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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

This cartoon shows an eskimo (Inuit)...wearing a fur-lined parka...in a kayak...near an igloo (icehouse). Four Native stereotypes for the price of one.

All of these are true images. They might even be true in combination (though I question whether a fur-lined parka would be the best garment to wear while kayaking). But they all suggest the Inuit live in the primitive past. In reality, except when they go on ceremonial hunts, today's Inuit live like everyone else. They wear Gore-Tex, ride snowmobiles, and reside in cabins.

Just think how artist Wiley could've conveyed the same "joke." He could've shown a pioneer near a log cabin with a grizzly bear behind the door. Or a knight near a castle with a dragon behind the drawbridge.

So why didn't he? Why did he use a Native figure instead?

Because using an Anglo would imply our ancestors were unsophisticated and easily fooled. And that wouldn't be as funny to Anglo readers. Better to mock "other" people who are supposed to be ignorant and gullible.

Wiley and other cartoonists use Native people—usually Plains Indians or the Inuit—to suggest remoteness from civilization in time and space. In other words, to suggest a primitive, barbaric, savage era. It's an era where, unlike today, people could easily fall prey to predators. Today's people are presumably too civilized for that.

Sure, cartoons with a historical bent often feature cowboys, knights, Romans, monks, presidents, and other famous white people of the past. Hewing to political correctness, they almost never feature historical blacks, Hispanics, Asians, or Jews. But significantly, they do feature two ethnic types: Natives and cavemen. (Since cavemen are drawn like Neanderthals—not only another race but another species—I'd say they're a generic ethnic type.)

If I had to quantify this, I'd say American cartoons use white people in historical cartoons 80% of the time and Natives and cavemen 20% of the time. Compare this to the actual US population, which is only 1% Native. The conclusion is as obvious as it is inescapable. Cartoonists use Natives and cavemen more often than their numbers warrant because these figures signify primitiveness. They're the stereotype of choice for conveying the concept.

Related links
Eskimos:  the ultimate aborigines

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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