This is a brief overview of the idea of Paper Genocide and is mostly meant to be a crash course for folk who don’t know about this stuff. If you want to learn more, there’s an official .org site, Paper Genocide, and I was first introduced to the topic by The Dollop. Also, this is a topic that’s going to talk about a lot of racism and power structure stuff, so it might be heavy, so feel free to bail out.
Race as we know it is a social construct, and lacks any of the D&D class style bullshit that we like to imagine it has, but just like any other social construct, as long as we keep paying respect to it we’re going to have consequences based on race. As it so happens, during the 1940s, in the United States of America, people were putting ‘race’ fields on birth certificates, because there were laws that respected what race you were, or what race ignorant bumblechuckles from outhouse country thought you were. Super racist? of course it was – this was during the ‘one drop of blood’ phase of Blackness, after all. Can’t be having any black people vote, or getting public services or whatnot. Also, children of interracial relationships were regarded as hyper-inclined towards violence and crime, a sort of ‘super predator’ if you will.
This period was full of super messed up beats, including a sort of blackness witch-hunt, a period where whole surnames were considered ‘tainted by blackness’ so if you were a Collins or a Knuckles, you were black, even if you just came off the boat from London. The history of this time was absolutely rife with anti-blackness, but showing that there’s no bad idea in the implementation of institutional racism that doesn’t get worse when we put the effort in, during this time, Native American populations were being steadily reclassified as Black.
More specifically, the one drop of blood rule was being applied to Native Americans – if they had, at any point, a black person in their heritage, they were not being labelled as “Red,” but as “Coloured.” If they were Coloured, that was it – so were their children, after all, and forever.
So what’s the big deal now, right? After all, we just have some asshole clerks in Virginia and other states fucking up birth records held by white people that don’t really need to apply to anyone today, right?
The thing is, this system means that the records tracking where Native American ancestry flows can only go back a few generations, and then it stops.And we’re expecting Native American populations to prove things to the standards of the US government, so the only useful proof is the US Government’s records. There’s this mighty smear of black ink over red blood, and it means that there’s generations of Native American people who cannot prove, to the government’s satisfaction, that they are who they know they are.
Because some racist asshole in a clerking department, back in the 1920s, was absolutely sure of his data analysis and that his ideas about what was right about race was right. That a human could create a set of algorithmic rules that would perfectly represent reality, and there was no way anything he was doing could be bad, because he was following the rules.
Algorithms have human consequences, and in this case, we have entire cultures cut off from their rights and their histories, because we insisted we Feed Them Through The Algorithm. An algorithm written by a racist shithead, sure – but that’s the thing. We’re all bringing our biases to these systems. And the harms we’re inflicting on colonised people are still going on now – the harms of yesterday didn’t disappear.