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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

From the Santa Cruz Sentinel, 11/9/03:

Dan Harper column
Obsession with cleanliness thwarts spontaneity

Our daughter and her husband are raising our grandson without the food fears we've tried to instill in them. They believe in the five-second rule — if something Danny has in his mouth drops on the floor or onto the ground, they think they have five seconds to pick it up, brush it off and put it back into his mouth before the invisible creepy-crawly things hop aboard.

Where did they get such tribal rubbish? Are we savages or what? But our grandson is surprisingly healthy so maybe I've got it all wrong.

Rob's comment
Harper seems to be saying the belief in "invisible creepy-crawly things" is unscientific and superstitious, which makes it "tribal rubbish." Anyone who has such a belief must be a "savage." So Harper implicitly equates things he considers backwards and barbaric with indigenous peoples and cultures.

Ironically, traditional Natives kept themselves much cleaner than Europeans did. I don't think the Natives' practice was religious; I don't think they believed "cleanliness is next to Godliness" or something like that. Rather, I think they simply considered it good hygiene.

In contrast, I'll bet Europeans had some quasi-religious belief for not bathing—something about honoring the grime God gave them or not washing away their souls. So the "savage" Indians were following what we'd call common sense while the "civilized" Europeans stank to high heaven.

Whatever their reasons for remaining dirty, the Europeans weren't just exercising a personal choice. Their behavior was scientifically less justifiable. It was demonstrably worse. European cities were breeding grounds for infectious because people had little regard for cleanliness or sanitation. Germs that were unknown in the New World ravaged the Old World.

We can think of many other areas where supposedly civilized Westerners follow unscientific or superstitious beliefs. For instance, the Nazis (and many Americans) believed white people were genetically superior to others. "President" Bush believes he has the God-given authority to launch preemptive wars. Millionaire sports stars believe they get a boost from wearing lucky socks or jocks. Etc.

Related links
Uncivilized Indians
Savage Indians

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