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Protest Survivor's Racist Stereotypes
Petition Background (Preamble):
PETITION TO CBS and Mark Burnett, producer of the reality show "Survivor Guatemala"
As citizens against racism in any form, we are deeply offended by the degrading misrepresentations of Indigenous culture that were broadcast on the CBS primetime show, "Survivor Guatemala". The producers of the show demonstrated a shocking lack of intelligence and sensitivity in airing a program that demeaned and stereotyped a race and culture with a long history of cultural and political struggle in South America, the Mayan Indians.
We are forming this petition to put CBS and its sponsors on notice as to how much business they can loose through repeated racial insensitivity, not just from Indigenous Americans, but from all American consumers who possess a social conscience.
Cause for Petition
1.) CBS has an extremely poor track record in terms of presenting Indigenous cultures respectfully and accurately. In 2004, they broadcast a performance by Outkast which mocked Native Americans by presenting non-Natives in day glow green fringed outfits behaving in an offensive and stereotypical manner. While this performance precipitated cries of outrage from Native Americans around the country, CBS has yet to correct its attitude toward Native Americans. CBS has again demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice sanctity for profit and an unacceptable tolerance for racist stereotypes in its programming choices.
2.) On Thursday, September 29, 2005 "Survivor Guatemala" presented a derogatory depiction of ancient Mayan warriors. The producers intentionally provided the contestants with fake feathers, war paint and Mayan style headbands and encouraged them to engage in the mockery of traditional Mayan customs. The Survivor contestants' callous treatment of Mayan cultural and spiritual imagery, and by extension all Indigenous cultural and spiritual imagery, was insensitive, ignorant and offensive. The producers provided the contestants with materials which were clearly intended to impose a North American Plains Indian stereotype on a distinct South American culture and to imply that all Indigenous cultures are inter-changeable. Neither the contestants nor the viewing public, were educated as to the richness and complexity of Mayan culture. The producers of "Survivor Guatemala" failed to honestly research the true spiritual and cultural significance of the objects used to objectify Mayan people and culture. This spectacle amounted to nothing more than a 21st Century Minstrel show.
3.) The producers of the show have been exploiting the Mayan aesthetic throughout the season. They have been actively encouraging the contestants to adopt the harmful stereotype of Mayan Indians as superstitious savages and promoting the racist and culturally uninformed perceptions of anthropologists and missionaries over the interpretations of contemporary Indigenous scholars. The traditions, history and culture of Indigenous Guatemalans have been used throughout the season as a mere gimmick for a trivial entertainment show and exploited for their entertainment value.
4.) There are currently NO redeeming Native American characters on the CBS network nor has there ever been a Native American contestant on "Survivor". Throughout CBS's programming, Native Americans are almost never depicted as contemporary citizens with something valuable to contribute to society.
5.) CBS continues to offer programming where stereotypes dominate in portrayals of Native Americans and to cater to the racist expectations of an uninformed public. They violate their own stated goals regarding diversity in trivializing and distorting Mayan culture for American consumption.
6.) The producers of Survivor have been irresponsible in failing to present the realities of everyday life of contemporary Mayan Indians living in Guatemala. They offered the legitimate political and cultural leaders of this community, no control over their own ethnic identity.
The Harm of Broadcasting Racist Stereotypes.
CBS is a major network with the obligation to use the public airwaves responsibly. Survivor, clearly the most blatantly racist show on network television, has ignored its obligation to respect and reflect the diversity of the public it serves. Instead, the producers have chosen to project negative stereotypes into millions of American homes. The distortion of Indigenous values to conform to the formula for a reality show, the use of campy immunity idols and other imagery and the deliberate objectification of a politically powerless cultural minority is damaging to everyone who views it.
It reinforces existing misconceptions and racial stereotypes in the non-Native population and it imposes additional barriers for Native youth in developing positive identities and in acquiring the self esteem necessary for full participation in American society.
When the producers of Survivor encourage non-Native contestants to appropriate Mayan culture for the sole purpose of winning $1 million dollars, they have every incentive to reproduce derogatory stereotypes for the audience's entertainment and no incentive to put any effort into respectfully learning about and appreciating the diversity and complexity of Indigenous cultures.
This teaches the viewing audience that it is acceptable to rely on stereotypical images and that no effort to discover the richness and inherent value of Indigenous cultures is necessary.
It further reinforces the idea that Native Americans need not be treated as full human beings and that it is acceptable to use them as fodder for play-acting. CBS has hypocritically ignored its stated commitment to promoting diversity and commoditized Mayan heritage in order to sell blockbuster movies, running shoes and automobiles. This corporate racial insensitivity is unacceptable.
We call on CBS and the producers of Survivor Guatemala to take immediate steps to mitigate the harm they have done by airing this episode on national television. We urge CBS to abandon its hypocrisy and follow its own diversity statement.
As broadcasters, CBS should aim to ensure that the national viewing audience is reflected accurately and respectfully in ALL its programming.
1.) The producers of Survivor and anyone responsible for providing the contestants with feathers and war paint should make a thoughtful and genuine apology on the program as soon as possible.
2.) CBS should end all non-Native portrayals of Native American culture. All information about Native culture should be presented only after the producers have sought out the consent, advice and permission from authentic Native American cultural and political leaders.
3.) Any information about Indigenous culture should be presented fairly and accurately in its proper cultural context. More Indigenous voices should be included in CBS's programming. A sincere effort should be made to include contemporary Native playwrights, film-makers, poets and rap artists in special programming designed to inform the audience about the realities of contemporary Indigenous American life as well as the historical foundations of existing racist stereotypes. Native people should be allowed an opportunity to express their own culture in their own voices.
4.) CBS should also make a sincere effort to include positive Native American role models in its programming, to broadcast Native produced programs and to include Native American actors as contestants in reality shows and as actors in its programs.
The Survivor Guatemala challenge was as appropriate as having a "Sambo" challenge for Survivor Africa. The Play-acting of stereotypes of Native American people is inexcusable in primetime American television.
We the undersigned will no longer tolerate cultural symbols used in such an insensitive and garish manner. We believe that the exploitation of cultural beliefs and symbols for entertainment must not go unchallenged.
If the producers of Survivor Guatemala do not make amends for their mockery of Indigenous culture, we will boycott the sponsors of the show. We also call on CBS to take definite steps to stop all its programming that depicts any racial group in a derogatory light.
We demand that CBS adopt and implement plans to air programs which emphasize cultural sensitivity and awareness and to refrain from ever again using racial stereotypes as a source of entertainment.
We urge CBS to take seriously our cause for concern outlined in detail herein.
If the producers of Survivor Guatemala do not make amends for their mockery of Indigenous culture, we will boycott the sponsors of the show.
The Protest Survivor's Racist Stereotypes petition to CBS was written by Marie Deveneaux and is in the category Human Rights at GoPetition. Contact author here. Petition tags: native, survivor, indigenous, american, culture, mayan, producers, stereotypes, cultural, guatemala, programming, contestants, americans, racist, racial, entertainment, diversity, contemporary, audience, public, cultures