race/ethnicity: American Indians/Aboriginals

This website contains links to a lot of Census Bureau maps showing where different racial and ethnic groups (including White ethnics) are concentrated in the U.S. They also have “absence of” maps showing counties with less than 25 people from different racial grops, which are fascinating. They’re all available from the Census, but it’s nice to have them all collected here for easy access and comparison.

Thanks to Kelly V. for pointing it out!

Kirsten D. sent us this link to a series of Playmobil families.  She notes how the families are all racially marked (using racial categories like “Asian” and “African” instead of nationality categories like “Japanese” and “Somalian”).  The “Mediterranean/Hispanic” category also points to the social construction of race and the way in which social construction varies across cultures (Playmobil are made in Germany).

They families are also racially homogeneous.  In the world of Playmobil (at least how it is sold, though not necessarily how it is played with) there are no interracial families and, therefore, no bi- or multi-racial people.  In this way the toys reify racial categories and naturalize racial matching in relationships.

African/African American Family:

Mediterranean/Hispanic Family:

Asian Family:

Native American Family:

Notice also that all of the families are in contemporary clothes except for the Native American family.  Ethnicized groups are often represented in “native” costume, but this is especially true for American Indians (at least in the U.S.).  It is as if, in the popular imagination, American Indians are extinct; as if there are no American Indians alive today walking around in Nikes (there are).

So, in the world of Playmobil, American Indians are, like Romans, a historical artifact:

Also, because it warrants pointing out, all the female and male children all have gender stereotypical toys.

In Elk City, Oklahoma, I saw this billboard for Howe Nissan car dealership:

In case it doesn’t make sense to you, it’s based on that stereotypical image you always see of Indians in buckskin posed like this saying “How” in greeting in movies and stuff. You know, “Howe” and “How.” If you didn’t know, whenever you meet an Indian, they raise their palm to you and say “How.” My mom does it all the time. It’s totally the Indian version of “talk to the hand.”

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting use of a stereotypical Indian image to sell stuff. You’ve got all the goodies–the universalized “plains Indian” outfit, the portrayal of Native Americans as though they all still run around in buckskins, the play on a made-up version of “Indian” language, and the stoic face.

Here is a video of the famous “crying Indian” anti-littering PSA from the early 1970s:


The actor, Iron Eyes Cody, was not actually Native American, he was Italian American. You can read more about him at snopes.com.

In case you didn’t know, the famous “Chief Seattle” speech about the need to honor the earth and care for the environment was written by a white guy, also in the early 1970s.

These could be interesting for discussions of environmentalism and American Indians. Why do environmental messages somehow have more authority if they supposedly come from an Indian? Would the “Chief Seattle” speech be less meaningful if we knew a white guy wrote it? Why?

They could also be used in discussions about the appropriation of Native American culture and the use of non-Indian actors to play Indian roles. It’s also interesting as an example of how American Indians are often depicted as historic throwbacks who are still living in the 1800s (and are all from plains tribes and wear big headdresses): even though it was 1971 and the guy was standing next to a highway full of cars, he was dressed in buckskin and feathers. Because, you know, that’s what Native Americans wear, all the time. Believe me, back in Oklahoma, that’s all you see.

NEW: Another fallacious Native American environmentalist was Grey Owl. Grey Owl was a Britain named Archibald Belaney who adopted an Indian identity and became famous in Canada for his conservationist stance. Here is his wikipedia entry.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Marcello sent us this really fascinating example of political propaganda from an anti-immigrant party in Italy. He translated the text as:

They suffered immigration
Now they live in reserves
Think about it

The implication is, if they let immigrants into Italy, the current residents will suffer the same fate as American Indians.

Marcello writes:

Beside the obvious racist concept i think it’s quite ironic that they identify
themselves with people they would probably discriminate [against] if they ever
met any american-native people here in italy and the fact that they criminalize
the role that the very same “western civilization” they stand for (against the
“bastardization of culture from muslim heretics”, their words, not mine) played
in the american-native genocide.

Original post, by Marcello, here. Thanks!


These images came to us from Dianne who saw this on BoingBoing and dug deeper to find all these great examples!

Illustrating the way in which whiteness is taken-for-granted and others are always, well, other, Plan Toys sells these doll sets labelled “Ethnic Family,” “AsianFamily,” and, “Doll Family.”

They also sell a “farmer” and a “farmer’s wife.” Dianne notes: “Women don’t farm, apparently, they just marry men who do.”

They also sell this generic “Native American set” of which they write:

“Children can create imaginary stories with the Indian figures, camp, teepee and authentic accessories. They can learn about the traditional American tribe and their lifestye.”

Notice how American Indian tribal difference is erased with the phrase “the traditional American tribe.” Diane pointed out that the set actually combines teepees and totem poles which were traditions of tribes in the plains and on the west coast respectively.

In the “How to Play” section, it says:

“Children can imagine and tell stories about Red Indians, helping to stimulate their imagination and expanding their horizon.”

Yes they really do say “Red Indians.”

Diane notices that, just like the doll family is obviously white, “here again, apparently the default child is white, who can ‘imagine… stories about Red Indians.'”

Ironically, the company claims that they are “socially & environmentally responsible” and promote “good values.”

Thanks so much Diane!

NEW: Kirsten D. sent us this link to a series of Playmobil toys.  All of the non-white characters are given racial designations, but the white characters are not.  I included some examples below.

African/African American Family:

Asian family:


Medical Team and Patients:

Prince and Princess:


Also in the neutral and the marked: men are people and women are women and from pale to pumped with racial stereotypes.