thus, it would have been Europeans, and not Native Americans who would have dropped like flies from a smallpox outbreak. In addition, entire shiploads of dead Europeans would have shipwrecked on the shores of America. To further complicate the status quo, several tribes were known to have traded with European colonies struggling with smallpox. A single piece of historical documentation has yet to state that such tribes ever contracted the virus.

Domestic animals included deer, bison, ducks, chickens, parrots, turkeys, various dog breeds, wolves and coyotes, snakes, bees, guinea pigs, and the Creeks were on their way to domesticating the bear before Europeans disrupted their culture. The Iroquois domesticated the cat, and the Mayans domesticated the ocelot, and possibly the jaguar. The Aztecs domesticated the puma and jaguar. Several tribes had domesticated the horse, including the famous Indian pony, which the members of some tribes today say they had before Europeans arrived.

"European earwigs" are native to the Americas. The tusks of boar have been uncovered in graves. Foxglove thrives in Europe, but was introduced from North America. It was used by some First Nations to treat congestive heart failure. The strawberry did grow in Europe as well as North America. Someone came up with the idea of crossing the two different species, and the result was the modern day strawberry.

There were at least 9 thousand species of corn when Europeans arrived in North America four centuries ago. A corn plant for every occasion. This is almost as impressive as the 400 different kinds of Clovis knives discovered in a cave. All were made from obsidian, and they were for different things. Four hundred different purposes! How many knives can you name? Let's see. There's the butter knife, steak knife, and butcher knife. There are also fishing and hunting knives. That's the best I can come up with.

As for Africans enslaving each other? The largest nonwhite group involved in slavery were Arabs, not Africans. This is why so many Africans were Sufis. They converted to Islam because Muslims are not supposed to enslave other Muslims, and Africans believed that converting to Islam would protect them. What they didn't account for was that Muslims are not supposed to enslave Muslims from the same sect.

It's true that Europeans initially acquired slaves at market places, however, once African rulers realized that slaves were being transported off the continent to be slaves for life they declared an end to slavery. Wars broke out, and some peoples, such as the Kru of Liberia, were nearly wiped out fighting against the European trade of Africans.

In Africa, women and children captured in battle were eventually liberated and adopted into the tribes that captured them. Men were also liberated, and in the case of the Ashanti, were drafted into the military. But no one was a slave for life. Furthermore, Africans never enslaved their own people, which is another common myth. That would have depleted a kingdom's labor force.

These are just a few of the examples of ethnocentrism in regards to how history books are written. Let's face facts, shall we? Like religion, history is used to control the masses. And the study of history is hardly a science, but instead, history is a political philosophy of how ethnocentrists wish things could be based on how they believe things should be. This is why the front runners in the history books are always Anglo-Saxon males, the very group that many historians believe should rule the world. In fact, if young, white boys are taught that only their group has ever made significant contributions in history, how do you think these boys will grow up treating anyone who is not a white male?

Thankfully, though ethnocentrism is as much a problem today as it was 50 years ago, more and more young white Americans are educating themselves on the histories of both blacks and Native Americans. In fact, there are ethnic studies departments that have whites teaching black and Native American history. Some successfully, others, not so much. However, maybe the first step towards correctly writing about history is to first understand that white males were always only one group of people on American soil and the world stage, and not the only group.

So, if all this is true, why does ethnocentrism and myths about non-Europeans persists? Even though more and more nonwhites (and whites) are writing history books based on primary sources rather than secondary resources (unlike their Victorian-minded predecessors), there is one very prominent ethnocentric view that refuses to be abolished: nonwhites are less credible because they are nonwhites. In other words, a white person will be believed and taken seriously over a nonwhite person saying the same thing. Thus, if a black person says that Zimbabwe had a civilization, the black person is likely to get an argument. However, if five minutes later, a white person with less academic experience says the same thing, the white person will be urged to tell more. I've seen this time and again. It's as though only white people can possibly know about what they are talking about. This is just one more example of bigotry common in America. But as demographics continue to change, we will continue to see both more white as well as nonwhite historians challenging the status quo in setting the historical record straight.


What a Face
The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right time, but also to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.
-Dorothy Nevill
Melissa, manager
Melissa, manager

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