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Native Americans Are Not All Progressive Activists - BCB #54
Also: How our politics cloud our judgment, measuring Twitter’s Red shift
For many, the term “indigenous” – the “I” in “BIPOC” – is synonymous with progressive Blue politics. Native American author Sherman Alexie challenges this simplification, arguing that it overlooks the political diversity within Native American communities, which extends from socialist sympathizers to Trump-supporting conservatives.
Alexie points to polls conducted before the 2022 midterm. While BIPOC generally back Blue candidates, they’re also supporting Red at historic levels. He also notes that, despite the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, Native tribes have complex relationships with oil companies. Moreover, three of the five Native American Congress members – Tom Cole, Markwayne Mullin, and Josh Brecheen – are Republican.
And while he approves of the solidarity that “BIPOC” implies, he doesn’t like the term “Indigenous” at all, preferring “Indians, or Native Americans if you’re afraid of offending the handful of Native Americans who are offended by being called Indians.” He says this disconnect is a product of the differences between Native Americans who live in urban settings and those who live on reservations.
Despite the current leftist obsession with the concept of “lived experience,” there are many leftist public figures who self-identify as Indians but have never experienced what it means to be surrounded on a daily basis by multiple generations of Natives. These leftists become representatives of an un-culture, where their “lived experience” is almost entirely imagined. There are people who identify as primarily or only indigenous even though they’ve never lived in a tribal community, don’t have a formal connection with their tribe, and only have one Indian grandparent or even just one Indian great-grandparent. And it’s these disconnected Indians who often form political tribes with white leftists because white leftists are the most pro-Indian demographic in the United States. Ironically, it’s white leftists who offer these disconnected Indians their strongest sense of belonging.
Growing up on a reservation and being an Urban Indian adult who remains connected to his tribe and, yes, also consciously distant in certain ways, I’ve experienced the full range of Indian identities. And I’ve experienced so much joy in being an Indian among Indians. I don’t think the outside world knows that Indians are hilarious. Pretty much every tribally-connected Indian would kill at a comedy club open-mic night. Indian humor is so vital in Indian culture that I’m always suspicious of the unfunny Indians (and I’m actively scared of unfunny leftists in general). I’m suspicious of an Indian who doesn’t find it hilarious that some Indians love Trump. I have Indian friends and family who are Trumpites. And I have Indian family and friends who are Marxists. I have Indian friends and family who span the political, economic, and cultural spectrum.
And this spectrum of Indians easily live among one another. They practice their tribal cultures without much, if any, reference to political identity. There are no Indian Republicans or Democrats in the sweat lodge. There are only Indians. Politics have very little meaning in our most sacred places. We connected Indians don’t find the totality of our indigenous-ness in our politics. God, I can’t imagine how awful that would be.
He has a point. Perhaps if non-Native Americans had the blessing of deeper, richer community identities, they would place much less importance on Red-Blue politics.
When it comes to our political leaders, it seems we’re more interested in the jerseys they’re wearing than the policies they’re implementing. In this simple experiment Red and Blue partisans were asked whether they agreed with a variety of policies, from drone strikes to China tariffs, when these actions were attributed to either Obama or Trump. The catch: all were things that both presidents really did.
Unsurprisingly, we’re more likely to agree with policies that are backed by the party we voted for. The Blue and Red lines in this chart show the difference in approval when the experimenters switched attribution, for Republicans and Democrats respectively. The average bias is about half a point on a five point scale.
To further demonstrate the extent of our bias, the researchers tried a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Black supremacy is as dangerous as white supremacy.” The statement was deemed racist by Blue when attributed to Donald Trump, but not racist when attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. Red didn’t perceive the statement as racist in either case. In the accompanying spicy commentary, the researchers interpreted these results as Blue being more biased. However, it’s also true that who said something, and why, provides important context. The same statement, when made in a different situation, can take on an entirely different meaning.
Double standards complicate objective debates and assessments of a party leader's actions, both of which are essential for consensus-building around policy issues. This study calls into question the nature of our loyalties. To what extent are we fighting for our values, as opposed to fighting for our team?
Following Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter, some have perceived a Red tilt in the platform’s 280-character posts. Christopher Barrie created a program that randomly selected tweets from U.S. users, and then used a pre-existing service to estimate the ideological distribution of users over time, based on the politicians they follow.
He found that Twitter users are quite polarized, with many people concentrated at the poles. And while there has been a slight shift towards the right from January 2022 to May 2023, it’s still a predominantly Blue user base.
An ideology score distribution; negative values on the x-axis are Blue and positive values are Red. (Source)
He also estimated the exposure to misinformation, again following a previous paper which looked at how different politicians were rated by fact checking organizations. There seems to have been a slight increase in exposure to misinformation.
Distribution of Twitter users’ exposure to misinformation. The increase on the right side of the chart over time means more users were exposed to more misinfo (Source)
We do see changes post-Elon, but they’re not necessarily large. It will be interesting to see if the Red tilt becomes a more well-defined slant in the future, which could happen if liberals abandon the platform.
Quote of the week
Simply stated, urban elite progressive indigenous people have more political and cultural commonality with urban elite progressive white people than they do with the average reservation Indian—especially those Indians who are of older generations and tend to be more moderate.