The marketing for beach-related vacation destinations often capitalizes on the association of foreign beaches with (partly) naked bathing beauties. This intersection of race, gender, and sexuality that positions the “ethnic” woman as particularly sexually accessible have deep roots in our colonial past in which foreign lands “open” to conquest by the Western world were conflated with foreign women “open” to conquest by Western men.
The “Hula Girl” is a case in point.
Hawaii was colonized by the U.S. and, when the islands became a tourism destination, Polynesian women were transformed into Hawaiian babes ready and waiting to please tourists from the mainland.
One transformation was the hula. Widely understood to be an “authentic” Polynesian tradition, the hula was actually originally mostly a man’s dance. It was religious. It involved chanting and no music. There were no hip movements, just gestures. Basically, it was story-telling.
Today, the men take a back seat to women, who are scantily clad in grass skirts (not authentic, by the way), and perform exaggerated hip movements to music. So the hula is an invention, designed by colonizers and capitalists, to highlight the appeal of “foreign” women.
Despite the constructed nature of the hula girl, she’s been used to market Hawaii for over 100 years. Here is an image of hula girls sent back to the mainland way back in 1890:
A Google Image search for “Hawaii postcard” in 2013 reveals that about half include the figure of a woman:
The phenomenon is a common one: women are treated as objects of beauty and aesthetic pleasure — exotified, in the case of “foreign” or darker-skinned women — and used to embellish a place or experience. While lots of things have changed for women since the beginning of this particular example in the late 1800s, their role as decoration resists retirement.
Florida State has been the “Seminoles” since 1947, and have had a “relationship” with the Seminole Tribe of Florida for many years, but it was solidified more recently. In 2005, the NCAA passed a resolution, calling Native American Mascots “hostile and abusive,” and prohibiting schools with these mascots from hosting post-season events. The Seminole Tribe of Florida then officially gave their permission to use Osceola as the mascot, letting FSU get a waiver from the NCAA rule.
I do want to put the decision of the tribe into context, however. From what I understand, prior to the formalized relationship with the tribe in the 1970′s, the image of the university was not Osceola (who is a real person, in case you didn’t know. Though the image is the profile of a white faculty member), but a stereotypical mis-mash named “Sammy Seminole” who was accompanied by “Chief Fullabull,” both of whom wore cartoonish and stereotypical outfits and clowned around at games. Trying to be more “sensitive” they changed “Fullabull” to “Chief Wampumstompum.” I’m not kidding. Osceola and Renegade (the horse) were introduced in the late 70′s.
So, by entering into a relationship with the university, the mascot now represents an actual Seminole figure, and wears (close to) traditional Seminole regalia, made by tribal members. In addition to control and “collaboration” over how the image is used and portrayed, I’ve heard the tribe gets a cut of the merchandising profits, which I’m sure is no small amount of money. The president of the university also established full scholarships for Seminole students (though only 8 Seminole students have graduated in the history of the school), a Seminole color guard brings in the flag at commencement, and the tribe was recently honored at homecoming. The Seminole of FL are also one of the most successful gaming tribes in the US, and my personal opinion is that keeping the state happy on the FSU front can only be good for relations around gaming contracts.
In summary, while the mascot is far from being respectful in my opinion, at least the tribe is gaining both economic and social benefits from engaging in this relationship. At least, at the games, as the student section is tomahawk chopping and yelling “scalp ‘em”, they can look down at the field and see a real Seminole every once and awhile to counter the image of Osceola. But is it perfect? Of course not. In a lot of ways it is similar to Derrick Bell’s theory of Interest Convergence — the idea that whites will only consent to racial progress when it benefits them directly — but turned around. The tribe is consenting to this, because they benefit directly. The interests of the two parties converge.
But the hard thing about FSU is that it always gives fodder to the mascot defenders. “But the Seminole approve of Florida State! They don’t care!” Hopefully I’ve made a bit of a case as to why they’ve consented to have their image used, but I also want to point out that just because one faction of a marginalized group believes one thing, it doesn’t mean that everyone feels that way. Can you imagine if we expected all white folks to feel the same about a controversial issue… like gun control, for example? Not gonna happen. I also think that it ties back into the dilemma I’ve brought up again and again — is it better to be completely invisible as Native people, or be misrepresented? In the case of the Seminole tribe of Florida, they took the step to at least try and gain some control and power over how their people and community are represented.
Adrienne Keene is a Cherokee doctoral candidate at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, where she studies access to higher education for Native students. She blogs about cultural appropriation at Native Appropriations. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Publicizing the release of the 1940 U.S. Census data, LIFE magazine released photographs of Census enumerators collecting data from household members. Yep, Census enumerators. For almost 200 years, the U.S. counted people and recorded information about them in person, by sending out a representative of the U.S. government to evaluate them directly (source).
By 1970, the government was collecting Census data by mail-in survey. The shift to a survey had dramatic effects on at least one Census category: race.
Before the shift, Census enumerators categorized people into racial groups based on their appearance. They did not ask respondents how they characterized themselves. Instead, they made a judgment call, drawing on explicit instructions given to the Census takers.
On a mail-in survey, however, the individual self-identified. They got to tell the government what race they were instead of letting the government decide. There were at least two striking shifts as a result of this change:
First, it resulted in a dramatic increase in the Native American population. Between 1980 and 2000, the U.S. Native American population magically grew 110%. People who had identified as American Indian had apparently been somewhat invisible to the government.
Second, to the chagrin of the Census Bureau, 80% of Puerto Ricans choose white (only 40% of them had been identified as white in the previous Census). The government wanted to categorize Puerto Ricans as predominantly black, but the Puerto Rican population saw things differently.
I like this story. Switching from enumerators to surveys meant literally shifting our definition of what race is from a matter of appearance to a matter of identity. And it wasn’t a strategic or philosophical decision. Instead, the very demographics of the population underwent a fundamental unsettling because of the logistical difficulties in collecting information from a large number of people. Nevertheless, this change would have a profound impact on who we think Americans are, what research about race finds, and how we think about race today.
The chart in “America is a Violent Country” has been getting a lot of circulation. Time to follow up with some more data. As several commentators at CT noted, the death rate from assault in the U.S. is not uniform within the country. Unfortunately, state-level and county-level mortality data are not easily available for the time period covered by the previous post — though they do exist, going back to the 1940s. What I have to hand is a decade’s worth of US mortality data courtesy of CDC WONDERcovering 1999 to 2009. I extracted the assault deaths according to the same criteria the OECD uses (for the time period in question, ICD-10 codes X85-Y09 and Y87.1). The estimates are adjusted to the 2000 U.S. population, which isn’t identical to the standard OECD adjustment. But the basic comparability should be OK, for our purposes.
First, it’s well-known that there are strong regional differences in the assault death rate in the U.S. by state and region. Here’s what the patterns look like by state from 1999 to 2009 (click for a larger PNG or PDF):
This figure excludes the District of Columbia, which has a much higher death rate but is also a city. Also missing are a few states with small populations and low absolute numbers of assault deaths — Wyoming, North Dakota, Vermont — such that the CDC can’t generate reliable age-adjusted estimates for them. If you want a “small-multiple” view with each state shown separately from high to low, here you go.
The legend for the figure above arranges the states from high to low, reading top to bottom and left to right. Although it’s clear that geographical region isn’t everything, those tendencies are immediately apparent. Let’s look at them using the official census regions (click for a larger PNG or PDF):
As is well known, the South is more violent than the rest of the country, by some distance. Given the earlier post, the natural thing to do is to put these regional trends into the cross-national comparison and see — for the decade we have, anyway — how these large U.S. regions would fare if they were OECD countries. Again, bear in mind that the age-adjustment is not quite comparable (click for a larger PNG or PDF):
Despite their large differences, all of the U.S. regions have higher average rates of death from assault than any of the 24 OECD countries we looked at previously. The placid Northeast comes relatively close to the upper end of the most violent countries in our OECD group.
Finally, there’s the question of racial and ethic incidence of these deaths within the United States. Here are the decade’s trends broken out by the race of the victim, rather than by state or region (click for a larger PNG or PDF):
The story here is depressing. Blacks die from assault at more than three times the U.S. average, and between ten and twenty times OECD rates. In the 2000s the average rate of death from assault in the U.S. was about 5.7 per 100,000 but for whites it was 3.6 and for blacks it was over 20. Even 3.6 per 100,000 is still well above the OECD-24 average, which – if we exclude the U.S. – was about 1.1 deaths per 100,000 during the 2000s, with a maximum value of 2.9. An average value of 20 is just astronomical. And this is after a long period of decline in the death rate from assault.
Kieran Healy is a professor of sociology in the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. His research is primary concerned with the moral order of a market society. You can follow him on twitter and at his blog.
As evidence of how mainstream and taken-for-granted dressing up like Native Americans for Halloween (not to mention as a general fashion trend) is, Kari sent in this photo of a costume store, where Native American is a sufficiently popular costume category that it deserves prominent signage:
One artifact of this thinking was the “human zoo.” Kidnapped from their homes at the end of the 19th century and into the next, hundreds of indigenous people were put on display for white Westerners to view. ”Often they were displayed in villages built in zoos specifically for the show,” according to a Spiegel Online sent in by Katrin, “but they were also made to perform on stage for the amusement of a paying public.” Many died quickly, being exposed to diseases foreign to them.
This group of captives is from Sri Lanka (called Ceylon at the time):
This photograph commemorates a show called “Les Indes,” featuring captives from India:
These captives are from Oromo in Ethiopia:
A German named Carl Hagenbeck was among the more famous men involved in human zoos. He would go on expeditions in foreign countries and bring back both animals and people for European collections. In his memoirs, he spoke of his involvement with pride, writing: “it was my privilege to be the first in the civilized world to present these shows of different races.”
In Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, James Loewen looks at monuments, highway markers, historic museums, and other physical sites that commemorate elements of U.S. history. Loewen argues that the information that is included or ignored, and the language used to describe the people or events such sites are dedicated to, often distort or even actively rewrite history, reaffirming or justifying current beliefs in the process.
Sometimes these distortions are amusing. As we’ve posted about before, the sculptor of a statue of Civil War general John H. Morgan sitting on his favorite horse, Bess, added testicles to her because he felt that a female horse just wasn’t a sufficiently heroic mount, though she carried Morgan safely through the war well enough. In other cases, museums and monuments actively obscure the extent of racial oppression or largely ignore the voices of non-Whites. For instance, Almo, Idaho, features a monument to 295 immigrants who supposedly “lost their lives in a most horrible Indian massacre” in 1861 (p. 89). Loewen points out that this event was likely entirely invented, but fit discourses about savage Indians who simply could not live peacefully alongside vulnerable, civilized Whites that were still quite resonant when the monument was erected in 1938.
The documentary Monumental Myths takes a close look at some sites of this type It features Loewen, Howard Zinn, and others discussing the stories our historical monuments tell us and the consequences of the often very distorted narratives they construct about U.S. history:
The Massachusetts Senate race between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren has brought heightened attention to claims of Native American ancestry in the U.S.. Warren appears to have at times claimed such ancestry, Cherokee and Delaware in particular. The Washington Post provided a thorough round-up of the issue. From what we know thus far, there’s no clear evidence of her claim. Like many families, especially in Oklahoma, her family has a vague account of one or more American Indian ancestors. The vagueness doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t true, nor does a lack of tribal records. However, there’s a well-known “Indian princess” syndrome, where notably large numbers of people in the U.S. claim a distant Native American ancestor, about whom the details are usually sketchy and inconsistent. Certainly some of these family oral histories are based in some truth, but others are likely apocryphal (though the individuals reporting them may truly believe them).
So Warren’s claim to some Native American ancestry is at least unverified, and there’s an interesting issue there in why so many Americans happily accept stories of native ancestry with little question.
But I was struck by opponent Scott Brown’s comment in one of his debates with Warren. Via abc News:
“Elizabeth Warren said she was a Native American, a person of color,” Brown said, gesturing toward Warren. “As you can see, she’s not.”
The statement implies that we can tell, just from looking, whether someone is really Native American. We can see, obviously, that she isn’t. This gets at a bigger issue about judgements of authenticity. Individuals often have preconceived ideas about what a Native American should look and act like; their Indianness is expected to be clearly visible, both physically and culturally.
Given this, I was particularly struck by a video Katrin recently sent in a link to the Represent series created by The 1491s. The videos challenge the viewer to recognize that American Indians and their cultures are still vital and vibrant. But they also illustrate the problem with assuming that anyone can easily tell who is or isn’t Native American, and how they integrate or represent that identity in their daily lives. Here are a few, but I’d check out the full set at the 1491s website.