Why is it okay to be racist against Native Americans?

While the United States has come a long way in addressing racial issues in the last several decades it still has a long way to go.  One of the most important areas of change needs to happen in regards to there being equal respect to Native American citizens of the United States.  I say this because as far as I can tell it is completely acceptable in mainstream society to be racist against Native Americans.

Tabling the historical issues related to colonialism, forced assimilation, genocide and the like for the moment I want to talk about three really current realities.

First, there is the issue of names.

I will be honest that I have not thought at length at how racist many of our sports teams names are in the U.S. but now this is a glaring issue for me.

For some reason mainstream society has decided to accept Redskins, Braves, Blackhawks and other similar names as tolerable.

Recently DJ NDN, a member of A Tribe Called Red began calling for a boycott for sponsors of the Napean Redskins, a local football team in his area.  DJ NDN (Twitter: @deejayndn) has been attempting for a year to talk to them very reasonably about changing the name and they have not.

I kid you not, this is a video-clip of a white T.V. announcer arguing with a Native American, DJ NDN, that this name is not offensive or inherently racist.  That’s like telling a black person a sports team called the “Houston N—–s” is not inherently racist.

If this were not enough we have used Native American themed names in many of our tools of warfare.  The Tomahawk missile, the Apache gunship, the Kiowa helicopter and giving Bin Laden the code-name “Geronimo” are just a few examples off the top of my head that I can think of.

Again while some might suggest this is an ode to the strength and ferocity of the Native American warriors in battle, I think it is ultimately disrespectful considering the U.S. army has been used as a tool of genocide to murder Native Americans time and time again throughout history.

Second, there is cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is adopting aspects of another culture, often piecemeal.  While this is in some ways inevitable in our increasingly connected multicultural world, especially in the pluralistic United States, this is still problematic.

Adopting aspects of Native American culture has been in vogue for some time and there are literally entire books and blogs devoted to discussing this issue. More recently it has become part of hipster fashion to sport head-dresses and other fake Native American regalia

There are two prime examples of how out of control this issue has become.

This blog discusses the use of and insulting nature of headdresses at Coachella. Though the entire issue could be summed up by this picture.

Then there was this recent event sponsored by Paul Frank.

Here is a link to pictures from the night.  This party included props where people were encouraged to use to “act Indian” for photos, which resulted in “mock scalpings” and “war whooping.”

Many of these images are ridiculous, absurd, and racist, but this one really takes the cake…

(They have since apologized, but this has only resulted in them removing their photos from Facebook.)

Third, there is continued environmental racism.

Native American lands have been used as testing sites for nuclear bombs for a very long time.  Additionally nuclear waste has for the most part been dumped in Native American lands. If this were not enough continued efforts to mine, oil and access the U.S. natural resources has always led, and continues to lead to, the destruction of Native American land, sacred sites and aspects of the ecosystem that support Native American communities.

And here’s the thing…

The most important thing about all of these issue is the fact that for the most part mainstream society and media could care less.

If there was a sports team named the Atlanta Blackskins, the D.C. the Whiteskins, the San Francisco Yellowskins, the San Diego Brownskins, or the Brooklyn Jews, any sort of team had a direct reference to an ethnic group (least of all via a name that has been pejoratively used for centuries) this would not be tolerated.

If a party had an “African-American theme” with mock lynchings, fried chicken, black-face and watermelon, the media would go crazy.  If it had a “Jewish theme” with fake Bar Mitzvah’s, dreidel and menorahs, the ACLU would be all over it.

If a school had a day where people were encouraged to dress up as Latinos/Latinas there would be a lawsuit in the making.

If toxic waste and nuclear waste was being dumped in all African-American, or all Latino, or all Asian neighborhoods, all Irish, or all Polish neighborhoods this would not be tolerated.

To accept racism towards some of our citizens while decrying it against others is woefully inconsistent.  Either racism, in all its forms, against all ethnic groups is bad, or we are picking and choosing who gets the right to be treated as equals.

Overall the acceptability of racism towards Native Americans is the ultimate form of disrespect and marginalization, especially when compared with how fervently accusations of racism are denied and how fervently racist issues are addressed in this day and age…for everyone else. It is like saying, “You, and all of your people, don’t count.” It is perhaps a final and ultimate insult from the mainstream culture to Native American, First Nations and other indigenous communities, after generations of colonization, oppression and injustice.

And it needs to stop.

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About Kevin

I am figuring out life and faith and taking other people along with me on my journey. Sometimes as fellow travelers, sometimes as hostages.
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7 Responses to Why is it okay to be racist against Native Americans?

  1. Michael Mack says:

    I am a 60 year old Indian male, raised on a reservation, but urban since age 10, I have personally experienced and witnessed many issues that have troubled me all my life. I have much to say, but will confine my comments here. Resentment against Natives is a primary characteristic I have observed from my earliest recollections, especially from white people. In childhood it starts with joking, name calling, being attributed with qualities I didn’t have, but IMPOSED upon me for the amusement and convenience of others. Over the years I have come to understand white resentment against American Indians in particular as essentially guilt based. As long as the can keep it humorous, judgmental, or overly compensate with “compassion”, they don’t have to look at their own guilt. White America was founded upon greed and self-interest – murder, lies, theft, etc. were totally justifiable means to them. So white America and those who think like them, even some Indians, reframe this sin-based history in terms that justify it. Primary example, the Pilgrims. Americans are taught that the Pilgrims fled England for religious freedom, but this is not completely true. Rather, because of their disobedience to obeying the Church of England, they were not included in favored business arrangements, their kids couldn’t get into the “best” schools, etc. in short, their complaints again England were based in their failure to get the kind of access to business and financial opportunities open to good members of the Church of England. But more importantly the Pilgrims greatest disobedience was to biblical scriptures themselves which say that “true believers” are to obey their kings, that God made the kings, and that if the king’s subjects disagreed with the king they were to obey the king, pray for him, and live exemplary Christian lives as an example of what they wished to see. The scriptures only allow Christians to leave the place of their birth if a Non-Christian becomes their king, and the Non-Christian king refuses them to practice their Christianity. But this is not what happened to the Pilgrims, rather, in disobedience to God, they abandoned His directions, and took matters into their own hands. When Pilgrims landed in America, the community they established was founded upon the basis of sin – i.e., DIRECT DISOBEDIENCE to God. And in the years since, the U.S. continues to cloak the Pilgrims as heroes, and all American institutions have followed along. This foundation sin permeates America’s concepts of right and wrong, and has provided justification for hate and racism in all its forms.

    • Kevin says:

      Michael Mack, thanks for your feedback and perspective. Things definitely need to change but one of the things I have struggled with is the invisibility of these issues to mainstream society. It is one of our darkest chapters as a nation and instead of addressing it we refuse to look at it, and we continue many of the problems.

      • Giauz says:

        Read a visual history of the King James Bible by Donald Brake. It was James I’s belief in kings being appointed by God and the downplay of that view by the theological notes of the Puritan’s Geneva Bible that led to the production of the KJV and thus the widespread of his view.

        Also, what was described by Michael Mack still sounds like control over how one interprets scripture and worships. And if the voyage from England was just about not being able to get th beet schooling and business why would they travel to Plymouth, which had much less?

  2. Yvetter says:

    It’s hard to talk about these acts of institutionalized racism with non natives because their first instinct is to get defensive, the second is to tell us that they are part Cherokee. As if their possible Cherokee family story real or not, excuses them from any bad behavior and makes them an expert on native issues when they are just as clueless as other non natives.. They will then say after that, that what the non natives are doing is ok. Once they say that, other non natives take their word for it and any education we have tried to share goes right down the drain. Why do they jump at the chance to believe clueless white people who pull the Cherokee card, and deny or question everything that actual natives tell them?

    • Kevin says:

      Sadly the responses to getting called out on racism are very predictable, to the point where you can just make a list as some bloggers have done.

      Also, I would answer your somewhat rhetorical question this way: because its easier and it does not force them to change or adapt their worldview. All people of all cultures and racism are similarly averse to change, but the difficulty is that centuries of European colonialism and ethnocentrism have very deeply instilled the notions of Western cultural and racial superiority into the fabric of Western cultures to the point where it is assumed and rarely acknowledged. A critical mass/majority of Westerners in an area then allow the worldview to remain unchallenged even when it needs to be.

    • Kevin says:

      Because it is easier than adjusting their worldview. The reality is White Male Christian Westerners are/have been cast as the heroes of the world in Western culture. Acknowledging the injustice done to Indigenous communities throughout the last several hundred years requiers a person who is willing to be taken down a notch, and no one likes that. In this situation, it is often easier, and more psychologically palatable, to bury one’s head in ignorance than to own one’s place in history.

  3. Dawn says:

    The town i live in so racist I can’t stand it. I feel like walking around with my criminal record on hand, so when I walk into a store they can see that I am not a criminal there to steal. I have never been and never will be a thief but when I walk into shops here I feel like I’m being unfairly judged, I have money, a job and 5 children I do not have time to spend my life drinking all day and being involved in any criminal activity. I really pray that one day, hopefully by the time my children become adults, that this will not be an issue. Here’s to hoping

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