Stereotyping, Cultural Appropriation & Racism


(deutsche Übersetzung noch in Bearbeitung)

We believe that we live in a colonial present, in which racism and white supremacy causes inequalities on the juridical, economic and cultural level of society as well as globally. The way people think about themselves and the world shapes their behavior towards other people. White supremacy functions through the principle of Othering, in which a positive, superior white identity is constructed by the detour of constructing a inferior Other. In most cases the Other is directly constructed as worth less than the Self. In the case of the construction of Native Americans in Germany, exotization comes into play. The Native Other is idealized and reduced to a stereotype of a backward, but noble savage, that lives in harmony with nature.

Whether from novels, non-native historians and so-called native experts, US systematic, institutional racism and white privilege caused misinformation and misinterpretation of natives to spread around the world. In the US mainstream, Native stereotypes and Eurocentric perspectives subsumed real natives and their reality.

From kindergarden to post-doctoral university, skewed history has miseducated generations. Whether in books, film, pop culture and fashion or on sport fields as mascots, native identities have been stolen, and that theft justified with a sense of ownership and superiority. Along with minimization of the challenges Native peoples face to represent and present themselves, disregard or dismissal of native concerns and negative impacts to their lives continues to be widespread. Such attitudes and behaviors have also spread to and flourished in Germany. This mindset is a trait shared between too many white people whether in the US or Germany.

Combined with the desire for connection to or emulation of natives, cultural appropriation of native traditions and identities became a hobby for enthusiasts, a sub-culture that continues to grow today and has spread into the arena of spirituality and belief systems,which are again being misused or Europeanized just like in the USA.

How are such activities and behaviors considered racism or as having racial elements? “Racism involves physical, psychological, spiritual, and social control, exploitation and subjection of one race by another race” (Phavia Kujichagulia, Recognizing and Resolving Racism: A Resource and Guide for Humane Beings). In this case, the white dominant culture, which made itself so through brutal colonization marked by mass slaughter, is attempting to control native identity, cultures and beliefs. They had long sought to control and impose theirs own perspectives, needs and viewpoints on people they marginalized and historically oppressed, whose struggles for self-determination and protection of their lifeways continues today.

Racism is often present in cultural appropriation of Native American cultures and identities for these and other reasons. As defined by Anti-Racism Media Education (ARMEd):

  • generalizing one group of people by believing in simplistic stereotypes of that group.
  • affects every aspect of the lives of communities of colour: social, economic, political, health, etc.
  • may take three main forms (though all work together to maintain a system of oppression):
    • Individual Racism-individual acts that overtly reflect racist attitudes/beliefs. This is the easiest one to identify. ie. racial slurs, jokes, etc.
    • Systemic Racism and Institutional Racism-organizational policies and practices at the structural level that indirectly target communities of colour and maintain white privilege. Ie. racism in the criminal justice system (racial police profiling); racism in the educational system (all white authors on a course reading list.)
    • Cultural Racism-value system that supports and allows discriminatory actions against racially and ethnoculturally marginalized communities. Ie. white privilege.