April 30, 2011

Conservatives use "language of savagery"

An excellent ICT article analyzes Native stereotypes from the last half of 2010. Let's skip over the actual stereotypes, which you've read about here, and see what these stereotypes tell us about today's politics.

Language of Savagery:  Stop It Now

By Rob CapricciosoThe doctor found himself in a position familiar to many Indians (past and present): prodded to explain himself for the “offense” of being true to his culture. Meanwhile, some of his strongest detractors have failed to answer the key question of why they were so easily offended by contemporary Native American culture and so eager to demean it. In the long aftermath of colonization, Native Americans have grown accustomed to being attacked by words and imagery that is nonchalantly accepted in many parts of contemporary American culture. What other choice did they have? For generations, such harmful sentiments have been part of the fabric of American culture. With a name like “Redskins” for the NFL team that plays in the nation’s capital, who could be shocked that Fox-y Hume found a Native prayer weird?

Some Natives have grown so tired of the disrespect that they simply choose to ignore it. Others, like Rhonda LeValdo, the Acoma Pueblo president of the Native American Journalists Association, take a different tack. She is one of the most proactive warriors combating what she calls the “sad and disrespectful commentary” against Indians; her battles are fought with words—lots and lots of words. She regularly sends e-mails and letters on behalf of the organization when someone in the dominant society does something she thinks is insensitive. In the past year, she has had to send plenty of messages, each loaded with explanations and calls for rectification, but always presented in a respectful manner. Her take on this case is straightforward, “I would never disrespect any other religion based on how they pray and or what ceremonies they do.”

LeValdo says the negative reactions to Gonzales’s prayer are part of a growing number of arrows launched toward Indians from conservatives.
And:Robert Williams, a law professor and director of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona, has come up with a label for the phenomenon: the “language of savagery.” Some conservative commentators have an agenda against Indians, he said, noting that some see any minority as representative of an “us versus them” threat. In his state, some conservatives conflate illegal immigrants and Indians, he said, although the irony there is that all non-Indians are (and were) the illegal immigrants.And:Does this mean that all conservatives hate Indians? Nope. Some of the best friends to Indian country in D.C. have been Republicans (President Richard Nixon, with his strong support for self-determination, is perhaps the most famous example of a strong conservative friend.) So why the vitriol from so much of the conservative media? “Good question,” said Bob Miller, law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School and citizen of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe. “I think it has a lot to do with immigration, ironically. As minorities become the majority, a lot of Americans are very concerned about not being the majority anymore. This is some of the angst behind the Tea Party.” And even though Indians are likely never going to become the majority, they are people with distinct political rights, Miller said, and that can feel dangerous to people who feel they are losing power.

Stephanie Fryberg, an assistant professor of psychology and affiliate faculty in American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona, has concluded that, “Most Americans do not even consider whether the language they use about Natives might be considered discriminatory. In fact, when they think about ‘Native Americans,’ the image that comes to mind is a romanticized, historical image, not a contemporary 21st century Native. The notion that we might feel offended by their language does not even enter their minds.” She said the problem tends to plague Natives more than other minority groups in America because of the age-old cultural practice of “playing Indian”—“Whether playing ‘cowboys and Indians’ or using American Indians as sports team mascots, these cultural practices trigger positive childhood memories of play rather than the historical injustices with which they are factually connected.”
Comment:  For more examples of conservative racism, see Stossel:  Indians Are Biggest Moochers and Fischer:  Indians Were Thieves. For more analyses of what it means, see Whites Feel Like a Minority and The Last Acceptable Racism.

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