Let’s Play a game. I call it Find the Indigenous American:
Listen to any and all NPR stories that mention race in America. Watch any and all network news broadcasts that address poverty, health, or racial issues. Read a major newspaper that list differences across America. Listen to the latest State of the Union Speech. White? In there. African-American or Black? Of course. Latino? Check. Asian. Yep. Immigrants? Sometimes. Native American? Never. That’s right, even NPR, the most careful and politically correct of sources routinely neglects to include Native Americans when they report on important issues where they habitually offer the usual list, White, Black, Latino and Asian. Even when there are statistics available, the usual list, White, Black, Latino and Asian, stops before it gets to us. When you read a research article including upon racial disparities, it is rare to see Native Americans included as a demographic group, even if data are available (usually from government sources). Hell, we are lucky to get listed in the footnote as part of the OTHER category!
In a previous blog, I pointed out that, were the media to include statistics on Native Americans, they would find that a higher percentage of us are killed by police than any other group and fewer of us achieve high school graduation. On the news shows this Sunday Morning, Bernie Sanders mentioned just African-Americans and Latinos when discussing poverty. Bernie. Buddy. Are we pandering or just not very well-informed? Natives have the largest disparities in poverty, disease, and suicide rates. Our women are abused, our men incarcerated, and our children are taken from us by the state. Yet, we are seldom mentioned when these issues are addressed in the media. That is, unless, we are separated out in a special story focusing on one of our challenges, usually with flute music in the background. Why aren’t we routinely included in the usual list?
Is it because we are not a major voting block? Part of it. Is it because we lack resources as a people to influence? Of Course. Is it because we are not represented on morning talk shows, cable news shows, or even government panels when issues of race are addressed? You betcha…but that is likely more of a consequence. Is it because we do not stick up for ourselves? Hell no! We do. We do protest, inform, and testify. But it isn’t often covered by major media. We typically maintain our dignity, remain non-violent, and rarely engage in hysterical yelling matches or violent name calling. Maybe that is it. Not sure.
I am not a sociologist and can’t tell you the precise reason why. What I can tell you, as someone who has sat in dozens of hearings, watched funding priorities, and cried when the Red Cross went to help communities with minimal damage and ignored the Native communities that were hardest hit after natural disasters, is that this kind of invisibility has consequences. From resource allocation, government to private, and for policies that target limited resources toward racial groups. Being invisible puts you at the end of the line…or maybe even not even in the line.
Being invisible inhibits researchers from studying issues that could help Natives understand and improve their futures. Being invisible directs resources away from the issues (reality) to the people who are more visible (perception). Personally, I am a big fan of reality! But, we live in a world where resources are allocated by politics and perception. Now, you don’t have to exist to be perceived, but you do have to be perceived to have influence in these matters.
This is not a new problem. Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel focusing on issues of race was even titled “The Invisible Man.” This book has recently been invoked by black celebrities who are upset that there were no Black nominees for Oscars. But, that is not invisible. Invisible is no one noticing that there are hardly ever ANY Native nominees for Grammy’s, Oscars, or other awards in the entertainment field despite a vibrant community of Native artist, actors and musicians. Invisible is not being cast in roles at all!
My request is a simple start: I want Natives to be on the usual list. Native, White, Black, Latino and Asian. It is a small step. An easy step. An important step. I want people to know we exist. Every day. I want my people to be included in the conversation, every one. So, let’s start with NPR. Hey, NPR, just add us to the list. You can order it anyway you want. Alphabetically, by influence, or by percent of population. We wouldn’t be first on the list, but we would be on there…every time. Or, you can order it by need, or who was here first. Then we would be first! Your call. Baby steps. Just include us. We are here and our causes suffer, in part, due to your neglect.
Back to the game: Find the Indigenous American. Below is an excerpt from the most recent State of the Union speech where president Obama made an exceptional effort to be inclusive. Find me (note: Native born refers to immigration status, not indigenous origin):
“It is not easy. Our brand of democracy is hard. But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far. Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word — voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.”- President Barack Obama