August 13, 2008

Rob the presumptuous white man?

A followup to the May I Be Offended on Your Behalf? thread on Racialicious--specifically, to my Wrong to Point Out Stereotypes? posting:waxghost wrote:

Rob Schmidt, way back at #21, I have to disagree with you. It offends ME that you think you have to explain to a Native American person why a stereotype of Native Americans is offensive. The friend I mentioned above claims not to find “redskin” and “chief” sports mascots offensive, but if you conversed with him for a lot longer (as I have), you would discover that it isn’t that he thinks they aren’t offensive at all but that he’s decided that there are other things that are far more offensive that he prefers to get upset over and try to change. And that’s a perfectly reasonable reaction to the wealth of stereotypes that any POC faces, so why would you feel entitled to lecture him (or anyone who was effected by a particular stereotype) on it? Why would you assume that he doesn’t recognize or understand it? I think that’s just the kind of presumption that Tami was talking about.
My response:

Waxghost, I spend most of my time explaining Native stereotypes to non-Natives, not to Natives. Natives pretty much understand their own stereotype issues. Obviously.

The two exceptions I listed--The American statue and Redskin magazine--were just that, exceptions. I believe it was Carmen who brought the magazine to my attention, and a Native correspondent who mentioned that I hadn't addressed the statue yet. So it's not as if I sought these "opportunities" to lecture Indians about their own stereotypes.

I thought I explained the difference between saying something is wrong and saying it's offensive. I do presume to say when a depiction factually misrepresents Indian history or culture. I try not to presume to tell people whether they should be offended by it. Reread my previous comment to refresh your understanding of the difference between "wrong" and "offensive."

Indians dismiss stereotypes?

I know many Indians dismiss the importance of dealing with racism and stereotyping. So do many non-Indians. I think we've all heard the rejoinders before. "Why do you bother with these things? Stop being politically correct. Quit living in the past. Don't you have anything better to do? They're just words. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."

On my Harm of Native Stereotyping page, I've quoted some leading Indians who discuss the critical nature of the subject. People such as Vine Deloria Jr., Wilma Mankiller, Chris Eyre, Cornel Pewewardy, and Rennard Strickland. I find their arguments persuasive.

For instance:Children are being harmed by these mascots, and not just the Native American children. Once the stereotype is established in a student's mind, it makes it very difficult for children of any race to learn about present day Native Americans. For instance, I have been asked by school children if I still live in a TiPi, and I have been told by a young school aged child that I can't possible be an Indian, because Indians were all killed a long time ago, and that's why the school mascot is an "Indian"—so Indians can be remembered.

Mike Wicks, "MASCOTS--Racism in Schools by State"
"Don't you have more important things to worry about?" This statement often is posed by non-Native students at UND to Native students taking part in Fighting Sioux logo discussions.

As a Native educator of 30 years, I can say I have nothing more important to worry about.

I have committed my life to dealing with harmful and negative stereotypes and educating students on my reservation of their culture, traditions, ceremonies and spirituality. As Native people, we experience layer upon layer of stereotypes and images that dehumanize. Eurocentric curriculum and children's literature reinforce stereotypes of the "vanishing Indian," "romantic Indian," "militant Indian" or "drunken Indian." I have seen firsthand how these images, along with poverty or low socioeconomic status, generational trauma and other issues of reservation life contribute to low self-esteem in Native students.

Denise K. Lajimodiere, "VIEWPOINT: Racism at Protest Shames UND," Grand Forks Herald, 4/12/06
The question of mascots is significant for Native Americans. It transcends sports and entertainment. It influences law. It dominates resource management. It profoundly impacts every aspect of contemporary American Indian policy and shapes both the general cultural view of the Indian as well as Indian self-image. No groups other than the Indian face the legal situation in which their land, as well as their economic, political and cultural fate, is so completely in the hands of others. That is so because of the way in which substantial tribal resources are held "in trust," with the management and regulation, if not always operation, resting with the federal government as "trustee." The result is that the non-Indian in the U.S. Congress and in the executive branch control the fate of Indian peoples and their resources when they legislate and administer practices and policies.

The Indian image is, therefore, an especially crucial and controlling one because it is that image (often reflected in mascots like the Redman) which looms large as non-Indians decide the fate of Indian people. If the non-Indian decision makers continue to view native people as dinosaurs, as redskins or warriors, as happy hunter on the way to extinction, the policy will be different from what it would be if the decision-makers saw beyond the mascot and the stereotype.

Rennard Strickland, "Changing Mascots Doesn't Signal Failure, Lack of Honor," Muskogee Phoenix, 9/14/06
Who knows best?

If your friend disagrees with these Natives, that's his right. But let's not pretend that I'm making up these claims out of thin air. What I'm doing is repeating what some of the leading Native authorities (tribal leaders, educators, and authors) have said on the subject. They're the experts, not me.

If your friend doesn't like this, he can take it up with them. I'd enjoy hearing him explain how he's thought more deeply about racism and stereotyping than Deloria, Mankiller, and the others. Maybe he can convince them (and me) that these factors have nothing to do with Indians' misfortune. But I doubt it.

Below:  A typical "redskin."


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Natives do not dismiss 'stereotypes' as readily as others, BECAUSE -- there are so many other issues that far are more important. The reduced funding from the US government that once was 'guaranteed' by treaties. The fact that thousands of Natives die each year from malnutrition or disease or depression or lack of prenatal care. The fact that the US government STOLE over $300 billions from their Federally established American Indian Trust and now will repay that theft at $.01 on the dollar. It's the same way they 'paid' for the whole US of A. Sort of means that 'stereotypes' matter little at all, if they ever did, and all that is happening is attack on a symptom and not the affliction...
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

Apparently you didn't understand that Strickland's argument applies directly to the issues you raised. Here, read it again: "The Indian image is, therefore, an especially crucial and controlling one because it is that image (often reflected in mascots like the Redman) which looms large as non-Indians decide the fate of Indian people."

In other words, the experts I cited already addressed the claim that Natives have more important things to do than worry about stereotypes. Clearly you have nothing to say other than "Writerfella disagrees," which is why you regurgitated Waxghost's argument that stereotypes don't matter.

But don't let that stop you. When you have some fresh insight to offer, feel free to offer it. We're waiting with bated breath.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Non-Natives have been deciding the fate of Native peoples for over 500 years and thus it has become both an American and a EuroMan tradition. Such a fact will not come to an end even after another 500 years. And the BIA that Bosses Indians Around also still will exist. What do mascots have to do with the ongoing extermination of 110 millions of Natives, the continuing theft of two world continents, and the perpetuation of a government agency originally chartered to exist only 25 years?
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

What do mascots have to do with the other problems you listed? Again, "The Indian image is, therefore, an especially crucial and controlling one because it is that image (often reflected in mascots like the Redman) which looms large as non-Indians decide the fate of Indian people."