Racial Play and Indigenous Identity Appropriation in North American Summer Camps

Kit Charlton Kalamazoo College
Faculty Sponsor(s): Alyssa Maldonado-Estrada Kalamazoo College
A fundamental tool in the construction of white American masculinity is the simultaneous appropriation and rejection of Indigenous North American identity. Early American summer camps provided an environment for young white boys to “try-on” a constructed “savage” Indigenous identity in the service of affirming and inscribing an ideal “civilized” white identity. This paper will establish the foundational myths to the American settler colonial project as described by President Theodore Roosevelt. For Roosevelt, American masculinity is in opposition to the inferior masculinities of effeminate Europeans and savage Indians. Further, it is vital to the American colonial project that Indigenous peoples are portrayed to be a single monolithic group who exist only in a pre-colonial past. I will then describe how American summer camps re-inscribe Roosevelt’s ideas of white American masculinity through the practice of “Racial play,” in which white children embody the racial identities of Indigenous peoples before coming home from camp and reconstructing the white civilized world. Finally, I will explore the positioning of the city as morally degrading and nature as morally purifying, a central narrative during the establishment of summer camps in North America. Christian theology was projected upon the “pure” pre-colonial natural world and its Indigenous inhabitants in order to position being in “Wilderness” as integral to the production of moral, productive white men. Summer camps served as a site for young white men to reenact the creation of white civilization, constructing white masculinity as a simultaneous embodiment and rejection of Indigenous masculinity and identity.
Competitive Paper--All Disciplines (includes an Oral Presentation)
Competitive Paper (includes an Oral Presentation)

When & Where

11:00 AM
Jordan Hall 242