race/ethnicity: American Indians/Aboriginals

Dolores R. sent us a link to a video posted at Racialicious about stereotypes of Native Americans in video games. Beth Aileen Lameman, the director and narrator, discusses a number of frequent tropes used when depicting Native Americans in games, such as the half-breed hero, the wise old Indian sage, and, of course, the hottie Indian princess, as well as the tendency to conflate many different tribes and cultures. It’s a great summary of common representations of Native Americans in pop culture more broadly:

Native Representations in Video Games from Elizabeth Lameman on Vimeo.

The College Board has released data from an initiative with the aim of better understanding the educational pathways of men of color.  Their site includes testimonials from many of these men, in addition to the data below.  And they included Native American men, a group almost always left out of quantitative data analysis because they are such a small percent of total Americans (in a profound and tragic irony).  Here’s the data on what each group of men are doing after high school.

About 1/3 of African American and Hispanic men are enrolling in some sort of college, another 34 and 47%, respectively, face unemployment.  A significant proportion go straight into work.  The 5% incarceration rate for Hispanics, and the 10% rate for Blacks, is a sad testimony to the over-policing of poor, urban neighborhoods, racial profiling, and emphasis on prosecuting the crimes of the poor.

Native American men are significantly less likely than Black men to go to college or vocational school.  They are most likely to straight into a job or be unemployed.  While not all all Native American men live on reservations — not by a long shot, those that do are more likely to be unemployed because of the dismal economic profiles of many of these regions.

Asian men are more likely to enter postsecondary education than either Native American or Black men, but the 61% is balanced by a good 30% ending up unemployed.  This reflects the diversity of the Asian community.  Some Asian groups do very well in the U.S. — e.g., Japanese and Asian Indians — others are still struggling — e.g., Hmong and the Vietnamese.

The charts below compare men and women in each group.  Each, with the exception of Native Americans, reveals the feminization of postsecondary education and the relative advantage women see in the market (mostly because we’ve got a strong service economy that hires women disproportionately).

Hat tip to Sociology Lens.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Adrienne K., from the excellent blog Native Appropriations, recently appeared on the Al Jazeera English show The Stream to discuss issues of cultural appropriation of Native American cultures in fashion and home decor, sports mascots, and so on. It’s a great segment about Native American concerns specifically, and the broader issues of appropriation, respecting different cultures, and how responsible different groups are for educating themselves and others about cultural traditions:

I argued earlier that Avatar was not a story about a heroic people, the Na’vi, but a white savior.  I summarized:

Sully is not only a superior human being, he is also a superior Na’vi. After being briefly ostracized for his participation in the land grab, he tames the most violent creature in the sky, thereby proving himself to be the highest quality warrior imaginable per the Na’vi mythology.  He gives them hope, works out their strategy, and is their most-valuable-weapon in the war. In the end, with all Na’vi contenders for leadership conveniently dead, he assumes the role of chief… and gets the-most-valuable-girl for good measure. Throngs of Na’vi bow to him.

Avatar was heralded as a break-through movie for its technological achievements, but its theme is tired.  With the aim of pointing to how Avatar simply regurgitated a strong history of white, Western self-congratulation, Craig Saddlemire and Ryan Conrad re-mixed the movie with other similar movies, including Blind Side, Dancing with Wolves, Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai, Out of Africa, Stargate, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

They go through several features of these narratives: awe at the “native” landanimalspeople, the decision that they are helpless and doomed without White, Western intervention, the designation of a White savior who devotes him or herself to their rescue, native self-subordination, and more.  It’s pretty powerful. Thanks to Lizzy Furth for sending the video along!

See also: Formula for a successful American movie.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Last week we featured a guest post by Stephen Bridenstine about the invisibility of Native American reservations on Google Maps, and how this affects our awareness of geographic and social realities. The flip side of ignoring some information about our country is what we do choose to draw attention to.

Over a year ago, Charlotte C. sent in a photo of a sign she noticed in downtown Fall City, Washington, about 25 miles east of Seattle. The sign includes several milestones for the area. The first significant event worthy of note is the first time a White person laid eyes on nearby Snoqualmie Falls:

This reminded me of a photo I took of a monument near the Black Hills in South Dakota. The monument is for Anna (or Annie) Tallent, a woman who was a teacher and superintendent of schools for Pennington County. While the monument mentions she was a “teacher and author,” her major claim to fame appears to be that she was the “first White woman to enter the Black Hills”:


In Memory of Anna Donna Tallent

Teacher and Author

Born in New York State, April 12, 1827.  Died in Sturgis, S. Dakota, February 13, 1901.

The first White woman to enter the Black Hills, arriving in Custer City in December 1874.

This monument is erected by the Society of Black Hills Pioneers and many admirers.

“The world is better because she lived and served in it.”

The monument to her achievements fails to note that in 1874, when she entered the Black Hills, the region was part of the Great Sioux Reservation and were not legally available to Whites for settlement. The U.S. Cavalry removed her entire party for setting up an illegal gold mining encampment on land that was clearly owned by the Sioux, according to an 1868 treaty with the U.S. government…a treaty the government quit honoring soon after Whites found out there was gold in the Black Hills, which the the federal government confiscated in 1877. Tallent discussed the illegal land invasions (including her expedition’s efforts to avoid detection by government officials) in her 1899 book The Black Hills, Or, The Last Hunting Ground of the Dakotahs, in which she laments the “mournful” state of the Sioux nation but rhetorically asks whether it’s appropriate to honor treaties that “arrest the advance of civilization” (p. 3) and, generally, presents a racist, condescending depiction of Native Americans as pathetic, sad “savages” whose displacement in the name of progress and civilization was inevitable.

So what story about our nation do these two monuments tell? The only information contained on the two-sided Fall City monument refers to the activities of Whites; the Native residents were important only when they lost land. For all intents and purposes, the history of the area started only once a White man had set eyes on it. Similarly, Tallent’s arrival in the Black Hills is memorable largely because she was a White woman, whose presence is by definition worthy of note and celebration — imagine, a vulnerable White woman braving the wildness of the Dakota territory! The fact that she was an illegal prospector camping on land she didn’t own while in the pursuit of quick wealth is neither worth mentioning nor a cause to question whether she’s a laudable figure deserving of a monument. Thus, the effect of both of these monuments is to normalize colonization and illegal settlement, and present the arrival of Whites as the beginning of meaningful history.

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

Melissa H.J., Lizzy F., Dmitriy T.M., Kari B., Kalani R., Lisa C., and Anna C. all sent us links about the recent blog post at Psychology Today that many of you have probably already heard about, since it caused quite the outcry. The article, by evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa, apparently went through multiple title revisions, starting out as “Black Women Are Ugly,” changing to “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”, and eventually becoming “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men?”, before being removed from the Psychology Today website altogether. However, as we know, nothing on the internet is ever really gone, and images of the original post are widely available. I’m using one from BuzzFeed.

Kanazawa apparently specializes in claiming that there are clear, definite, “objective” differences in attractiveness (and also intelligence, and also everything else important) between different races. Also, you can tell who is a criminal and who isn’t just by the way they look (an article illustrated with an image of O.J. Simpson) and, as an added bonus, “virtually all ‘stereotypes’ are empirically true”. We know this is objective because there are graph-y science things, with numbers:

To summarize his point: Women are more attractive than men. And when one of his Add Health interviewers measures a study participant’s attractiveness on a 5-point scale, this is “objective.”  Because they are researchers, and therefore anything they say is objective. And according to objective measurements, Black women aren’t attractive at all. In fact, they’re “far less attractive” than other groups of women. See?

It turns out White women are most attractive. Man! Who would have thought?

There are a lot of other gems, such as the fact that Black women, though objectively less attractive, bizarrely rate themselves subjectively more attractive. It’s like they don’t know they’re ugly!

I’m sick of this article and will leave it to you to click over and read the whole thing if you feel so inclined. Let’s just summarize some of the major issues, and then all move on with our lives:

First, he treats race like a real, biological, meaningful entity. But race is socially constructed; there is no clear biological dividing line that would allow us to put every person on the planet into racial categories, since societies differ in the racial categories they recognize and “race” doesn’t map along unique sets of genes — there is more genetic variation among members of a so-called race as there are between members of different races.

Aside from that, the idea of measuring beauty objectively, completely separated from all cultural influence, is problematic, especially when you start looking at differences by race/ethnicity. In The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law, Deborah Rhode discusses how perceptions of attractiveness have varied over time and across cultures and discusses the global history of slavery, colonialism, and race-based systems of domination that make it impossible to separate out our perceptions of what is beautiful and sexually appealing from historical ideologies that insisted that non-White peoples were unattractive (unless in an exotic way, when that was useful, and also, the Irish were hideous despite being European). Joane Nagel’s book Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality: Intimate Intersection, Forbidden Frontiers is another good source on this topic.

It is simply impossible to separate out even scientists’ ratings of attractiveness from the cultural context, one in which supposedly “Caucasian” features and light skin are repeatedly held up as the ideal of attractiveness (so even famous non-White people often find themselves lightened in media images) while dark skinned people are constructed as unattractive or even scary.

Given that history, it’s not shocking that White women would be rated most attractive and Black women least. What’s shocking is that a scholar at the London School of Economics would think you could uncritically accept those rankings as proof of objective reality, rather than the outcome of constant, long-standing cultural messages about attractiveness that resulted from efforts to legitimize and justify social and political inequalities.

UPDATE: Reader JA provided a link to another post at Psychology Today in which researchers looked at the data Kanazawa used and question his analysis and results.

UPDATE 2: The comments section has largely devolved into a flame war with lots of insults flying around, so I’m closing comments since I won’t be around to moderate them for the next week. I will go in and clean out the comments threads when I get a chance.

A recent Soc Images post on cultural appropriation highlighted issues of control over the production and representation of images of Indigenous peoples. On a related note, an image I captured during a recent visit to the Canadian Museum of Civilization (or as one of my professors has called it, the “Canadian Museum of Colonization”) highlights similar issues regarding the representation of Indigenous knowledges. This poster was displayed in the “First Peoples’ Hall” of the museum in a section dedicated to “Ways of Knowing”:

Two points are particularly striking. Firstly, the poster portrays the “preservation” of Indigenous knowledges as a project of colonizers and non-Indigenous anthropologists. Rather than attributing control over the production and representation of Indigenous knowledges to Indigenous peoples themselves, the poster depicts colonial “explorers” and anthropologists as the primary agents in these endeavors. Indigenous peoples themselves are merely portrayed as informants, leaving interpretation and presentation to colonizers and anthropologists. In recent years, numerous Indigenous scholars have written about the oppressive nature of this type of approach to Indigenous peoples and knowledges, pointing out how academic disciplines such as anthropology have been essential tools in the study and subjugation of Indigenous peoples as “primitive Others.”

Secondly, the poster presents Indigenous knowledges as static and unchanging, ignoring their dynamic nature and the ongoing experiences of Canada’s Indigenous communities. Canadian Indigenous scholar Andrea Smith* has argued that in settler societies such as Canada, false notions of the disappearance or threat of extinction of Indigenous peoples and their knowledges are at the foundation of cultural imaginations and serve as justifications for the appropriation of Indigenous lands and cultures. In this case, the threat of extinction is implied in the need for Indigenous knowledges to be “preserved in writing.”

This poster provides an entry point for questioning power relations inherent in the production and presentation of knowledge at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and similar institutions. This example demonstrates how the museum portrays a particular view of Canada and its relationship with Indigenous communities, one which ignores the historical and continuing reality of colonialism and its implications.

* Smith, A. (2006). Heteropatriarchy and the three pillars of white supremacy: Rethinking women of color organizing. In A. Smith (Ed.), Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology (66-73). Cambridge, MA: South End Press.


Hayley Price has a background in sociology, international development studies, and education. She recently completed her Masters degree in Sociology and Equity Studies in Education at the University of Toronto with a thesis on Indigenous knowledges in development studies.

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Sonita M. sent in a link to an image at GOOD that shows the makeup of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives now in terms of various characteristics (race/ethnicity, gender, political party, religion) and what it would look like if its members were more demographically representative of the U.S. population as a whole:

As they point out in the accompanying article, however, the area where Congress most differs from the U.S. population as a whole is in terms of socioeconomic status. The average wealth of members of Congress, according to OpenSecrets.org (they don’t specify if it’s the mean or the median, so I presume it’s the mean):

For the U.S. as a whole, median wealth was $96,000 in 2009 (the mean was $481,000), according to the Federal Reserve (via CNNMoney).