Between ourselves, I would never want to work for the Racial Statistics Branch of the Population Division of the Census Bureau in Washington. Nevertheless. It appears that some of my fellow Americans would.
Thus a friend tells me that a recent edition of the Denver Post published a chart that attempted to trace the â€œethnicâ€ or â€œracialâ€ ancestry of the embattled University of Colorado at Boulder Professor Ward Churchill.
I write â€œethnicâ€ or â€œracialâ€ here because it is by no means obvious what the Denver Postâ€™s intrepid staff of investigators could have thought they were looking for. Ancestry is a straightforward biological question, and nothing more. What ancestry is not is an inquiry into â€œraceâ€ or â€œethnicityâ€---outside some of the more highly civilized racist circles, that is. Like you and me, Ward Churchill had biological parents, biological grandparents, biological great-grandparents, and so on. â€œRaceâ€ and â€œethnicity,â€ on the other hand, are taxonomic artefacts. Particularly virulent ones, to be sure. But taxonomic artefacts nonetheless. Even the U.S. Census Bureau recognizes the element of self-designation that goes into oneâ€™s racial or ethnic identity. Quite typically, respondents, when asked repeatedly over long periods of time, do not float back and forth between â€œblackâ€ and â€œwhite.â€ But this is their hang-up. Not Natureâ€™s.
Now. In what sense have Ward Churchillâ€™s detractors opened a line of inquiry into his â€œracialâ€ or â€œethnicâ€ ancestry? In what sense could they have? To speak more frankly, who wants to know about Ward Churchillâ€™s American Indianness? About his Native Americanhood? And why? I mean, what are they really interested in finding? Do they want to know the names of Churchillâ€™s biological parentage stretching back, say, over 12 generations? Over 24 generations? No. They most certainly do not. I know and you know that this whole line of inquiry into Ward Churchillâ€™s Native Americanhood betrays a racist mentality. Plain and simple. Dress it up anyway you like.
Take Ann Coulterâ€™s commentary, â€œThe Little Injun That Couldâ€---among the most widely posted commentaries on the whole Churchill affair. Like the Denver Post, Coulter wants to see the â€œevidence about [Churchillâ€™s] Indian heritage.â€ That is to say, is Churchill a â€œreal Indianâ€ or is Churchill a â€œphony Indianâ€? Coulter believes that Churchill belongs to the class of phony Indians. She even closes her commentary by calling him a â€œwhite man of English and Swiss-German decentâ€---though she doesnâ€™t say where she took this bit of information from. A dossier critical of Churchill that happens to be in circulation at the moment, perhaps? The Ann Coulter byline aside, I canâ€™t help but wonder how much of Ann Coulterâ€™s material Ann Coulter really writes.
But, a question. What kind of people undertakes inquiries such as the one Ann Coulter pursues here? What kind of people publishes charts in newspapers (or does the equivalent on TV) to determine whether Soandsoâ€™s biological ancestors were or were not ethnically or racially of suchandsuch a pedigree? Where else in human history (besides the United States of America in 2005) do we find other examples of this line of inquiry? This kind of interest? This kind of curiosity?
The whole challenge leveled against Ward Churchillâ€™s over his identity cannot in any reasonable way be explained as a response to the content of Churchillâ€™s September 11, 2001 commentary, â€œâ€˜Some People Push Backâ€™: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,â€ or to the content of his book, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality (AK Press, 2003).
Quite the contrary. Churchill has been selected as a proxy-target for everyone else: Churchillâ€™s head is to be mounted and hung on the wall as an example to everyone.
Thus a recent segment on the Fox News Networkâ€™s The Oâ€™Reilly Factor opened as follows ("Interview with Greg Noone,â€ Feb. 9):
Continue now with our lead story, the radical Professor Ward Churchillâ€™s situation. Can he be tried for either treason or sedition?
And just two days later, Foxâ€™s Oâ€™Reilly Factor introduced another segment as follows ("Impact: U.W.-Whitewater Does Not Cancel Churchill,â€ Feb. 11):
[A]as you may know, â€œThe Factorâ€ got involved with the Ward Churchill story, because Hamilton and other colleges were paying the guy to spread his hateful anti-American rhetoric. I feel thatâ€™s kind of dubious, donâ€™t you? After our initial reporting, everyone canceled Churchill, except for the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater. Now we called Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, but he is unavailable, as they say.
But joining us now from Madison is Wisconsin state assemblyman Steve Nass.
This just came in over the wire, Mr. Noss, interestingly enough. You know, the Hamilton College is what started this whole thing for â€œThe Factor.â€ He was going to speak there. And we got on to the story and they canceled him.
Well, the woman who invited him to speak there, Nancy Rabinowitz, has now resigned her position as the director of the project that brings in these kinds of speakers. So thatâ€™s good.
As to the question of why this is happening now, three-and-a-half years after Churchill first wrote his commentary, I think thereâ€™s a strong element of randomness to it. Criticism of the Hamilton College invitation that had been extended to Churchill to deliver a speech there literally broke in the Hamilton College student newspaper, The Spectator, on January 21---the first issue after the Christmas break, please note well. (See â€œControversial speaker to visit Hill,â€ â€œAdvocacy and Academia,â€ and â€œDeja vu all over again?") The U.S. wire services didnâ€™t take up reporting the Churchill affair until January 26 ("Choice of speaker ignites protests again at Hamilton College,â€ Associated Press)---two days before The Oâ€™Reilly Factor first started haranguing the affair over the Fox News Network. Now already three weeks later, The Oâ€™Reilly Factor has yet to let it drop.
Clearly, Ward Churchill has earned a very long list of enemies for himself over the years. On either February 13 or 14, I heard someone on the Fox News Network mention that are roughly 50 academics working at colleges and universities in the United States today that are problematic in some manner similar to Churchill. (Sorry I canâ€™t be more precise.) Just who compiled a list such as this, no one mentioned. But that there is such a list (and who knows how long it really is) seems likely. Right now, Ward Churchill is serving as a proxy persona non grata for all of the personae non gratae academics to have run afoul of various establishment factions over the years. The subsequent focus, not on his ancestry, but on his Native Americanness, is merely a case of the American racist monster let loose upon the scene. Imagine the twist of history involved here, though. Churchillâ€™s racist detractors are hell-bent on excluding him from the academic community. So theyâ€™ve called for him to be rounded by the modern American Gestapo, and given the once-over by a board of race scientists to determine whether he really is the offspring of American Indians. If he is, then heâ€™s a real Indian, and can keep his job. (Maybe.) But if he isnâ€™t? Then heâ€™s a phony Indian, and ought to have been fired. Yesterday. If possible. Donâ€™t forget: This is America weâ€™re talking about here. Not Nazi Germany.
Postscript. Perhaps the one line of thought for which Ward Churchillâ€™s â€œSome People Push Backâ€ has brought the greatest opprobrium down upon his head has been the following:
There is simply no argument to be made that the Pentagon personnel killed on September 11 fill that bill. The building and those inside comprised military targets, pure and simple. As to those in the World Trade Center . . . Well, really. Letâ€™s get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of Americaâ€™s global financial empire â€“ the â€œmighty engine of profitâ€ to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved â€“ and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to â€œignoranceâ€ â€“ a derivative, after all, of the word â€œignoreâ€ â€“ counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in â€“ and in many cases excelling at â€“ it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, Iâ€™d really be interested in hearing about it.
But as Fidel Castro said during a speech in Havana, some 11 days after Churchill wrote these lines (â€œTerrorism and the War Crisis,â€ Monthly Review, November, 2001):
The unanimous anger caused by the human and psychological damage inflicted on the American people by the unexpected and shocking deaths of thousands of innocent people, whose images have shaken the world, is perfectly understandable. But who have been the beneficiaries? The extreme right, the most backward and rightâ€“wing forces, those in favor of crushing the growing world rebellion and sweeping away everything progressive that is still left on the planet. It was an enormous error, a huge injustice, and a great crime, whoever they are who organized or are responsible for this action
Personally, I think this answers Churchillâ€™s question ("If there was a better...") about as thoroughly as one needs to bother.
Qui bono, in either case.
â€œâ€˜Some People Push Backâ€™: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,â€ Ward Churchill, September 11, 2001 (Here linking the Dark Night Press websiteâ€™s edition of Churchillâ€™s commentary.)
â€œOn the Injustice of Getting Smeared,â€ Ward Churchill, CounterPunch, February 3, 2005
â€œThe Right Has a License To Write Anything,â€ Alexander Cockburn, CounterPunch, February 5-6, 2005
â€œThe Churchill episode: Two unfortunate currents,â€ Editorial, Indian Country Today, February 10, 2005
â€œWard Churchill: Right to Speak Out; Right About 9/11,â€ Robert Jensen, CounterPunch, February 14, 2005
Historical Census Statistics on Population Totals By Race, 1790 to 1990, and By Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, For The United States, Regions, Divisions, and States, Campbell Gibson and Kay Jung, U.S. Census Bureau, September, 2002 (For the PDF version of the same report)