by Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said
It’s just too easy to move from being aware to being offensively presumptuous. And, I have to say, as someone who runs in liberal circles, progressives do offensively presumptuous like no one else. There has been a rash of the problem of late. In discussions of sexism vs. racism, the Michelle Obama lynching illustration on Daily Kos and the scandalous New Yorker cover, a lot of progressives have been eager to explain to black people why they should or should not be offended about a thing. My most jaw-clinching encounters have been with white liberals who have done anti-racist work or academic work on a group of non-white people. (African studies, Asian studies, Native American studies, etc.) Sometimes I want to shake these folks–allies who generally mean well–and explain that studying a people, visiting message boards or really admiring a cultural group, isn’t the same as being a member of that group.
I guess what we all want is that allies will be sensitive and intolerant of race bias, but that they will keep their privilege in check and remember that the voices of the marginalized should be the loudest ones. The victims of an “ism” must take the lead.
As a white liberal male, I spend most of my time working on Native American issues with Native American people. Going by the number of words written or the number of minutes spent, I'm probably one of the leading analysts of Native stereotypes in the country. I don't have any academic credentials to justify this position, but I think Native people know of and accept my work.
I try not to tell Natives how to think or feel. I try not to tell them when they should be upset or offended. But I see calling a stereotype a stereotype as a different issue.
A stereotype is an inaccurate description or depiction of a minority that doesn't match the reality. For instance, all American Indians = Plains chiefs (http://www.bluecorncomics.com/chief.htm). If you look at the numbers, this simply isn't true. Most Indians aren't Plains chiefs, so portraying them as such is wrong. Objectively speaking, it's a stereotype and I can prove it.
I won't tell Indians they should be offended by a stereotype. I will tell them it's wrong. If they don't see it, I'll point them to the facts and evidence on the harm of stereotyping. Let them read what their fellow Natives have to say on the subject.
I don't necessarily hold off when the person doing the stereotyping is Native, either. For instance, The American statue sculpted by a Native artist, or Redskin magazine published by a Native staff. Sorry, but most Indians aren't half-naked savages, so the statue is stereotypical. No Indian has red skin, so the magazine's title is stereotypical.
Many Indians do find "redskin" offensive; some don't. I'll be happy to point these things out: that "redskin" wrongly stereotypes Indians as red-skinned savages, and that many Indians find "redskin" offensive. If anyone disagrees, they're free to dispute the facts. Since I've examined the evidence in detail, I stand behind my claims.
Does this make me a typical bastion of white privilege and arrogance? Maybe, but I don't think so. I don't see many Indians doing what I'm doing, and I don't see many telling me I'm wrong. If they did tell me I was wrong, I'd listen, but that isn't what they're saying.
In fact, most of them are glad to see what I've written. Here's an outsider, they think, who "gets" what they've been telling themselves. Here's some validation that they aren't just "professional victims" who form a self-centered "grievance industry." That has to be gratifying to them, and it is.
As I always say, stereotypes aren't just "politically incorrect," they're historically and factually incorrect. They're incorrect, period. And I have the evidence to prove it.
Below: Does it really take an Indian to know Indians? Are these images stereotypical or aren't they?