Has Anything Really Changed?

My decision to get involved in the MTV / The Dudesons in America protest was a no-brainer, knee-jerk reaction.  I saw a post on AIM’s Facebook page, noted the contact information, and started writing a letter of protest within the hour.  A blog followed shortly thereafter.

What I didn’t expect or anticipate was some of the feedback.  Not only on my own blog, but those of others writing about this issue.

Apparently there are some people out there who aren’t convinced that The Dudesons in America episode entitled “Cowboys & Findians” is racist, offensive, or that it perpetuates stereotypes.

Really??

I’m an idealist…always have been.  But knowing on a conscious level that I am an idealist doesn’t always prepare me for that occasional whack in the head by cold, harsh reality — when someone expresses views that are so contrary to my own.

When someone just doesn’t get it.

Anyone under the age of 50, who was raised on the colorblind, diversity-embracing dogma that Sesame Street spoonfed us each day HAS to be an idealistic, humanistic, culturally sensitive and tolerant sort of person.  I mean, you don’t watch an oversized yellow bird becoming best friends with a brown fuzzy elephant, while the humans who lived on the block were African-American, Latino, an interracial couple, and a deaf woman, to name a few.  Even the resident not-so-nice-guy on the street was tolerated and accepted.  Oh, and a purple vampire lived there, too.  And those with horns on their heads, and bike horns for noses.

You don’t watch that seven days a week without getting the bigger picture.  Diversity is a beautiful thing.  Right??

Apparently not.

While the majority of the comments on my Dudesons blog have been favorable and in support of the protest against MTV, there were just enough people who didn’t seem to get it to make me do the math.  Statistics.  Blog view counts, view-to-comment ratios…

Wow, there are a lot of ignorant people out there.

And all this got me to thinking.

Have things changed at all in the last 40 years?  Are people really any less prejudiced, racist and ignorant than they were during the 1960s?  Or…is it just that people are more politically correct in what they do or say when they know someone is listening?

In search of an answer to that question, I stumbled across this video on YouTube.

I laughed, I cringed, I got mad, and then I cringed some more.  And then I got mad again and decided to post about it.

Easy to remember rule of thumb: make me mad, and I’m going to blog.

This video footage is from 1972.  I was three years old.  (Now you know how old I am, and you need to sign a confidentiality agreement. )

So while I was watching Sesame Street and becoming indoctrinated to the ways of the lifelong path of a tolerant, diversity-loving and culturally sensitive liberal, the adults in this video were being randomly interviewed on the street, during New York City’s Easter Parade.

And I’m embarrassed FOR them.

The burning question in my mind is whether the answers would be any different, if asked today.

The idealist in me wants to believe that they would be.

Cold, harsh reality tells me otherwise.

So does that episode of The Dudesons in America.

The problem from the very beginning has been the negative and outrageously false stereotyping of Native Americans.  From the earliest days of the penny Western novel, the indigenous people of this country have been portrayed to white America as unintelligent, savage, crude, uncivilized, and (GASP) heathens who have no religion.  The 19th century images of savagery and brutality gave way in the mid-20th century to cartoon-like caricatures, where Native Americans were shown as no more than dimwitted buffoons.

I shouldn’t have to sit here and tell you that none of these things are true.  A lot of you already know this.

But too many people don’t know.  Far too many people haven’t the slightest understanding of what it truly means to be Native American.  They know nothing of history, and have instead bought into the lies and revisionism.  They know nothing about culture, traditions or spirituality, and instead have believed the distortions and stereotypes.  All they have in their heads are lies and propaganda — the propaganda that the media, in all its forms, has helped to perpetuate to this very day.

And if programs like The Dudesons in America continue to poison the airwaves and the minds of everyone who watches it, can we reasonably expect the answers to those questions posed to the random man or woman on the street to be any different another 40 years from now?

Now for those of you who still don’t get it, I have a few more words.  I can be fair about it, and acknowledge that you may not personally find the program or its content offensive — that you just don’t get it.  But in return, you have to acknowledge that there are in fact many people who do find it offensive.  Instead of closing your mind and washing your hands of the matter, look a little bit deeper.  Ask yourself why it is that people are offended and outraged.  Do you honestly believe that people have nothing better to do than to complain and protest without reason?  There’s a world of reason.  But it may be that you refuse to see or acknowledge it.  Those of you who are still in the “I don’t get it” camp, I’d like you to consider this a personal challenge.  Stop for just a moment, and think outside your own little perspective box.  It begins with self-education, is followed by empathy, and ultimately, will lead to enlightenment.  If enlightenment should lead to outrage, I will consider it a personal victory.

I am not so naive as to believe that racism and the stereotyping of Native Americans will suddenly end with the permanent removal of this offensive Dudesons in America episode.  But it’s a damned good start in the right direction.

For those of you who do get it, keep writing.  Make those phone calls.  Keep telling MTV that you will not tolerate stereotyping and racism in any form, and that you want your children and grandchildren to inherit something better than the status quo.

And no, I don’t need the world to be the mirror image of Sesame Street.  But I really wouldn’t mind living a world that more closely resembles it.

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