Debbie Reese explains the way that derogatory depictions of American Indians harms the self-image of young American Indian children.
On May 31 of last year (2013), Education Week pointed to a new study of high school graduation rates that reported that the graduation rates of American Indian students had declined in three out of the five years the study examined. In 2010, Susan C. Faircloth and John W. Tippeconnic published a paper in UCLA Civil Rights Project that had similar findings. In their full report, they cite work by previous studies that tries to make sense of why this happens. Some factors are lack of empathy among teachers, irrelevant curriculum, lack of interest in school.
Anyone who follows Native news or political dimensions of sports news knows that for the last year, there has been an increase in the media coverage of the use of Native imagery by sports teams. Some news outlets have decided to stop using some team names in their reporting, and many are critical of Dan Snyder’s misguided efforts to garner support from Native people for his entrenched use of “Redskins” as the name of his team.
In 2008, Stephanie Fryberg’s research provided empirical data on the damage mascot imagery does to the self efficacy of Native students. Her research was of such import that the American Psychological Association issued statements calling for an end to their use. If her study was replicated with younger children, using images they see in picture books and fiction they read or are asked to read in school, I think the results would be the same.
I am hopeful that increased attention to mascots like the one used by the Washington DC pro football team, or the one used by the Cleveland pro baseball team will bring an end to their use of that imagery. With that increased awareness, I hope that Native and non-Native parents look with informed eyes at images of Native peoples in the books their children read for pleasure or study. The images that adults embrace are images they’ve seen since they were children. Some of those images were in movies, some on items in the grocery store, and many were in children’s books.
On October 19, 2013, I wrote about the Washington DC pro football team and shared images from children’s books that are similar to its mascot. Today, I’m showing images that resemble those of Cleveland’s mascot.
Seen above is the “Chief Wahoo” currently in use alongside the image used from 1946 to 1950.
Here’s a page from the 1952 Little Golden Book of Disney’s Peter Pan. Is the book on your shelf? Is the CD or DVD amongst your collection?
Syd Hoff’s Little Chief came out in 1961. It is an easy reader published by Harper & Row in its “I Can Read” series:
In 1970, Random House published The Nose Book by Al Perkins in its “Bright and Early” books for Beginning Readers. With its image of the Cat In The Hat in the corner, you’d recognize the series right away. In the line-up of animals shown below, Perkins included an Indian. No doubt it seemed clever. But it was racist and wrong. In the 2003 edition with new illustrations, that image was not included.
Those are older books, but I urge you to look on your shelves. If you held on to books from your childhood, the titles I pointed to above (or others with similar imagery) may be among them. You can do one of two things with them. Put them away and use them later with your child when you teach him or her about stereotyping, or, if you’re not attached to the book for sentimental reasons, throw it out.
Here’s some images from more recent books. You’ll find a lot of them if you look in books about Thanksgiving.
This image is from More Snacks! A Thanksgiving Play. It is in the Ant Hill series of Ready-To-Read books published by Aladdin. Written by Joan Holub, illustrated by Will Terry, it came out in 2006.
Such imagery is also in newer movies made for children, like last year’s Free Birds. Here’s turkey Indians from it:
The images I’m sharing in this post are a sample. You will find others. Too many others. They are not harmless. They reduce American Indians to detribalized caricatures or props in stories that misinform readers. They affirm stereotypical ideas, and are part of what I believe causes Native students to disengage from school.
As I noted above, I hope that the increased awareness of the harm in mascots used by sports teams can be brought to bear on children’s books and media.
If you are getting rid of those books, replace them with better materials! At the top right of this page [see the original blog post here], you’ll see links to lists of books that I recommend. Order them for your home library, and ask your library to get them, too. Give them as end-of-the-year gifts to your child’s teachers!
Let’s work together and get rid of stereotypical imagery of American Indians, on and off the playing field.
Originally appeared at American Indians In Children’s Literature