A response to Zagar the Horrible:
Good Morning Mr. Schmidt,
I had the opportunity to read your opinion article, "Racist ads fearture ignorant Indian", in Indian Country Today last night and I felt compelled to write to you and ask you this question...
Why do you look so hard for rascism or stereotypes especially when its not there?
Its a funny commercial and if a Native looks at that commercial and they develop low self esteem then we are doomed as a people.
To me this commerical is no different than the White barbarians from the Capital One commercials "whats in your wallet?"
It is my opinion that you working too hard to uncover things that aren't there and by doing that you are cultivating an attitude that we need to blame others for our low self esteem and that if Native Country is going to rise again it is because the occupiers of this land have let us rise again.
I do not base my self respect on what commercials or sports teams say about me.
Keep writing I enjoy that you have a forum to share your thoughts.
Health and Fitness Director / Migisi Trainer
LifeSkills Center for Leadership & Path to Greatness
Quote of The Day!
Age is mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.
-Leroy "Satchel" Paige
I asked my correspondents what they thought of this message—i.e., whether Zagar wasn't so horrible after all. Their replies:
He sees the issue differently and I have to respect that. I cannot tell a Native person how to feel about Native issues.
He mentions the White barbarians from the Capital One commercials. The difference to me is that the Capitol One barbarians are not well-developed. They just brandish their weapons and make roaring noises. Zagar, on the other hand, performs several elaborate tasks. I think that fleshing out the Zagar character gives him more "authenticity". Feel free to develop this idea further.
I would be more comfortable with the Bud Light commercials if Zagar were white and the roommate were a person of color. As it is, I can't escape the stereotype issue.
There is such a thing as living in the negative, and there is also such a thing as pointing out problems we need to watch. Were the weathermen predicting hurricane Katrina working too hard to uncover things that aren't there and by doing that cultivating an attitude that we need to blame ?
I think we need to monitor things that feed the ignorance of ordinary people. I have often heard innocent White people state that Indians never farmed, were all nomads, all lived in teepees, etc., and among our own people, I have heard that there are no Indians east of the Mississippi, that all tribes other than the Plains tribes don't have their own spirituality, that we all must follow the tradition of the Pow Wow, and that we are all humble.
There is much to learn on all sides, and Rob's writing style might seem too over the top for you, but he gets people's attention.
Did I miss something here? Did you say anything about developing low self-esteem? Maybe I didn't read your comments closely enough. Either way, no I don't think it damages anybody's self-esteems. It's simply intended as an insult and is viewed as such.
I think what that dude doesn't understand is that there's a difference between the Budweiser commercial and the Capital One commercial:
For a predominant society to make fun of itself is one thing, for the same society to make fun of minorities is quite another. Frankly, that's one that should be obvious but is really difficult to explain to people like this James Anderson. It's like someone making fun of himself as opposed to mocking someone else.
The sad truth is that James Anderson doesn't realize that race relations in the US are not at a status where it's okay for mainstream society to mock minorities. This would be okay in a country that's not noted for its racism but the US is not one of those.
Moreover the commercial really violates good taste on two levels
a) the racial angle
b) the national angle
The second point is another one the world is sick of, the Brits and the US constantly mocking people in other countries. Clearly this Zagar is not a Native American Indian from the US or Canada judging from the blow gun and whatever, and I seriously doubt it's a good idea to ridicule Latin American Indians at this time. The new president of Bolivia doesn't like the US anyway, so why make matters worse?
In fact, to be honest with you, I'm seriously wondering if the commercial wasn't inspired by the outcome of the Bolivian election to begin with and is really being mean-spirited, xenophobic, racist, and arrogant all the way around. I wouldn't put it past Budweiser.
Briefly, this guy has a very shallow understanding of psychological and anthropological concepts. He ignores the obvious problems with cultural images, self-concept, and especially ethnocentrism. Otherwise, he's right on—that commercial is damn funny.
[Dave, anthropology major in college]
No, the commercials aren't funny. Unless you think Amos 'n' Andy was funny also, that is.
Here are some tag-team replies from correspondents Wade Wofford (WW) and Juliet Fischer (JF) and me.
WW: His reply is empty fluff. He makes a denial of racism & stereotyping by accusing you of looking for what is not there...(doesn't merely say you're wrong in this one case, but suggests it's not there at all, that you spend great effort looking for haystack needles that may not even exist & are easily ignored even if they do exist)...but offers up no evidence other than his own personal opinion, without giving any reason to accept he's a credible source on the issue. He gives no facts in rebuttal, and the only credentials he gives relate to his job as a professional trainer and/or inspirational seminar staffer...hmm, maybe that's it? Could he be trying to drum up business for himself, by suggesting that self esteem & motivational problems are best fixed by self help AND GIVING contact information for the company he works for?
>> Why do you look so hard for rascism or stereotypes especially when its not there? <<
JF: 'People from the jungle are savages who cannot cope with "civilized" society' is NOT a stereotype?
Racism was there in the Zagar commercials and I didn't have to look hard to find it.
>> Its a funny commercial and if a Native looks at that commercial and they develop low self esteem then we are doomed as a people. <<
JF: EuroAmericans are the ones who are most likely to have their prejudices reinforced by the commercials, even those who think they don't have any.
People don't develop low self-esteem from any one image. It takes thousands of images to produce a cumulative effect. And the effect is most pronounced in children, who don't have the knowledge or experience to filter out negative messages.
>> To me this commerical is no different than the White barbarians from the Capital One commercials "whats in your wallet?" <<
WW: Except THOSE barbarians are a dangerous horde, violent but NOT ignorant or stupid or "wacky"...more to be feared than ridiculed. And since they are depicted as preying on folk who are naive about modern "civilized" economically realities, their depiction is a strong one...not "nice", but nevertheless strong (aggressive, dangerous to mess with)...rather than making them the butt of jokes.
JF: No American thinks that Scandinavians or other Europeans are 'primitive savages'. Only small children or particularly ignorant Americans expect to find longships in Scandinavian harbors and mead-halls full of armored warriors in downtown Oslo or Copenhagen.
Unfortunately, beads, buckskin, warpaint and feathers are too often the first things that come to mind when people hear 'American Indian.' Unless they've fully assimilated the OTHER stereotype, in which case they think of drunken, promiscuous, unemployed, trailer-trash living in the middle of nowhere (which, to make a pointless observation, with a change of skin color, is what comes to some people's minds when they hear the words 'redneck' or 'Southerner'). Indians are still thought of as primitive, perhaps even barbaric, and the 'Zagar' commercials don't help.
The two situations aren't analogous. A commercial satirizing a minority reinforces the many negative messages the minority has received over the centuries. In contrast, a commercial satirizing the white majority contradicts the prevailing message in our society: that white people are normal and good and deserve their dominant position. Even a thousand negative messages wouldn't contradict this positive paradigm because it's woven into the fabric of our society.
>> It is my opinion that you working too hard to uncover things that aren't there and by doing that you are cultivating an attitude that we need to blame others for our low self esteem <<
JF: I doubt that Mr. Schmidt is saying that. Such commercials and other offerings of popular culture make it harder for Native Americans to make their concerns heard.
From what I've read, low self-esteem exists among Native people, especially children. So who or what should we "blame" for it? What's causing it? Where does it come from?
Are you saying we should blame Natives themselves for having low self-esteem? Why exactly do you think they have inordinately high rates of alcoholism and suicide? I'd love to hear your explanation for why these social problems are occurring.
>> I do not base my self respect on what commercials or sports teams say about me. <<
JF: Maybe not, but consider that many of the whites are more likely to think of either buckskins and spears or booze and trailers when they see an American Indian. And that every stereotypical depiction makes it that much harder for the mass of non-Indians to see Indians as real people attempting to better themselves and get out from under the Great White Thumb.
WW: You'll notice that while he seems to imply that he's Native & thus a member of the group you purport is being negatively affected by the ads, he never actually comes out and says that he's Indian. He does not identify any tribal affiliation...which in my experience would more typical of enrolled tribal members giving opinions relating to their identity as Indians. Nor does he mention tribal descent, which is often proudly brought up by unenrolled mixed bloods.... irregardless of how distant. If he has even any Indian ancestry at all, my guess is that he's totally assimilated into White society & does not particularly identify himself with being Indian.
Based on what he writes...which is all he gives us the opportunity to judge him by...the impression is one of a generic White guy who doesn't like having society's racism acknowledged, who feels that because mainstream White's use "primitive" WHITES in commercials, it's O.K. for them to use "primitive" NON-Whites as well...even when in a totally different and less flattering context.
Can you spell "hypocrisy"? Or "rationalization?"
Let's finish with a quote from The Harm of Native Stereotyping: Facts and Evidence:
After listening to her sob uncontrollably for an hour and a half, Barry Landeros-Thomas finally calmed his daughter down enough for her to explain to him why she came home from school in tears.
During recess, a couple of boys danced around her singing a Pocahontas song, "Savages! Savages! Barely even human," he said.
"Native Americans Face Stereotypes," The Post (Ohio University), 11/1/01
The debate continues (10/14/06)....
>> If I place blame on others for my problems, they are not my problems and I won't have to change my behavior. <<
Racist and stereotypical depictions aren't your problem or mine. We don't have to change our behavior because of them. They're the problem of the people who conceive them, not the people who receive them. The creators are the ones who need to change their approach.
>> Self Esteem comes from finding solutions to your problems not running away from them or letting somebody else solve them. <<
If Natives want to join me in criticizing racist and stereotypical depictions, they're welcome to. The more the merrier. The more we criticize, the more the stereotypers will feel pressured to change their ways.
Children are especially vulnerable to being affected by stereotypes, as I've noted in The Harm of Native Stereotyping: Facts and Evidence. They don't have the ability to process stereotypes, to understand why they hurt, much less the maturity to "find solutions" for them.
Eradicating stereotypes at the source is a much simpler solution—more direct and to the point—then hoping you can somehow inoculate hundreds of thousands of children against them. That's what I'm trying to do.
>> Our people have been problem solvers since time began, I don't want to believe that we have been defeated to a point where my self worth is in the hands and actions of other cultures. Even writing those words feels terrible. <<
Stop doing commercials like "Zagar and Steve." Hire people like me as a consultant if you're too myopic to understand how stereotypical your creations are. There you go...problem solved.
>> To get our self esteem back we need to roll up our buckskin sleeves and get down to work and create our rightful place in this world. <<
I'm not a Native, but I'm creating positive works (Native-themed stories) as well as "negative" works (critiques of stereotypes). The two go hand and hand, and one needn't choose one over the other.
>> For example, if there are little economic prospects on a reservation, than move to a place where are more economic prospects. <<
A lot of Indians do move from the reservation, returning for special ceremonies. But if everyone left, Indian cultures would die. The government tried to force Indians to assimilate a century ago and it didn't work. It only left people feeling uprooted and alienated, without a home or community.
>> I hope I have answered your questions and have shed some light on my point of view. <<
Yes, you have, although you skipped over the fact that the Zagar commercials are racist and stereotypical. That remains the case.
The debate continues (5/17/07)....
Hey Mr. Schmidt! I am still around. I was out of town inoculating youth to be more confident as well as my wife had a baby that will be so influenced by the racist media that he won't know what to do with himself.
My Myopic self has really done some reflecting on your words and your website, once again I honor you for what you are doing when it comes to a positive message, and have come to the conclusion that we will agree to disagree. You can go about armed with the words of jaded Native activists and academics preaching the tired gospel of "you need to change your ways cause your racist" all you want but it won't do a thing until us Native people change our ways. We are more stereotypical about ourselves than anybody and that is the fault us not Budweiser. Unfortunately it is a lot easier to blame others then to look in the mirror. I believe when we change our ways the rest of the world will stand and take notice and I am tired of playing the "please stop being racist" sympathy act. So as along as you champion the cause of "those people need to change their ways" you are not helping, you are hurting. I am guessing that you may not be used to this outside the box thinking, so I expect you not to agree.
Go ahead keep waiting for them to give in to your demands and convincing Natives to believe that a commercial or logo is bigger than them. I will stick to teaching Natives that they are bigger than a logo, commercial or even some racist jerk.
And Zagar and Steve is not racist, but it is stereotypical, but so is everything else in the world. Stereotypes come out of identities that are real. Are there cultures that eat birds? Yes. Are there cultures that do sacrifices in ceremonies? Yes. Are there cultures that use blow guns during combat, Yes. Would it be funny if someone from that culture were to use those aspects of it while living with Joe "six pack" in a city. Yes. Its kinda like Crocodile Dundee. If you think that movie is racist, well at least you are consistent. I wonder how many Natives watched that movie and enjoyed it.
Heres a suggestion for your website. Interview people who don't care about logos and such or believe they are not abusive or hateful. That would be interesting.
Have a great weekend.
>> You can go about armed with the words of jaded Native activists and academics <<
Actually, most of the words are my own. I quote activists and academics—i.e., people who have studied the issues more than you have—but mainly to confirm my own analyses. Don't blame them for my opinions.
>> preaching the tired gospel of "you need to change your ways cause your racist" all you want but it won't do a thing until us Native people change our ways. <<
Change your ways how? Are you seriously arguing that Native people are responsible for non-Natives stereotyping them as savages? For breaking the hundreds of treaties they signed? For forcing them to attend boarding schools, become "good Christians," and assimilate? For denying them their sovereign rights as set forth in the US Constitution?
Why don't you explain how Natives caused all these things to happen? And how individual Natives can affect these things by changing their "ways"? Good luck with your answer...you'll need it.
>> We are more stereotypical about ourselves than anybody and that is the fault us not Budweiser. <<
You are? So Natives proclaim themselves more savage and uncivilized than non-Natives do? What a ridiculous claim. I bet you can't back up this incredible assertion with evidence.
>> Unfortunately it is a lot easier to blame others then to look in the mirror. <<
This doesn't apply to me since I'm not Native. I blame the people who deserve blame.
In other words, I find it easiest to look at the actual evidence and draw conclusions from it. For instance, I see countless cases of non-Natives stereotyping Natives even though Natives have done nothing to warrant it. Thus I conclude that my analyses are correct.
>> I believe when we change our ways the rest of the world will stand and take notice and I am tired of playing the "please stop being racist" sympathy act. <<
Again, change what ways? Are you talking about something specific, or just mouthing platitudes? If you have something in mind, spell it out. What exactly do you think the typical Indian need to change, and how will that affect the rest of the world?
People who aren't brainwashed by media stereotyping have already noticed Native people and supported them. What do you think you're going to make happen that hasn't happened already? For instance, how will "changing your ways" cause the media to stop stereotyping you? How will it cause politicians to stop reducing your rights and start increasing them?
Rob hurting, not helping?
>> So as along as you champion the cause of "those people need to change their ways" you are not helping, you are hurting. <<
Can you justify this claim with anything resembling a fact? I doubt it. Until you do, this is an opinion, nothing more. The many fans of my website say you're wrong.
>> I am guessing that you may not be used to this outside the box thinking, so I expect you not to agree. <<
What "outside the box" thinking...yours? That's a laugh. You're parroting the same line used by mainstream Americans for the last 100-plus years. "Get over your problems," they told Indians way back when. "The time for your savage, uncivilized ways is over. We've given you the tools to become productive citizens. Stop complaining about the past and start taking charge of your future."
Here are some people who are outside the present box but inside your past box. They agree with you that Indians are to blame for their own misfortune:
As I passed over those magnificent bottoms of the Kansas which form the reservations of the Delaware, Potawatomies, etc., constituting the very best cornlands on earth, and saw their owners sitting around the doors of their lodges at the height of the planting season and in as good, bright planting weather as sun and soil ever made, I could not help saying, "These people must die out—there is no help for them. God has given this earth to those who will subdue and cultivate it, and it is vain to struggle against His righteous decree."
—Horace Greeley, Letter 13: Lo! the Poor Indian!, An Overland Journey, from New York to San Francisco, in the Summer of 1859, 1860
[Education] cuts the cord that binds [Indians] to a Pagan life, places the Bible in their hands, substitutes the true God for the false one, Christianity in place of idolatry...cleanliness in place of filth, industry in place of idleness.
—1887 Superintendent of Indian Education Annual Report 131
[I]t was not that long hair, paint, blankets, etc., are objectionable in themselves—that is largely a question of taste—but that they are a badge of servitude to savage ways and traditions which are effectual barriers to the uplifting of the race.
—W.A. Jones, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, to E.A. Hitchcock, Secretary of the Interior, printed in the 1902 Commissioner of Indian Affairs Annual Report
The people of the Pueblos, although sedentary rather than nomadic in their inclinations and disposed to peace and industry, are nevertheless Indians in race, customs, and domestic government, always living in separate and isolated communities, adhering to primitive modes of life, largely influenced by superstition and fetishism, and chiefly governed according to the crude customs inherited from their ancestors. They are essentially a simple, uninformed, and inferior people.
—United States v. Sandoval, 231 U.S. 28, 1913
In short, you're blaming the Indian just as Americans have done for centuries. This kind of thinking is "outside the box" only in the sense that it's uninformed and outdated. No one who knows anything about Indian affairs is still blaming the victims.
In other words, if being outside the box means being in denial, I'm happy to be inside the box. You go on pretending racism and discrimination don't exist and I'll go on documenting their existence.
Are you even aware of how political and social change occur in America? How did blacks get civil rights: by blaming themselves for the white man's racism? By ignoring the structural barriers to progress and instead "changing their ways"?
No, they got civil rights by protesting and demonstrating and demanding that the system change. They didn't change themselves, except by finally standing up and speaking out. The system was the problem so they changed it.
Did you miss what happened after Indians protested at Alcatraz and Wounded Knee? That is, after Indians made non-Indians aware of their situation and coaxed them to do something about it? If you did, here's a summary of the results:
From War to Self-Determination
In the 1970s the new policy of self-determination reversed the policies of termination. Along with the new policy came greater application of Indian culture and tribal governments. Congress passed a series of laws, including the Indian Self-Determination Act, the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Health Care Improvement Act, which aimed to improve the quality of reservation life without destroying tribal government.
>> Go ahead keep waiting for them to give in to your demands and convincing Natives to believe that a commercial or logo is bigger than them. I will stick to teaching Natives that they are bigger than a logo, commercial or even some racist jerk. <<
Good for you. Now explain how your actions will get politicians in the federal and state governments to stop curtailing the Indians' political, cultural, and religious rights. Explain how your actions will increase the scandalously low funding for Indian education and healthcare. Go ahead...tell me how making a few Natives feel big will affect the nationwide onslaught against Indian rights.
Correspondent admits the obvious
>> And Zagar and Steve is not racist, but it is stereotypical <<
Bingo. So you finally admit the Zagar ads were stereotypical. You should've stopped there while you were ahead. <g>
>> but so is everything else in the world. <<
Nonsense. Lots of Native-themed products have avoided stereotypes. I've compiled long lists of Native movies, TV shows, books, and comic books, and the best works in each category are not stereotypical.
>> Stereotypes come out of identities that are real. <<
Maybe, but they exaggerate those identities to the point of unreality. In other words, if they were ever based on something real, they've distorted it to the point of being false or misleading. As in the case of the Zagar commercials.
>> Are there cultures that eat birds? Yes. Are there cultures that do sacrifices in ceremonies? Yes. Are there cultures that use blow guns during combat, Yes. <<
I covered these points in my original article and in my response at Zagar the Horrible. Come up with a better argument because I've already addressed this one and dismissed it.
>> Would it be funny if someone from that culture were to use those aspects of it while living with Joe "six pack" in a city. Yes. Its kinda like Crocodile Dundee. <<
No, it's not like Crocodile Dundee. In that movie, Dundee was portrayed as superior to Americans. He came across as smarter, not stupider, because of his foreign ways.
In contrast, Zagar is the butt of the joke in the Zagar commercials, not the people around him. Nothing good comes of his actions; he never triumphs over anyone. Viewers are left shaking their heads at his foolish behavior.
Hmm. No wonder you can't see the racism inherent in these commercials. You've misunderstood them entirely. You think they're glorifying Zagar when they're not.
>> If you think that movie is racist, well at least you are consistent. I wonder how many Natives watched that movie and enjoyed it. <<
No, I don't think it's racist. It's an example of a good way to portray a different culture—as something that provides both benefits and drawbacks. In contrast, Zagar doesn't do anything to make himself seem superior to Americans. If he isn't an inept clown, he's a brutal thug. In most of the commercials, the next step would be his arrest for the crimes he's committed. He'd be jailed, deported, or institutionalized...I don't know which.
>> Heres a suggestion for your website. Interview people who don't care about logos and such or believe they are not abusive or hateful. That would be interesting. <<
Since most Americans believe mascots aren't abusive or hateful, such opinions are commonplace. I've quoted such people dozens of times while showing them where they were wrong. If some mascot lover came up with a position I hadn't heard a hundred times before, I'd fall over in shock.
Meanwhile, I suggest you interview people at your Life Skills Center and find out what they really think. Show them a picture of Chief Wahoo and ask them if it's stereotypical. Show them a Zagar commercial and ask them if it portrays Indians as savage and uncivilized. Let me know the results.
. . .
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