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Wednesday, July 5, 2023

AFRICA, India, Carribea: Names Given by White Men

Someone asked about calling Native Americans Red Indians. Here is what someone wrote. I find it funny how every single group has moved on, but we still enjoy using black African 

The name “Indian” stems from the ignorance of early European explorers. At the time that Columbus arrived in the Americas, it was pretty common for Europeans to call all of south and east Asia as “Indian”. Thinking that he had arrived in the Indian Ocean (actually, he was in the Caribbean), he declared the people he met to be “indians” and he called the Carribean the “West Indies”. The names stuck for hundreds of years, in part to have a laugh at Columbus’ expense, but also because nobody had another name.

By the beginning of the 17th century, people had had enough contact with the indigenous people and understood that there were numerous different peoples and cultures and started using their proper names, but “Indian” still stuck as a generic term for both people native to the Americas and people native to south and east Asia.

None of the indigenous peoples ever referred to themselves as “indians” and in the 1960s and 1970s there was a public discussion about what could be used as an alternative to “Indian”, which was based on a historical error and snide poking fun at Columbus. The two most popular names to generically refer to indigenous American peoples were “American Indian” and “Native American”. While more clear that “Indian” the term “American Indian” was only a slight improvement since it still had “Indian” in it, which made no sense. The problem with the term “Native American” was that in the 19th century it was a term used by people of European descent who had settled in the Americas many generations ago to differentiate themselves from recent immigrants; the term was originally racist, but used to differentiate white Anglo-Saxon protestants from Irish and German Catholics. Today, I believe “Native American” is the preferred name to reflect collectively to all people groups displaced by European immigrants. If you are referring to specific people group, that group’s name is preferred (e.g., Apache, Choctaw, Ojibwe, etc.)

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