Thursday, March 8, 2012

Playing Indian

Last semester, I took an amcult class that focused on Native American studies. One of the main ideas that we discussed throughout the course was the concept of playing Indian. This concept was briefly brought up again when we had Phil Deloria as a guest lecturer(he guest lectured for my amcult class as well). However, this course adds to the concept of playing Indian because it made me think of the act of playing Indian in a different light. In my class last semester, we learned that colonists in America initially "played Indian" in order to adopt a native identity to separate themselves from England. They also adopted it when rebelling against England, an example of which occurred when colonists dressed up as Indians during the Boston Tea Party. Playing Indian continued up until the present times, but it's purposes changed. Americans now played Indian as a way to promote American identity, believing that using Native Americans was a key to represent America as a whole. However, one issue that playing Indian brings up is that fact that it tends to be very stereotypical, and ignores Native American people as a whole and the difference between their tribes; it lumps all Native Americans together, disrespecting their cultural differences. The people playing Indian, on the other hand, tend to believe that they are respecting Indians by using them as a core piece of American identity, and that they are not appropriating stereotypes. One key example that we discussed was using Native Americans as mascots. When it came to this discussion, I completely understood why Native Americans were upset by such use and why they were fighting against it. I was surprised, however, to identify with fans and teams in this debate. Although I do see this use as disrespectful, I identify with fans because I am from Washingon D.C., and therefore a redskins fan, one of the most demeaning sports mascots there is. However, I understand that if the mascot was changed,   the fans support for the team would change; it would feel as if fans were supporting a different team than they had been loyal to for years. On the first day when we began discussing definitions of games and play, I began to understand just how playing Indian is a type of play(not just because of the name of the concept). To play Indian, one has to assume a role that they perform to others, they must attempt to embody the character that they are playing. Before this class I did not think of playing Indian as a type of play or game, but now I understand that it is.<---Halloween costumes are another way that people "play" Indian

1 comment:

  1. I think this post brings up many good points and arguments. I agree - commonly when we "play" something, even playing house/school as a young child, we boil the character down to its most generic, basic, form and mock, so to speak, that character. While this post was particular to native americans, it made me consider all other races and even, identities as well. In fact, I just finished watching a segment of Saturday Night Live that was all racial stereotypes and stereotypical impressions of individuals in the media. This further my thinking to consider avatars, as we have discussed in this course. It is common thought that when one constructs an avatar they are constructing their most desirable, fundamental traits. Yet, I question - is that the reality? Are we constructing fundamental traits or are we really constructing stereotypical identities? This post was very thought provoking!