Just How Equal is America Really? – The Dehumanization of Colonized Peoples
A common issue within photojournalism begs the question, at what point are the subject of the photo’s privacy rights violated? This issue dates back to colonial Mexico and India, and can be seen through the pictures within the Thomas Hudson Thatcher Collection of Mexico and the photos of William Johnson from Western India. These images create negative stereotypes of the indigenous people’s culture. Although there are no concrete standards set in place to control what the media is allowed to broadcast to the public, broadcasting corporations use their best judgment in order to keep distasteful images and videos out of their newscast in order to maintain a professional image. However, in today’s broadcasting culture, it is not necessarily distasteful images that are presented, but rather the complete lack of any news coverage in areas that demand it, and in this case, the American territories. Overall, the evolution of photojournalism within areas of colonial power has evolved from a presentation of distasteful images, to the lack of any coverage at all, which ultimately dehumanizes these people in such a way that forces western society to ignore the issue at hand.
An extremely important aspect of the colonization of India was the creation of an extensive railway system connecting the different regions. Consequently, huge portions of forests were cut down in order to supply the materials needed to create the railways. The figures pictured illustrate the desolation that the Indian people inflicted upon their environment under strict order of the British. Although some may argue that these railways represent a golden age of economy within India, Vandana Swami argues that groups of Indian peoples rights were taken, as many acts were implemented to ensure the success of the British Empire at the expense of the people. Swami explains that “the Forest Act of 1878 was implemented in order to remove all ambiguities about these property rights. Centuries of customary use of forests by rural populations were erased away, and moreover, a more detailed set of penalties was prescribed for transgressions of the act.” In other word, the rural populations were forced to destroy their forests in order to supply Britain with the wood supply that it needed. India was the main contributor of wood to build the Royal navy during the Napoleonic wars, during which Britain was consuming upwards of 4,937,000 tons of wood per year. Thus the majority of this revenue from wood was not being redistributed amongst India, but rather headed straight back to Europe. These unskilled laborers were taken full advantage of by Britain, as they were being paid unfairly low wages to support a country that did not have their interests in mind whatsoever.
But how does this relate to the dehumanization of the Indian people? The figures above display the people of rural Bengal creating the Bengal/Nagpur railway, tirelessly working in order to meet the demands of the British architects. The camera shot is so distant and impersonalized that it creates the image of ants working amongst an anthill, giving the viewer the impression that these people are no more than expendable workhorses. These images further propagate the notion and stereotype that the India peoples are a race of people unequipped for self-rule and who are better off serving the British Empire.
However, the dehumanization of colonized people is not limited to just an economic outlook. Within the American Southwest Anglo-Americans showed little respect for the people of Mexico, often taking completely distasteful pictures of the indigenous peoples. For instance, there are several photos (pictured above) that show young girls and women in private acts such as bathing and breast-feeding. These pictures are attributed to Winfield Scott, a notable military tactician and commander who headed an invasion of Mexico in 1847 for the U.S. It is disturbing to recognize that a man with so much power had such little regard for the privacy and basic human rights of the innocent women and children that he was occupying. In addition to these pictures, there are several others of naked children, which have been left out due to ethical censorship and nudity, which show zero respect for the subjects of the photos. These children have bloated stomachs and are situated with a backdrop of Mexican poverty. They create an image of the Mexican people similar to the stereotype created of native-Americans as a savage people who are incapable of autonomy.
Another distasteful image that surfaced during the twentieth century includes the brutal beating and execution of a man during the Mexican Revolution, which can be seen below. The most alarming aspect of this image is that the picture of the man is on the front of a post card. By printing this on a postcard, in addition to the other photos of naked children, the media of the time is creating an image of a savage, unruly people. It provides a healthy backdrop for the U.S. after the annexation of Texas and other areas of the southwest, because these images argue for and perpetuate the appreciation of the U.S. accepting a people into the U.S. that cannot rule themselves. In reality, the U.S. had gained substantial markets within the mining industry, an entirely new area of land to be cultivated, and a gateway to the Pacific Ocean. The dehumanization of these people as savages not only furthered stereotypes of the Mexican people, but also justified the forced entrance of people into the U.S. that did not necessarily want to join.
But how does this relate to the twenty-first century and our society today? Large broadcasting corporations have the ability to influence society in such a way that they are able to label parts of our community with stereotypes that may or may not be true. A major issue within American society is the creation of, as Henry Sanabria describes it, a “culture of poverty.” Sanabria goes on to describe a culture of poverty as “the lack of effective participation and integration of the poor in major institutions of the larger society… low wages… unemployment and underemployment lead to low income [and]… a low level of literacy.” Movies and TV shows, although they do often do not depict real events, present stereotypes of all cultures and races that lead to a negative repercussion within society. Rather than dehumanizing a group of people, this portrayal through media has evolved to devalue the lives of the poor, creating a culture of poverty that only furthers the cycle of illiteracy and social subjugation. In New Mexico, even though the role of traditional colonialism has ended, Anglo-Americans still dominate the economy in a region that is, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, forty seven percent Latino. John Chavez discusses this issue stating that “though politically Hispanos seemed increasingly in control, private property and the economy remained in Anglo hands.” Even though Latinos are the majority, they are still not in control of the New Mexico economy, stemming from roots of racism that only the white man can control these aspects of society, and further breeding the “culture of poverty” within the U.S and the minds of the Latino people.
On the U.S Department of the Interior ‘s website they define “occupation” as “the act of appropriation of an insular area that is not under the supreme power of another sovereign, i.e., a terra nullius.” “Terra Nullius” is a Latin expression meaning “nobody’s land,” which is far from the truth of many occupied U.S. territories, as more than 3,000,000 people live in territories of the U.S, including Puerto Rico, U.S Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and a series of other small islands. Edwin Arnold illustrates in an essay titled “Self-Government in the U.S territories,” that the Charter of the United Nations requires that a country whom has active territories aspire “to develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their political institutions.” However, candidates selected by the United States President are still governing the U.S. Virgin Islands. Even though they are U.S citizens, they do not fully have the right to vote for the people who govern them.
Although there is clearly an unfair representation of U.S citizens with regards to the American territories, the U.S media still lacks the appropriate coverage of this pressing civil rights issue in America. John Chavez, describes this type of subjugation as internal colonialism, and describes it as “whenever a people and its homeland are subordinated within the borders of another people’s nation state or contiguous empire.” Just as the media attempted to dehumanize the colonies of Mexico and India, the media of the U.S is choosing to ignore this clear disrespect for Americans’ civil rights. By actively choosing not to produce news stories pertaining to this issue, the media is essentially dehumanizing these people and taking the stand that they aren’t worth their time and effort. The only reason why images of violence and labor from India and Mexico were reproduced was because they are sensationalized images that produce interest from viewers and revenue for the company. In order to run a fully ethical and fair image of the U.S today, media corporations must venture to the U.S. territories and show exactly what is going on.
Although images of colonial India and Mexico may initially seem unrelated to the colonial aspects of America today, they can provide a backdrop and learning template for media corporation to fully integrate the civil rights of all members of American society. The U.S. territories have yet to receive full autonomy, and in its current state, seem to be far from it. Even within the continental United States, Latino citizens are still subject to the suppression of colonial power, as they have still yet to receive full economic status within a state that is forty seven percent Latino. In order to achieve full civil rights for all citizens in the U.S, media corporations must fully accomadate all cases of civil injustice. Until then, suppression due to internal colonialism will continue without restriction.
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 Arnold, Edwin G. “Self-Government in U. S. Territories.” Foreign Affairs (1947): 655-66. JSTOR. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.
 Arnold, Edwin G. “Self-Government in U. S. Territories.” Foreign Affairs
 Arnold, Edwin G. “Self-Government in U. S. Territories.” Foreign Affairs
 Chàvez, John R. Beyond Domestic Empire: Internal and Post Colonial New Mexico.
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Barker, Eugene. “The Annexation of Texas.” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly (1946): 49. JSTOR. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30237259. 15 Apr. 2015.
Chàvez, John R. Beyond Domestic Empire: Internal and Post Colonial New Mexico. Dallas: Southern Methodist University, Print.
McDermott, Joseph. “Acquisition Process of Insular Areas.” U.S. Department of the Interior. U.S. Department of the Interior, 2003. http://www.doi.gov/oia/islands/acquisitionprocess.cfm. 7 Apr. 2015.
“New Mexico.” New Mexico QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau. United States Census Bureau, Mar. 2015. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/35000.html. 25 Apr. 2015.
Peskin, Allen. “Reviewed Work: Winfield Scott and the Profession of Arms.” The Journal of American History 91 (2005): 1447. JSTOR, Mar. 2005. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4250185.
Sanabria, Harry. The Anthropology of Latin America and the Caribbean. Boston, MA: Pearson Allyn and Bacon, 2007. 207. Print.
Scott, Winfield. Girl by River. 1910. DeGolyer Library, Dallas. SMU Central University Libraries. Web. <http://digitalcollections.smu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/mex/id/670>.
Scott, Winfield. Mexican Man Kneeling beside Dead Body. 1910. DeGolyer Library, Dallas. SMU Central University Libraries. Web. <http://digitalcollections.smu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/mex/id/302>.
Swami, Vandana. “Environmental History and British Colonialism in India: A Prime Political Agenda.” CR: The New Centennial Review 3.3 (2003): 118-20. JSTOR. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41949868. 12 Apr. 2015.
Townshend. Bengal-Nagpur Railway Construction Photo 16. 1895. DeGolyer Library, Dallas. SMU Central University Libraries. Web. <http://digitalcollections.smu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/eaa/id/1503>.
Townshend. Bengal-Nagpur Railway Construction Photo 17. 1895. DeGolyer Library, Dallas. SMU Central University Libraries. Web. <http://digitalcollections.smu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/eaa/id/1506>.