March 01, 2006

language equals race?

It was only yesterday that we were reading James Clifford's account of a land-claims trial in the 1980's in which the landrights of an Indian group calling themselves the Mashpee was questioned on the basis of them not being able to provide proof of their existence as a tribe. In the end the case fell apart because their continuing existence as a biologically self-perpetuating group with a language and "culture" of its own could not be proven. Clifford's point obviously was to point to the problematic understanding employed in the trial of culture as some kind of tangible essence that "real", authentic groups possess. Thus, the question became wether the MAshpee could prove their possession of some kind of Mashpeeness..

Well, apparently the US legal system is still in dire straits in dealing with questions of culture, race and language. Today, the New York Times reports that a federal court case has been filed against Arizona Spanish and Indian-language DUI court programs. The plaintiff, Andrew P. Thomas, Maricopa County attorney, claims that such language-based treatment intended to aid non-English speaking people constitutes racial segregation. Whether or not people in the Spanish-language and Indian courts actually receive smaller sentences is of course a question of its own, but the equation of language and race Thomas founds is attack on makes me cringe.

A Test of Ethnic Courts for Drunken Drivers


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