By David P. Rider, Ph.D.
One of Psychology's most respected authors, Erik Erikson (1968), noted that
minorities throughout the world have struggled to maintain an ethnic
identity, even when forced to co-exist within the context of a dominant
culture. In nations where ethnic minorities were historical victims of
persecution, oppression, slavery, or genocide, the dominant culture
typically invokes prejudicial attitudes toward the minority group as a
justification for the actions of the oppressor group (Cox, 1948; Trimble,
Laboratory research readily demonstrates that when one group of
experimental subjects is directed to inflict pain or harm to members of
another experimental group of subjects, the "victim" group is routinely
derogated and dehumanized verbally by the "oppressor" group (Davis & Jones,
1960; Glass, 1964; Worchel & Andreoli, 1978). By developing such negative
attitudes toward their own victims, "exploiters can not only avoid thinking
of themselves as villains, but they can also justify further exploitation"
(Franzoi, 1996, p. 394).
Negative images and attitudes toward American Indians have served precisely
the same function: To protect the historical oppressors from a sense of
guilt over the atrocities committed against Indians and to justify further
exploitation. Indians as well as other ethnic minorities in America today
"become acutely aware of the [negative] evalutions of their ethnic group by
the majority white culture" (Santrock, 1997, p. 402). In a study of
identity formation among minorities, Phinney (1989) reported that African
Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians all suffer from
negative stereotypes imposed by the dominant American culture, which
denigrates precisely those aspects of ethnic culture that minorities take
Research on the adverse outcome of such negative stereotypes on the
functioning of minorities in America is voluminous (see Spencer &
Dornbusch, 1990, for an overview). Negative appraisals of non-whites in
America lead to perceptions among minorities that employment avenues are
cut off and that success is out of their reach.
Nowhere are such negative appraisals of minority groups more blatant than
in the mascots and Indian names of sports teams that proliferate in the
American education system. While other minority groups in America must
endure negative stereotypes, Indians are the only minority group that has
those stereotypes advertised in government-funded public schools. Indian
mascots help to promote and perpetuate the dehumanizing stereotypes that
developed among European colonizers centuries ago. As such, they are
harmful to both Indians and nonIndians. Indians endure the psychological
damage of seeing cartoon-like caricatures of themselves embodied in the
mascots, perhaps the ultimate in dehumanizing victims. It is no coincidence
that Indians have the highest suicide rate, school drop-out rate, and
unemployment rate of any group in the United States.
Indian mascots also harm nonIndians, for they perpetuate stereotypes that
impair students from learning accurate accounts of American history and
Indian/white relations throughout the post-contact era.
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