Weaponized Words: The Power of Racist Rhetoric in American History

AHA Session 41
Friday, January 3, 2020: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
New York Ballroom West (Sheraton New York, Third Floor)
Thomas Aiello, Valdosta State University
The Audience

Session Abstract

From political cartoon captions of the early republic era to opinion pieces and accusations of “fake news” in today’s America, words, as we have seen time and again, can become weapons. In this panel, our scholars explore racist rhetoric of violence and violation over the last two hundred years. More importantly, each of these panelists examine how this rhetoric created real and devastating consequences for both the victims and perpetrators in print and in person. In the first presentation, Grace Hunt Watkinson looks at the impact of exterminationist and violent rhetoric through print media in the early American Southwest and the ways in which that rhetoric entangled with regional turmoil to encourage mass atrocities against Apache minorities in Arizona territory. Dr. Ryan Dearinger then takes this theme of rhetoric deep into the Pacific Northwest with his presentation on the “Tacoma Method,” a blueprint for anti-Chinese violence, repression, and intimidation in the region. Joshua Morris takes this conversation on rhetoric into the realm of ideological minorities through his exploration of the anticommunist language honed during the Smith Act trials of the mid-twentieth century. During this time, politicians developed a weapon of words capable of suppressing both American communists as well as other political outsiders with devastating results. Our final panelist, Miriam Mora, explores the gendered dimensions of antisemitism in the United States, how such prejudice continuously affected the treatment of Jewish American men in the public sphere, and how Jewish men resisted this pressure through their own version of American masculinity. Spanning a vast chronology in American history, this panel touches deeply on the dangers of rhetoric, providing four case studies into the damaging impacts of these words on minorities striving to thrive within the majority Anglo-American culture.
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