Childhood Indians: Television, film and sustaining the White (sub)conscience

Raul S. Chavez
Dept. of History, University of California, Riverside
July, 2006


In 1967, Frank L. Tucker examined the concept of the White Conscience, a psychological tool defending the principles of white supremacy. Rooted in nearly five centuries of European and American imperialist activities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America the White Conscience used colonizer language to rationalize the marginalization of people of color as a byproduct of economic, cultural, and racial superiority of white societies. Over the course of the subsequent four decades after the publication of Tucker's findings, the Civil Rights movement forced Americans to reevaluate their treatment, and perception of people of color. During this time, rather than generating an inclusive perception of non-white cultures, American society has created a concept of inclusion requiring a submission to tradition colonizer images of people of color, while denying the existence of this behavior. Americans have
deluded themselves to believe their behavior is inclusive of the 'other,' while maintaining the basic principles of culture white supremacy, and the exclusion of the 'inferior' non-white cultures. This subliminally practiced behavior is, what I identify as, the White (sub)Conscience. One example of the White (sub)Conscience in practice is the depiction of Native Americans in contemporary film. Although Hollywood claims to portray Natives in more authentic, and respected roles, it is merely mimicking contemporary America's perception of the 'Indian.' Using race theory, colonialist and post-colonialist literature, while studying a cross-section of cinematic Indian depictions in westerns aired over the past seven decades, I have sought to explain how these films have influenced viewers, in particular the Baby-Boomer generation of the 1950s, '60s and '70s to internalize the misrepresented movie depiction of Indians as representative of the real 'Indian.' These Indian depictions, my 'childhood Indians,' sustain the subliminally accepted white supremacist image that deny Natives their rightful place in American society. The White (sub)Conscience allows Americans to continue to assault Native sovereignty and self-determination as a result of anachronistic misrepresentations of 'Indian' Americans accept as genuine. The White (sub)Conscience has institutionalized the 'childhood Indian' perception of Natives, ensuring that a subsequent generation of Americans will recognize the white supremacist concept of 'Indian.'