Sunday, September 6, 2009

A History of Racialization in Florida

Race has always played a role in Florida and the surrounding areas since the first European explorers came ashore. Daniel S. Murphree's sociocultural study, Constructing Floridians, focuses on the early time period, from 1513 to 1783, when the United States was still struggling to find its place in the world and the major cultural conflict that occurred between the native tribes of Florida and European settlers. His book does an in-depth analysis on the relationships between the Europeans who came to Florida looking for a "Garden of Eden" and the native people who were completely different from anything the Europeans had seen. A key term Murphee uses in his analysis of this early Floridian history is "racialization" or the process of "othering" the native people. It is pointed out that much of the racialization that takes place in Florida is based on the ideas and images of the region, rather than experiences with the native peoples. The idealized images of the Florida region played a major role in the racialization process. Europeans in general were fed a unrealistic, one-sided version of the Florida environment that indirectly ruins the European-Native relationship for many. Believing that Florida was a land full of rich, natural resources and the most hospitable harvesting conditions, settlers fled to the area with the idea of living in a paradise. They had been failed to be told that the environment can be extremely harsh and devastating to those with little to no knowledge or experience in such conditions. This resulted in many failures and much suffering by the ignorant settlers, who quickly point the finger towards the local inhabitants as the lack of prosperity. The European idealization of the Florida region played a role in racialization, but by no means was the only factor. In many journals and letters by European settlers, the native peoples are described as barbarians. They are barbarians because first and foremost their culture is completely different than that of the European culture. The language barrier, religious differences and overall differences in social practices makes the native people "uncivilized" in the eyes of the European settlers. The Europeans attempt to civilize the natives by forcing Christianity and European culture on them. When the natives naturally resist, the Europeans assume they must be impossible to civilize because of their deep savagery. The Europeans keep widening this gap of separating peoples of each culture in order to set up a system of domination. They psychologically dominate the native people by creating this false sense that white settlers are born supreme to the native person. The effects of this have been devastating and can still be seen today. These are the unfortunate and terrible results of two cultures that were perhaps destined to clash.

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