Racism in the Electronic Age: Online Forum Comments on Native-Themed Mascots

Steinfeldt, J. A., Foltz, B. D., Kaladow, J. K., Carlson, T. N., Pagano, L. A. Jr., Benton, E., & Steinfeldt, M. C. (2010). Racism in the electronic age: Role of online forums in expressing racial attitudes about American Indians. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 16(3), 362-371.

According to Steinfeldt (2010) and colleagues, as public expression of racism has become less socially acceptable, online forums have become an alternative venue for voicing racist sentiments. The authors focused this study on a content analysis of comments in a forum dealing with Native-themed sports mascots. This particular forum originated in response to a series of disputes between the NCAA and the University of North Carolina over the school’s “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo. There has been much opposition to Native-themed sports mascots, including a resolution issued by the American Psychological Association emphasizing the negative impact of exposure to these portrayals. Research supports this position in that exposure to Native-themed mascots has been linked to lower levels of self-esteem and community worth, as well as fewer achievement-related possible selves in Native American students. Independent raters coded 1,009 forum comments posted over a two-year period which supported retaining Native-themed mascots. Four primary themes emerged from the analysis: (1) Surprise, which reflected disbelief that people could view the Fighting Sioux image as having a negative influence, (2) Power/Privilege, which centered on “reverse racism” and the belief that those who endorse the Native-themed mascots are in fact the true victims of the conflict, (3) Trivialization, which dealt with the idea that Native-themed mascots are an insignificant matter in comparison to more pressing issues, and (4) Denigration, in which comments posted attacked the credibility of those opposing the mascots or attempted to vilify Native Americans. The authors concluded that these comments perpetuate stereotypes and misinformation and treat Native Americans as commodities rather than American citizens. In addition, they suggested that electronic communication may not be governed by the same social norms that otherwise limit the expression of explicitly racist views.

Making Connections

Content analysis
Online behavior
Prejudice, explicit
Social norms

Media Supplement

The website of the American Indian Movement provides information about the negative impact of Native-themed sports mascots.

This site presents a summary of the APA Resolution Recommending Retirement of American Indian Mascots.