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"Red Face" Does Not Honor Us

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  • Robert V. Schmidt
    http://www.snagmagazine.com/index.php?s=23&a=32 Red Face Does Not Honor Us by H. Mathew Barkhausen III Tuesday February 1, 2005 Long gone are the days when
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2005

      'Red Face' Does Not Honor Us
      by H. Mathew Barkhausen III

      Tuesday February 1, 2005

      Long gone are the days when American “black-face” performers were taken
      seriously. They were extraordinarily racist, created and performed for no
      other purpose than to reinforce racist attitudes towards African Americans.
      Racism toward African Americans has not disappeared, but society’s
      willingness to turn the other cheek when their people are being portrayed
      in a negative light is mostly gone. But one group of people who still have
      their people misrepresented by grotesque caricatures are Native Americans.

      Corporations all over the United States that have named their companies
      with some sort of “Indian” name, and companies have created corporate logos
      and trademarks with an “Indian” theme in mind. From the ridiculous photos
      on the door of the trucks of the “Navajo” trucking company depicting a
      Native woman in stereotypical “Indian princess” garb, and for some bizarre
      reason, with deep blue eyes, to the other “Indian princess” depicted on the
      “Land O Lakes” butter packages, stereotypical images of Native Americans
      are everywhere.

      Tuscarora Yarns Inc. has chosen to represent itself with a logo that is a
      stereotypical image of a Native American in a Northern Plains Indian eagle
      feather headdress, often misnamed a “war bonnet.” My grandfather is a
      full-blood; he is Cherokee and Tuscarora and was born and raised in North
      Carolina, the traditional homeland of both these Native peoples. Knowing
      this, I took it upon myself to educate myself about everything I could that
      related to both Nations. Tuscarora people did not wear this type of
      regalia, our traditional clothing and items of adornment were very
      different from that of the Lakota. I think Tuscarora Yarns has chosen this
      as its logo because their corporate branding will be recognizable as having
      an “Indian” association if they sell-out to the lowest common denominator.

      One-dimensional representations of Native Americans are not only common,
      but thought to be “no big deal” by most non-Native Americans. This
      apathetic attitude of society has often spread to the Native American
      community itself with many Native people unwilling to speak out against it
      for fear of being ridiculed by those who don’t understand why these images
      are indeed a big deal. From professional teams to colleges and high schools
      throughout the country, it seems that everyone is infected with a desire to
      be “Indian.” The images that are used are not representative of Native
      American culture today, or at any time in the past, however, this is one of
      those areas where people wonder, “What’s the big deal?”

      Bob Enyart, a conservative talk show host, had an interesting, and
      ridiculous, perspective on Native American mascots. He argued, “Should the
      Houston Oilers apologize to oil companies for calling themselves ‘Oilers’
      or should the New York Jets apologize to airline pilots and members of the
      Air Force for calling themselves ‘Jets?'” The argument is absurd because
      “Oilers” are a profession, not an ethnic group, and ethnic groups are more
      likely to be offended at a misrepresentation of their group. However, if
      there was a team called “The Physicians” and they were depicted by mascots
      who butchered people, physicians throughout the country would be outraged
      over this misrepresentation and demand that it cease. The second example,
      the “Jets” is an object, a thing; it has no feelings, no culture, nor
      heritage to protect. It can’t think or feel, but human beings can and do.

      Often times, as Native Americans we face the attitude, “Well, the
      ‘Redskins,’ I guess that is kind of racist, I’ll give you that one, but
      come on the ‘Indians’ that’s not so bad.” True, the term “Redskins” is well
      known to be a racist term, equivalent with the likes of "Nigger," "Kike,"
      "Chink" or "Gook." But while it’s not really seen to be a big deal that a
      team call itself the “Redskins,” no one would ever dream of calling one the
      “Gooks.” But both are known to be racist, so why is one okay? There are
      teams throughout the country named after Native peoples or aspects
      perceived as representative of our cultures. But one does not find the same
      to be true of any other race in the country.

      If the Cleveland “Indians” is okay, then why wouldn’t the Cleveland Chinese
      be okay? I mean, calling someone Chinese, if they are indeed Chinese, isn’t
      racist. So rather than the fans painting themselves up in “red face” to
      pretend to be Indians, they could put on “yellow” make-up and buy straw
      “coolee hats” to wear to games. Rather than doing the “tomahawk chop”
      during the sporting event they could do the “karate chop” (even though
      Karate is an Okinawan Art, but hey, all those Orientals look the same
      right?) Oh, and even better, when they play music to get the fans pumped
      they could have an Anglo mascot dressed in clothing perceived to be
      stereotypically Chinese, doing fake martial arts movements on the field,
      while the band plays “Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting.”

      Naturally, since the team would be named the “Chinese” and not the “Chinks”
      this would not be viewed by ANY Chinese Americans as being in the least way
      offensive, right? Wrong. In fact, such an outrage would probably be met
      with swift retaliation by Asian American anti-defamation organizations.
      Just as they got the racist “Kung Fool” Halloween costume pulled from the
      shelves of stores throughout the country, they would put an end to the
      outrage. But maybe that’s just because Asian Americans seem to care more
      about themselves and the psychological well-being of their children than

      Native Americans have the highest high school drop out rates, the lowest
      rates of college-age youth enrolled in colleges or universities, and the
      highest rates of teen suicide in the entire country. It has been argued by
      statisticians that the suicide rate of Native Americans is about 75 percent
      higher than the national average. Other self-destructive activities are
      also commonplace, such as alcoholism and other substance abuse. The poor
      self-image Native Americans have as a people have contributed to these
      tragedies. That poor self-image is a direct consequence of the persistent
      misrepresentation of Native Americans in popular culture, by the media,
      athletic teams and organizations, and the refusal of the mainstream public
      to acknowledge that these are indeed a major root cause of all the larger

      “I went back to school in the fall…We read a history book about “the
      savages.” The pictures were in color. There was one of a group of warriors
      attacking white people – a woman held a baby in her arms. I saw hatchets,
      blood dripping, feathers flying. I showed the picture to the Sister. She
      said, “Rose Mary, don’t you know you’re Indian?” I said, “No, I’m not.” She
      said, “Yes, you are.” I said, “No!” And I ran behind a clump of juniper
      trees and cried and cried.” - Rose Mary (SHINGOBE) Barstow, (Ojibwe), 1976

      For centuries, art has been used for less than honorable purposes. Some of
      the earliest examples of art that has been used to purposely incite
      violence against an ethnic minority are found in anti-Semitic political
      cartoons in Europe. In the U.S., early examples include the extremely
      grotesque caricatures of African Americans in an effort on the part of the
      dominant Anglo-American society to solidify in the minds of the public that
      they were not “people,” so denying them basic human rights was perfectly
      permissible. In early cartoons produced by major animation houses such as
      Warner Brothers, the way in which African Americans were portrayed was a
      reflection of an attitude of intense racial hatred deeply ingrained in
      American society at the time. That is why nothing was thought to be “wrong”
      with it.

      Perhaps one of the most devastating examples of how effective these racial
      smear campaigns were is that of the Japanese internment during World War
      II. Japanese Americans were rounded up and forced into concentration camps
      because they were believed to be willing to attack the United States from
      within. Despite the fact that a large number of them served in World War II
      on the side of the U.S., their service during the war was not enough for
      the government to release their families from the Japanese concentration
      camps. How on earth could an entire population have been motivated to
      perceive the Japanese Americans in such an extraordinarily negative light?
      The answer of course is in the despicable propaganda campaign of political
      cartoons, films, and other forms of racist media.

      Today, we are fortunate that Asian Americans in the country have gained a
      great deal of economic and political success and are able to combat these
      potential injustices against their people and prevent them from repeating.
      Jews in the United States have become very successful at combating this
      ignorance as well. For African Americans, the same can also be said. But
      one-dimensional stereotypes of Native Americans remain present.

      The Native American community must be resolute in its commitment to end
      this form of misrepresentation once and for all. We should place an
      unrelenting pressure upon athletic organizations and corporations to “cease
      and desist” defaming time honored Indigenous cultural traditions. It is
      only through this method that we might ever hope to be treated equally in
      this society. There will be a day when painting yourself up in “red face”
      and making a fool of yourself supposedly in “honor” of Native Americans
      will be seen as just as bad as the black face performers of the past.
      Hopefully, this “future” will be the present generation.
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