White Gaze?

john wayne

What about a Red Gaze?

 Is there a white gaze?

This week in my communication, society and culture class, we’re struggling with the idea that writers, painters and creators see the world through their own lenses.

Scholar Laura Mulvey famously coined the notion of “male gaze” in describing film-making through the lens of male sensibility.

Mulvey even claims women directors embrace the male gaze because such a view is embedded within the structure of film-making.

Some of my students take umbrage; resisting the claim that they, too, are subject to embracing a hegemonic lens.

When award-winning writer Toni Morrison explained to an interviewer that American literature is seen through a white gaze—which she resists—she is saying the white gaze (just like the male gaze in cinema) is the benchmark—the standard—against which we gauge others’ acts of creation.

Imagine how the thesis applies to American Indians.

American Indian perspectives are not only weighed against the standard benchmarks: our stories are often usurped by others, and some of the borrowers claim they are “honoring” us.

The athletic team is named “The Warriors” and a youngster wears a Pocahontas outfit inspired by Disney to trick-or-treating, all in the name of honor.

What’s different about American Indians?

Mainstream folks can be convinced that women have a perspective that differs from men, and others readily accept that African-Americans embrace worldviews remarkably different from non-Blacks because their everyday experiences are different.

Yet Indigenous perspectives are often dismissed outright as quaintly ancient and somehow up-for-grabs to the usurpers.

Non-Indians just don’t get it, as filmmaker Chris Eyre (Cheyenne and Arapaho) so aptly captured in the film, Smoke Signals.

Here is the clip I show my students of the Red Gaze.

Image downloaded from “Google images”


22 January 2018







About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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