Pen & Ink drawing by Kahionhes(John Fadden©)
RACISM & STEREOTYPING:
The Affects On Our Children
On Our Future
Where do the seeds of racism and the general public's tolerance for stereotyping Native American peoples begin? Children are born, at least I am told by social scientists, with purity, with no predetermined hate of others. Therefore, one can conclude that children learn hatred, racism, and stereotyping, but the question still remains where do these seeds of hate begin, and what can we all do to stop them from growing into dried-up tumbleweeds?
As a child, I grew up within a traditional Native American extended family with my grandmother as my primary role model. My grandmother's traditional Haudenosaunee stories and cultural wisdom passed on to me many lessons of morality. In many ways, as I look back now, I understand her ways of teaching more each day and her voice and lessons still reach out to me during my times of struggle to guide me with her words of the past to take the right road. I worry that today's children are not getting these seeds of morality properly planted within their beings. Today's economy, in the United States, is so bad that both parents have to work just to make ends meet, which is causing many children to have to grow-up fast and raise themselves. Many children are not being given the daily lessons of morality and are not having their seeds of love and compassion watered.
In other words, today's world is much too focused on the individual, when it should be more concerned with our children, for they are our future. If we do not teach our children that racism and stereotyping is unacceptable, then we have failed.
As I look back at my grandmother, I realize that she was a victim of racism and taught self-hatred, for as a very young child she was made to feel sub-human and to hate the things that made her different from other children. Not only was she told, on a daily basis, that she was a no good dirty Indian, but she was purposely shown that her ethnicity was not equal to dominant society. My grandmother was taught that the baby doll with blue-eyes and blonde hair was beautiful, but when she looked in the mirror as a young child she saw her ethnic features. My grandmother saw her long dark black hair and almond shaped eyes set in a face with very high cheekbones, which was very different from the blue-eyed baby doll. My grandmother's self image was greatly affected by this blatant racism that was imposed upon her by those who used the blue-eyed baby doll to teach Indian children that they were not equal to whites.
On the other hand, my friend who is Apache told me that as a child her mother would only allow her to play with ethnic dolls, and that she really wanted to have blue-eyed baby doll. What lessons can we learn from my friend and grandmother's experience?
I think that we need to give our children dolls that represent all the races and teach them that they are all beautiful. If we can teach this equality, then they will retain a positive self-image and a positive image of people who look different than them selves.
Of course giving dolls of all races to one's child is not going to solve the seeds of racism from being planted because children are influenced from outside the family by peers, the school system, team mascots, and by the media; but, it may be a beginning. My premise is that the seeds of love and compassion need to be planted in our children so that they will reject the seeds of racism and stereotyping.
As a child, in Kindergarten the class was asked to participate in projects that were supposed to teach us about Indians. Some of the projects included cutting out of paper eagle feathers and then pasting them into an Indian headdress, which was a western style war bonnet. The class was also asked to learn Indian songs and dances. I was asked to pump my hand over my mouth in a mocking war hoop, to dance around like I had ants in my pants, and to sing the song "Ten Little Indians".
I remember feeling badly. I remember rejecting these class projects, which were reflected in notes that were sent home to my mother about how I did not participate well with others in class projects. I felt like the teacher and the students were making fun of my, Indian people and our ways. This experience made me feel like I was different and unusual, and it made me angry because it was a mockery of my spirituality and way of life.
As I look back, the teacher was very insensitive to the fact that there are numerous Indian Nations and that each one has major differences in clothing, spirituality, etc. Having children make a western style war bonnet, without explaining that not all Indians wear Plains style war bonnets, teaches children to stereotype that all Indians wear this type of headdress, which is not true. For example, my people, the Haudenosaunee wear a Kastoweh, which is a feathered hat that has a certain number of eagle feathers depending on which nation the wearer is from. Furthermore, this project fails to teach children that eagle feathers are sacred to Indian people and that they are earned and worn in special ceremonies to feed the spirit of the feather, to communicate with the Creator, and to keep the wearer safe.
The dancing failed to teach the children that dancing is a spiritual undertaking, for when one dances they are dancing for the Creator. Of course there are social dances, but children should be taught that there is a difference between sacred dances and social dances and that each Indian Nation has unique styles of dance along with some shared dances.
Asking children to sing "Ten Little Indians" is pure racism. The song is an Indian annihilation song that the Pioneers sang to their children to sooth their fears. If you remember the song, they count up and then they count backwards until there is only one Indian boy left. Today most people do not even know about the hidden message of eradicating the Indian people in the song; however, this song still plants seeds of racism and stereotyping in the minds of our children. This song must be stopped from its use in schools today!
When my kindergarten teacher showed the class how to war hoop like an Indian she was further stereotyping Indian people as being war like, and she was embedding the seeds of racism by having children think that Indians are savages. The image of the Indian pumping one hand over their mouth while the other hand is clasping a war club is a very common Indian stereotype, which needs to be stopped in our schools. I can remember teachers, in later grades, telling the class to stop running around like a bunch of wild Indians, as I sat quietly at my desk. I remember how these stinging words made me feel, for it hurt my self-image and my feelings. These careless racist words also need to be swept out of the school systems and from home use, for it plants the seeds of racism in our children's minds.
There is a book that has the premise that we learn all we need to learn in Kindergarten. If the premise is true, then my kindergarten experience shows how the seeds of racism and stereotyping can be planted in the minds of our children. If the seeds of racism are planted in our children's mind from a very earlier age, then they are definitely re-enforced by schools, sports teams, and mascots. Racism is further enforced by society's tolerance for the offensive marketing of Native American people and culture. There are sports team with derogatory names like the Redskins, which as Charlene Teeters points out, the name refers to the scalping practice of the English who were paid for every Indian scalp collected. There are mascots like the Cleveland Indian's Chief Wahoo, which has been describe by Indian activists as a ginning idiot resembling the early Black Sambo. Another Mascot that is offensive to many Indian people if Chief Illinick, who wears a plains style war bonnet, while jumping around war hooping like he has ants in his pants, much like my Kindergarten class did many years ago. Another offensive marketing scheme is using the name of spiritual leaders to sell their alcohol products. There is Big Foot wine and Crazy Horse Malt liquor. Crazy Horse was a Lakota spiritual leader who was opposed to alcohol consumption, yet Hornell Brewing Co. uses name to sell malt liquor.
Dominant society preaches tolerance; however, one does not see a Mother Teresa Tequila or a Martin Luther Malt Liquor and one must question why? One reason is because society would not tolerate such use, for they would effect change by boycotting or other methods of public outrage. So I ask why does society tolerate the use when it comes to Native Americans?
Native American activists become quite upset, and rightly so, when the First Amendment's free speech doctrine is used as a shield to protect the interests of the corporations that use stereotypes that are racist towards Native American Indians. Such was the case in Hornell Brewing v. Brady, 819 F.Supp. 1227 (E.D.N.Y. 1993), in which Hornell Brewing challenged the constitutionality of the Congressional Act Pub. L. 102-393, Sec 633, which banned "the use of the name Crazy Horse on any distilled spirit, wine, or malt liquor beverage product." In essence, the court found that Hornell's first Amendment right was violated by the act. However, when Native American people have to bear more of the weight and burden then others, for the furtherance of free speech, then it is unfair, and furthers racism towards Native American Indians.
If children are taught at an early age that it is ok to mock and stereotype Indians, when they become in the position to change policy concerning the offensive use of Native American Indians and culture, is it any wonder why they don't see such use as racism and stereotyping? What I propose is that we look for the seeds of racism in dominant society and we destroy them by replacing these vile seeds. We need to replace the seeds of racism with seeds of morality, compassion, love, and mutual respect, which is found in our traditional teachings, so that are children and future my blossom.