Lesson 1 – The Orphan: Discrimination and Alienation
Understand that stereotypes used to characterize and demean people of different ethnic backgrounds are founded on feelings or beliefs that have little or nothing to do with the true nature of racial/cultural identity.
Share stories from the point of view of the “other” to start a dialogue about racial identity development and issues of diversity.
The orphan phase of the hero’s journey is the feeling of being alone. It is a sense of isolation from others, a feeling of being singly challenged, and even feeling overwhelmed at times by what you need to confront.
The Way It Was
There were signs in store windows saying “No dogs and Indians allowed.”
Discriminatory practices aimed at Native Americans have been pervasive throughout the United States. The persistence of stereotypes have fed these biases and fueled the exclusionary treatment of Native peoples and other minority populations.
We learn stereotypes very early. Animals in many traditional stories and fairy tales are depicted in stereotypic roles and with exaggerated traits. They behave in ways that make them exceptionally “good” or exceptionally “evil.” Similarly, racial stereotyping reinforces limited images of a particular group, race or sex and perpetuates distorted views of reality. One-dimensional characterizations of Native Americans commonly romanticize, demonize and simplify. Examples of these characterizations include the Indian princess, the noble savage, the skid road drunk, the loyal sidekick, the scalp-taking warrior, the monosyllabic speaker (e.g., “ugh,” “How”).
Hollywood westerns have been the source of many stereotypes, portraying Native American tribes as a threatening menace that must be wiped out to protect white settlers. Many people find it objectionable when sports teams use tribal names, references or symbols to represent them. Even common sayings may mock Indian ethnicity. Most everyone has heard the admonition to stop behaving “like a bunch of wild Indians.”
When we “think” in stereotypes, we automatically ascribe values of superiority and inferiority based on implied distinctions, and in doing so, we create “in-groups” and “out groups.” Stereotyping usually functions to deny people certain rights or limit their access to opportunities or services. As Ed recalls his childhood days he describes many instances of discrimination directed toward him and other Indian people. For example, he remembers his family being forced to leave a restaurant because the management had a policy against serving Indian people. When his mother wanted to get her hair done, she had to go to the home of the beautician because she wasn’t welcome inside the beauty salon. Other business owners were also guilty of discriminatory practices which made Ed feel like an outsider. As a small child he was made to purchase his candy treats through the back door on the alleyway instead of at the store counter like “regular” customers. Ed and his friends were not allowed to use the local swimming pool at the same time as white children. Even at the Saturday matinee Indian children were forbidden from sitting on the main theater floor and instead were relegated to the balcony seating. In all these instances, Ed was made to feel marginalized and prevented from full participation in a variety of social settings.
“Storytelling Has Saved Me”—Ed Edmo
Ed is a storyteller, a playwright, and a poet. He has spent many years in classrooms teaching young people about Native culture and heritage. He has used puppets to help him bring to life stories and legends for school children. Ed’s one-man play “Through Coyote’s Eyes” takes a historical perspective to trace his understanding of stages in the Native American experience from the past to the present day. He has had his short stories published in various venues; many of his stories, plays and poems show-case and document his experiences of prejudice and exclusion.
Stories Have Power
Many professionals (historians, economists, psychologists) understand the power of story-telling to illustrate and frame “reality” in order to help people understand the essence of what they are trying to convey. People relate to stories at very personal and fundamental levels. Stories impart wisdom and help to make a point in more effective and interesting ways then merely relating “the facts.”
Tell Your Own Stories
Turn your personal experiences into stories. Your story gives voice to events in your life or interactions with people who have had an impact on you. Your words can paint a picture, demonstrating ways to reevaluate previously held attitudes and values.
A story need not be a long drawn-out exposé. It can be a short, punchy anecdote that carries a meaningful message or creates a “teachable moment” for the listener.
You may decide to tell your story for a variety of reasons. Think how you might:
- Illustrate something traumatic in your life
- Build a shared vision
- Reveal and dispel stereotypic thinking
- Broaden cultural perspectives
You can find books in both the adult and children’s sections of the library or local bookstores that can help you get started telling your story. Consider joining a storytelling group to hone your skills.