Matthew Mrozinski PRAD 335 The Case for Extending Protection to Native Americans from Discriminatory Stereotypes in our
Consumerist Society Introduction It has proven better business for corporations to keep certain profitable, yet discriminatory, brand names than it would be to change them. They prove the dollar value of the brands, shown by continued sales and rising profits, are worth more to the companies than the loss of human life caused by suicide, alcoholism and violence that afflicts this population as a product of the low self-esteem and lack of dignity caused by the continued practices of discriminatory depiction in the dominant culture. Native Americans are openly, safely, and freely stereotyped, and make up one of the last remaining ethnic minorities to be dealt with as such. Other minorities have been depicted as caricatures on everyday household objects to reinforce the beliefs dominant society holds towards their appropriate place in that society. When the Civil Rights movement sprang up in the 60’s, the advertising culture of the “happy Sambo,” fat mammy and “Frito Bandito” collapsed in response. If we are to live in a truly “post-racial” society, we must end the discriminatory depiction of Native Americans in consumer culture media. This insensitivity to cultural differences has wide-reaching and devastating consequences for the dignity of the smallest minority segment in America. In particular, the depiction of Indian women in advertising and branding has a role in fostering an environment of hopelessness and desperation on the reservation system as shown by the elevated risks for suicide, alcoholism and violent death they face. Further perpetuating the downward spiral are alcohol advertisements targeting Native Americans, luring them into alcoholism with images of the good life and
escapism. Curtailing the negative effects of these two forces alone would relieve tremendous amounts of the ethno-stress this population needs to endure just to survive. Literary Review The Stereotyping of Native Americans This article by Dolph Hatfield appeared in the Humanist magazine, a civil rights publication, in 2000. The author begins by listing stereotypical misappropriations of various Native American images: In sports there are the Washington Redskins football team, the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians baseball teams, and the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team. Fans of the Atlanta Braves use the ‘tomahawk chop,’ […] the Cleveland Indians use the mascot Chief Wahoo and the University of Illinois uses the mascot Chief Illiniwek” (p. 43). The wide array of products, services, and brands that this image is used to market product “serve[s] to illustrate how freely this minority is symbolized in society” (p. 43). Hatfiled asks: “How do we know these uses are discriminatory? Would we buy cars sold as “a Jeep African [or] Jeep Mexican,” or tolerate a beer branded as “Martin Luther King Jr. Malt Liquor?” (p. 43). The author tags the stereotypes as damaging to “the dignity and self-esteem of Native Americans,” which would be “most certainly improved if the use of these stereotyped names, images, and mascots ceased” (p. 44). Society has recognized the inequality of stereotypes in the past (Frito Bandito, Aunt Jemima, etc.) and responded in the past with appropriate changes. According to the author, “the many acts of stereotyping are major contributing factors to more life-threatening hardships” (p. 44), and the future of Native Americans is dependant on these stereotypes’ replacement with a modern and positive image of the non-extinct Indian. Winnebagos, Cherokees, Apaches and Dakotas
In this 2001 article from the Howard University Journal of Communications, Merskin likens the practice of using American Indian images to define brand logos, team mascots and vehicle models to Black Americana “collectibles” widely available from the 1880s to 1950s. She argues that the proliferation of these racial caricatures on everyday items and household objects were “nonverbal articulations of racism,” the presence of which served the purpose of reinforcing “beliefs about the place of Blacks in American society” and making “whites feel more comfortable with, and less guilty about, maintenance of distinctions on the basis of race well after Reconstruction. These items were meant for daily use, hence constantly and subtly reinforcing stereotypical beliefs (p. 160).” We have done away with the blackface piggy banks and Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, the Frito Bandito and other stereotyped images have been modernized or eliminated from campaigns altogether, “but the Indian image persists in corporate marketing and product labeling (p. 167).” The most common use of Indian images is a tool for companies to make brand associations in their advertising. One example the author provides is the Indian maiden stereotype as seen in Land-O-Lake’s butter. From press releases and company literature, the author uncovers that “the Indian woman on the package is associated with youth, innocence, nature, and purity,” a constructed image of “the generic ‘Indian maiden,’ subsequently transferring “the qualities stereotypically associated with this beaded, buckskinned, doe-eyed young woman […] to the company’s products” (p. 165). This thinking extends to all other industries—we see teams named “Braves,” “Redskins” and “Indians” to evoke suggestions of a collectivist image (also fierce, predatory, cultureless and animalistic), while the Jeep Cherokee name invokes the brand’s promise to create oneness with nature.
At the time of the Civil Rights era, minority consumer groups were able to make their voice heard through the act of boycott. Once marketers noticed the power of boycott, they provided products and advertising that appealed to a wider range of cultures. Because of their size as a population, “American Indians do not represent a significant target audience to advertisers; representing less than 1% of the population, and [as] the most economically destitute of all ethnic minority populations, American Indians are not particularly useful to marketers. (p. 167)” This is a true sign of the “dollar democracy” that exists and the marginalization it creates for ethnic minorities. The voiceless nature of the American Indian population within the larger society permits the stereotypes to persevere. The unstoppable transmission of “inaccurate beliefs about Natives to Whites” also applies to Indians; should in adolescence “Native children internalize these representations that suggest that Indians are lazy, alcoholic by nature, and violent, this misinformation can have a life-long impact on perceptions of self and others (167).” The socalled “positive stereotype” argument is null because these traits are only held by the ancient, “state of nature” Indian. The S-Word While I have discussed the “state of nature” image of the “Indian maiden,” it is interesting to note the startling image that arises in competition of this image in mass media that further demonstrates the injurious effects of stereotyping on minority populations. Merkin’s 2010 article in the same journal addresses the “S-word,” or “squaw,” as it emerges from the vernacular as a euphemism for the female genitalia to symbolize a contradiction to the Indian maiden, the “anti-Pocahontas,” as ascribed by dominant society. This article uses the history of the word and its usages to liken it to the equivalent of combining the N-word and the C-word. It is further
suggested that the shared historical contexts of words like “Redskin” and “Brave” once shared analogous purposes in the dehumanization and subordination of Indian cultures during Manifest Destiny and westward expansion. The article theorizes that “the wide array of individual qualities, experiences, histories, and characteristics are truncated by stereotyping into a single Pan-Indian identity based on a unilateral conception of ‘Indianness’ (352).” This unilateral conception is the basis on which all identity crisis within Indian cultures are founded; youth receive tremendous pressure from peers to conform to this image and are ostracized for rejecting the stereotypes while on the reservation, while off the reservation they cling to their “Indianness” in a whitewashed society by accepting the stereotypical depictions as “honoring their traditions” by embracing drunkenness, culturelessness, and animalism. The results of these images on Native women are heartbreaking. Native American girls are “two to three times more likely to commit suicide and twice as likely as other Americans to die before the age of 24” (p. 359). When males internalize the images portrayed in popular society, they treat their women like how they believe a “savage,” in the eyes of dominant society, should treat his squaw; “Native women are disproportionately affected by violence at a rate almost 50% higher than that reported for African American males (359).” The author concludes: “Embedding racist and sexist stereotypes in brands, labels, landforms, and media images and words is an exercise in power” (360). Pro-Drinking Messages and Message Environments for Young Adults While I mentioned the voiceless nature of Native Americans in the dollar democracy, this article by Alaniz and Wilkes from the Journal of Public Health Policy offers one instance where marketers will listen to Native Americans, in a perverse way. “For many ethnic minorities who
may feel excluded from the American milieu, the message seems clear; the alcohol industry recognizes and welcomes those cultures that were, heretofore, rendered invisible in most other sectors of society” (1998, p. 447). Thus emerged the Crazy Horse brand of malt liquor. “Crazy Horse was a warrior and revered spiritual leader who spoke out against the use and abuse of alcohol,” and “fought to keep the U.S. from invading […] in search of gold” (462). The product was banned in some jurisdictions, and its manufacturer “Hornell brought suit against the government, charging that the prohibition was a violation of First Amendment free speech rights. […] In April 1993, a federal court in Brooklyn, New York ruled [the ban as] unconstitutional and a violation of Hornell’s First Amendment free speech rights” (p. 464). Analysis of Literature The literary review has clearly shown the effects of this identity crisis in which advertising has played a key role in creating. Advertising heavily shapes the socialization process that children undergo. Children recognize racial similarities and bind their identities to the people who are “like them.” When Indian children are presented this pervasive image of these archaic and romanticized depictions of “their own type,” the construction of identity is instable and wrought with contradictions in the belief that Merskin’s fictional “pan-Indian” (2010, p.352) stereotypes must be fulfilled to gain acceptance in the dominant culture. The perpetuation of these image and use of derogatory words in popular culture well after the Civil Rights era mirrors the popularity of Black Americana collectibles after the reconstruction in existence as well as in absurdity. Just as these “collectibles” desensitized Americans to post-Reconstruction racism towards blacks (2001, p. 160), the outdated images of Indians contribute to the public belief that Indians are ancient, extinct or historical.
They are allowed to continue under innocuous premises, as mentioned: excused for honoring a great history, “it’s for the environment,” or “they’re only words and logos,” but as demonstrated, their meanings are rooted deeply in a far more toxic history than we are lead to believe. The danger lies in accepting these cultural definitions of self—which Indians can do in seeking acceptance in the dominant culture—and when dominant society believes these images as factual. When we acknowledge that using racist stereotypes in advertising are discriminatory and continue the practice of using them, it sends the wrong message to the group being stereotyped. It shows a selective attitude towards civil and human rights, saying that some minority groups are worthy of equality while others are not. These attitudes create the environments of desperation on reservation systems that contribute to the “exercise in power” (Merskin, 2010, p. 360) that ensures the destruction of Indian communities and culture, which were the means to the end goal of the Dawes Act (or the General Allotment Act of 1887, the goal I reference was to end the “Indian problem”). I think we need a call to action for aggressive rebranding, starting with household brands—eliminating the Land-O-Lake’s girl, the Jeep Cherokee name, and Sue Bee Honey’s Indian headdress, and replace them with non-racial symbols that effectively convey the same (or a similar) message. Team names that are too engrained in the traditions of sports fans to abandon should consider branding without the caricatured mascots. We see through the courts’ protection of corporate free speech in the past that it comes down to the consumer to speak in this dollar democracy the only way they can, by changing spending habits. If this message is spread to the dominant culture and they are sensitized to the damage they cause by supporting these brands, marketers will realize that stereotypes in advertising like this might actually be a little bit passé and begin to phase them out of the
equation. If not, we may see a complete destruction of Indian communities and culture across the country within the next few generations. It is not “honoring” a great tradition to keep them trapped in the past through the use of these images, at least no more than the old Aunt Jemima ads were honoring the traditions of blacks in servitude. Analysis of Advertisements On the following page, I have included an image of a print ad for American Spirit brand cigarettes, the tagline of which reads: “Natural tastes better.” The pack design features a generic headdress-wearing chief pulling on a peace pipe and an indigenous bird of prey design on the top. The body copy mentions the ecological methods of tobacco growing used to make their cigarettes and that protecting the earth “is as important to us as it is to you.” The intended effects of this advertisement serve to make the link between the American Spirit brand and traditional Native American views on environmentalism to suggest that the tobacco tastes better because is grown “like the Indians grew it.” This ad indirectly targets Native American consumers of all ages, and especially children. It functions in a similar manner to the Crazy Horse malt liquor brand Native women have the highest incidence of smoking compared to any other ethnic group, at 40.8% of the population (Merskin, 2010, p. 359). In the search for identity, Native Americans will adopt brands such as Native Spirit because it features the Chief, headdress, peace pipe, and bird imagery, which are all sacred symbols. These sacred symbols are very tribe-specific, and the manner in which they are combined is an example of the “Pan-Indian” identity created by dominant culture that Merskin describes.
References Alaniz, M., & Wilkes, C. (1998). Pro-Drinking Messages and Message Environments for Young Adults: The Case of Alcohol Industry Advertising in African American, Latino, and Native American Communities. Journal Of Public Health Policy, 19(4), 447-472. Hatfield, D. L. (2000). The Stereotyping of Native Americans. Humanist, 60(5), 43. Merskin, D. (2001). Winnebagos, Cherokees, Apaches, and Dakotas: The Persistence of Stereotyping of American Indians in American Advertising Brands. Howard Journal Of Communications, 12(3), 159-169. doi:10.1080/106461701753210439 Merskin, D. (2010). The S-Word: Discourse, Stereotypes, and the American Indian Woman. Howard Journal Of Communications, 21(4), 345-366. doi:10.1080/10646175.2010.519616