Stephanie Fryberg’s study about red face and black face is released on the same day as NBC News Anchor Megyn Kelly made comments about black face for Halloween. On an all-white panel, Kelly said Tuesday, that growing up it was okay for white people to dress up as black characters.
"But what is racist?" Kelly asked. "Because you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface on Halloween, or a black person who puts on whiteface for Halloween. Back when I was a kid that was okay, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character."
Last year, for example, a reality star Luanna de Lesseps of The Real Housewives of New York City received heat for dressing up as Diana Ross.
Kelly’s words are framed by images of Pocahontas, a cowboy, and person wearing a sombrero holding what looks like tequila as her backdrop for the show.
This should be a teaching moment. Fryberg, Tulalip, and a professor at the University of Washington, says part of Kelly’s situation is that “outrage about blackface,” and even with her apology to viewers and NBC employees, “behind her in a lot of the images and in the news are red faced and the appropriation of Native costumes for Halloween, but people don't find that outrageous.”
Kelly uses this as a way to even shape the narrative back on her and white people, Fryberg said. The news anchor did apologize on Wednesday. (But NBC weather anchor Al Roker said she "owes a bigger apology to folks of color across the country.")
Dr. Fryberg is trying to figure out why society see one as horrible, terrible and racist -- black face -- yet a red face is seen as acceptable.
“Why are issues for Native people taken as less serious in the domain of bias and stereotyping and prejudice than for African Americans, why is there this difference?” she said.
Her study, which is an online survey, started out as theory stemming from the recent report, “Reclaiming Native Truth.” The project compiled research from scholars across the country to find out what Americans think and don’t know about Native Americans today. This report led to the finding of IllumiNatives, a nonprofit dedicated to “increasing the visibility” of Native people.
Fryberg pointed out that this isn’t the “oppression olympics.” It just that American society sees Black Lives Matter, but they don’t see Native Lives Matter, she said.
Native Americans experience a higher rate of police brutality than any other ethnic group in the country, according to the data from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention.
She hopes that this study takes Native communities and American society one step further in switching that narrative from how does this affect white people to how does this affect Native people. Right now the current focus on white people is “continuing the same practice omitting and rendering invisible issues that affect Native people every day.”
Fryberg’s anticipated research and the Reclaiming Native Truth project have the potential to affect policies that affect Native communities.
To learn more about the report, join in the Twitter chat tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. EST using #WeAreStillHere to promote a new and modern narrative about Native people.
Those in education can also visit the Reclaiming Native Truth website for messaging guides to use in the classroom, especially for Native American Heritage Month in November.
Allies also have their own report if they choose to support this narrative surrounding Native people.
Indian Country Today will stream a live coast-to-coastnewscast on election day partnering with FNX / First Nations Experience and Native Voice One. The newscast will begin at 6 p.m. Pacific / 9 p.m. Eastern.