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Blacks, 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 new-born babies.

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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Mayer-Salovey definition of emotional intelligence  
PETE HAYES, The Telegraph 11/14/2006

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 didn’t 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 that’s how his path crossed with mine.

After Saturday’s 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. I’ve 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 Gray’s position.

It’s persuasive.

Gray sent an email to me which basically stated that we’d 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. He’s 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 didn’t care."

That’s when he took up the mantle.

The TICAR was formed in 2003 originally to do battle with Tulsa Union High School’s 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 -- they’re all important parts of our religion."

And there’s the rub with Chief Illiniwek.

"We really don’t 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 our culture."

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 us."

The TICAR doesn’t protest outside stadiums. "Actually, we think it’s better to educate than to protest," Gray said. "If you tell someone you’re mad, they’ll react with anger. If you tell them your feelings are hurt, they might listen."

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 don’t mean to be hostile or abusive.

"For about 90 percent of the people who take part, it’s not their intention to be racist or demeaning," he said. "I guess you could say the other 10 percent aren’t racially sensitive."

The TICAR is interested in helping in those other areas of concern, of course. "You don’t know what it is like to walk in our shoes," Gray said. "And in truth, you wouldn’t 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?

"It’s hard to say," Gray said. "Obviously I can’t 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 isn’t helping, that’s 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.

"We’ve had successes, of course," he said. "But there are a couple schools on our list that we know won’t change on their own - North Dakota (Fighting Sioux) and Illinois."

Gray knows he’s fighting an uphill battle.

"It’d hard to tell someone who doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong that he’s doing something wrong," he said.

And sometimes, it’s just hard to tell anything to someone who’s already made up his mind.

But at least some of us are willing to listen.