February 01, 2013

Twitter war over immigration reference

The immigration comment I noted in Obama: Natives Are the Only Natives triggered a war of words:

Obama's 'Native American' Reference During Immigration Speech Sparks Bering Strait Twitter Surge

By Simon Moya-SmithYesterday, during a speech on immigration in Las Vegas, President Obama reacquainted the nation with the actuality that “unless you’re one of the first Americans, Native Americans, you came from somewhere else–somebody brought you,” he said.

Immediately, anti-amnesty apologists and Bering Strait Theory enthusiasts took to Twitter to argue against Mr. Obama and the position that Native Americans never migrated across the northern land bridge 15,000 years ago:

Conservative tweeter @MarkWonderful remarked: “Needless to say, those of us w/some education know that even ‘Native Americans’ are immigrants, having come over land bridge from Asia.”

@QuoteLawrence wrote: “This is the stupidest comment made by stupid criminal sympathizers. You’re a native once you’re born here.”

Although the Bering Strait Theory is frequently considered as an irrefutable fact (at least in the Twitter-sphere), Harvard Medical School Professor of Genetics David Reich declared in July that the Bering Strait remains a theory–and one he anticipates will be refuted with further research.

Still, that hasn’t staved the American populace from utilizing the Bering Strait argument whenever the issue of immigration is the topic of caustic debate.

Comment:  To answer "@MarkWonderful," those of us with some education understand that "native" is a relative concept, not an absolute. Since the earth coalesced out of space dust, continents merged and split, and species evolved, it's hard to say anything is truly "native" to a particular time or place. You have to pick a reasonable cutoff point or the word has no meaning.

As for "@QuoteLawrence," Obama was talking about historic groups of people, not individuals. That's generally what we talk about when we talk about immigration. People such as the Irish migrated to America even if many Irish children were born here.

To use an analogy, even if something--say, a spaghetti dish--was created here, it may come from elsewhere. A particular serving of spaghetti originates where it was cooked, or where its ingredients came from. But "spaghetti" as a kind of food originated in Italy.

If you don't understand this childishly obvious distinction, "@QuoteLawrence," you win the award for stupidest comment. Duhhh.

Clarifying the point

Moya-Smith raises several issues in his commentary, but he doesn't distinguish them clearly. Let's go through them:

1) Conservatives are using the Bering Strait theory only to claim Natives aren't "native" to the Americas. If another migration theory replaced the Bering Strait theory, conservatives would use that theory instead.

I've addressed this claim several times--for instance, in Conservatives Think They're "Natives," Conservative Website Calls Indians "Beringians," and Were Indians "Colonists" Too?

Marty Two Bulls's cartoon captures what's going on here. Conservatives don't care about the science behind the Bering Strait theory. They're using the theory to delegitimize and discredit Natives. It's part of the 500-year Euro-Christian effort to promote white superiority and justify stolen land.

2) Based on their origin stories, Natives such as Vine Deloria Jr. claim Natives have always lived in the Americas. Presumably because their gods created them here, not because they evolved from apes here. I don't think any reputable scientist buys this theory.

3) Many scientists do dispute the Bering Strait theory, saying indigenous people may have arrived by boat. This doesn't affect the immigration debate. Conservatives still would say Natives were immigrants, and Natives still would say they're "native" by any reasonable definition of the word.

For more on migration theories, see Paleo-Indians Arrived Before Clovis and Ice Age Documentary Stars Alaska Natives.


Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

To me, the worst part of this is that the Maori settled New Zealand during the 12th century (much later than Indians settled the Americas, either in the minds of Clovis-acceptors or in reality [30,000 BC]), yet few people in NZ (as far as I know) call them "the first immigrants to New Zealand"; in fact plenty of NZ people acknowledge them as "indigenous New Zealanders". That, to me, really says something about the GOP (who, it should be noted, call climate change "just a theory" when it is even more true than the Clovis hypothesis).

(By the way, I think aspects of the Maori's history might have confused Europeans and Usonians [including Jared Diamond, even though his Guns, Germs, and Steel is much more sympathetic than The Ecological Indian!] about the Holocene megafauna extinctions. Sure, the extinction of the moa might have been caused by newly-arrived and naive Maori....but the small size of New Zealand also must have played a major role, which I doubt Europeans and Usonians thought enough about.)