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Criminal Justice and Social Change

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: January 20, 1999
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Lecture Notes Pertaining to CJ Exercise 3: Moral Alchemy

Source materials for the following questions will be found in Images of Color, Images of Crime, Roxbury Publishing, 1998, Chapter 2 and 3.

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Subject: cjexercise3 - moral alchemy
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Try to answer in 25 words or so. Make each answer integral, so that I can read it without reference to the exercise or the question itself.

  1. The labelling of Indians (Native Americans) by non-Indians took on an adaptive flexibility. Describe it. (p.15, 2d col.)

    The pejorative labels applied to Native Americans were flexible, depending on the objectives of the conquering peoples. Indians are seen as either "demonic" or as "untainted children of nature." These contradictory labels co-exist, and are applied according to the situational context.

    Using the Critical Race Theory on which this text is founded, James Riding In merges autobiographical experience with theory and history. Thus he tells the story of an employer who berated all Indians working for her as living off the government dole, and being lazy and unreliable as workers. (p.16) She knew little of the history of the "Trails of Tears" recounting the forced march "of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole Nations to the Indian Territory." (p. 31) She did not know of the bravery of the native woman who led Lewis and Clark to the Pacific, "usually ahead of [them] . . . and saving the records of the expedition--all the while pregnant or carrying her baby on hter back.

    This is the problem with labelling. The label always changes to suit the information one privileges and to fit the needs one has. Robert K. Merton, in Social Thoery and Social Structure, speaks of moral alchemy:

    I am firm.
    Thou art obstinate.
    He is pig-headed.

    We are adroit at finding complimentary words to describe our own actions, and pejorative words to describe the actions of "Others."

    Suzan Shown Harjo describes the conflicting reports that appear in the media of "battles" between the cavalry and the Native Peoples. (at p.32) U.S. Newspapers reported the Volunteers as "covering themselves with glory." The Army described the same battle as "barbaric," the "soldiers covered with gore." And the more distant British press described the proceedings as "a war of extermination with the troopers, and the firing was kept up until not a live Indian remained in sight." Sounds just like moral alchemy to me.

    We tend to tell the stories to which an audience will listen. There is an interdependence between the storyteller and the audience. Native peoples have rarely been afforded an opportunity to take an active voice in determining how the stories shall be told.

    When the Indians fought alongside the Americans against the conquering European powers, they were described as loyal and noble. When they fought on the other side they were considered savage.

  2. How were native women stereotyped?

    As sexual objects. Nameless. Using language not acceptable in polite society. Women were not "depicted as fully clothed or named individuals. Typically portrayed as scenery, they seldom were recognized for their governmental or family leadershi in matrilineal and egalitarian societies." (at p. 31)