Manataka® American Indian Council
The Last Acceptable Racism: Native Americans
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
was the results 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 punch line: "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?
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.
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,
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.
As both a
Native American and a Jew, I am equally offended by racist
attacks on either group. 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. Native Americans have
suffered the business end of this type of treatment in spades.
Our 1492 population was estimated at between 15 and 18 million.
As a result of violence and overtly genocidal governmental
policies, this number was slashed to 250,000 by 1900. Today's
use and furtherance of stereotypical Native American imagery and
narrative only serves to keep shameful concepts alive,
regardless of whether it's the actual intent. What's more, they
remind Native Americans, particularly our youth, that others do
not deem us worthy of respect and that our people are merely a
historical holdover to be represented by comic book imagery.
New York Times article tells the story of how Native American
art collectors have historically identified the source of our
artworks by tribe and not individual artists. Only now are
museums and collectors beginning to respect and value these
works by identifying the individual artists and recognizing
their worth as people. Can you imagine if a Monet was just
identified as "French"? It's clear that many corners of society
view Native Americans as an abstract concept, imbued with
normative valuing as a lesser group.
How can racial assaults against Native people be widely accepted, while similar assaults against Jews (or any other ethnic group) be quickly condemned? The answer is twofold. First, we're small in absolute numbers. We represent only about one percent of the U.S. population. Because we don't have a large population, we are potentially easy prey. Second, our mindset and world view are shaped by centuries of conquest and genocidal policies. We were stripped of our lands, our people were killed and we were herded onto reservations to better allow for forced assimilation. We were portrayed as savages not worthy of recognition as human beings. Not that long ago, white administrators of Indian boarding schools told our children that the "Indian in you shall die."
This kind of treatment and forced
thinking has a lasting generational effect. It can be difficult
to break through that type of programming. Many of our people,
however, have shaken off these forced ideological shackles to
speak the truth and demand long overdue respect. Our voice is
are being said with more frequency and emphasis. But people need
to hear us. Societal racism should no longer be an ad hoc
affair, which is routinely accepted when directed against a
certain group. It should be universally condemned. Perpetuating
past wrongs and dehumanizing concepts hurts everyone.
Author: David Kimelberg is an enrolled citizen (Bear clan) of the Seneca Nation of Indians. He is the CEO of Seneca Holdings LLC, the investment arm of the Seneca Nation, and the founder of nativeinvestment.com, an online forum and blogabout economic development in Indian Country. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Seneca Nation of Indians or Seneca Holdings. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-kimelberg/the-last-acceptable-racis_b_819545.html