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Gays, Native Americans, EI and Teen Suicide
Yesterday I started thinking about
gays, blacks and teen suicide. It seems to be relatively
common knowledge now that there is a higher suicide rate
among gays and blacks. And an even higher suicide rate
among gay blacks. I was thinking about the Mayer-Salovey
definition of emotional intelligence and how they seem to
completely leave out factors such as discrimination as
influences on a person's behavior. It doesn't seem to
hard to imagine that a person who has felt discriminated
against for years and years, as well as labeled, laughed
at, ridiculed, insulted, ostracized and rejected would be
more likely to commit suicide than than someone who had
never experienced any of this -- even if they had exactly
the same level of inate emotional intelligence as
While a gay person might also be
afraid of telling anyone he or she is gay, it obviously
is a little harder for a black person to not let anyone
know they are black. I would guess that an emotionally
intelligent gay person would learn very quickly that it
is "not okay" to tell people they are gay in
some families or sub-cultures, thus starting a life of
painful emotional suppression.
This brings up the issue of
conformity and emotional intelligence, by the way. (See article on "Calling Conformity
Intelligence") If a person is born gay in an
accepting family, or in a gay tolerant country such as
Denmark, I think we can all assume that it will have a
much different affect on a gay young person than if they
were born in a non-accepting and non-tolerant culture.
Yet if in one case a person killed himself because they
could no longer live with either a) the silent fears of
revealing the truth, along with the constant need act out
a part which was against their nature, or b) the constant
rejection and perhaps physical bullying (and I remember a
case of a young person who was killed in the USA, in
Texas I think it was, just because they were gay) would
we say that this person had lower emotional intelligence
than the gay person who had a relatively happy life in
much more accepting environment?
Then today I read an article by a
Native American who said that "One in three of
Native American women is raped and we have the highest
rate of teen suicide in the country." (source)
I didn't know that Native American
teens had the highest suicide rate in the USA. But it
doesn't really surprise me. It has long been known that
Native Americans have a high rate of drinking and
alcoholism. But is this due to their low emotional
intelligence as Mayer and Salovey seem to believe? Or is
it more a result of the Europeans imposing their values,
life-style and culture on the Native Americans? To me it
would be extremely offensive to be told by university
educated psychologists that young people in my
sub-culture are killing themselves, women are getting
raped and men are becoming alcoholics because they suffer
from low emotional intelligence. But more than offensive,
I would argue that it simply is not even rational to
think along these lines. It is possible, of course that
Native American teens have lower EI than European teens,
but wouldn't we have to be able to go back in time to see
if young Native American teens were killing themselves at
high rates before the Europeans took over most of North
America? And were men raping the native women at the same
rate they are now?
Something seems very wrong with
Mayer and Salovey' idea of EI, and with they test they
and David Caruso have created which they seem to really
believe measures emotional intelligence. If one group
comes in, takes away freedoms and imposes its culture on
another, and then the first reacts in self-destructive
ways, is it fair to say that the first group suffers from
low EI, as defined by the second group?
November 15, 2006
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When Louis Gray was a kid, he liked playing Cowboys
and Indians. He always wanted to be a Cowboy. Not
surprising, I guess, except that Louis Gray was - and is,
of course - an Indian.
"I wanted to be a cowboy because I didnt want
to die," said Gray, 53, who grew up on an Osage
Indian reservation in Oklahoma.
Gray, a former newspaper editor and publisher, is the
president of the Tulsa Indian Coalition Against Racism, a
support group for Native Americans. He searches the
Internet daily for stories about two of his pet peeves -
team nicknames and mascots. And thats how his path
crossed with mine.
After Saturdays Illinois-Purdue football game, I
wrote a column about how sad it is that Chief Illiniwek
might have well performed his last football halftime
dance. Ive written other Illiniwek-related columns
and my stance has remained constant. I think much of the
hubbub about the political correctness is misguided and
much ado about nothing.
Louis Gray has shown me another side of that argument.
And while I still feel a strong allegiance to the Chief,
I think I understand Grays position.
Gray sent an email to me which basically stated that
wed have to find another way of paying homage to
his people instead of unwittingly disrespecting them
through the performances of Chief Illiniwek. After
reading the email, I called him at his office in Tulsa.
Gray is three-quarters Osage Indian by heritage.
Hes serious about this mascot business, but
admittedly came to it recently.
"I was in the newspaper business in Oklahoma,"
Gray said. "and I was actually more interested in
other issues for our people - housing, health care
issues. I went to a debate on mascots and I was
overwhelmed by the number of people who just didnt
Thats when he took up the mantle.
The TICAR was formed in 2003 originally to do battle with
Tulsa Union High Schools use of the nickname
Redskins. The nickname was bad enough, but the school
also uses a teepee as part of its pregame festivities.
"A teepee is like church in my religion," said
Gray, who is a member of the Native American Church.
"The Indian dances, the tepees, the use of feathers
-- theyre all important parts of our
And theres the rub with Chief Illiniwek.
"We really dont have a problem with the use of
the nickname Fighting Illini," Gray said. "But
the Illiniwek dance goes too far. We feel it mocks us and
Gray has seen the Illiniwek dance on film. "I do a
dance as part of our religious ceremony," he said.
"But not for entertainment. It is sacred to
The TICAR doesnt protest outside stadiums.
"Actually, we think its better to educate than
to protest," Gray said. "If you tell someone
youre mad, theyll react with anger. If you
tell them your feelings are hurt, they might
The NCAA has declared Chief Illiniwek to be hostile and
abusive to Native Americans. And while Gray and his group
agree, they realize that most non-Indian Americans
dont mean to be hostile or abusive.
"For about 90 percent of the people who take part,
its not their intention to be racist or
demeaning," he said. "I guess you could say the
other 10 percent arent racially sensitive."
The TICAR is interested in helping in those other areas
of concern, of course. "You dont know what it
is like to walk in our shoes," Gray said. "And
in truth, you wouldnt want to for the most part.
The socio-economic problems we suffer are off the chart.
To heap on that a need to have a student run around and
mock our culture is a bit much."
According to Gray, Native Americans are the most
physically abused race in the U.S. "Much more than
African Americans," he said. "One in three of
Native American women is raped and we have the highest
rate of teen suicide in the country."
So what, I asked, does a kid dancing on a Saturday
afternoon in Champaign, Ill. have to do with all that?
"Its hard to say," Gray said.
"Obviously I cant say Illiniwek danced in
Illinois and three Indian people on a reservation died
because of it.
"But things like Illiniwek objectify Indians - they
make them objects of ridicule instead of treating them as
people. Our young people grow up seeing that. The Chief
sure isnt helping, thats for sure."
Stanford and Marquette universities are among schools
that long ago changed their nicknames. And locally,
Principia College in Elsah switched from being Indians to
Panthers several years ago.
"Weve had successes, of course," he said.
"But there are a couple schools on our list that we
know wont change on their own - North Dakota
(Fighting Sioux) and Illinois."
Gray knows hes fighting an uphill battle.
"Itd hard to tell someone who doesnt
think hes doing anything wrong that hes doing
something wrong," he said.
And sometimes, its just hard to tell anything to
someone whos already made up his mind.
But at least some of us are willing to listen.