Ethnocentrism is a phenomenon that can be noticed in many types of media, including movies, the Internet, music, and comics. According to Kam and Kinder (2012), ethnocentrism is a “deep-seated psychological predisposition that partitions the world into ingroups and outgroups”, namely, into “us” and “them” or “similar” and “foreign” (p. 326). Ethnocentrism can divide the world into two camps, which are perceived as different by viewers; these camps consist of friends and enemies and lead to favoritism with regard to one of the groups and suspicion of the other. In general, ethnocentrism is a belief that one’s culture and group behavior are better or “the standard” compared to all other ethnic groups.
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At the same time, stereotyping is caused by ethnocentrism; it consists of particular judgments about people related to an ethnicity that are often based on inadequate information. Stereotyping can emerge when a person lacks knowledge about the other group or has irrational anxiety when confronted with it (Jenifer & Raman, 2015). Central themes of stereotypes are the moral character and intellectual capacity.
While ethnocentrism is a phenomenon observed in various cultural groups, stereotyping is the process of transforming the fear and anxiety related to “enemies” into judgments, perceptions, and claims that undermine and/or mock cultural and personal characteristics of another group.
The group chosen for the research is the Mdewakanton Dakota/Sioux Indian Tribe of Red Wing. As indigenous people, this group has been stereotyped many times in media. One of the most recent and prominent examples is the controversial mascot of the baseball team Cleveland Indians, Chief Wahoo, who is assumed to be a caricature of the Sioux Chief Sitting Bull. The mascot looks like a cartoonish man with red skin and a feather in his hair that is somewhat similar to a war bonnet, a sacred object among Native Americans. The ethnocentrism of this mascot is in its dehumanized and simplified representation of Native Americans and their sacred objects. The stereotyping is in the portrayal of Native Americans as “stoic warriors and vicious combatants” that roots in perceptions of Native Americans as historical figures rather than American citizens who face specific problems and challenges in the 21st century (Jacobs & Taylor, 2012, p. 688). These mascots are a direct consequence of the colonial processes that transformed Native Americans into a group of “others” who are usually portrayed in a simplified and racist manner in media and advertisement.
Impact on People’s Perceptions
Such stereotypes have various negative impacts on the perception of Native Americans as a group. First, they erase the history of this ethnic group and allow the “mascotting” of indigenous peoples by putting stereotyped images of Native Americans on various objects, including product packages. Second, these representations influence the perception of Native Americans by other ethnic groups because they are based on historical relics of Native Americans that can be significantly different from the history and life of Native Americans in contemporary society. Third, other major groups (for example, whites) remain blind to their privileged position as they perceive such mascotting as a simple form of entertainment.
This ethnocentrism leads to racist behaviors, which people might be unaware of. For example, it is common for schools to create various teams that bear such names as Apaches or Tomahawks, which is not only the cultural appropriation of names of a specific group but also further support for the spread of ethnicity-based stereotypes in schools. The prevalence of such representation makes people perceive Native Americans as either historical figures or “savages”, “warriors”, and “stoics” who are not involved in the current political and civic processes in society and whose values are to be dismissed.
Jacobs, M. R., & Taylor, T. (2012). Challenges of multiracial antiracist activism: Racial consciousness and Chief Wahoo. Critical Sociology, 38(5), 687-706.
Jenifer, R. D., & Raman, G. P. (2015). Cross-cultural communication barriers in the workplace. International Journal of Management, 6(1), 348-351.
Kam, C. D., & Kinder, D. R. (2012). Ethnocentrism as a short‐term force in the 2008 American presidential election. American Journal of Political Science, 56(2), 326-340.