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Native Americans are referred to as 'injuns' and 'savages' in this 1980 comic strip from a London, England-based newspaper.

Your Friday 'WTF?': That's Not Funny at All

Simon Moya-Smith

Representations of Native Americans in news media have evolved very little since the first newspaper was published in the American colonies in Boston, Massachusetts on September 25, 1690. More than 300 years later, Native Americans continue to be openly mocked with stereotypical caricatures, including dehumanizing sports mascots and dictionary-defined racial epithets.

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While scanning a microfilm database at Columbia University in New York City, I came across the following racially offensive comic strip, illustrated by cartoonist Fred Basset, and printed by London, England-based newspaper Daily Mail. It portrays a pair unscrupulous "injuns" ... "savages on the warpath!" in stereotypical attire charging after a dog whose demise is stymied by the "cavalry," which is, in this case, a black dog with protruding fangs:

What blows the mind (a relatively small explosion, of course, since Native Americans are hardly surprised by this type of racism) is that this comic was not published in, say, 1886, generally considered the height of anti-Indian sentiment, but in 1980, when people, even then, lauded themselves as versed on matters of racial equality and discrimination.

To learn more about poor representations of Native Americans in contemporary media, read a new study by Professor Stephanie A. Fryberg of the University of Washington (author of "Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots") et al. titled, "Frozen in Time" on how 21st century media continues to perpetuate the stereotyping of Native Americans.

Simon Moya-Smith

Simon Moya-Smith, Oglala Lakota, is ICTMN's Culture Editor. Follow him @simonmoyasmith.

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Juliet's picture
Submitted by Juliet on
To many, the comic looks harmless: two little children and Fred the dog 'playing Indian' according to stereotypes learned from movies. It's considered cute. Were it all alone, it would be cute. The problem is that it is one among many stereotypical, ahistorical, and plain wrong depictions of Native Americans. Too many times are Native Americans shown in the past, with paint, feathers, and war whoops; if anyone does bother with modern Indians, they fall into other stereotyped categories. The number of realistic, nuanced, portrayals of Native peoples is small -- and missed by people who can only see the stereotypes. Which is why a silly strip offends when it's likely no offense was intended.

SeditiousX's picture
Submitted by SeditiousX on
Juliet, I don't think intention is an excuse. There has been so much work done by both Native folks and allies over the years, trying to educate with facts and with real time stories, that people no longer have any good reason to be this insulting. Yes, even in 1980. In 1980 I was in college studying child development, and it was painfully obvious that children's songs about "little Indians" and books with these little headdresses and tomahawks and heaven help us with those Thanksgiving decorations of smiling Pilgrims holding hands with smiling Indians... all of it is bunk, insulting, incorrect, offensive, without merit. Period. If people want to do the right thing, it has been clearly laid out, over and over since the 60's. Then big time during the 80's and 90's. Now it is reversing, just like with Black civil rights: suddenly people feel like we're turning our clocks back but not an hour for Daylights Saving Time, but rather backwards 200 years or more. People can read Beverly Slapin's essays if they "don't get it" but frankly it is past time to demand that people just stop this nonsense, these sexy Pocahontas costumes, and these "whoop! whoop! whoop!" fake Indian shouts. This BS ain't cute: it reminds us that despite our patience and efforts to educate our own oppressors about what their predecessors have done, they still chose to have fun at our behalf. What is so friggan cute about that?