First use of 'racism' came from founder of Carlisle boarding school

Indian children are buried at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Photo from RST DCI Sicangu Youth Council / Facebook

The first cited use of "racism" as a concept came from an unlikely but not surprising source.

According to writer Greg Howard, Army general Richard Henry Pratt was the first person to use "racism" back in 1902. Pratt used the term to criticize how the federal government treated Indian nations and Indian people in the late 1800s.

“Segregating any class or race of people apart from the rest of the people kills the progress of the segregated people or makes their growth very slow,” Pratt said at the Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian, Howard writes in The New York Times Magazine. “Association of races and classes is necessary to destroy racism and classism.”

So instead of "segregating" Indian nations and their citizens, Pratt's solution was to assimilate them. By 1902, he was already doing that as the founder and superintendent of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.

"A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres," Pratt said in a speech in 1892. "In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man."

From 1978 through 1918, thousands of Indian students were subjected to Pratt's military-inspired system of beliefs, which often involved beatings and abuse. At least 200 died at Carlisle and were never returned to their tribal communities.

Read More on the Story:
Greg Howard: The Easiest Way to Get Rid of Racism? Just Redefine It. (The New York Times Magazine 8/21)

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