February 13, 2011

The last acceptable racism

A good posting suggests how our society uses stereotypes to keep Indians in their place:

The Last Acceptable Racism:  Native Americans

By David KimelbergTwo disturbing developments recently hit my radar. The first was an announcement from Washington's NFL team that it's planning to change its name and logo. Okay, that seems innocuous enough. Washington Politicos? Nope. The new name is the Washington Jews. The re-worked logo is equally alarming: it consists of a profile of what appears to be a stereotyped Jewish person, complete with the physical features exploited by Sasha Baron Cohen in his film Borat.

The second was the result of a New Yorker cartoon caption contest. Normally a source of great wit and cleverness, this one was just plain distasteful: the cartoon pictured an SS guard taking cover behind a desk against a barrage of "throwing stars" clearly in the shape of the Star of David. While avoiding the onslaught of Jewish-themed steel weapons hitting the desk and everything else around him, he's speaking to someone on the phone. In the New Yorker's caption contests, readers are asked to submit witty captions to accompany the cartoon, with winners announced in a subsequent issue. So, what was the winning caption? Get ready, here's the punchline: "Quick, give them the banks." Not only is the caption just not funny, its racist angle is obvious. Has the liberal and renowned New Yorker gone off the deep end?

Shocked by this news? Of course you are. And, of course, they're not true. If they were, both organizations would be dealing with a deluge of warranted criticism and outrage from all corners. What is truly shocking is that Native Americans are subject to analogous assaults and no one seems to care.

Of course, Washington's NFL team is actually the Washington Redskins. The term "redskins" is highly offensive to Native Americans and is equivalent to the "n-word" for African Americans. Not only is the team's name insulting, its logo is also a slap in the face for Natives. It attempts to depict a profile of an "Indian," complete with braids, feathers and a stoic gaze. It's pure stereotyping and nothing more. It perpetuates a caricature of Native people, and is another societal movement to turn Native Americans into a historical footnote, frozen in time as a cowboy western prop, and not allow recognition of us for who we really are. In the category of "irony of all ironies," the Redskins' owner, Dan Snyder, recently sued a Washington news outlet for including a picture of him with devil horns. His complaint? That, as a Jew, the news outlet depicted him in a blatantly anti-Semitic way, which caused him great harm. Really? Can you not see the clear racist parallels with your own NFL franchise, Mr. Snyder?

The New Yorker obviously doesn't get it either. Instead of my theoretical SS guard, a recent New Yorker cartoon caption contest actually depicted a cowboy seeking refuge behind a desk peppered with arrows. The scene includes him on the phone, behind the desk in an office overlooking a cityscape. The New Yorker, the de facto leader of liberal literary intellectualism, decided that the winning caption should be: "Quick, give them a casino." Instead of highbrow wit, the New Yorker decided that lowbrow overt racism should carry the cartoon caption day. The fact that only a couple commentators took issue with this (all Native Americans) speaks volumes. The message is that racism against Native Americans is acceptable and universally embraced under the guise of alleged humor.

Comment:  Critics have compared the Washington Redskins to the Washington Honkies, Coonskins, Chinks, Wetbacks, et al. many times. People haven't gotten the message yet.

The cartoon comparison is a fresh one, and many people might not think of it. That makes it worth posting.

Kimelberg also makes the intent behind these images clear:This type of verbal and pictorial violence has only one goal in mind: to dehumanize the subject group so they're viewed as a subclass not worthy of respect or acknowledgment as a distinct people.Yes, that's it, all right. By keeping Indians in their place, we don't have to acknowledge the moral crimes of our white Christian ancestors. We can go on thinking we deserve our wealth and power because we earned them. Truly acknowledging what we did to the Indians would mean overturning centuries of white privilege, the foundation of our society. It would mean putting sovereign Indian nations and their treaty rights at the center of political debates, which would decimate the present liberal/conservative playing field.

Since the white Christian powers-that-be aren't going to give up their power, they encourage or allow the stereotyping of Indians. Portraying them as primitive people of the past is America's way of keeping them out of current affairs. If we treat them as a joke, we don't have to take them seriously.

For more on the subject, see:

Stereotypes drive racism in South Dakota
Stereotypes as mental maps
Indians shouldn't act uppity?
"Broken windows" theory of racism
Stereotypical thinking causes racist results

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the idea of a Jew taking revenge on the SS can be fun, but it's not funny. I mean, in his book Indian Killer (a bit of an old shame after 9/11), Sherman Alexie played an Indian taking revenge as horror (and he even targets racists who don't necessarily target Indians, i.e. a white man watching Asian porn). And it works as horror; it actually makes you root for the bad guy (which is, of course, what horror stories make you do as a rule). As comedy, not so much.