September 20, 2010

"18 Things Aborigines Might Appreciate"

18 Things Aborigines Might Appreciate

By T.R. SlyderWouldn't it be cool to be friends with some tribal aboriginal people somewhere in Australia or Africa or South America? Maybe you have a friend that is related to aborigines and he took you to visit them and stay a week and they were truly beautiful people who changed your outlook on life, they also took a shine to you and invited you back next year. For this hypothetical we will also assume we are not concerned with the price of the gifts. What would you bring them from our world?The items on the list:

Camelbak Backpack
Cookware and Flatware
Toilet Paper
Brita Water Filter
Musical Instruments/Art Supplies
Rain Gear
Hand Sanitizer
Duct Tape
Dental Care Stuff

Comment:  Wow...several things wrong with this attempt at a consumer guide.

1) As I've said several times recently, most tribal people aren't living half-naked in tipis or huts these days. If they haven't assimilated into mainstream society, they're probably living like poor people everywhere. They may or may not have electricity or running water, but there's a good chance they're wearing Western-style clothes, living in Western-style shacks, using Western-style tools and supplies, going to Western-style schools and jobs, etc. They're not sitting around beating drums, dancing around a fire, getting ready for the next spear hunt.

2) Even for the few tribes too remote to have contact with the West, does Slyder really think they need all these things? Backpacks (bags and pouches)? Cookware? Hats? Lotions and medicines? Musical instruments? Art supplies? Ways to make fire? Because they have no art, science, or technology of their own?

Some of these items seem downright silly. Q-Tips? Hand sanitizer? Compass? Fireworks? I'd say the vast majority of people don't need these things.

The cultural condescension here--the idea that "primitive" people are suffering without these items--is just amazing. To give one example, the compass is for non-Natives who get lost easily, not for Natives who know every feature of their environment without a map. It's incredibly ignorant to think indigenous people were getting lost like little children until someone gave them a compass.

3) What I said in point 1) goes both ways. Tribal people are no worse off than many non-tribal people...and vice versa. You could find non-tribal people living in shacks, without running water or electricity, in many parts of the world. Many major cities have shantytowns and slums where people are as bad off as any "primitive" tribe.

Heck, you could find people in the US living in abject poverty--and not just Indian tribes. You could find homeless people in camps, in cars, on the streets, under bridges. What about helping them with these goods?

Tribal = primitive?

I trust you see the point. Slyder has singled out Native Americans, Africans, and Australians for attention. He hasn't noted all the Caucasians or Asians who could use the same attention. Why not? Because he associates "tribal" with "uncivilized" and "savage."

Slyder seems to think tribal people couldn't possibly be world leaders, scientists, doctors, lawyers, business owners, etc. To him they're pitiful, poor, and pathetic. They're so hopeless that they stand out in the rain, get sunburned, and bleed to death when they're injured. They've never heard of cooking with electricity, gas, or coal--not to mention matches. They live like animals--a troop of monkeys, perhaps--and need the same kind of help.


This is what happens when someone teaches kids a mishmash of old stereotypes. When a half-naked "chief" rides in a parade. When a sign says Natives had only three fruits.

The details change but the message is the same. Natives are primitive, uncivilized, and savage. Natives are primitive, uncivilized, and savage. Natives are primitive, uncivilized, and savage. After seeing and hearing it countless times, over and over, most people believe it's true. Why would they think otherwise?

For more on the subject, see Uncivilized Indians.

Below:  My impression of Slyder's impression of Natives.

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