September 04, 2015

Conservative freakout over Denali = racism

What's behind the conservative crying over the Denali name change?

For starters, it obviously is not about giving Alaskans what they want. Because they want the original name restored.

An Alaskan On What The Lower 48 Don't Get About Denali

By Julia O'MalleyAlaska is a conservative state. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by a wide margin, but the state’s brand of conservatism has a pro-development, anti-government, libertarian flavor. Most people don’t see the mountain’s name change along partisan lines. Instead, some see it as a victory in the state’s long public lands tug-of-war with the federal government, while others, especially in the Alaska Native community, see it as a victory for indigenous rights. And pretty much everybody has been calling the mountain Denali for years.

There’s also something worth explaining about the culture here. We put Alaska-ness before all else, and tend to view outsiders with suspicion. In Alaska, nobody really cares if you went to Harvard, but if your grandmother was buried here, you should say so because it gives you cred. I think this is because there are only 700,000 people in this state and a whole lot of dangerous country, animals and weather. People from very different backgrounds tend to find themselves relying on each other, so we care most about stuff like whether you are the type to carry a tow strap in your truck and would be willing to pull us out of a ditch in a snowstorm. Politics come way second. Our loyalty to Denali over McKinley is driven by the same impulse. Denali is ours, it comes from here, it carries a tow strap. McKinley isn’t and doesn’t.
Playing politics with Denali

So why are non-Alaskan conservatives ignoring the wishes of Alaskan conservatives?

The GOP’s ludicrous “Mt. Denali” freakout: What this latest “scandal” reveals about the right-wing outrage machine

Trump was the highest profile critic of the Obama administration decision to restore a mountain's original name

By Bob Cesca
Okay, several points on this ridiculousness—the latest in a series of non-scandal scandals:

• McKinley was originally named Denali until 1917 when it was changed in honor of President William McKinley. If the GOP is concerned with, say, the traditional definition of marriage, shouldn’t they also be interested in the traditional name of a mountain?

• The Alaska Geographic Board has actually used “Denali” as Alaska’s official name for the mountain since 1975.
But:None of this is relevant to the far-right, of course, nor will there be any retractions issued given the myriad facts surrounding the name change. Knowing the long list of trivial and not-so-trivial “gates” that have each induced relapsing outrage comas among googly-eyed Obama haters, this could be one of the most trivial. It’ll never top the reaction to Obama’s use of teleprompters (which are used by every other public figure) or the baffling indignation over Obama’s choice of a tan suit for his press conference wardrobe, but it’s way up there.

In the effort to level the odds for 2016, not to mention all previous Obama-era elections for that matter, the GOP has been engaged in a shotgun strategy, framing nearly every White House decision as those of a legion of super-villains, motivated by the president’s so-called radical agenda to “fundamentally transform” America (an agenda that really doesn’t exist). It works well as red meat for the base, and it’s maybe successfully shaved a few points off Obama’s approval numbers by sheer attrition, but outside of the conservative entertainment complex, it’s easy to see exactly what the GOP is up to. It’s a scam and bears little similarity to reality. And this particular Denali issue is maybe the finest example of the GOP’s desperate scandal-mongering.
Alaska's Great White Mountain

In renaming a peak that honored a Republican hero, President Obama stepped into the center of a fray over political correctness, American culture, and partisanship.

By David A. Graham
For non-Rovians, what makes Obama’s “Denali” decision sting is the symbolism. One of the key stories of the Obama presidency is the sense among white, conservative Americans that their country is disappearing. Though seldom couched in directly racial terms, the issue of racial identity always lurks beneath the surface. The sense that white America is fading is not irrational, and it’s not just about the black president in the White House. Census projections have Caucasians becoming not a majority, but merely a plurality, of the population within a couple decades.

The reaction to Dylann Roof's massacre in Charleston is an example of how this plays out. Even some people who were horrified by the shooting and supported South Carolina’s decision to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state-capitol grounds felt uncomfortable with the sudden rise of demands to erase other symbols of the Confederacy or of white-supremacist leaders of yore—statues of Jefferson Davis, college buildings named for racists, and the like. These changes are just and overdue, but they’re also understandably disorienting, and for people who already feel their heritage and way of life are under siege, they seem a step (or several) too far. Conservatives complain, using a phrase Obama himself employed in October 2008, that the president is in the process of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

Still, much of the reaction to Obama’s decision is almost comic. “Mt. McKinley is still there,” Erick Erickson proclaims, vowing to keep calling it by that name. “I will still call the mountain Mt. McKinley in the same way I will call Turin, Turin, instead of Turino like the idiots at NBC decided to do during that city’s time hosting the Olympics,” he writes.

The “Turin” comparison is instructive—after all, just as with Denali, the people who actually live there call it “Torino.” More generally, the thrust of the reaction seems to be, You can’t rename Mount McKinley! It’s had that name for a very long time. This argument might seem more than a bit ironic to Athabascans, in whose tongue “Denali” means “the Great One,” and who called it by that name for far longer than the “McKinley” label has stuck. Alaska Natives have been pushing to rename the mountain for years, saying that the official name, among other things, conveyed a “fundamental disrespect” for their culture.
Conservatives = racists, again

No need to hint that racism is lurking in the background. The conservative crying is explicitly racist.

Conservative Reaction to ‘Denali’ Proves It: They Don’t Care About Native Americans

By John Paul BrammerOf course, millions of Natives died in the process of colonization. But that’s an uncomfortable truth conservatives have chosen to ignore.

And they ignore it because they’re afraid to open that can of worms.

If they did, they would have to acknowledge that Native Alaskans have been fighting to reclaim one of their sacred sites for a long time and that this is not simply an opportunity for them to hit Obama.

No, instead, Native voices are pushed out of the debate entirely. Just like Native voices have been pushed out of nearly every facet of American society.

It’s no wonder Natives who do choose to participate in United States’ elections skew Democratic. Especially when you have Republicans like John McCain selling out sacred Native lands to foreign mining companies.
What's in a Name? Restoring Denali's Name Should Just Be the First in a Long List

By Doug KielGOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee commented, “I’m wondering what’s next—the renaming of the Washington Monument to the ‘Obama Monument’?” Huckabee’s “what’s next” remark is in part a critique of what he perceives to be an abuse of executive power, but it is also a common, paranoid refrain in the face of white privilege being challenged.

Restoring the name of North America’s highest peak does not signal the erosion of white supremacy as some conservative Republicans seem to worry. Unfortunately, their white supremacy remains firmly intact. But the name restoration does reflect that President Obama is willing to pay respect to Indigenous nations. As the debate over Indian mascots and logos in professional sports has shown, names do in fact matter, and non-Natives quite often clutch to their colonial naming rights as firmly as they can.
How one mountain proved claims of “principled conservatism” are just racism

By Amanda MarcotteSo what exactly is the great conservative principle at stake here? State’s rights? Alaska already calls it Denali. Preservation of existing norms and standards? Well, the name is going back to what it was before, which is the restoration of tradition, which conservatives should theoretically support. What about Donald Trump and his ongoing belief that allowing people of different cultures to come in to yours will dramatically alter and eventually destroy your existing culture? If that’s so, then he should be applauding the government for rejecting the way that outsiders came to Alaska and just started renaming stuff without asking the people who were there first.

Clearly, the only real principle here is the belief that white people are better than everyone else, and that the names of things like mountains should reflect this belief in white supremacy.

That’s where we’re at, folks: 2015, and the right wing is having an openly racist fit that doesn’t even bother to pretend to be about anything but believing white people are better than everyone else.
Renaming = white power

The truth about right-wing Denali outrage: Destroying the tenacious colonialist “right” to re-name is long overdue

The mountain has always had a name—and so has every other place in Alaska, before white explorers made their marks

By Paula Young Lee
Earlier this year, the blog, “Athabascan Woman,” run by Angela Gonzalez, featured a round-up of Facebook comments regarding the “Denali” question. Vera Schafer affirmed: “That’s the real name. The people who came and changed every name didn’t know each place had a name. The people who wrote about Alaska said it was ‘vast wastelands.’ It wasn’t because people were already living here and everything had a name. Every hill, knoll, river bends, slough had a native name.” Another commentator, Darlene Reena Herbert, wrote: “There is a word for everything on earth and beyond in Dinjii zhuh ginjik” (Native people language).”

That language, however, is not American English. Worse, the word itself, meaning “great one,” refers to the physical properties of the mountain, and not to the achievements of mortal men who become immortal through great deeds. “Alaska is full of glaciers and other places named for white male explorers,” Alaska transplant Amy Price McCord wrote in an email to me. These places include Prince William Sound and Mt. Edgecumbe (thought to be named after George, earl of Edgecumbe; its original Tlingit name is L’ux).

The names systematically affirm a colonialist mentality that subjugates rather than respects the land, exploiting a theologically-informed attitude to nature that has enriched coffers for centuries. Now, that model is beginning to crumble in the face of overwhelming evidence of climate change. The president’s trip to Alaska is partly driven by the widespread recognition that it’s one of the places in the world most vulnerable to its immediate effects.

The partisan refusal to recognize climate change is driving its own set of memes linking “Denali” to “Denial.” Hence there is political peril in restoring the names of people, places, and things using the names originally bestowed on them. Return the names to their original forms, return the land to the people? For some Conservatives, renaming is a sign that the world is run amok with political correctness, but also something more when the President of the U.S. endorses it. To restore a name symbolically acknowledges that other cultural systems have legitimacy and merit, which correspondingly confirms that the landmarks of my thoughts are not the same as the landmarks of your thoughts.
The Long History Behind Renaming Mt. McKinley

By Ben RailtonQuirky details aside, this renaming controversy echoes far deeper and more longstanding American historical and cultural issues. After all, whatever Dickey’s intentions in choosing McKinley, it was that 1890s choice which represented the original renaming of the mountain, a change in the name of a sacred place for generations of Alaskan Native Americans (particularly members of the Koyukon Athabaskan nation). Alaska has acknowledged that sacred heritage for decades, and the mountain has been known as Denali within the state since the 1970s. But every time Congress has tried to formalize the change, Ohio has protested and stalled the process, arguing that the name McKinley is an important part of their state’s history and heritage.

Yet that name exists at the explicit expense of another foundational American cultural heritage and identity. As a result, in maintaining the name McKinley over Denali on the national level, as in the original act of renaming the mountain, mainstream European American culture has extended the acts of settler colonialism and imperialism that have stolen and occupied Native lands for centuries—a process illustrated in William Dickey’s own era by the 1893 military coup in and 1898 annexation (by the McKinley administration!) of Hawaii.

Such imperial renamings have been part of the European colonial enterprise from literally its first moments: In a 1493 letter describing his first voyage to Spanish financial backer Luis de Santangel, Christopher Columbus writes, “To the first island I discovered I gave the name of San Salvador, in commemoration of His Divine Majesty, who has wonderfully granted all this. The Indians call it Guanaham.” And they have certainly continued into our postcolonial American existence—many of our prominent spaces and places, from Mt. Rushmore to Lake Superior, were similarly renamed by European settlers and officials from their original Native designations.

In her 1834 poem “Indian Names,” Lydia Sigourney imagined a far different process and effect, one in which the continued use of Native American names such as Massachusetts and Connecticut might lead to better collective memories of these peoples and the American histories (both proud and tragic) to which they connect. “Their name in on your waters,” she writes, “Ye may not wash it out.” Yet it seems to me that we have been able to maintain these Native names without engaging with those histories—perhaps because we can do so without controversy or even attention to what the names signify. It is precisely changes such as the renaming of Denali that will be required, to force our collective engagement with these names and their contested contexts.
If it isn't clear how racist and wrong it is to go around renaming people's homelands, consider this scenario (via Twitter):F. N. Caring Society ‏@IndigenousXca
We should all travel across the world and name sacred sites in europe after random ndns
So Mt. Olympus is now Wakan Tanka. Stonehenge is now the Great Medicine Wheel. The Matterhorn is now Mt. Deloria. Etc.

For more on Denali, see Let's Rename Ohio's Tallest Mountain and Denali Name Change = Political Attack?

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