Twelve Geographic Concepts That Shouldn’t Apply to the United States (But Do)

When I taught World Regional Geography, I lectured about concepts relating to politics, environmental issues, genocide, and human rights issues, particularly in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia.  I never dreamed that some of these terms would apply or re-apply themselves to the United States of America (USA) in the early twenty-first century.  But then we experienced a regime change. So, instead of feeling helpless, I made a list of a dozen terms that I believe unfortunately for almost everyone, may now apply to the USA.  I’ve included their historical use in my classes as well as their current application in these “united states”, which seem, to me, are less united than ever.

  1. “Kleptocracy” – a government whose main goal is to enrich themselves at the expense of its citizens. Taught in lectures about corrupt governmental policies in developing countries where public monies disappeared or were siphoned into projects that benefited government administrators and contractors. Now applicable to describe the current administration’s privileged treatment of donors and multinational corporations.  May also apply to the current cabinet, political donors, multinational corporations, especially those tied to oil, and many members of United States (US) Congress.[i]
  1. “Enemy of the People” – a phrase used by Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong in reference to citizens and groups who opposed their regimes. Being deemed an enemy of the people usually resulted in death. Taught in lectures about genocides and politicides of the 20th century, particularly in connection to Stalin (est. 7,000,000 to 20,000,000+ deaths), and Mao (est. 35,000,000+ deaths).  A term the current president actually used recently to describe members of the US press.[ii]
  1. “Rampant Anti-Semitism” – when violent rhetoric or action is specifically focused against persons of Jewish faith or heritage. Taught in lectures about genocides of the 20th century, particularly the Nazi Holocaust.  Currently expressed as bomb threats, graveyard desecrations, and individual acts of discrimination against Jewish persons.[iii]
  1. “Illegals” – when a group of people or individual person is defined as being illegal. Taught when outlining the ten stages of genocide, as designation as a separate and offensive group is often one of the first steps (classification) toward genocide. A term recently applied by members of the conservative press and the current presidential administration to describe immigrants from Latin American countries. [iv]
  1. “Mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples” – when people who are native to a landscape are disadvantaged, displaced, persecuted or otherwise mistreated by the colonizing population. Often tied to promotion of the interests of national and multinational corporations bent on resource extraction.  Taught in lectures about the mistreatment and forcible removal of indigenous peoples in Latin America, Sub Saharan Africa, Australia, and other areas of the world, and to remind students that the US has been guilty of offenses of this nature since the first colonization of North America.  Currently re-applies to the US as steps taken to forcibly remove the Standing Rock Native Sioux in North Dakota from tribal lands in direct violation of a previous treaty, their land rights.  Also included desecration of sacred sites by persons affiliated with the Dakota Access pipeline.[v]
  1. “Male Permission Required” – when women are required to obtain permission from a husband to travel, to drive, or to obtain medical treatment. Taught in lectures about restrictions to women in some countries of North Africa and Southwest Asia.  Current legislation has been proposed in Oklahoma to require women to have male permission before obtaining an abortion. Legislation has also been proposed to decrease the ability of women to access birth control and health services by defunding Planned Parenthood and dismantling the Affordable Care Act.[vi]
  1. “Environmental Poisoning” – when a corporation or government exposes citizens to pollution and contamination of water, air, or land which results in harm or death to those persons. Used in lectures about the Bhopal explosion in India in 1984, instances where chemicals are dumped into water sources by multinational corporations in foreign countries, and instances where ground, water, or air is contaminated by the byproducts of industry or warfare worldwide. Currently applies to the citizens (especially the children) of Flint, Michigan, and to US citizens too poor to move away from polluted areas.  May soon apply to most of the USA if the Environmental Protection Agency is dismantled.[vii]
  1. “Election Tampering by a Foreign Power” – when a foreign government purposefully intervenes in the elections of another nation with the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election to favor their own agenda or policies. Taught in lectures about coups by foreign powers, including the US, in Latin American and African countries.  May currently apply to the recent presidential US election, which evidence suggests was influenced by cyberwarfare at the hand of Russian intelligence, and may also be directly tied to persons involved in rise to power of the current administration. We may never know the extent of this tampering as the current administration and republican controlled congress resists investigation of this issue. [viii]
  1. “Lack of Support for Quality Inclusive Education” – when a nation fails to make education for its citizens a priority, usually through adverse rhetoric, lack of funding, or impeding access to educational resources for targeted groups, often minorities and women.  Taught in lectures describing barriers to the United Nations Millennial goal to promote education, especially of women and girls, throughout the developing world. Now applies to the current administration’s efforts to promote Christian education in public schools, to sanction education vouchers, to overturn protective legislation which formerly protected minority, disabled and transgendered students, and to possibly dismantle the entire Department of Education.[ix]
  1. “Violence Against Peaceful Protestors” – When a government uses armed police or armed military forces to quell peaceful protest through violence and intimidation. Taught in lectures about US protests in the 1960s, and protests in Latin America, particularly Cochabamba, Bolivia, where armed governmentally supported forces use violence against unarmed peaceful protestors.  Currently applies to proposed US legislation which claims that some protestors are “paid” or “violent” and is now aimed at increasing the ability of government and police forces to use violence and force against unarmed protestors, and then to arrest protestors and seize their assets.  One current example of force against peaceful protestors includes violence in North Dakota against unarmed protestors who oppose the oil pipeline.  There are also new reports, nearly daily, of excessive use of force via pepper spray, plastic bullets, or other methods of violence by forces sent to ensure peaceful demonstrations.[x]
  1. “Media Restriction” – when a government opposes or bans some media outlets while supporting those which are sympathetic to their views. Taught in lectures describing how media restriction and manipulation played a vital role in the success of the Nazi regime in perpetrating the Holocaust.  Currently applies to the current administration’s restriction of certain press agencies from official governmental briefings, while choosing to include representatives from conservative news agencies.[xi]
  1. “Anti-intellectualism” (especially with regard to science) – when a person or group has contempt for learning, intellectual inquiry, and scientific inquiry. Knowledge obtained through religious sources is often cited as superior to intellectual inquiry.  Religious law and state law are often similar or identical. Taught in lectures about genocides in the 20th century, particularly in Cambodia, where teachers, intellectuals and artists were among the first killed to make room for a new order, and the rise of fundamentalism in Iran in the 1970s. Describes the current administration as evidenced by choice of

Secretary of Education, a forced blackout of communication for governmental science groups, and open spoken disdain for intellectuals and scientists.[xii]

Well, there you have my dirty dozen.  I hope these terms will soon cease to apply to any government or any group of people in the world.  I would like nothing better than for these concepts to become mere historical descriptions rather than part of any person’s daily reality.

Hey, a woman can dream…right?

Heidi K. LaMoreaux, Professor Emerita, Sonoma State University













Heidi LaMoreaux has published in a wide variety of genres including short play, creative non-fiction, poetry and scientific journals.  She has a Ph.D. in Physical Geography and is interested in overlaps of academic disciplines, particular science, writing, and art. Heidi has taught courses at The University of Georgia, in The Hutchins School of Liberal Studies at Sonoma State University and at Santa Rosa Junior College.  She is now a Professor Emerita.  For more information see


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s