All too often, when the major media outlets cover a story about Indigenous mascots, Christopher Columbus statues, or some other symptom of the ongoing oppression of our people, we hear them say, in some way, that Indigenous advocacy groups think it is offensive.
While it may be true, the cut is much deeper than being offensive. If we give major media outlets the material by using the word offensive, even once, they usually cling to it and reduce the issue to just another minority being offended.
I wonder if we, as Native people, should consider purging that word from our vocabularies when we talk to the media or give public presentations.
Here are some reasons I believe why.
When it comes down to one group being offended, the issue is reduced to just an emotional issue.
If someone hurts another person’s feelings, then the two parties will have to resolve it by talking it out, making changes on the individual level rather than the systemic level, and moving on. If someone is continuing to contribute to our oppression, there’s no amount of emotional negotiating that will fix the problem without meaningful, systemic change.
Because I am mixed and white-passing, my outer shell can gain me admission to spontaneous conversations where white people think they are talking in front of only white people. My Native heart and mind do not forget what they hear.
Ethnic minorities being offended amplifies white fear. Many white people, who are afraid of ethnic minorities, likely think ‘If they get together, they must be up to something.’
Due to the oppression that we have endured, they might also suspect ‘they must be angry,’ and ‘they must be waiting for that opportunity to strike back and retaliate.’
When white people hear that a bunch of Indians are offended, that fuels the stereotype placed on involuntary minorities—like Indians or Black Americans—that we are angry, aggressive, and violent.
This perception is tied to implicit bias, where interviewers, police officers, potential romantic partners, and anyone else can be likely to perceive us as angry, aggressive, and violent. We need to help white people to not see us as threatening. It’s not fair, but we have to do it to protect ourselves and our families.
Indian mascots and Halloween costumes often perpetuate the stereotypes that hold us back. When the non-Native people dress up in their versions of powwow regalia and tell us that it doesn’t really mean anything—that it’s just a costume—that is really frustrating.
I don’t care nearly as much that the mascot or costume exists as I do the simple fact that they try to convince me that my objection to my own oppression is unreasonable.
I do my best to hold back on expressing my emotion and try to focus on explaining the oppression that those mascots and costumes put on us.
At the end of the day, when they take off their costumes or team logos, I will still be Indian, and I will have to live with the consequences of the stereotypes that they promoted.
After the death of George Floyd, many major media outlets became obsessed with the images of burning buildings and Black people marching in the street, framing us all as rioters and looters. These images stoked white fear in the suburbs. Then they coupled that with Indians toppling statues of Christopher Columbus.
I am still trying to understand why non-Native people feel so threatened by the gradual process of dethroning Christopher Columbus, but I do my best to keep teaching people why we should not celebrate him as a hero or the person who “discovered” Turtle Island.
As long as we are viewed as threatening, the non-Native people will try to keep us down. Being perceived as offended makes us perceived as threatening.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be offended, but talking about being offended might make us even more oppressed.
This essay does not necessarily reflect the view of Indian Country Today; voices in our opinion section represent a variety of reader points of view. If you would like to contribute an essay to Indian Country Today, email the opinion editor, Vincent Schilling at email@example.com.
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