September 08, 2006

Different eras, same results

Help black women find self-esteemIn the 1940s, Dr. Kenneth Clark performed an experiment to quantify the degree of black self-esteem using black and white dolls. He conclusively showed that most black kids felt white dolls were better than black, preferring to play with the white dolls. Since, like the "inferior black dolls," they too were black, they felt they were "bad." Clark concluded that "prejudice, discrimination and segregation" caused black children to develop a sense of inferiority and self-hatred.

More recently, 17-year-old Kiri Davis of Harlem wanted to prove that we have liberated ourselves from racism's demons of self-hate and low self-esteem.

So Davis--a student at Manhattan's Urban Academy who participates in the Reel Works Teen Filmmaking program, a free after-school program supported by HBO--directed and produced an 8-minute documentary, "A Girl Like Me." In it, Davis showed 21 girls identical dolls, distinguished only by their color: black and white. Fifteen girls, all 5 years old, thought black dolls were "bad" while white dolls were "nice." The little girls identified with the "bad" black dolls.
Comment:  These experiments show how racism and stereotyping affect women and minorities, including Indians.

8 comments:

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Unless someone tries that tactic using Caucasian dolls and Native dolls, and then achieves similar results, any implied cross-connections here are meaningless and, at the least, supernumerary. True, motion picture 'Westerns' depicted and still depict Natives as 'bad' and the villains, but such results had not the same kind of effect, at least as far as personal experience goes.
My Kiowa parents moved to Los Angeles when I was a month old. Thus, I grew up in wartime (1941-1946) 'melting-pot' L.A. and the business of being a Native never came up in the conversations. I knew my parents spoke a language that I didn't know, but I never connected it with what bits of Native languages were used in movies, once I became old enough to go see films and understand the stories. When I was 3 and 1/2, a paternal aunt died in Oklahoma and my folks brought my California-born sister and I back for the funeral. I remember it vividly, because the trains were filled with soldiers and we had seats and a berth because we were a family. And I met my maternal grandfamily, and especially my widowed maternal grandmother, Magdalene Paddlety. She had braids, was dressed in a plain cut dress with a tiny polka-dot matrix, a red shawl sash wrapped around her waist, beaded earrings, and tall cotton stockings with moccasins. I boggled because she looked like she just had stepped out of a movie, and I said, "Why, Grandma, you look just like an Indian!"
And she laughed, and said, "I am an Indian, and so are you!"
And I replied, "No, I'm not. I wish I was, but I'm not."
She glared at my mom, and took me aside to spend the whole day explaining what a Kiowa was and what it meant to be a Kiowa, and finally that as a Kiowa, those things came to me and were mine. It was the proudest I ever had felt about myself to that time and I even wrote one of my Native stories, 'The Owls Sang At Day's End,' based on that day in 1944.
Thereafter, when Natives were in movies or depicted in movies, I loved it and went to see them all. We were not evil, just different, with different goals and needs, and we fought for those and our land with a vengeance. History showed that we lost, and that became the real source of our sadness and sorrow, possibly what drives both the simple and the gifted into drink and depression. For what we lost was an entire universe of life and lifestyle, culture and creativity, history and mythos, a whole spectrum of human existence that existed simultaneously, from naked cave dwellers to advanced people of knowledge who walked cities of polished stone and wore woven linen robes and bathed thrice a day. That is what we mourn, for we have not forgotten. It is a far greater defeat than simple stereotyping or name-calling or even discrimination could bring. That is our reality, and we live with it every day that there still are Native people left. We lost the land, from which we had sprung.
In the Kiowa Complex at Carnegie, OK, there are a set of ten paintings depicting the mythical history of the Khoy (literally, 'the people,' our name for ourselves; Kiowa is Arapahoan) and how it merges with real history until the final painting, which shows the Plains all settled and fenced and with highways and fences and power lines and growing crops and jets in the sky. An inset in the left sky shows a small image of the Tohn-Kohn-Ga, Kiowa Black Leggins warriors dancing in costume at a ceremonial. It drifts like a cloud and looks far away in time. And it means that the land is still here, and The People are still here, but we forever will be held apart...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Anonymous said...

I, too, found this item to be entirely unrelated to Native issues (other than the accompanying illustration, which was not related to the article)

Rob said...

I said how this posting applies to Indians in my comment.

I must've written several hundred times on my website, in my newsletter, and in this blog about how stereotypes harm Indians. In particular, I've quoted several Indians who said they were embarrassed or ashamed of their heritage as children.

I've also quoted several psychologists and educators, including Indian psychologists and educators, who have noted the connection between stereotypes and poor self-image. For instance:

I point to the American Indian Mental Health Association of Minnesota's 1992 position statement supporting the total elimination of Indian mascots and logos from schools. "As a group of mental health providers, we are in agreement that using images of American Indians as mascots, symbols, caricatures, and namesakes for non-Indian sports teams, businesses, and other organizations is damaging to the self-identity, self-concept, and self-esteem of our people. We should like to join with others who are taking a strong stand against this practice."

--Dr. Cornel Pewewardy (Comanche/Kiowa), "Why Educators Can't Ignore Indian Mascots"

In short, I've explained connections such as the above many times. Read about some of them in The Harm of Stereotypes: Facts and Evidence. Or take my word for it: The case for a connection is rock-solid.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
The only case that I, as a Kiowa Native, know to be rock solid is that Native people and their children more often than not are ashamed of the life that they are forced to live now and not by their historical heritages, skewed or otherwise mythologized and bastardized. The one way to improve the self-images of Native people is for them to be allowed an education, to be allowed to find job training and jobs, to be allowed to live in any area where they wish to live. Self-image mostly is determined by realities and not much at all by simple symbols. Attacking and removing symbols is energy misguided that instead should be used to attack some very visible and evident realities.
Over the past six weeks, I accompanied my cousin Milton (who sometimes is my co-writer) as he sought roughneck work in one of the currently burgeoning number of active oil-drilling rigs here in western Oklahoma. To a location, he was told 'we're all hired out,' or 'we're having to let people go,' 'we got nothing this week,' even if those particular companies only hours before had listed openings that very day with the Oklahoma Employment Commission. Being the observing writer that I am, I noted quite carefully that there was not a brown or black face anywhere among each and every crew, period. He was getting desperate, wondering if his training and resume weren't adequate enough. I simply told him what I had seen and then he understood. We reported it to the State of Oklahoma Office of Job Opportunity, but we both know nothing will be done. BUT --
A sudden scandal in the Grady County Sheriff's department opened up four or five positions and, since my cousin had put in a resume there last February, he was the first to get a call. In a single day, he was interviewed, checked over, and then processed in to run the perpetrator booking office, with the additional opportunity to become a deputy after 90 days. He came to the BatesMotel as proud as I've seen him recently, even gloating that he likely would be booking oil rig people for various offenses in times to come, many of them he would recognize and who then would recognize him.
Where is the symbol or mascot or stereotype that determined my cousin's self-image? Instead, he was depressed and discouraged for being unable to get work, later realizing that it was solely because he was not white.
de Facto discrimination uses no symbols or even laws to enforce its existence, requiring only that other members of 'the dominant society' do little or nothing at all about it.
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

"Self-image mostly is determined by realities and not much at all by simple symbols."

As I said, I've posted hundreds of statements and arguments disputing this claim. I refer you to all these postings. When Native leaders like Vine Deloria Jr. and Wilma Mankiller say stereotyping is among the worst problems facing Indians, I believe them.

I don't think people should attack stereotypical symbols to the exclusion of attacking "real" problems. I think people can attack both in a program of social change. For instance, when you point out that a mascot is stereotypical, you often end up discussing the history of a tribe and how it got to its present situation.

As for me, I'm a writer type far removed from the harsh realities of life on the rez. What I'm doing here is the best way I can contribute to solving the set of interrelated problems. If my skills lay in opening health clinics or starting businesses rather than analyzing stereotypes, I'd do that instead.

"Where is the symbol or mascot or stereotype that determined my cousin's self-image?"

Seeing oil-drilling crews or sheriff's departments that are predominantly white is what perpetuates discriminatory hiring practices. People aren't born racists; they don't necessarily mean to exclude minorities. They just believe that minorities don't want these jobs or have the "tools" to accomplish them.

So the stereotype that only white people are smart or tough enough to take these jobs contributes to who gets hired. If people didn't think of Indians as savages, drunks, or a "vanishing breed," they'd get hired in much greater numbers. In fact, they'd probably get hired at the same rate as everyone else.

If you don't think challenging stereotypes is valuable, you're sure wasting a lot of time commenting on this blog. What's up with that? And how do you explain being a fiction writer rather than, say, a doctor or lawyer? Tell me how a sci-fi story starring an Indian helps someone overcome an addiction or get a job.

Your argument kind of dismisses the whole point of telling stories: in books, movies, comics, etc. How many of these really contribute to anyone's physical or mental well-being? Should we eliminate the arts and spend all our resources on such bottom-line concerns as housing, jobs, and health care? Why not, if that's all that matters?

Rob said...

Incidentally, a note to "anonymous." Let's recap:

Black children feel bad about black dolls. Native children feel bad about Native stereotypes. The pictured doll represents an Indian chief as a chimpanzee.

Gosh, I can't imagine what the connection is there. Nope, that's a real puzzler, all right. Is there a rocket scientist in the house who could explain the point to us?

How about the Ronald McDonald pin in the next day's posting? Was that any clearer to you? Or were you equally mystified about how that might affect a child's self-esteem?

Not a Sioux said...

The Chimp Chief (as opposed to Chimp in Chief?) pic and the Ronald McDonald? The meaning is quite clear with those. However, these illustrations are not the same as the article, which is really free of Native content.

I just disagree with the editorial decision to include Native-free items in a Native News and culture blog. That's just my comment, and I am not presuming to run your blog for you. I disagree rarely on this, in fact, and can only recall maybe one other time that I found a non-Native item here.

In response to the comment "Should we eliminate the arts and spend all our resources on such bottom-line concerns as housing, jobs, and health care? Why not, if that's all that matters?", I actually agree when it comes to government funding. The arts will thrive among the people without having a need for official government art.

Rob said...

My editorial policy is to occasionally post items of multicultural relevance--i.e., items that refer to the clash of cultures or minorities vs. the majority--even if they don't explicitly mention Natives. My posting titled "Is America a Christian or a secular nation?" is a good example of that.

Russ and I were talking about the arts in general, not government funding of the arts. When he said "Attacking and removing symbols is energy misguided," he implied my efforts on this website and blog are misguided. Which is ironic considering he works primarily as a writer, I believe--same as me.

So, "anonymous," you're now "not a sioux"? You can input a proper name without having to register with Blogger, you know. Have you tried doing that?