White Enough to Be American? Race Mixing, Indigenous People, and the Boundaries of State and Nation

By Lauren L. Basson | Go to book overview

Note on
Terminology

Many of the words and phrases that I use in this book are terms that come directly from the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century cases that I examine. These include phrases such as “racially mixed,” “political competence,” “fitness for self-government,” and a host of others. I also use many contemporary terms, including “America” and “American,” whose conventional usage I do not necessarily endorse. My purpose in introducing these terms in this book is to provide a critical assessment of their contested meanings and of their contributions to definitions of the U.S. nation and state. In an attempt to indicate that my intention was to interrogate rather than to adopt this terminology uncritically, I initially placed many of these terms in quotation marks throughout the text. Out of concern that the overuse of quotation marks might be distracting to the reader, however, I left some terms unmarked, although my stance toward these terms was still a critical one.

As I reviewed the text, I felt concerned that my choice of which terms to place in quotation marks and which to leave unmarked seemed haphazard. Matthew Frye Jacobson has commented on the “unexamined racial certainty” that such selective practices denote and has observed, “A principled consistency on this score is rendered very difficult by the culture within which we operate” (Jacobson 1998, “Note on Usage”). Following Jacobson’s precedent in part, I ultimately decided to leave most terms, including archaic phrases, unmarked unless they have explicitly derogatory connotations in historical or contemporary contexts (e.g., “mixed blood” and “half breed”), or represent direct quotations. My dilemmas about the use of terminology are, in large part, a reflection of the limits of our current sociopolitical vocabulary and the challenges involved in attempting to provide a critical assessment of dominant conceptual frameworks in language that will be readily understood but not uncritically employed.

-xi-

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