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USA: Native Americans’ long battle against racism

Racism and discrimination is something the USA still struggles with even today. This affects Native Americans particularly hard, as it has in the past too. According to the last 2000 Census, almost 2,5 million Native Americans live in USA (0.87% of total US population) but they are forgotten or invisible to the vast majority of Americans.

On his blog Stuff white people do, macon d publishes excerpts from the 2006 book Revealing Whiteness: The Unconscious Habits of Racial Privilege by philosophy professor Shannon Sullivan, in order to underline the current justifications in the U.S. toward ownership, not only of formerly indigenous lands, but also of indigenous people themselves.

Native American were and generally still are considered as pieces of property owned by white America to do with what they please, only now this “knowledge” of Native Americans by white people is much more unconscious than conscious. White habits of ownership of Native Americans generally have not been eliminated; they have only changed the form of their expression. Rather than something wild to consciously set out to conquer, Native Americans — especially their religious traditions and rituals — tend to be unconsciously appropriated as exotic objects for Euro-American use, pleasure, and consumption.

Dozens of comments follow, ranging from outrage about “genocide” against Native Americans to “silent racism” by people who do not think of themselves as racist, which according to another book, Silent Racism How Well-Meaning White People Perpetuate the Racial Divide by sociology professor Barbara Trepagnier, becomes “instrumental in the production of institutional racism” and part of the social process in today's racial reality in the United States.

A commenter to the above mentioned post, Brother of another color writes:

The Native Americans were definitely taken advantage of. They were killed by disease and bullets and much worse. They greeted the settlers in friendship and were ground under by the tide of Europeans that moved in. But you know what? When a race is less advanced than another, they will be defeated, simple as that. Especially back in the days of exploration. I'm not saying the way it was done was right, but at the time they were inferior, and merely in the way of those who wanted to settle here. …
That the people who took their lands were white, has no bearing on what happened. Had the Chinese or some other larger nation with plans to expand gotten here first, the end result would most likely have been the same. Assimilation.

In another comment, Simon L'nu replies:

BTW, being Native, and with less melanin in his skin than some of my cousins, I can see white privilege, internalized colonialism, and all the other BS racist things in action. I get treated different when people realize/find out I'm Indigenous – it doesn't matter whether or not I get treated better or worse, it's being treated differently that's cr*p; I see my friends get treated like crap because of who they are. This is the wrongness. We are all human beings – you treat me with respect, expect the same from me. You treat me wrong, expect a cold shoulder or worse.

And another commenter, Zelkova, adds:

A lot of the arguments on this board seem to have a warped sense of “social evolution” where “inferior” cultures are taken out by more “advanced” ones. This is Social Darwinism and it is racist (on top of being a discounted social theory not considered by most social scientists as valid).

In a similar vein, Kate from the group blog Irene's Daughters, belonging to three women whose aim is to discuss race relations openly, addresses the common practise of schools and sports teams to misappropriate Native Americans names, cultural images and symbols as their mascots. In her post “Racist Mascots”, she explains:

American culture is brimming with mish-mashed, two-dimensional, demeaning, and offensive portrayals of Native Americans, and sports mascots are among the worst… These schools, sports teams, and their fans (not to mention the media and advertisers) are not respecting Indians as living, self-defining, and self-determining persons. Even when they do not employ repulsive epithets like “redskins” they are objectifying and dehumanizing Indians, appropriating and exploiting cultural and often sacred images for their own entertainment, propagating and perpetuating misinformed and humiliating stereotypes that damage both the way other people view Indians and the way Indians see themselves. (Studies have shown that Indian mascots are especially damaging to the self-esteem of Native American children.)

Kate also includes a link to a video aptly titled “I am not a mascot”, where several Native Americans voice their concerns and opposition to the use of Native American imagery in sporting events.

This 3-minute video, released in different formats, is another evidence of the increasing trend within Native American communities to use online citizen media to fight racism and stereotypes, in much the same way that indigenous communities elsewhere have used ICTs to spread indigenous knowledge and educate the world about their traditions and history.

Self-produced videos on racism in America by Native Americans abound on YouTube. The following video, “Racism against Native Americans” produced by Red Road Awareness, provides a concise overview while highlighting the problem of racism on US radio shows, including some disturbing on-air comments by a DJ in Kentucky.

The most viewed of such videos on YouTube, originally created in 1994, is “Racism the way we see it”. It describes how young Native Americans experience racism within their own communities and in their daily involvements with the outside society.

3 comments

  • Fabienne

    Thanks Bernardo, for this reminder! We should never take such thing as the election of a mixed-race President as the absolute guarantee of a complete change of mind in a population.
    Interestingly enough, your post was published only 1 day before the official announcement of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama…
    Please keep us posted with these facts and situations which are never told enough about, because they happen in the USA.

  • sadly enough, now to the long list of silent racism, misappropriation and stealing against native americans we’d add those two deaths in a over-crowded and air-tight sweat lodge as part of a “spiritual warrior” program in sedona where people paid 9/10,000 dollars to supposedly “create harmonic wealth in all areas of your life”, as the oprah-famous james arthur ray billed his program…..

  • […] to cover up the on-going, present-day racism against Native Americans.  In a terrific piece on “Native Americans Long Battle Against Racism,” at Global Voices Online (well worth reading in its entirety), Bernardo Parrella writes about the […]

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