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University of Wisconsin, Parkside
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Lecture Notes Pertaining to CJ Exercise 4:
Moral Alchemy and the Media



Source materials for the following questions will be found in Images of Color, Images of Crime, Roxbury Publishing, 1998, Chapter 3 (pp. 38, 40-45.)

Answer by e-mail to jcurran@csudh.edu
Subject: cjexercise4 - morals and media
Be sure to include your name and class!
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. Suzan Shown Harjo discusses the media problem that results from moral alchemy. Describe it briefly. (passim, pp. 41-45

    Moral alchemy suggests that when I do it, it's reasonable, loyal, and OK, when you do it, it's nefarious, disloyal, and hostile. You should compare this to Minow's discussion of unstated assumptions It is a form of privileging our subjectivity, to say that our perspective is OK, yours is not as good, and the outsider' perspective is definitely not OK.

    Harjo relates this concept to the media and moral alchemy by documenting historical instances in which the perspective of the general population was assumed to be the only correct, and, thus, the only reported perspective. (White men called "civil protesters," Indians called "war parties", p. 38, col. 1; journalists confused to learn there were "numerous and disparate Indian voices," p. 38, col. 1) She then further documents ("American Indian Religious Freedom Act signed and issued on a Friday night of holiday weekend, p.42, col. 1; reporting of $100,000 campaign contribution by Cheyenne and Arapaho of Oklahoma, p. 44, col. 2)) the suppression of the Native Peoples' perspective, even when it was acknowledged as having a reasonably well documented and supported validity claim. To deny a forum is to deny the very existence of a validity claim, for when excluded from the public discourse, such claims are simply never heard, never forcing those who are operating on wicked little unstated assumptions to re-evaluate their own perspective. Harjo documents instances in which the media have so denied Native Peoples a forum.

  2. Harjo discusses the ways in which forums have been denied to Native Peoples by diverting the forum focus. Find examples.

    A good example of diverting the forum focus is that of the Senate Special Commission on Investigations into "federal management of Indian resources." (p. 40) The report was focussed on the political wrongdoings of Navajo Nation Chairman Peter MacDonald. That became the focus of the investigation and report, so that the issue of federal management was never reached.

    In almost every human situation there are varying degrees of integrity and genuine effort. To focus on the failings of one person within that entire context is to fail to develop a broad general understanding of how the infrastructure has managed that context and intervened within it to affect the lives of its citizens.

  3. How does the granting of citizenship affect this moral alchemy in telling the story of Native Peoples?

    Native Americans were not granted citizenship until 1919. and then, only if they asked for it. (p.36, col. 1) Finally, in 1924, the Indian Citizenship Act was passed, giving all "Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States" citizenship.

    Habermas would say that every person who must abide by the system of laws as passed should have a voice, heard in good faith, on their validity claims. Native Peoples were not given a voice, by law, until well into the 20th Century, and the denial of the traditional forums of the media prevented effective presentation of their validity claims.

    Put very simply, Americans didn't listen to the people whose land they took, didn't consider their objections, stereotyped them and labeled them as "savages" when they opposed the taking of their land, and didn't begin to correct that until well into the 20th Century. Americans further called this position "democratic" and "scientifically objective." This is the story for which the Native Peoples have not had a forum.

    It is the task of education to provide a forum for such stories, that we may consider the unstated assumptions of our perspectives. A good faith hearing doesn't mean that you have to agree with each validity claim presented, but that you will give it a good faith hearing, i.e., without prejudice, and without making up your mind without listening to it.

  4. How does moral alchemy and the media relate to criminal justice? (p .42, col. 1)

    Crimes are socially defined, by those who are empowered to make laws for the group. If unstated assumptions and stereotypes are rampant in the perspectives of our lawmakers, then those unstated assumptions and stereotypes will be reflected in our laws, including the criminal laws. "Native Americans are the only segment of American society whose churches cannot be defended with the First Amendment." And that continues today with a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. (p.42, col. 1)