March 21, 2009

Stereotypes trigger hate crimes

Here's my response to "Gooks" Assaulted with BBs, Urine, Melvin Martin's latest essay on racism against Indians:

I'm not sure any research has linked hate crimes to stereotypes, so I'll do it myself. This is what happens when you portray Indians as primitives, savages, or beasts. You create the impression that Indians aren't modern-day people, full-fledged Americans, with equal rights. They become exotic "others"--visitors from another time and place who don't belong here. Then we start thinking of them as strangers who are taking "our" jobs and money and women. This makes them "legitimate" targets for our hate.

From the black, Latino, and Asian insults directed at Martin, we can see this problem isn't limited to Indians. It's a problem for anyone who isn't a WASP like me. According to our founding myth, America belongs to the white male Christians who came over on the Mayflower with Columbus and the Founding Fathers. They're the ones who carved this country out of the wilderness and made it great. Everyone else is a non-American who doesn't look like "us" and doesn't belong here. They should all go back where they came from.

Note:  How stupid is it to call an Indian a "wetback"--i.e., an immigrant who crossed a river to get to America? Pretty damn stupid. The point of this insult is obvious: to categorize Indians as a lesser form of human with lesser rights.

Most people who perpetuate stereotypes don't resort to hate crimes. But they're contributing to a climate where hate crimes become possible. At tribal casinos, Indians are called rich and greedy and cheaters with "special rights." In Carpinteria, white people are saying their "warrior" stereotypes are right and real Indians are wrong. In the Chicago area, someone has damaged a sign that points out the existence of real Indians. On the screen, tanned Anglos play Indians while real Indians are invisible.

To sum it up, yesterday's Indians were savages, drunks, bums, and losers. Today's Indians no longer exist. Therefore, anyone who claims to be an Indian must be a savage, drunk, bum, or loser. He deserves what he gets.

Why do so many people refuse to see Indians the way they are today? Why do some of them respond to stereotypes with hate? I say it's because today's Indians won't sit down and shut up. Because they won't fade away like they were supposed to. Because they keep demanding that we obey the Constitution and uphold the rule of law. Because they keep reminding us of our mistakes and flaws--e.g., our propensity to shoot first and ask questions later. Because they suggest that America belongs to everyone, not just to the white Christians who (think they) founded it.

As I said, I can't prove the linkage between stereotypes and hate crimes. But I'm pretty sure there's a straight-line connection. Ask the people who commit hate crimes what they think of Indians. They'll probably respond with stereotypes. Ask them why these stereotypes triggered their hate. They'll probably say something stupid like "Savages/drunks/bums/losers don't deserve to live." Which means their stereotypical thinking is driving their hateful actions.

For more of Martin's thoughts on the subject, see Racists Lack Self-Esteem.

Below:  Beating up a devilish Indian is like beating up a mugger or a mad dog. It doesn't qualify as a human rights violation or a crime.

"I'll get you if you don't get me first, white eyes! Ha ha ha ha ha!"


Anonymous said...

"Might I Add?" -

South Dakota, and more specifically, Rapid City, is populated mainly by whites who are primarily lower middle-class in socio-economic terms: people who are less educated, less socially enlightened and less accepting of the growing diversity of America as we venture forth into the 21st Century.

When I lived in Rapid City, basically on and off all of my life thus far, I have noted that the vast majority of Indian-haters are whites who not only embody the aforementioned description, but who tend to suffer greatly from what I have come to regard as a severe form of "self-esteem deficiency."

Rapid City is largely peopled with whites who essentially view themselves as "less than" most other human beings. All of the hundreds of racist whites that I have personally confronted in Rapid City over the years have that much in common - their own self-imaging is so low that they, like their "cracker" counterparts in the American South (and their mistreatment of blacks), have no recourse to feel better about themselves but to disparage Indians whenever the opportunity presents itself.

I, as an Indian person who for years in Rapid City felt the daily exposure to racism, can definitely state that there exists a most concretized and extremely tangible link between Indian stereotypes and racist acts that are perpetrated against Indian people.

Since RC's "crackers" never take the time to truly get to know their Indian brothers and sisters, they are forced by virtue of this self-generated social distancing to rely exclusively on the prevailing stereotypical belief system regarding Indians that is brutally operative there: Indians are aggressive, conniving panhandling drunks; Indians are unable to work and most of them are unemployable; Indians are very dirty as a race and they will destroy any properties that are rented to them; all Indians receive at least a couple of hundred dollars per month of "BIA welfare" that they quickly spend on alcohol and motel rooms where they make more "little Indians" like rats in Harlem; Indians are still "wild and untamed" as the hickies and blackeyes that they sport are the best indicators of their collective licentiousness and lack of a true moral base; Indian religion infects the area with black magic and all medicine men are practioners of the black arts, hence, Indians are indeed heathens "in league with Satan"; Indian men are superbly well-endowed, amazingly virile and they will take our wives, daughters, sisters, mothers aunts, nieces and girlfriends via their rap or by rape.

This is just some of the more pervasive anti-Indian mythology, the fundamental architecture of which consists of stereotypes that are specific to Rapid City, that I have personally heard whites express on numerous occasions since I was in the first grade there in the late '50s. So, the nature and the frequency of the hate crimes carried out against Indian people in Rapid City, South Dakota, are driven solely by this perverse, diseased cavalcade of stereotypical ideations that occur nowhere else but in the hearts and minds of my hometown's "crackers."

Lastly, to be misidentified as a Latino or as an Asian by drive-by name-callers is to me simply indicative of the victimizers' profound ignorance and lack of basic social intelligence - a phenomenon on par with the murder by baseball bat of a Chinese-American man by a group of irate Detroit autoworkers at the height of the anti-Japanese sentiment that flourished across the country in the '80s.

Anonymous said...

"It's a problem for anyone who isn't a WASP like me."

Sadly this is true for example Italian-American friend of mine has mentioned several times that he's been called a 'w*p' or had people crack mafia jokes around him. And I've encountered a fair bit of anti-Irish ignorance in my time. Also Melvin thanks for the excellent points about Rapid City, very educational. And yes hate crime and bigotry in general are linked to stereotypes; it's sort of a 'where there's smoke there's fire' thing.

Anonymous said...


I have slightly expanded upon this comment via a stand alone posting (March 23, 2009), i.e., I tweaked a few things to make it better.

- Melvin

Rob said...

True, white people such as the Irish, Italians, and Jews still experience some prejudice. But does it compare to the prejudice experienced by people of color? How many hate crimes have people committed against the Irish, Italians, or Jews recently?

Anonymous said...

"True, white people such as the Irish, Italians, and Jews still experience some prejudice."

Specifically speaking I've had jokes made about my ethnicity, had people ask me stupid questions (ie asking me if I'm in the IRA which really offended me since I hate NI terrorist groups) and I've been insulted for my heritage. I've also known people in the US and in the UK and Ireland who've experienced similiar things, all of which goes to show that yes stereotyping is linked to bigotry and hate crimes. So no, movies like twilight are not just movies, where do you think those anti-Indian bigots picked up their 'ideas'? The fact that disney targets their racist dreck at children is vile.

"But does it compare to the prejudice experienced by people of color?"

White supremacists usually hate various white ethnicities; try finding one positive comment about Jews and other ethnic groups on sickening boards like stormfront for example. And given the history of discrimination and genocide in other countries, not to mention the sheer amount of stereotyping (ie mafia members, drunks or evil money lenders) it's not really hard to compare the two.

"How many hate crimes have people committed against the Irish, Italians, or Jews recently?"

I honestly don't know; but given the sheer amount of stereotyping it's a safe guess that bigotry against those ethnicities and other races is still alive and thriving.