What does the Indian head refer to in There There?

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In the prologue to There There, Tommy Orange presents the reader with a tragic litany of cruelty and genocidal repression carried out over several centuries by the white man against Native Americans. As well as setting out in lurid detail the many unspeakable massacres to which Native Americans were subjected, Orange also refers to a lesser-known instance of dehumanization.

From the early days of American TV, right until the 1970s, an Indian head was used as an image for test card transmissions after programming had ended for the day. (This was in the days before 24/7 television.) The head had no name, no body, and no tribe—no identifiable features whatsoever. It was just an unspecified Indian head, a chief in a headdress.

This image is crucial, as it shows once again the extent to which Native American culture has been appropriated by the white man for his own ends. The richness and variety of indigenous culture is ignored by white society, and that society's indifference to indigenous culture manifests itself in the hugely symbolic image of the TV test card, in which we observe a generic Indian in an unspecified headdress, an icon that represents the sum total of what most white people know about Native Americans and their heritage.

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