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What Makes the Red Man, Red?


Submitted By brattsr2cute
Words 1817
Pages 8
Every day children are exposed to stereotypes and misrepresentations of Native Americans, with a stereotype being “preconceived or oversimplified generalizations usually, but not always, involving negative beliefs about a particular group” (Brunette). For children to learn the stereotypes so young and to think that that is how a certain group of people really is, only perpetuates the cycle of how some races or ethnic groups are treated, even something as seemingly innocent as Disney’s Pocahontas or Virginia Grossman’s Ten Little Rabbit, can really be a stereotype in hiding. “…Children between 2 and 5 years of age start to become aware of race, ethnicity, gender, and disabilities…Children learn stereotypes and attitudes about race from their parents, caretakers and the world around them” (Brunette). The knowledge that young children hold about Native Americans can vary greatly form child to child. Some children know about a tribe that lives in their area, while others just have the images that Disney has put in their heads. Most children believe that Native Americans are a thing of the past, that there are no living Native Americans today,
A kindergarten class visits a children’s museum on a nearby American Indian reservation. As they enter the foyer, their guide, a member of the reservation’s Native tribe, greets the group. “When are we going to see some real Indians?” asks one of the children. “You are meeting one. I am American Indian,” says the guide. The children are skeptical. Their host, with his professional, contemporary appearance, looks quite similar to their teachers, families, and neighbors. “You don’t look like one,” ventures five-year-old Katie. “Where’s your horse and headdress?” (Roberts). A lot of the Native American stereotypes were in the old western films, while those are less popular today children are still being exposed to such things. Disney’s Pocahontas is a very controversial movie not only with its inaccurate depiction of Native Americans, but because historians still do not agree on how the scenario actually played out. Besides that, the stereotypes within this movie are blatant. The fact that Pocahontas is portrayed as an Indian Princess is a white creation. As Vine Deloria says in his book, Custer Died for Your Sins, it is “…the Indian-grandmother complex that plagues certain whites. A male ancestor has too much of the aura of the savage warrior…to make him a respectable member of the family tree. But a young Indian princess? Ah, there was royalty for the taking” (3). Deloria comments greatly on the white man’s need to identify with a female Indian if they are to claim any Indian blood at all.
In the article, Stereotypes of Native Americans in Modern Films, Steve Barr comments on the teaching of young children about Native Americans in schools; “Children first learned about Squanto and how he helped the pilgrims survive through their first winter in America. This gave some children a confused image of Native Americans since they had always seen on television shows the Native Americans as savages….” (Barr). In the classic Disney movie, Pocahontas, both the Native Americans and the whites see the others as savages. The video portrays the Native Americans as savages, kidnapping a white man for no obvious reason. The white men are seen as savages in the eyes of the Native Americans because they have come to take their land (Dawson). Pocahontas “…represents the positive stereotype who respects the earth and communicates with trees and animals. Although Pocahontas is portrayed in this more positive role, it still typifies a stereotype” (Brunette).
In the Disney movie, Peter Pan, the scene in which the song “What Makes the Red Man, Red?” is sung, gives the viewer a very stereotyped interpretation of Native Americans. The ‘red man’ is wearing buckskin, headdresses, moccasins, beaded jewelry, etc. whereas the white children in the scene are wearing ‘normal’ clothes, dresses, shoes, glasses, top hat, etc. (“Disney’s Peter”). Three questions are asked of the white man, 1) what makes the red man red? 2) when did he first say ‘ugh’? and 3) why does he ask you how? These three questions get answered, though in a very inaccurate and stereotypical way. In this movie, “Princess Tiger Lily’s father represents the negative stereotype of being uncivilized and savage as he holds Wendy’s brothers hostage” (Brunette).
Children’s books are just as guilty of misrepresenting Native Americans and showing stereotypes. In Virginia Grossman’s Ten Little Rabbits, the reader is able to learn counting with rabbits. Though, the rabbits are dressed as Native Americans. This dehumanizes Native Americans and makes them look like objects instead of people; “These depictions objectify American Indians. We don’t see other groups similarly treated. Indeed, most Americans would quickly identify the offensiveness of ‘P is for Puerto Rican’ or counting ’10 Little Jews” (Roberts). In Susan Jeffers book, Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, the reader is exposed to Chief Seattle’s famous speech. Though according to Debbie Reese, Chief Seattle is “…of the Squamish tribe in the northwestern United States. However, Susan Jeffers’ illustrations are of the Plains Indians, and include fringed buckskin clothes and teepees, rather than Squamish clothing and homes” (Reese). This misrepresentation of tribes happens frequently in children’s books. The pictures or illustrations do not correctly match the tribe in which the story is about, or it is a montage of many tribes put together.
Young people of both Native American decent and non-Native American decent are impacted by these portrayals in film and literature. Actor, Gary Farmer “is most concerned with the effect of such portrayals on young Aboriginal people themselves. ‘Consider the impression left when they see themselves portrayed this way time and time again. It’s hard for them to have a positive image of themselves’” (“The Impact”). The stereotyping within Disney’s Peter Pan is taking an old anecdote and putting a new spin on it with the dress and dialect of the Native Americans. And Pocahontas is still having a negative impact even though it is a somewhat positive view. The appearance of Pocahontas in this movie was based off of all white actresses and no real Native Americans (“The Impact”). The impact that things such as that have on Native American people today can be devastating, to always see their people portrayed in a negative light. Or when they are portrayed positively, the character is based off of white women.
According to the article The Impact of Stereotyping on Young People, “children have learned to associate positive attributes with white television characters, and negative attributes with non-white characters.” For instance in the Disney movie, The Jungle Book, it “…portrays gorillas and orangutans that sound like black people and Oliver and Company, with a Chihuahua named Alonzo that is typecast as a Latino troublemaker” (Brunette). This could be said about characters in books too. There are plenty of books that portray Native Americans in a negative light, whether the author meant to or not. According to the article Contemporary American Indian Cultures in Children’s Picture Books, “More recently published books on American Indian life may also contain errors because some authors neglect the latest research and information. Thus myths and stereotypes persist. Many children’s books with American Indian themes lack authenticity and accuracy” (Roberts). The stereotypes that children are exposed to stay with them into adulthood. If film and literature teach them that Native Americans no longer exist and when they did exist they were a savage, that is what they will grow up believing. There are some ways to combat this perpetual cycle of stereotyping. Teachers and parents must research the books and films that are good representations of Native Americans. Though Disney can be credited with creating movies that portray stereotypical Native Americans, it has also created a movie that can be considered an acceptable representation of Native Americans. According to Brian Johnson author of Reel Diversity: A Teacher’s Sourcebook, Disney’s Brother Bear is a better representation of Native Americans. This movie also shows the spiritual side to the Native American race, which some people are oblivious to. This film could also be less stereotypical due to the fact that it is a newer production compared to Pocahontas and Peter Pan. Finding books that accurately represent Native Americans may be easier. According to Lisen Roberts, a book for young children that well represents Native Americans has “images and stories that are authentic to time, place and culture, [has] depictions of American Indians in everyday tasks of living, [has] depictions of individuals as part of a community, presentations of unique individuals as fully human, with varied physical features and roles, [has] accurate facts about specific tribes” (Roberts). So basically a good book does not lump all Native Americans together, but identifies individual tribes and the unique qualities to each. Also, a good book shows the Natives in everyday life, not just a specific event. A few books that are on Roberts’ list of recommended books are: Bird Talk by Lenore Keeshig-Tobias, Red Is Beautiful (Chiih Nizhoni) by Roberta John, Pueblo Girls: Growing up in Two Worlds by Marcia Keegan, and Cherokee Summer = Cwy ay by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith (Roberts). To stop the continuous cycle of stereotyping certain groups of people, the literature and film that is available to young children needs to be authentic and not portray stereotypes. Young children absorb the things that they read and see, so if they see a stereotype that is what they will remember. Some literature and films specifically for children are blindly teaching them stereotypes that will only continue the negative view of some races in this country. To stop this perpetual stereotype, teachers and parents must be aware of the materials they allow children to view. Young children have minds that grip every piece of information thrown at them, so do not throw stereotypes at them and there will be less stereotyping in the world.

Works Cited
Brunette, Libby, Claudette Mallory, Shannon Wood. “Stereotypes & Racism in Children’s Movies.” Web. 30 Nov. 2011.

Dawson, Helen. “Pocahontas Savages [English].” YouTube. 29 Oct. 2007. Web. 12 Dec. 2011.

Deloria, Vine. Custer died for your sins; an Indian manifesto.. New York: Macmillan, 1969. Print.

“Disney’s Peter Pan – What Makes the Red Man Red?” YouTube. 26 Mar. 2007. Web. 12 Dec. 2011.

"Disney - What Made The Red Man Red Lyrics." Lyrics Time { The Great Lyrics Provider }. Web. 11 Dec. 2011

Grossman, Virginia. Ten Little Rabbits. Illus. Sylvia Long. Littleton: Sundance Publishers, 1991. Print.

Johnson, Brian C., and Skyra C. Blanchard. Reel Diversity: a Teacher's Sourcebook. New York: Peter Lang, 2008. Web.

Reese, Debbie. "STAR - Teaching Young Children about Native Americans." STAR. 2003. Web. 12 Dec. 2011.

Roberts, Lisen C., Eliza Dean, and Marna Holland. "Contemporary American Indian Cultures in Children's Picture Books." National Association for the Education of Young Children. Nov. 2005. Web. 30 Nov. 2011.

"The Impact of Stereotyping on Young People." Media Awareness Network. Web. 30 Nov. 2011.

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