Dear Amherst College Community,

At what is arguably the country’s most prestigious liberal arts college, the students of Amherst College are receptacles of tremendous privilege. By virtue of this privilege, they have access to a deep well of resources—including academic knowledge and professional opportunity. Young Native people have been systematically deprived of these same resources for generations. Why do we remind you of this?

Recently, your school news journal, The Indicator (Volume XXXIII, Issue 2, page 19), ran a cartoon depicting the “Lord Jeff approved” housing solution in the form of tipis. We find this incredibly insensitive, and ultimately, racist. Let us be clear, the person who drew the cartoon (Tricia Lipton), the editors who approved it (Nadirah Porter-Kasbati and Laurence Pevsner), and the student body, faculty, and staff of Amherst College who subsequently read it and perhaps even laughed are not necessarily racists. They have, however, participated in racist behavior, unintentionally or not.

Our complaint requires contextualization. Lord Jeff, your school mascot, and the man for whom Amherst College and the community that hosts it are named, acts as a constant reminder of the horrific deeds enacted against indigenous people in New England. And whereas there may be some dispute as to whether the idea of giving smallpox-infected items to Native people actually originated with Lord Jeff, there is no such doubt that he clearly approved and ordered “Measures to be taken as would Bring about the Total Extirpation [extermination] of those Indian Nations” (British Manuscript Project, U.S. Library of Congress, microfilm reel 34/38, Item 244).Thus, your steadfast approval of Lord Jeff as your mascot perpetuates the presence of genocide jokes on your campus and cries of “Let’s massacre them!” at your sporting events. Our knowledge of this is both firsthand and through correspondence with many of your current students and alumnae.

What you may not realize is that indigenous people in the United States—and far beyond—have been subject to systemic and state-sanctioned land encroachment, abuse, forced migration, economic isolation, educational deprivation, racism, and genocide, for at least half of a millennium. As a result, today’s Native American youth (ages 14-24) are chronically over-represented in the juvenile justice system, and tragically, experience grossly elevated rates of suicide relative to the population as a whole (70% higher). Tellingly, this same population of youth is chronically underrepresented at institutions of higher learning, including your own, despite your claims of diversity and acceptance.

{snip}

Why do we assert that your cartoon is racist? First, you depict tipis as substandard when compared to the social norm of Euro-American housing, which is not only offensive but quite inaccurate. Tipis were engineered to keep families dry in the rain, warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and can be put up and taken down with ease, having little impact on the land. Second, tipis were not even used in the Northeast! The cartoon appropriates a cultural object of many Plains Indian tribes and makes it the butt of a joke. In addition, the text on the depiction states “Lord Jeff approved.” Lord Jeff is known for his hatred of “Indians,” so those words imply Indians left empty tipis (through murder or displacement) that can now be occupied by non-Indians.

But most importantly, the reason this cartoon is racist is because Native folks say it is racist. They are the people this cartoon offended or wounded. They get to decide whether or not it is racist, not those who participated in the oppressive acts.

{snip}

Certainly, there is a place for satire in our culture. We are not humorless, but we find no humor in the production and reproduction of racist tropes and paradigms. Joking about racism and its effects does nothing to alleviate either racism or its effects. Indeed, it further isolates the already marginalized. This cartoon actually reproduces the divide between Amherst College and Native people by perpetuating the idea that indigenous groups are all the same and serving to dishearten Natives about their treatment in the Northeast, especially those on your campus or any that live in the Pioneer Valley.

{snip}

Your college motto is Terras Irradient, “Let them give light to the world.” You could truly give light by issuing an apology for and a retraction of the cartoon. Saying you’re sorry goes a long way in the world. It provides acknowledgement, remorse, and space in which healing can begin. {snip}

Sincerely,

Dwanna Robertson, MBA, MS

Citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma

Doctoral Student, Department of Sociology

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

[email protected]

Adina Giannelli, JD

Graduate Student, Department of Public Health

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

The cartoon in question.

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  • Hunter Morrow

    Everybody is racist. OH NO! TIPIS ARE RACIST

    I always spelled that word “teepee.” OH DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION RACIST!

  • The only thing this letter forgot was to ask for a specific money amount or list of goods and services as reparations.

  • JackKrak

    If that “cartoon” is enough to prompt her convulsions of outrage, I could tell her some things that would make her head explode.

    And by the way, what kind of person actually puts “MBA” after their name? The same kind that insists on being called “Doctor” when they have a PhD in anthropology, probably…

  • Students are “receptacles of tremendous privilege”? Let’s keep it clean, lady!
     
    Or does she mean “recipients”?

  • Hirschibold

    The red man hunted animals to extirpation before the white man even got here. He cut off his wife’s nose (Piegan and Gros Ventre Blackfoot) when she cheated on him, and even though there was no solid top-down hierarchy in most tribes, members would presume to speak for whole tribes in order to gain favor with the whites, making and breaking treaties with a speed that at least equaled and probably outstripped all the terrible treaties broken by the white man. Despite no knowledge of contagion, and despite the fact that people did not understand germs well enough for Civil War surgeons to wash hands between operations, Liberals with PhD’s claim that racist settlers knowingly practiced chemical warfare with their blanket. I could go on, but you get the idea. This is all a hustle.

  • IstvanIN

    I would have looked at that cartoon “solving” the housing crisis and thought nothing of it.  Despite my white privilege I am pretty good at spotting what could broadly considered “rascist”.   This would not be on the radar. This chick needs to get a life.

  • In Minnesota many White folks who have to deal with Native Americans on a daily basis call them “Prairie N-persons” do to the obvious similarities.

  • The__Bobster

    What a crock. The settlers had no concept of what caused smallpox and certainly didn’t want to wipe out their trading partners.

  • Oil Can Harry

    Did you see the part where she whined “You depict teepees as substandard when compared to the social norm of Euro-American housing, which is not only offensive but quite inaccurate.”?

    So I guess she must live in a teepee since they’re just as good as “white” houses.

    Finally, many of you may not be aware that some Indians want to rename Amherst College and Amherst, Massachusetts because Jeffrey Amherst defeated their ancestors during Pontiac’s Rebellion.   

  • IKantunderstand

    Well,  allrighty then. So, we have come to this. I, as a person of some sort of “minority group gets to decide I am offended for all members of that group. I mean it’s absolutely fine that an  Ameridian from some western tribe is offended  by a  cartoon in  a paper at  Brown University.  Well,  guess what, I am offended by ” blonde jokes”; I am absolutely horrified at the anti- German attitudes which still exist in this culture . I am appalled at the anti white sentiment I see around me everyday.  Seriously? Does the victim now get to decide they are a victim of Racism? YAY!!!Then I posit to you, Whites are now the victims of racism.  Who  knew that was all it took.

  • celticnproud

    Some American Indians ( were all Native Americans if were born here) Post on their profiles”My heros have always killed cowboys”… why doesn’t she go after them? And how come no body wants to talk about what the Indians did to many white people? especially women and children? Have you ever read “The Kidnap of Mary Rawlings?

    • Zorro

      Have you ever seen the John Wayne movie, “The Seekers”?

  • loyalwhitebriton

    Jamestown, March 22nd, 1622:
    Powhatan indians attack the settlement and butcher 347 men, women, and children.
    http://www.virtualjamestown.org/phatmass.html
     

  • loyalwhitebriton

    Jamestown, March 22nd, 1622:
    Powhatan Indians attack Jamestown settlement and slaughter 347 men, women, children.

  • Zorro

    Just tell them to watch the You Tube video, “Ice Age Columbus” where Scientists have documented that Whites were in the Americas first.

    They can put that in their peace pipes and smoke it.