Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Survivor, Tribalism, and the Problem of Being Whitey

I must confess that I am totally weirded out now that the reality series Survivor, is going to divide up along racial lines this season. (HT to The Good Brownie) I've never been a big fan of the show, and I'm not much of a TV watcher, but I may have to tune in and watch this show just to expose myself to the moral dilemma of being white.

I must admit up front that I am a white guy. Mostly. My paternal grandfather's name was Nokomis, and his father's name was Powhatan. Yes, I am famously descended from the tribe of Pocahantas fame on my father's side. My grandpaw was an Injun, and so was my great-grandmother on my mom's side. She was a Cherokee, and was apparently kidnapped from her tribe by my great-grandpaw, as the story goes. Regardless, my name was going to be Powhatan John until my mom threw a fit and named me John Bradley. I got the shaft on that one.

Regardless of this storied background I always check 'white' on all my applications. Though I almost inherited the name, I did, in fact inherit pasty white skin and blue eyes. That's not very Indian-like, and so I must concede that I am more "John Bradley" than "Powhatan". But alas, I digress.

Since the race that I identify with is "white," and because I grew up in Alabama, I have inherited some sort of uneasy feeling about my "race." That is, we did some fairly awful things to blacks and indians and others in the past, and now we must, as a race, do contrition for it by constantly apologizing and by giving the country to Mexico.

So now, on TV no less, I am faced with a dilemma. Should I pull for the "white tribe" solely based on my ethnic identity with them? Is it wrong for me to root for whitey? If I do, does this mean that I have some latent hatred for other races? If the white tribe comes to dominate the other tribes, will CBS raise the standards for the white people to win?

For example, if a white guy wants to go to Medical School, he has to practically ace the MCAT to get in. A black female, on the other hand, can probably make up to 8 points lower and still have a fine shot at getting accepted. If we treated professional running backs this way, pokey white guys would be carrying the ball in Tampa Bay and Atlanta while Tiki Barber would have to run with his shoelaces tied together. Of course, most running backs in the NFL could still spot white guys a full second in the 40 and still comfortably keep their jobs. Or they could spot them a foot in the vertical and still start in the NBA.

So to make things fair, I suppose in the maggot eating contest, or whatever disgusting critter they serve in competition, the white tribe should have to eat a pound and a half to every other tribe's pound.

In football, I can cheer for my alma mater without worry. I pull for them by virtue of sheer identification and the fact that I dropped upwards of $20,000 there in the course of four years. It doesn't matter if they are a team full of thugs. They're my team, and I want them to pound the other guys because they wear my colors and sing my fight songs and live on my old campus. I can't do that with race, can I?

In the end, I am glad that I have written this post; it has helped me to work through my dilemma about who to cheer for in the upcoming series. The only choice that I feel that I have is to legally change my name to Powhatan John. I'm going to get my tribal card, start checking "Native American" on my applications, and complain all season that Native Americans are not represented on the show.

*This post is supposed to be funny. If it isn't funny to you, then you are probably white. If you aren't white, and this isn't funny, then I apologize and feel appropriately guilty for my insensitivity.*


Waterfall said...

I have Cherokee blood in me. Of course, I look about as Cherokee as you do. :)

Jim said...

Up here, a treaty card can get you a free education, tax rebates, and a whole lot of other perks.

Nevermind hunting and fishing all year long. Perhaps you missed your true calling. :)

Anonymous said...

Just wondering why you might feel one group based on the same race as you is identifiable...I mean just being white says nothing abotu them or who they are or where they grew up; in fact for all you know another tribe might be more like it about being 'like' you, or just having somethign in common? What if in actuality you have more in common with other groups, but you can't see it because you're just looking at the surface? For me, race is just socially constructed..there's just no difference between a white person or a black person, unless it's in regards to external things like their environment, upbringing, poverty/wealthy etc - so why do ppl care so much and place so much emphasis on race? I dont care much for the sow, but I do worry that such a racialized standpoint may lead less critical viwers to reinforce stereotypes that may lead to discrimination - even though I know that nobody on that show the same colour as me can represent me, for we can't have anything in common just because of such a small thing as skin colour - still, others may unconsciously let four or five people represent a whole race, and that's - scary.