On Racism and Genocide

In the preceding pages I have referred repeatedly to European and white American attitudes toward the native peoples of the Americas as “racist” and to the Euro-Americans’ furious destruction of the native peoples of the Americas as “genocide.” The definitions of both these terms have been subject to discussion in recent years. Some readers may have wished to see in the text reference to those discussions, but to do so would have necessitated lengthy digressions that other readers might have found more distracting than enlightening. Therefore, I have added as an appendix the following remarks.

There are various ways in which cultures can construct ideologies of degradation, and such ideologies can be, and are, attached to any number of characteristics that serve to socially transform a collection of individuals within a culture into a group—gender, nationality, age, sexual preference, social and economic class, religion, and much else, including race. It is race that is the issue here. And the question, as it has been posed (and answered in opposing ways) in recent years is this: Did those Europeans and early American white colonists treat Indians and Africans as they did at least in part because of a racist ideology that long had been in place—or was Euro-American racism in the Americas a later development, even a product of white versus Indian and white versusblack conflict? In short, which came first, the carrying out of terrible and systematic damage to others or the ideology of degradation?

To some, understandably, this may seem an academic question, in the worst sense of that term. After all, to the American native woman having her breasts cut off by sadistically gleeful Spanish conquistadors, or watching her infant thrown to a pack of dogs—or to the native man about to be impaled on a sword of European manufacture, or watching his village and his family being burned to cinders by Puritans who boasted that “our Mouth [was] filled with Laughter, and our Tongues with Singing” while they attempted to exterminate an entire people from the earth—it no doubt mattered little whether the genocidal racism of their tormentors had preceded or followed from the first meetings of their societies.1 If such questions concern us now, for reasons other than academic curiosity, they do so in order that we may better understand how such horrors could have been perpetrated and how—perhaps—they may be anticipated and avoided in the future. Moreover, like many other matters of ivory tower pedigree, this one carries with it an inner element of real world political contentiousness. This is why, for many years, addressing it has caused such scholarly disagreement. That the answer to this question matters can best be seen by reviewing the ways historians have approached the issue first as it pertains to African Americans and then to Indians.

Until well into the twentieth century most white American historians spent little time arguing over the chronological priority of racism or slavery in the historical mistreatment of Africans in America. This was so for a reason that by itself is revealing: it was not a subject that lent itself to disagreement because those historians’ own low regard for blacks was so second nature to them that they simply assumed it to be a natural, justified, and nearly universal attitude, and one that thereby must have long predated the formal enslavement of Africans. And the formal enslavement of blacks in America, they assumed, certainly began immediately upon the involuntary arrival in the colonies of the first Africans in 1619.

Although there were some earlier historians who raised questions that had bearing on this matter, it was not until the 1950s that they began to propose, in numbers and with some vigor, the thesis that slavery had preceded racism in America.2 Working within a social climate to which they could not have been immune, a climate that was registering a rising chorus of insistent claims by African Americans for equal access to the social and political benefits of American life, these historians contended that slavery emerged gradually as an institution, following the first arrivals of blacks in North America, and that racism emerged still later, in part as a rationale for the maintenance of what by then had become a racially defined slave society.3 Although this was an argument not without some documentary support, it also was an argument suited to the politics of academic liberals who then were coming to agree with historian Kenneth Stampp that “innately Negroes are, after all, only white men with black skins, nothing more, nothing less.”4

From this political and ethical perspective—in the midst of a civil rights movement that was attempting to make such integrationist ideals conform with reality—the liberal historian’s notion that racism was, in Winthrop Jordan’s words, “scarcely more than an appurtenance of slavery. . . . squared nicely with the hopes of those even more directly concerned with the problem of contemporary race relations. . . . For if prejudice was natural there would be little one could do to wipe it out. Prejudice must have followed enslavement, not vice versa, else any liberal program of action would be badly compromised.”5

There was, of course, another benefit not mentioned by Jordan that was gained from such a reading of the historical record. The moral core of Western culture in general, and American culture in particular, appeared far more favorable in the light of an interpretation that found racism to be an aberration, rather than a constant, in Western history. Thus, not only did the slavery-begot-racism scenario encourage a more optimistic belief in the possibility of curtailing racism in the present, it also gave support to a relatively cheerful interpretation of the American and European cultural past.

Not everyone was convinced, however. In 1959 Carl N. Degler published an article, “Slavery and the Genesis of American Race Prejudice,” strongly arguing that slavery took root very early in American colonial society and that it did so in large part because of the white colonists’ preexisting racist attitudes—attitudes visible, among other places, in Elizabethan literature, including Shakespeare’s Othello and Titus Andronicus, but also evident in the relative prices of black and white servants, discriminatory court decisions, and more.6 The ensuing flurry of debate on the issue had a number of internal problems, not the least of which was a tendency to assume that the general attitudes and behaviors of the white colonists were very nearly monolithic. Thus, whenever one partisan found an exception to the other’s body of data he or she was likely to hold it up as a refutation of the other’s entire thesis. Some writers, for example, pointed to a 1640 law prohibiting blacks in Virginia from bearing arms, and cited this as evidence of racially based discrimination, while critics of this interpretation noted the presence in Virginia during this same time of a black former slave who had gained his freedom and purchased a slave himself, and they used this as evidence that blacks were not treated with special unfairness. Within a few years, however, Degler’s general contention was given an able assist by Winthrop Jordan, first in an article of his own, then in 1968 with his massive and justly celebrated study, White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550–1812.7

Examining materials ranging from biblical passages to sixteenth-century poetry, travelers’ tales, and more, Jordan concluded in White Over Black that European antipathy for Africans had long pre-dated the enslavement of blacks in America, or for that matter, the arrival of Europeans to the Western Hemisphere. “From the first,” he wrote, “Englishmen tended to set Negroes over against themselves, to stress what they conceived to be radically contrasting qualities of color, religion, and style of life, as well as animality and a peculiarly potent sexuality.”8 In short, virtually all the elements that would go into the full blown eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ideology of anti-black racism were present in European thought long before the arrival of the first blacks in Virginia in 1619.

But although racial antipathy preceded enslavement, Jordan cautioned against too simplistic a cause-and-effect model. A predisposition to invidious racial distinctions was not in itself sufficient to explain the wholesale enslavement and the horrendously systematic degradation of Africans that emerged in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century North America. Rather, Jordan suggested that “both slavery and prejudice [were] species of a general debasement of the Negro,” each of them—once they were joined—“constantly reacting upon each other” in a dynamic “cycle of degradation” that created a unique “engine of oppression.”9 (It will be recalled that I quoted these phrases in my text and adopted the same ideological-institutional dynamic in pursuit of an explanation for genocide against the Americas’ native peoples.)

In this conclusion Jordan actually was delivering heavily documented support to an insight first expressed by Alexis de Tocqueville more than a century earlier. Since the age of the ancients, Tocqueville had said, a scornful attitude toward the enslaved had followed upon their enforced servitude, a scornful attitude that remained for a time after the abolition of slavery, but one that eventually dissipated. However, in America, he wrote, “the insubstantial and ephemeral fact of servitude is most fatally combined with the physical and permanent fact of difference in race. Memories of slavery disgrace the race, and race perpetuates memories of slavery.” Added to this, Tocqueville noted, was the fact that for whites in general, including himself:

This man born in degradation, this stranger brought by slavery into our midst, is hardly recognized as sharing the common features of humanity. His face appears to us hideous, his intelligence limited, and his tastes low; we almost take him for some being intermediate between beast and man. . . . To induce the whites to abandon the opinion they have conceived of the intellectual and moral inferiority of their former slaves, the Negroes must change, but they cannot change so long as this opinion persists.10

In sum, as Jordan later picked up the argument, while the roots of a racist antipathy among whites toward blacks did indeed clearly precede the rise of the institution of slavery in America, this is a less important independent phenomenon than some may have thought, since once the attitude and the institution became fused—and they did so at a very early date—they reinforced one another, strengthening and deepening the white commitment to both of them. The idea of racism as deeply imbedded in Western consciousness was still a very troubling notion to many, however, and resistance to it remained strong among historians, despite Jordan’s rich documentation and subtlety of analysis. The form this resistance subsequently would take was established by George M. Fredrickson in a highly influential article that appeared only three years after White Over Black was published.

It is necessary, Fredrickson contended, to distinguish between what he called “ideological” racism and “societal” racism. Ideological racism is “the explicit and rationalized racism that can be discerned in nineteenth- and twentieth-century thought and ideology” while societal racism can be observed in “one racial group [acting] as if another were inherently inferior . . . despite the fact that such a group may not have developed or preserved a conscious and consistent rationale for its behavior.” This “dual definition of racism,” Fredrickson claimed, made it possible to identify the differences between “genuinely racist societies and other inegalitarian societies where there may be manifestations of racial prejudice and discrimination but which nevertheless cannot be described as racist in their basic character.” In a given society, according to this logic, as long as some reason other than race can be found to justify and rationalize the degradation—and, presumably, even the enslavement and mass murder—of people who are of a different race from that of their oppressors, that society “is not racist in the full sense of the word,” Fredrickson claimed. Moreover,

if the discrimination for reasons of color is not consistently and universally applied to individual members of what is, in a statistical sense, the socially inferior group [and] if some members of this group can, despite their physical characteristics, achieve high status because of such attributes as wealth, education, and aristocratic culture, there is evidence of the overriding importance of nonracial status criteria. In such a situation, race becomes only one factor in determining status, an attribute which can be outweighed or neutralized by other factors.11

By joining this definitional statement with the same sort of historical data produced by those historians who, twenty years earlier, had argued that American racism was essentially a product of slavery—for example, that along with slaves there were free blacks in seventeenth-century Virginia, some of whom enjoyed legal and economic rights—Fredrickson concluded that “America . . . was not born racist; it became so gradually as the result of a series of crimes against black humanity that stemmed primarily from selfishness, greed and the pursuit of privilege.”12 This judgment served to undergird Fredrickson’s subsequent work and clearly influenced most of the other prominent discussions of the subject that would appear in the later 1970s and 1980s.13

There are, however, some problems with Fredrickson’s analysis. The first of these is his use of the word “ideological” when “biological” would have been more precise in describing the nature of the formal structures of racist thought that emerged in the nineteenth century. Prior to the rise of the biological and zoological pseudosciences that served as the underpinnings for what Fredrickson calls “ideological” racism, and after the decline of those pseudosciences in the twentieth century, there existed and continues to exist in America a widespread, systematic, and ideologically justified degradation of entire categories of people who are readily identifiable by characteristics that commonly are associated with race.14 The fact that in pre-pseudoscience days the categorical justifications drew heavily (though, as we saw in the text, not exclusively) on religious and philosophical structures of thought, while in post-pseudoscience days most justifications tend to draw on historical and environmental principles—such as the “culture of poverty” or the black American family’s alleged “tangle of pathology”—does not make these systems of discrimination any less “ideological” (or any less racist) than those biological fictions that dominated racist thinking in the nineteenth century and part of the twentieth. Biology certainly can become ideological—but ideology is not necessarily based on biology.

As for the idea that racism proper did not and could not emerge until the rise of an “explicit and rationalized” pseudoscientific ideology regarding the term “race” itself, as Richard Drinnon has remarked, this “is roughly equivalent to saying—though the parallel is more benign—that the practice of birth control waited upon Margaret Sanger to coin the term.”15 In addition, since traditional pseudoscientific racism is no longer in vogue—and, indeed, since the very idea of “race” has long been scientifically discredited as a valid way of categorizing humans—by Fredrickson’s definition, racism “in the full sense of the word” does not and can not exist today.16 That will be news to its victims.

If these difficulties with Fredrickson’s (and many other recent historians’) definition of racism necessarily result in the dubious conclusion that, to use Fredrickson’s terms, “genuine” or “explicit” racism was a momentary aberration in human history, arising in the early nineteenth century and dying out around the middle of the twentieth century, an additional problem with his definition is that one logical consequence of it leads to the remarkable discovery that true racism has, in fact, never existed, at least in America. For Fredrickson and most other historians writing on the topic continue to assert that for racism proper to exist—to quote again the passage in Fredrickson cited above—it must be “universally applied to individual members of what is, in a statistical sense, the socially inferior group.” Should any exceptions to such categorical “discrimination for reasons of color” exist in an otherwise seemingly racist time and place, the exceptions serve as “evidence of the overriding importance of nonracial status criteria” and as sufficient documentation to establish that such a society cannot correctly be labeled racist.

It is by appealing to this definition that Fredrickson and others continue to assert that the existence of free blacks in seventeenth-century Virginia—and particularly of someone like Anthony Johnson, who arrived in Virginia as a slave from Africa and somehow became a freeman, a land owner, and the owner of a slave—proves that seventeenth-century Virginia was not a racist society, that racism only emerged in later years.17 Again, not only can this criterion be used to argue that racism is not a serious and tenacious problem today (since some blacks and other people of color, in theory at least, may escape its tentacles), but in addition it speciously serves to establish that even the deep South in the middle of the nineteenth century was not ideologically or “explicitly” racist. For if Anthony Johnson, with his small plot of land and single slave is a sufficient example to show that seventeenth century Virginia was not racist, what are we to make of William Ellison, a black former slave who lived in South Carolina from the 1790s until the outbreak of the Civil War, acquiring in that time a 900-acre plantation, more than sixty slaves, and more wealth than 95 percent of the South’s white men? And at least half a dozen other southern blacks at this time—among the more than 3600 African Americans who then possessed over 12,000 slaves—were wealthier and owned more slaves than Ellison.18

If ever a region in America could properly be described as racist, it was the deep South in the decades immediately preceding the Civil War. Thus, we are left with a choice between one of two conclusions: either the existence of Ellison and other wealthy, slave-owning southern blacks at this time proves that the deep South was not then a truly racist society, in which case, no locale in America, at any time, can ever have been categorically and “explicitly” racist; or the criteria used by Fredrickson and others are inappropriate and ineffective for use in locating and defining a racist society. It should not be necessary to point out that only the latter choice makes any sense at all.

It might also be noted that the same criteria used to demonstrate that the seventeenth-century slave-holding colonies were not “genuinely” racist can be used with equal veracity (which is to say none) to show that the German Nazi Party in the 1930s was not “genuinely” anti-Semitic, since a large proportion of its membership, when surveyed, expressed no anti-Semitic attitudes.19 None of this should be taken to mean, however, that a formalized and widely believed pseudoscientific theory of racial inequality is not different from lower-level and more diffuse racist thinking. They are different, but they both are thoroughly racist.

There is a certain paradoxical quality to the fact that while the rest of informed society has come to recognize the existence of subtler and more complex forms of racism—such as “institutional” racism (or Joel Kovel’s more psychologically grounded “metaracism”) as forms of oppression that clearly are racist but do not depend for their existence on an openly articulated and formal racial theory—many of the historians who have in recent years devoted their professional lives to studying the phenomenon have seemed determined to define racism almost out of existence.20Indeed, confusion on racism as a historical phenomenon has grown to the point that Jane Tompkins, the author of an article in a journal of avant-garde scholarly repute, has gone so far as to make the fanciful assertion—directly contra Fredrickson, but equally illogical—that racism could not have existed in early American colonial society because white people at that time were unanimous in their racist opinions! In short, according to Tompkins (who, like Fredrickson, is not alone in her conviction), unanimity of opinion is indication of a cultural norm, of people simply “look[ing] at other cultures in the way their own culture had taught them to see one another.”21 Thus, on the one hand we have Fredrickson arguing that only if every member of an oppressed racial group in a society is oppressed for explicitly racial reasons can that society be characterized as racist—and on the other hand there is Tompkins contending that if there is unanimity of racist opinion among the oppressor group in a society, that society, by definition, is non-racist.

This is the sort of thing that gives professors a bad name. And, although thus far we have been looking largely at writings on early white American attitudes toward African Americans (the exception is Tompkins), the very same lines of argument have been and continue to be played out regarding sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Euro-American attitudes toward Indians. During the 1960s it had been customary for scholars, such as Alden T. Vaughan, who were studying Indian-white conflict in the American colonies, to assert that even during the ferocious extermination campaigns of the English against the native peoples of Virginia as well as against the Pequots and Narragansetts and Wampanoags of New England, the behavior of the British was not “determined by any fundamental distinction of race,” nor by “deep-seated bias” of any kind.22 In White Over Black, Jordan inadvertently had provided further fuel for this argument, by comparing blatant assertions of racial antipathy of the English for Africans with what he viewed as their more benign attitude toward Indian racial characteristics. His perspective was then used to underpin uninformed claims by later historians that whites did not harbor racist attitudes toward Indians even centuries after their first proudly proclaimed attempts to exterminate them.23

In their denial of racial motivation as part of the driving force behind the colonists’ efforts to eradicate the Indians, most of these historians’ writings also were unblushing apologies for the genocide that had taken place. Thus, Vaughan, for example, dismissed mass murder as “some misunderstandings and injustices [that] occurred” while the British were only trying “to convert, civilize, and educate [the Indian] as quickly as possible.”24 During the 1970s and early 1980s, however, a series of books by historians taking a second look at these matters reached very different conclusions. Wilbur R. Jacobs, Francis Jennings, Richard Drinnon, and Neal Salisbury were only four among many during this time who rang down the curtain on the view that the colonists in their dealings with the Indians were kind and gentle souls.25 Following their work, there remained little doubt that the colonists were driven by a racist zeal to eliminate the Indians—at least once the major colonist-Indian wars had gotten under way. But remaining to be addressed was the same question that had for so long entangled historians studying white minds and black slavery: Did the adventurers and colonists bring with them racist attitudes that predisposed them to such inhumane treatment of people of color, or did those attitudes emerge after and derive from their experience with the people they later enslaved and destroyed?

It should be clear from the discussion in Chapter Six of this book that Spanish, English, and other European attitudes toward the native peoples of the Americas were virulently racist long before the settlement of the first British colony in North America. Although European mistreatment of people because of a perception of them as racially different is a very ancient practice, a dramatic shift to a rigid European attitude toward race in general was becoming evident in the fourteenth century with the Church’s authorization of the enslavement of Christians if their ancestry was non-European, and it escalated from that point forward with an able assist from the Spanish doctrine of limpieza de sangre and the other sixteenth-century European pseudobiological and religious rationales discussed earlier. It is impossible to read the voluminous Spanish justifications for the enslavement and mass murder of the Americas’ native peoples—as well as the sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century statements of the British on the same subjects—without recognizing their deeply racist content. Impossible, that is, unless you carefully define racism so narrowly that it is certain not to be found.

And that is what has begun to happen in recent years. Race, of course, is a social construct that different societies create in different ways, drawing on supposedly “natural” characteristics in people that are held to be congenital; racism is the ideological use of such a construct to subordinate and dominate another group. Nevertheless, in scholarly imitation of the man who searches for his lost keys under a lamp post because the light is better there—even though he knows he dropped his keys a block away—Alden T. Vaughan has now invented the idea that racism cannot exist in the absence of negative statements about another group’s skin color. Not surprisingly, in the light cast by this particular lamp post, he has found little explicit Anglo-American disparagement of Indians’ skin color in the early years of settlement—those years when Indian men, women, and children were being butchered, burned alive, enslaved, poisoned en masse, and referred to as “wild beasts,” “brutish savages,” and “viperous broods”—and so, according to Vaughan’s ad hoc definition, the British did not then think of the Indians they were systematically liquidating as “inherently inferior.”26

As with Fredrickson’s impossibly narrow definition of racism, so with Vaughan it needs to be pointed out that neither skin color distinctions nor pseudoscientific ideas of biological determinism are necessary criteria for the categorization and degradation of people under the rubric of “race.” Even a glance at the standard etymologies of the word (“the outward race and stocke of Abraham”; “to be the Race of Satan”; “the British race”; “that Pygmean Race”—to cite some sixteenth- and seventeenth-century examples) clearly shows that the term “race” was in widespread use in Britain to denote groups of people and classes of things marked by characteristics other than color well before it was used exclusively in that way, and centuries before it had grafted upon it the elaborate apparatus of biological and zoological pseudoscience. Indeed, a sense of “racial” superiority—sometimes having to do with color and sometimes not—had been imbedded in English consciousness at least since the appearance in the twelfth century of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, the great elaboration of the Arthurian legend.27

It is true, as noted several times in Chapter Six of this book, that racist thought and behavior by whites toward Indians intensified during the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but after the first few decades of the sixteenth century—at the very latest—the escalation of racism was a change in degree, not type (as Vaughan claims), of prejudice and oppression. In sum, there is little doubt that the dominant sixteenth- and seventeenth-century ecclesiastical, literary, and popular opinion in Spain and Britain and Europe’s American colonies regarding the native peoples of North and South America was that they were a racially degraded and inferior lot—borderline humans as far as most whites were concerned. Although there was, even at that early date, beginning to emerge in Europe various detailed theories of racist pseudoscience, anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of racist aggression knows that such endeavors do not require of their perpetrators the presence of formal scientific or other doctrine; as W.E.B. DuBois once observed: “the chief fact [in my life] has been race—not so much scientific race, as that deep conviction of myriads of men that congenital differences among the main masses of human beings absolutely condition the individual destiny of every member of a group.” 28 Most people of color today, as well as for centuries past, would have understood what DuBois was saying—even if some modern white historians apparently do not.

. . .

The definition of genocide, though also a subject of debate for many years, will take much less time to discuss. That is because most of the controversy over the term—such as whether victims of mass murder whose only common denominator is political belief are truly victims of genocide—is not relevant to the subject of this book. All that is relevant is whether the Spanish and Anglo-American destruction of the culturally and ethnically and racially defined peoples of the Americas constituted genocide.

The term “genocide” was coined by Raphael Lemkin in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, published in 1944. Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn summarize Lemkin’s pioneering thinking:

Under Lemkin’s definition, genocide was the coordinated and planned annihilation of a national, religious, or racial group by a variety of actions aimed at undermining the foundations essential to the survival of the group as a group. Lemkin conceived of genocide as “a composite of different acts of persecution or destruction.” His definition included attacks on political and social institutions, culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of the group. Even nonlethal acts that undermined the liberty, dignity, and personal security of members of a group constituted genocide if they contributed to weakening the viability of the group. Under Lemkin’s definition, acts of ethnocide—a term coined by the French after the war to cover the destruction of a culture without the killing of its bearers—also qualified as genocide.29

Two years after the publication of Lemkin’s book—and thanks to his constant lobbying efforts—the United Nations General Assembly passed the following resolution:

Genocide is the denial of the right of existence to entire human groups, as homicide is the denial of the right to live of individual human beings; such denial of the right of existence shocks the conscience of mankind, results in great losses to humanity in the form of cultural and other contributions represented by these groups, and is contrary to moral law and to the spirit and aims of the United Nations. Many instances of such crimes of genocide have occurred, when racial, religious, political and other groups have been destroyed, entirely or in part. The punishment of the crime of genocide is a matter of international concern. The General Assembly Therefore, Affirms that genocide is a crime under international law which the civilized world condemns, and for the commission of which principals and accomplices—whether private individuals, public officials or statesmen, and whether the crime is committed on religious, racial, political or any other grounds—are punishable.

Finally, in 1948, the Genocide Convention of the United Nations was adopted unanimously and without abstentions:



The Contracting Parties,

Having considered the declaration made by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution 96 (I) dated 11 December 1946 that genocide is a crime under international law, contrary to the spirit and aims of the United Nations and condemned by the civilized world;

Recognizing that at all periods of history genocide has inflicted great losses on humanity; and

Being convinced that, in order to liberate mankind from such an odious scourge, international co-operation is required:

Hereby agree as hereinafter provided:


The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.


In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.


The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;

(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

(d) Attempt to commit genocide;

(e) Complicity in genocide.


Persons committing genocide or any of the acts enumerated in Article III shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials, or private individuals.30

It is almost half a century since the Genocide Convention was passed, and in that time countless numbers of individuals have argued that the Convention’s definition is too narrow (because, as a result of pressure brought by Soviet and Eastern bloc delegates, it does not include political groups as potential victims) or too broad (because “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” can be made applicable to cases that clearly are not genocidal), among other criticisms. However, the Convention’s definition remains the most widely used definition of genocide throughout the world—and, indeed, in all the world there probably is no other word, in any language, whose definition has been more carefully discussed or more universally accepted. In light of the U.N. language—even putting aside some of its looser constructions—it is impossible to know what transpired in the Americas during the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries and not conclude that it was genocide.

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