May 06, 2010

What my doctors said

Thursday morning I was at a clinic for a routine medical procedure. I had previously met the doctor and told him I worked in the Indian gaming field. He and the anesthesiologist, also a doctor, gathered at my bedside. Here's roughly how their small talk went:DOCTOR [to anesthesiologist, referring to me]:  This is the guy you need. He knows everything there is to know about Indian gaming.

ANESTHESIOLOGIST:  How can I open one?
It took me a few seconds to realize he meant a casino.DOCTOR [mimics scene from A Man Called Horse]:  You have to let them string you up by your chest.

ANESTHESIOLOGIST:  I've walked on hot coals before.
The doctor asked if that was true and the anesthesiologist said it was. Then I guess it was my turn. Not having a good rejoinder and with an IV line in my arm, I said, "Sorry, that's not enough." I.e., not enough to turn you into an Indian so you can open a casino and get rich quick.

What I should've said

Even if I'd thought of something clever, that wouldn't have been the time to say it. Not when my safety was in their hands. But a good exchange might've gone like this:ROB:  If you want to suffer 500 years of broken treaties, stolen land, and grinding poverty, you too can open a casino.


ROB:  How about if we relocate you and your family to a concentration camp out in the desert somewhere? Where you can live out your life as a poor dirt-digger, not a rich doctor.

ROB:  Don't think of it as a punishment. Think of it as a reward. In the year 2510, we'll grant your descendants the right to open a casino. If you have any descendants left, that is.

ROB:  Is that a deal, or what?
What it all means

Obviously the doctors were joking. Just as obviously, their jokes reflect their (perhaps unconscious) beliefs. Namely:

1) Non-Indians are "gaming" the system--becoming "Indians" through nonstandard means so they can enrich themselves. That's the basis of many works of fiction--e.g., Harry Shearer's racist Not Enough Indians. It's also what many people believe--e.g., conservatives such as Jim Marino.

2) Indians practice barbaric rites such as piercing their flesh and walking on coals. Being Indians is defined by savagery--i.e., a lack of civilization. No one ever thinks of an Indian telling an epic story, building a skyscraper, or, well, administering anesthesia.

I don't blame these people (much). I imagine their comments were innocent and ignorant rather than malicious. But what if I were part Indian, or had an Indian in the family? Is it really a joke to say Indians are people who string people up?

The point is that this is what people think. Rich white people in the Beverly Hills area, anyway. If they know anything other than what they've seen in movies or TV shows, it isn't obvious.

In short, old and new stereotypes dominate America's thinking about Indians. That's why fighting stereotypes is central to the battle for truth, justice, and the Native American way.

For more on the subject, see "What Americans Know .... Comes from Movies", How Stereotypes Affect Real People, and The Harm of Native Stereotyping:  Facts and Evidence.

P.S. I survive the procedure and am in good health, thanks.

Below:  How to get an Indian casino?

1 comment:

Ang said...

I wonder if they consider those who are into extreme body piercing and hook suspension Indian just by nature of their hobbies... since, apparently, that's how you become an Indian.

Rob, every day I like your blog more and more. I sincerely hope that the next time we're both in the same place for a NIGA convention, we have a chance to meet.