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Genocide – A whitewash of a word

In 1944 Raphael Lemkin created the word genocide. I’ve known this fact for a long time, But never really thought about it’s meaning until I now, now that I’m sitting at my first “Save Darfur…” event.

He created the word using the Greek roots “geno” for people and “cide” for mass killing. But rediscovering this made me think of another word: Slavery.

Slavery is described by Wikipedia only as a soci-economic system. It goes on to say so other things but nothing about mass killing and oppression.

This got me to thinking. Why did we need to create a word for the mass killing/oppression of people based upon their ethnic, religious, political status in the 20th century when we already had a word – slavery.

The institution of slavery in the 17th-19th century by European imperialists is by far the worst mass killing and oppression of a people that this world has ever seen. It is estimated that during The Middle Passage alone – the slave ships crossing the Atlantic – 10 million Africans died.

About one out of every fourth African stolen from his home would end up dead before reaching the new world.

So it seems the subjugation. systematic killing, purposeful murder of a class of people based solely upon their race, ethnic origin or religious affiliation already had a name – slavery. So why do we now glom on to this word genocide? And why are we surprised that “genocide” is occurring? I mean really, people, are you so obtuse that you think that this phenomenon is a new “cause-celeb” of the 20th and 21th century?

I surmise that using a word like “genocide,” to describe what is currently occurring in Darfur, Chad, in poor eastern Europe, India, China and other places because it allows us to whitewash our past inequities.

Saying genocide makes it seem like it’s an atrocity that’s new and something that isn’t connected to the enlightened elite – the ones born of the Age of Reason. Saying genocide makes it an “other” problem that we can help but we certainly had no hand in causing.

Saying genocide absolves us of that untenable reality that such horrendous acts of violence are not OUTSIDEof who we are but originated from our intrinsic nature that has been demonstrated repeatedly throughout our historical past.

So what do we do about genocide? Sure, traveling to the hot zone to help is good. Nothing wrong with that. But I suspect stopping genocide begins not with others but within one’s self.

How often do you judge, ignore, subjugate en  each day? Injustice anywhere breeds injustice everywhere. Start small. Start at home. Start with you. Start today.


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