April 02, 2012

Navigate "like an Indian"

Megan Mullaly appeared on Letterman March 30. She told how she fell in love with her husband Nick Offerman after they were stranded on a lake in a boat with no power.

Actress Megan Mullally Fell in Love With Her Husband After He Navigated ‘Like an Indian’“We’re about two, two and a half miles from shore, from the cabins where we’re staying, and it’s dark,” she said. “There was one little green paddle on the boat, a little green paddle, on the boat…. And he takes the paddle and he goes and sits at the front of the pontoon … and he literally starts paddling us back to shore. It took four hours. He would not stop.”

She asked, “How do you know where you’re going?” and he said, “By the stars,” she said.

“Like he’s an Indian! Like he’s a Native American!” she exclaimed to Letterman. “Steering us by the stars, and it worked! It literally worked! And he got us back there and he got us out of the boat, and that was the first time I told him I loved him.”
Comment:  Mullaly's "navigate like an Indian" claim is similar to the belief that all Indians have superb hunting and tracking skills. Yeah, if they use the GPS in their vehicles, maybe.

Her comment is a minor rather than major offense, but it's still stereotypical.

Mullaly could've compared her man to many others--for instance, an astronaut, ship captain, Boy Scout, or Polynesian sailor. Inspired by images of paddling a canoe, no doubt, she chose an Indian.

In doing so, she reinforced the idea of Indians as primitive people of the past. No technology, steering by the stars, etc. Never mind that Indians use Google Maps just like everyone else these days.

Really, how hard is it to paddle in the right direction? You find the North Star via the Big Dipper, then orient yourself whichever way you want to go: west, east, or south. Any child who knows astronomy could do it.

Basically, you shouldn't make ethnic comparisons of any kind. It's inevitable that they'll be stereotypical. For instance:

"Dances like a black man"
"Spends like a Jew"
"As smart as an Asian"
"Navigates like an Indian"

Even if you think the comparisons are complimentary, avoid them. They tend to pigeonhole people--to portray them as nothing but the stereotype.

In other words, no ethnic group has a monopoly on biological or cultural traits. Every ethnic group is as diverse as your ethnic group.

For more on the subject, see Things Not to Say to Indians.


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't "spends like a Jew" and "as smart as an Asian" or "dances like a black man" be opposites, though? People don't think of Jews as big spenders.

Of course, personality traits can't really be correlated to ethnicity, as much as science fiction and fantasy love to give particular personality traits to particular races.

dmarks said...

And have Native Americans ever been known as great pre-technology mariners? That is what her statement implies. Really weird.

Rob said...

The "spends like a Jew" stereotype means cheap or stingy.

I'm sure Mullaly was referring to navigating on lakes in canoes.