Native Americans

The Denial of Humanity

Authored by: Debra Merskin

The Routledge Companion to Media and Race

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138020726
eBook ISBN: 9781315778228
Adobe ISBN: 9781317695837


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If you are among the 99 percent of Americans who are not Native American, 1 and know Indians 2 mostly through media representations, who do you think they are? Savages? Squaws? Princesses? Children of Nature? If you are Native, the few messages you do receive via the mass media and popular culture are either that you exist only in the past (Dances with Wolves, 500 Nations) or, if shown more contemporarily, work almost exclusively in casinos (The Killing, Big Love) or in law enforcement (Banshee). The symbolic annihilation of Indian peoples is an ethical issue for communication scholars and practitioners. Stereotypical representations not only reinforce dehumanizing and limiting views of the capabilities, appearances, and cultures of Native people to themselves (internalized oppression) and to non-Indians, but also support “structural exclusions and cultural imagining [that] leave minority members vulnerable to a system of violence,” both symbolically and actually (Perry 2002: 232). This chapter provides an overview of media portrayals of Native Americans. The first section contextualizes these representations by briefly discussing contemporary conditions of being Native in America. This is followed by a description of the history of representations of American Indians in several mass media forms (cinema, newspapers, television) and a discussion of debates related to research in this area, concluding with critical perspectives and debates in scholarship.

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