Fighting Sioux Part II: The Science

by | February 15, 2012
filed under Pop Culture, Racism

University of Illinois mascot Chief IlliwinekThis is part II of a post by Adrienne K. of Native Appropriations. Find Part I here. The original version of this post can be found here.

Part II: 
So, still unconvinced after my Part I emotional plea? You can refute my “feelings” all you want. But how about a real, peer-reviewed scientific study? You can’t mess with a one-two punch of emotions AND science, right?

In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology, Dr. Stephanie Fryburg (Stanford Almuna and one of my professor idols) took the mascot issue head-on. The paper can be read, in full, here.

Her article, “Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots”, consisted of 4 studies, using Native youth from an Arizona reservation as her subjects.

Study 1: Students are given images of Pocahontas, Chief Wahoo, and a list of negative stereotypes. Afterward, they are asked to generate a list of word associations. For Pocahontas and Chief Wahoo, ~80% of their word associations were positive. (I know, that’s backwards, right?) for the negative stereotype list, only ~8% were positive (about what you’d expect). But before you get on my case about proving mascots aren’t bad…

Study 2: Students are primed with the same images or stereotypes list, but instead of word association, their self-esteem is measured. Students show depressed self-esteem in all 3 conditions, and their self-esteem was lower in the image conditions, versus the list. This means that even when the students are saying the mascots aren’t bothering them, or they are associating positive things with them, they are still exhibiting depressed self-esteem. Whoa.

Study 3: The same procedure as 1&2 was followed, but students were asked about community worth at the end of the conditions (“I respect people in my community”). Students primed with the images and the stereotypes exhibited decreased feelings of community worth, following the same pattern as above. So looking at a mascot makes students de-value their community.

Then, the kicker:

Study 4: College students were shown images of Chief Wahoo (“bad image”), Chief Illiniwek, and the Haskell Indian Nations University Indian (“good” images), as well as an image from AIGC’s campaign (an actual good image), and then asked to generate “possible selves”–looking forward to the future and how they see themselves. Those primed with the mascot images (even the good ones), generated far less acheivement-related possible selves than those with the control or AIGC image. Basically, looking at a mascot limits the way Native students see themselves succeeding.

…and a horrible follow-up, Fryburg did another study that compared white students, and in all the areas where Native students’ self esteem, community worth, and possible selves went down, white students went up. No active oppression in American society, right? White students directly benefit from racism against Native students.

In sum: Scientific research shows that mascots and Indian stereotypes, regardless of if they are “good” images (Pocahontas, The Fighting Sioux) or “bad” images (Chief Wahoo), they cause depressed self esteem, decreased community worth, and decreased possible selves–even when students say the images don’t bother them. Andimages are worse than words.

So still want to tell me how the Fighting Sioux are no big deal and I should get over it?

-Adrienne K.

(photo of Chief Illiwinek mascot at a University of Illinois football game, via Wikimedia Commons)


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