race/ethnicity: American Indians/Aboriginals

The CDC has just released a Health Disparities and Inequalities Report with new numbers detailing the uneven mortality and morbidity in the U.S.  Family Inequality‘s Philip Cohen highlighted the data on pre-term birth among whites, blacks, Asians/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, and some Hispanic subgroups.  It’s nice to see data that includes more than just whites and blacks; studies often do not report data on Hispanics, Asian/Pacific Islanders, and especially American Indians because the number of respondents is considered too low (and they do not over sample these groups).  More, breaking out the different Hispanic sub-groups is also rare.  As Cohen said, it’d be nice to see such detail for other groups as well (though it’s tough to do so for black Americans because those who arrived in the slave trade have often lost track of their national/ethnic origin).

In any case, the data both confirm previous findings and offer an important insight.  In the confirmatory case, it shows that Asians and whites are less likely to give birth to pre-term babies than other groups, with blacks suffering the worst outcomes.  As for the interesting finding: notice the wide range of outcomes for Hispanics of different origin.  Reporting only “All Hispanic” hides important variation. We can be assured that that variation is true for the other racial groups as well.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Nicole sent in this Australian commercial for P&O Cruises. Nicole was struck by the obvious racial divide, in which the privileged customers are all White, while non-Whites serve them, either literally (and with a smile!) or as a form of cultural entertainment:

It’s another example of a common tourism marketing theme, in which supposedly “traditional” and/or “native” cultures are provided as cultural experiences to “modern” tourists. This commercial just stands out because of the particularly stark division of the world into those who are entertained and attended to, and those who do the attending.

Dmitriy T.M. and Jeff H. sent in a link to Mapping the Measure of America, a website by the Social Science Research Council that provides an amazing amount of information about various measures of economic/human development in the U.S. Here’s a map showing median personal (not household) earnings in 2009:

The District of Columbia has the highest, at $40,342; the lowest is Arkansas, at $23,470 (if you go to their website, you can scroll over the bars on the left and it will list each state and its median income, or you can hover over a state).

You can break the data down by race and sex as well. Here’s median personal income for Native American women, specifically (apparently there is only sufficient data to report for a few states):

Native American women’s highest median income, in Washington ($22,181), is  lower than the overall median income in Arkansas, which is the lowest in the U.S. as we saw above.

Here is the percent of children under age 6 who live below the poverty line (for all races):

Life expectancy at birth differs by nearly 7 years between the lowest — 74.81 years in Mississippi — to the highest — 81.48 years in Hawaii:

It’s significantly lower for African American men, however, with a life expectancy of only 66.22 years in D.C. (again, several states had insufficient data):

The site has more information than I could ever fully discuss here (including crime rates, various health indicators, all types of educational attainment measures, commuting time, political participation, sex of elected officials, environmental pollutants, and on and on), and it’s fairly addictive searching different topics, looking data up by zip code to get an overview of a particular area, and so on. Have fun!


Before Halloween, I posted a video where Erin Gibson satirizes the way women’s costumes are overwhelmingly a “sexy” version of something…anything. Commenter HP took issue with it, wondering whether it satirized or challenged the topic in a useful way, rather than, in HP’s term, “pinkwashing” it — that is, presumably critiquing sexism but doing so in a way that looks nearly indistinguishable from the cultural trend supposedly being critiqued.

I thought about that when I saw a video my friend Captain Crab posted. The video features actor Graham Greene, a member of the Oneida tribe, and spoofs ads for Lakota, a brand of arthritis pain-relief medications that appropriates Native American imagery:

While it clearly parodies the Lakota brand and ads, I can’t quite decide how showing Greene then trying to sell his own product fits in — does that undermine the message about appropriation of native cultures? I sort of felt like it did, turning it more into laughing at this idea that everyone’s trying to sell you something. After all, Greene’s product refers to him as “Dr.,” so who is he to criticize sketchy marketing methods?

What do you think? An effective commentary on use of elements of Native American cultures in marketing?

Adrienne at Native Appropriations reports that this year Harvard University fraternity Sigma Chi threw a Columbus Day “bros and hos” party titled “Conquistabros and Navajos.” Get it?

Perhaps it’s too much to expect student in the Ivy League to be sensitive, but Harvard students are supposed to be smart, right?  Not so much.  Adrienne points out their bizarre illogic: how exactly does it make sense to have a party that mingles Navajos (from the American Southwest) with pilgrims (who lived in the American Northeast) and Conquistadors (who arrived after, not with Columbus) and cowboys (who, as we know them, would come hundreds of years later)?

And while we’re at it, why not expect them to be sensitive.  Adrienne reminds us, again, patiently…

1. Glorifying and making light of the atrocities committed by the “explorers” of the Americas is just as bad as glorifying the Nazis and the Holocaust, and not something to be taken lightly.

2. The theme is using a generic stereotype of an Indigenous person (in this case “Navajo”) to represent thousands of tribes and communities throughout the Americas, each with their own unique culture and history. The Indigenous groups who encountered the conquistadors are not remotely the same as Navajos in the southwest, and by lumping them together, the party contributes to continued stereotyping of Native peoples as one monolithic group — consisting of hollywood stereotypes of war paint, feathers, and buckskin.

3. Encouraging party goers to “dress up” as American Indians and Indigenous Peoples puts Native people in the category of a fantasy character — something that no longer exists, or never did. Columbus, Conquistadors, and Pilgrims are all situated in the past, but Native peoples are still here, are still alive, and still Native (and yes, cowboys are still alive, but they are not systematically oppressed and facing continued colonialism). It is also condoning dressing up in racial drag, and I would bet Sigma Chi might get in a little trouble if they hosted a blackface party.

But no one would do that, would they?

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

History isn’t fact, but a narrative.  Nations narrate their own histories, telling the stories about themselves that they prefer.  Holidays are one way in which these stories are told and re-told.

At www.america.gov, the U.S. government describes Columbus Day as a”commemoration” of Columbus’ “landing in the New World” (they astutely avoid the term “discovery”) and initiating a “lasting encounter” between the mis-named “Indians” and Europeans (no mention of genocide or the stealing of land).

Contesting this particular version of history, an organization calling itself Reconsider Columbus Day is asking Americans to adopt an alternative national narrative, one that both acknowledges and emphasizes the oppressive and unjust outcomes of the ongoing “lasting encounter” between American “Indians” and Europeans-now-Americans.

The narrative and counter-narrative is an interesting example of how nation-founding memories are not set, but always potentially changing as the national ethos and distribution of power shifts underneath them.

For more on national memories, see our post comparing the German approach to the Holocaust and the America approach to slavery.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


In this video, suggested by Dmitriy T.M., photographer Aaron Huey powerfully illustrates the history of the relationship between the U.S. and the Lakota of the Sioux Nation.   It includes the making and breaking of treaties, the use of the idea of private property to strip the Lakota of their land, the Battle of Wounded Knee, the stealing of the Black Hills, and the socio-economic (and related) disadvantages faced by the Lakota today.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Julie M. came across a bow and arrow set for sale at a Wholesale Sports store in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. The set is called the “Lil’ Sioux.” Notice any oddness about the description?

It’s the Lil’ Sioux…and also the “Sherwood Forester” set. What’s Sherwood Forest? Why, where Robin Hood and his Merry Men hung out. Because when you’re appropriating Native American cultures, you might as well conflate them with mythologized, and possibly entirely fictional, noble outlaws from another continent.

But given the popularity of “Native American” fashions these days, I guess it shows restraint that the kid isn’t wearing a feathered headdress.

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