Even though it’s been at least a year since I have seen images of the Chief, the former mascot at the University of Illinois, where I am still technically a student, just thinking or hearing or talking about it elicits a really visceral reaction. I hate hearing people say, “oh, you’re making a big deal out of nothing,” “it’s just a mascot,” or worse, when talking about problematic representations of Native Americans (or Asian Americans, or adopted persons, or what have you) in children’s books: “They’re just kids. They won’t get it.”
Well, kids do get it (see The First R: How Children Learn Race and Racism for discussions of how 3 year olds learn and internalize racialized concepts). Research shows, again and again and again, that negative representations in literature, television, and other media have negative effects on self esteem, perceptions of self worth, can lead to lower performance, etc. Ideas about race, gender, class, sexuality etc don’t come out of nowhere; they’re embedded in our society and subtly or overtly teach children our standards and expectations for behaviors and beliefs. When we accept harmful images in our children’s books and popular culture, just because those cultures aren’t our own, we are implicitly telling our children that it is okay to stereotype, marginalize, and ghettoize certain people.
So I think it is really great that there is yet another study on the effects of American Indian stereotypes. Check out the entry on University of Illinois Professor Debbie Reese’s blog: