November 29, 2008

Stupid stereotypes at Plimouth

Native Americans still fighting ignorance at PlimothPaula Peters, of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, said one of the first things she learned when she started working at Plimoth in Massachusetts 30 years ago was: "People will say things that will hurt you."

A parent might reprimand their children by saying, "If you don't behave I am going to leave you with this Indian squaw and she will cook you for dinner," Peters said.

Officials who run the site say they have tried to educate visitors by putting up signs asking them to avoid stereotypes and showing a short film at the beginning of the tour explaining what really happened when the Pilgrims first arrived in Plymouth.

Still, "People take a lot of liberties with Native people," Peters said. Some have even told her: "I thought we killed all of you."

Linda Coombs has heard that too. She has been an educator and interpreter at Plimoth since the 1970s. She says sometimes the ignorance can be fairly benign, such as when a visitor looks at Native food and asks, "You're not going to eat that are you?"

But at other times, the misconceptions can be offensive. An adult chaperone recently asked a Cherokee, Tim Turner, "Where do you get your alcohol?"
Comment:  Indians as cannibals, dead people, savages, and drunks...nice.

This story is rather revealing. Consider the situation. Non-Indians are primed to learn about Indians. They're at a site with authentic Indian displays. They're standing in front of and talking to real Indians. Yet they utter stupid stereotypes as if they're reading from old textbooks or watching old movies. As if they literally can't process the facts in front of their face.

As we've noted before, many whites are prejudiced and education is difficult. Sadly, this article only reinforces these positions.

At least it dovetails nicely with the previous article on Plimouth Plantation. There Coombs asked a young girl to remove her stereotypical Indian costume. Now we see more of the reason why. Non-Indians are besotted with, brainwashed by, their stupid stereotypes. If we don't challenge them vigorously, we'll never overcome them. They'll go on forever with deleterious effects.

For more on the subject of Thanksgiving, see Ten Little Pilgrims and Indians.

Below:  "Where's your horse and teepee? Have you scalped anyone? Do you own a casino?"

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