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Last week, Sharon H. Chang tweeted a couple of images from a 1987 copy of Where's Waldo that I am adding to AICL's page, The Foul Among the Good. Here they are:
My response?May 29, 2014
Yes, in fact, I've seen that a lot in children's picture books and in dog photos created by people who apparently don't know much about Native peoples. For us, feathers are not playthings. They are sacred. I am guessing you know that eagles are protected in the United States. I'm guessing that you do not know that there are also laws that recognize that eagle feathers have religious significance to Native people. If you want to know a bit more about it, the New York Times ran a story about this in 2011.
I'd also like to note, Waldo, that your depiction of "Indian" people is stereotypical. You drew a tipi, the fringed clothing, and what I think you meant to be a "peace pipe." There are over 500 federally recognized Native Nations in the U.S. Rather than anything meaningful, you're giving your readers monolithic imagery that doesn't do anyone any good.
I'm hoping that line in your post card, the dog, and the tipi are gone from later editions of your book.
Sincerely,Debbie ReeseAmerican Indians in Children's Literature
By: Debbie Reese
Blog: American Indians in Children's Literature
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, grave robbing
, Julia Mary Gibson
, middle grade
, middle school
, not recommended
, Pub year: 2014
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In Copper Magic, twelve-year-old Violet Blake is digging by a stream near her house in Michigan and finds a "talisman" -- a copper hand that she comes to call "the Hand." Violet feels that this hand has some kind of power. She thinks she can use it to make wishes come true. Course, her first wish (for a new dress) does come true (actually she gets TWO new dresses), so she's thinking about how she'll use it to get her mom and little brother back home. Her mother is half Odawa.
Well, it turns out there was more than just that copper hand in the spot where Violet was digging. There's also a skeleton there that is dug up (another kid finds it), reassembled, and displayed as a curiosity in a local hotel.
Cue some fake Hollywood Indian music...
Can't be messing around in them Indian burial grounds, right?! We've seen THAT enough times in movies and TV shows to know that messing with bones and artifacts means bad things are gonna happen. And of course, bad things happen to the people in Copper Magic. Lots of bad things. A wicked storm. Lake water behaving in odd ways. Death. Before all that happens, Mercy (Violet's new friend) talks about how there might be a curse on the grave... Violet and her mother (remember--her mom is half Odawa) have special powers, too. They can see things other people can't.
Cut that fake Hollywood Indian music, that is, and an emphatic "Cut it out!" as my parents would say when I was doing something wrong.
Cut it out, Julia Mary Gibson!
Cut it out, Susan Cooper!
Cut it out, Rosanne Parry!
"Cut what?" you may wonder... Quit writing about Native spirituality! You mean well, but you don't know what you're doing. From a place of ignorance, you're adding to an already-too-tall pile of garbage that gets circulated as information about Native people.
A good many writers have a moment in their life that touched them in such a way that they feel they must write about Native people. Gibson's moment is described in her Afterword. When she was eleven years old, she and her family found some bones near their summer cottage in Michigan. "[A]n expert" said they were "most likely American Indian but not old enough to be archeologically significant" (p. 329), so her grandfather "pieced together a skeleton and mounted it on plywood." Her "superstitious" grandma didn't like it and insisted the bones be reburied. This took place in the late 1960s or early 1970s (my guess, based on Gibson's bio at Macmillan
that says she was born "in the time of Freedom Rides and the Vietnam War").
Gibson goes on to say that her grandfather didn't know better.
In Copper Magic
, Violet is Gibson. The person who puts the skeleton on display is Mr. Dell, a hotel owner intent on increasing his business. The superstitious person who wants the bones reburied? Well, that is Mrs. Agosa, an Odawa woman who tells Violet to "Watch out for ghosts out by you" because "mad ghosts can throw out curses" (p. 134).
and many other writers poke around a bit and pack their stories with bits of info that make it sound like they know a lot about American Indians. Gibson does that in Copper Magic
when she has some of her characters talk about grave robbing and why it is wrong. She also does that when she has Mrs. Agosa talk about the hotel owner burning her people's village and orchards because he wanted their land. In the Afterword, Gibson tells us that part of the story is true (p. 330):
"The real people of the Chaboiganing Band were yanked from their houses by a crooked land grabber and the local sheriff, who flung kerosene over homes and orchards and burned down the whole village, just as Mrs. Agosa tells it."
The burning of that village is important information. It is what major publishers like Macmillan (publisher of Copper Magic
) ought to make known. I wish Gibson had made it the heart of her story. Instead, she chose to tell a story about grave robbing, curses, and mystical Indians. There's more to the "mystical Indians" theme... Interspersed throughout Copper Magic
are pages about two ancient women: Crooked Woman and Greenstone. Those parts of Gibson's novel are presented in italics. They feed the mainstream monster of stereotypical expectations--where people love to read about "mystical Indians" and our tragic history.
In Copper Magic,
Violet's dad is a steady voice saying that Indian graves deserve respect and ought to be left alone. Violet parrots some of what he says but doesn't really understand. Ironically, Gibson is more like Violet than she realizes. Her understanding is superficial. Violet wants to use the hand to get what she wants. Gibson uses the childhood story to do what she wants.
As you may have guessed by now, I don't like what Gibson has done in Copper Magic.
And of course, I do not recommend it. Copper Magic
is another FAIL from a major publisher.
By: Elizabeth Gorney,
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, Psychology & Neuroscience
, Social Work
, Battered Women's Protective Strategies
, domestic violence
, Sherry Hamby
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By Sherry Hamby
The common stereotypes about battered women are wrong and not based on up-to-date science. Here are five common myths about battered women and the real truths about the realities and complexities of domestic violence.
Battered women keep domestic violence a secret.
Reality: Countless research studies show that most battered women disclose their partner’s violence to at least one person—about 80% to 90% of victims in many studies. Victims not only tell, they often tell multiple people and agencies. The problem is not that women don’t tell, it is that they do not receive useful help when they do disclose.
Victims just need to call the police.
Reality: Police officers cannot offer a cure-all for domestic violence. Police arrest perpetrators less than half the time when they are called to the scene of domestic violence incidents, according to the most recently available national data. Worse, arrested perpetrators seldom go to jail—approximately five out of six perpetrators arrested for domestic violence never serve any jail time.
Battered women don’t seek professional help.
Reality: Despite the limitations of police and victim services in many communities, battered women seek help at rates that are similar to people facing other problems. Battered women report to the police at rates that are similar to many other crime victims, and also similar to the helpseeking of people with psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.
Battered women just need to leave.
Reality: All sorts of dangers can increase when women try to leave, including separation violence, stalking, and increased homicide risk. Further, custody battles and other risks can, in some ways, pose even greater threats to women’s well-being and that of their children. We all wish that there was a simple solution like walking out, but the reality is far more complex.
Most women need professional help to cope with domestic violence.
Reality: Most women cope with the problem of domestic violence with informal helpseeking. In nationally representative data, it was ten times more common for women to go to a friend or family’s house than to a domestic violence shelter.
If you want to help women who have been victims of domestic violence, listen to their assessments of what is important, respect their values, and help them come up with a plan or seek resources that address all of the complexities and realities of domestic violence.
Sherry Hamby, Ph.D., is Research Professor of Psychology and Director of the Life Paths Research Program at the University of the South. She is author of Battered Women’s Protective Strategies: Stronger Than You Know.
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Image Credit: Violencia de género. Photo by Concha García Hernández. CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
The post Rethinking domestic violence: learning to see past the stereotypes appeared first on OUPblog.
School Library Journal's much anticipated special issue on Diversity was uploaded today (May 1, 2014) in the midst of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, much of which focuses on promoting books by writers who are not white able-bodied males.
Looking over the list of books they recommend, I am astonished to see Rosanne Parry's deeply flawed Written in Stone on the list. Her outsider perspective is all through that book, and she made up several things (which, she says, is "what fiction writers do"), thereby adding to the already-too-high-pile of misinformation that circulates as information about Native peoples.
Why did SLJ choose here, simultaneously contributing to the invisibility of Native writers?
Why did they go with Parry over any of the 30+ authors of the books on the Focus On list that I wrote for them in November, several of which were singled out for distinction by the American Indian Library Association? Presumably they invited me to write that column (in 2008 and 2013) because they trust my work.
What gives, SLJ?
On May 31 of last year (2013), Education Week pointed to a new study of high school graduation rates that reported that the graduation rates of American Indian students had declined in three out of the five years the study examined. In 2010, Susan C. Faircloth and John W. Tippeconnic published a paper in UCLA Civil Rights Project that had similar findings. In their full report, they cite work by previous studies that tries to make sense of why this happens. Some factors are lack of empathy among teachers, irrelevant curriculum, lack of interest in school.
Anyone who follows Native news or political dimensions of sports news knows that for the last year, there has been an increase in the media coverage of the use of Native imagery by sports teams. Some news outlets have decided to stop using some team names in their reporting, and many are critical of Dan Snyder's misguided efforts to garner support from Native people for his entrenched use of "Redskins" as the name of his team.
In 2008, Stephanie Fryberg's research provided empirical data on the damage mascot imagery does to the self efficacy of Native students. Her research was of such import that the American Psychological Association issued statements calling for an end to their use. If her study was replicated with younger children, using images they see in picture books and fiction they read or are asked to read in school, I think the results would be the same.
I am hopeful that increased attention to mascots like the one used by the Washington DC pro football team, or the one used by the Cleveland pro baseball team will bring an end to their use of that imagery. With that increased awareness, I hope that Native and non-Native parents look with informed eyes at images of Native peoples in the books their children read for pleasure or study. The images that adults embrace are images they've seen since they were children. Some of those images were in movies, some on items in the grocery store, and many were in children's books.
On October 19, 2013, I wrote about the Washington DC pro football team and shared images from children's books that are similar to its mascot. Today, I'm showing images that resemble those of Cleveland's mascot.
Here is the "Chief Wahoo" currently in use alongside the image used from 1946 to 1950.
Here's a page from the 1952 Little Golden Book of Disney's Peter Pan
. Is the book on your shelf? Is the CD or DVD amongst your collection?
Syd Hoff's Little Chief came out in 1961. It is an easy reader published by Harper & Row in its "I Can Read" series:
In 1970, Random House published The Nose Book by Al Perkins in its "Bright and Early" books for Beginning Readers. With its image of the Cat In The Hat in the corner, you'd recognize the series right away. In the line-up of animals shown below, Perkins included an Indian. No doubt it seemed clever. But it was racist and wrong. In the 2003 edition with new illustrations, that image was not included.
Those are older books, but I urge you to look on your shelves. If you held on to books from your childhood, the titles I pointed to above (or others with similar imagery) may be among them. You can do one of two things with them. Put them away and use them later with your child when you teach him or her about stereotyping, or, if you're not attached to the book for sentimental reasons, throw it out.
Here's some images from more recent books. You'll find a lot of them if you look in books about Thanksgiving.
This image is from More Snacks! A Thanksgiving Play
. It is in the Ant Hill series of Ready-To-Read books published by Aladdin. Written by Joan Holub, illustrated by Will Terry, it came out in 2006.
Here's a character from the popular Amelia Bedelia books. This image is from Amelia Bedlia Talks Turkey
by Herman Parish, illustrations by Lynn Sweat. It was published in 2008 by HarperCollins.
Such imagery is also in newer movies made for children, like last year's Free Birds
. Here's turkey Indians from it:
The images I'm sharing in this post are a sample. You will find others. Too many others. They are not harmless. They reduce American Indians to detribalized caricatures or props in stories that misinform readers. They affirm stereotypical ideas, and are part of what I believe causes Native students to disengage from school.
As I noted above, I hope that the increased awareness of the harm in mascots used by sports teams can be brought to bear on children's books and media.
If you are getting rid of those books, replace them with better materials! At the top right of this page, you'll see links to lists of books that I recommend. Order them for your home library, and ask your library to get them, too. Give them as end-of-the-year gifts to your child's teachers!
Let's work together and get rid of stereotypical imagery of American Indians, on and off the playing field.
It is no surprise to anyone that a majority of UIUC students voted yes last week "in support of Chief Illiniwek as the official symbol of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign."
The outcome of the vote reflects the lack of leadership at the university. When the mascot ("symbol" if you prefer) was retired in 2007, the university failed to fully address the ignorance that kept it in place for so long.
Instead of calling it a race-based or racist or stereotypical mascot, they blamed the NCAA for its end, saying they were ending it due to the NCAA policy about these mascots.
Instead of instituting broad campus-based educational efforts to help students and alums learn what is wrong with such mascots, they did nothing.
Instead of making a clean break with it, they let it live on in the hearts and minds of students and alums by way of the "Three In One..."
Pre 2007, when the mascot danced, it did so to a piece of music called the "Three In One." It has Hollywood "Indian" music that people mistakenly associate with American Indians. Post-retirement, that music was/is still played at halftime of basketball and football games. Fans solemnly rise when that music starts, and they cross their arms in front of them like the mascot did,
and they imagine the mascot doing its dance on the court/field. As with the mascot, they speak of how this behavior "honors" American Indians. Someday, some of them will look back on all of this, and feel a bit embarrassed.
Students and alum ought to feel indignant that an institution of higher learning allowed/allows ignorance to go unchecked. I believe the people who created that mascot meant well. I believe they and most of those who embrace that mascot today really mean to honor American Indians, but the way they're doing it is wrong. So wrong, in fact, that the two tribal nations the pro-chief group tried to get support from, issued statements condemning it. So have local and national Native associations and organizations. The American Indian Studies program at Illinois has several pages
of information about it.
Rather than revere a stereotyped romantic image, students and grads can do something meaningful, like learning about why the Violence Against Women Act
is important to us, or why Native people don't want the Keystone Pipeline
on our lands.
Fans could spend time studying misrepresentations of American Indians that they've seen since early childhood, too. It starts with dressing up as Indians for birthday parties and Halloween:
and continues through the play-Indian activities done at summer camps and by young men in the Order of the Arrow.
Seeing all of it from a critical vantage point can help fans understand why they embrace the mascot. Reading research studies on stereotypes, racism and bias can help fans develop their understanding of the origins and impacts of stereotypes.
Learning to think critically can help fans become informed allies of American Indians as we are
, not as fans imagine us to be. I believe people must own their own ignorance, but I'm also aware that learning can't happen in a vacuum. The university has done nothing about that vacuum. It is a shame, and it reflects poorly on an institution of higher learning.
The current chancellor, Phyllis Wise, issued a statement
letting students know that their referendum will not bring the mascot back, but she must do much more to help students and grads move past their current state of ignorance.
This week, I'll be giving two free public lectures in which I'll talk about misrepresentations of American Indians (dates/times/locations listed at bottom of this post). In both lectures, I'll draw connections between the stereotypes of American Indians in children's/young adult literature and mascots.
While I'm out there doing that, the University of Illinois student body will be voting 'yes' or 'no' on this question:
Do you support Chief Illiniwek as the official symbol of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign?
For those of you who are new to AICL, here's "Chief Illiniwek" (I use quotes around that phrase because I do not want to convey any idea whatsoever that I think the mascot ought to have that title):
See the words at the bottom of the photo? The organization "Save the Chief" was active in a campaign to stop the university from getting rid of the mascot. It was/is only one of many similar organizations that, in one way or another, keep up the idea that mascots like "Chief Illiniwek" honor American Indians. They do that in spite of the fact that Native organizations, associations, and tribes have called for an end to the use of Native imagery in this way. And, thank goodness, the university chancellor said that the university will not bring it back because the university wants to go forward in being inclusive, not backward.
It is hard to chip away at the embrace of this kind of stereotyping.
American's are taught to have an affinity for this stereotype. This starts when they're young. Do you remember Clifford the Big Red Dog? Dear, dear, Clifford... I like him, too, but not when Emily Elizabeth thought he could be an Indian for Halloween:
Are you a fan of the Berenstain Bears books? Do you remember the one where Brother Bear and Sister Bear go to camp and listen to Grizzly Bob tell stories dressed this way?
I plan to incorporate research on the harm of such stereotyping in my talk. Research studies show its detrimental impact on Native students, and, its impact on non-Native students, too.
The University of Illinois finally got rid of its mascot, but it wasn't due to any concerns about it as a stereotype. It was retired because if it continued, the university would not be able to hold NCAA championships on its campus. I'm certain that some of the people responsible for actually making the decision to get rid of it understood the harm of stereotyping, but too many people did not, and too many people do not understand it.
I believe that children's books play a role in maintaining the illusion that such stereotypes are honorable.
I hope you can attend one of the talks! Please let your child's teachers know about the talks, too. And the school librarian! Displacing stereotypes with factual information about who American Indians were--and are--is going to require that more people understand stereotyping and its harm.
Wednesday, March 6, 1:00 PM
Bronco Student Center - Centaurus
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Thursday, March 7, 6:30 PM
Hall of Letters, 100
University of Redlands
I recently read Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture (2011) by Peggy Orenstein. While hospitals don’t hand out manuals to parents who leave with a… Read More
Blog: YALSA - Young Adult Library Services Association
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, music video
, online professional development
, professional development
, Summer programs
, Summer Reading
, Add a tag
School’s out, I’m no longer sick, and the blog is no longer down! In honor of the evolving focus of this column, I’ve changed its title and broadened my scope. But don’t worry; I’ll still be trolling the various databases for hard-hitting research, too. The first month of summer is usually the busy one, in which students are still finishing school, are already in summer school, or have begun to embark on busy summer adventures, like camp and travel. So the ideas I’m offering you are a bit more low-key or focused on the librarian, rather than the patron, since I gather that your patrons are not exactly in the mood yet for anything that requires a lot of commitment.
Last weekend, PostSecret put up a (trigger warning) postcard from someone who dislikes being labeled intolerant for saying that certain types of people are, maybe, hypocritical about oppression. That made me think of a tumblr I found once upon a time called Oppressed Brown Girls Doing Things, whose tagline, “Because we’re still oppressed,” is awesomely readable in a multitude of ways. You might just find this fun to read when there’s a lull in your day, but I know I’d love to see some of these posts find their way into a collage on a library wall, a bookmarks list on a library computer, or into the meeting of any group that meets in your teen room. While the content ranges from NSFW language to sarcastic gifs, the blog also brings up a lot of pertinent points about what it means to be a woman of color.
While definitely NSFW, I have to share this music video based on a Jay-Z and Kanye West song whose title I won’t put here. Two Brooklynites re-set the song to be all about how hard it is to be a cool, reading girl who can’t find a guy to keep up with her tastes or pronounce Proust correctly. If you have an advisory group or teen book club that meets, you might show the video to spark a conversation about what it means to be “nerdy,” who the video is aimed at, or what it means to take a genre so known for its subculture and turn it on its head by making it about something usually so “uncool.”
Judith Butler is widely known for her groundbreaking works on gender identity and the idea that gender is a social construct that is performed by members of society, not a biological, unchangeable aspect of a person like eye color. It is Butler’s ideas that so many feminists, media critics, psychologists, and other professionals grapple with when trying to understand how images and stereotypes in the media affect self image and self performance, as well as how damaging it can be to force someone to perform normatively. But in a fascinating ethnographic study, Olga Ivashkevich discovered that young pre-teen girls are much more willing to play with body representation, drag, and non-normative physical ideals than many researchers think. The girls Isvashkevich studied drew each other as various vegetables, allowing them to skew various parts of their bodies, and other anecdotes in the article reveal how even something as obviously “damaging” as a Barbie doll can lead girls to experiment in cross dressing, mutilation, and more. If you and your children’s librarian colleagues have been searching for a way to reach tweens, as well as younger teens, this might be your in. Try leaving a box of Barbies, paper dolls, fashion magazines, or other objects that support alteration and creation on the body, as well as relevant clothing items and art supplies, with a note explaining that patrons are welcome to experiment with the box and maybe even reflect on what they’ve done by taking a digital photo and writing about it for the library’s blog, or s
Tweets I read yesterday prompted me to read Victoria Foyt's young adult novel, Revealing Eden. Some call it provocative, others call it misguided, and others call it utterly racist.
Revealing Eden came out in January of 2012 from Sand Dollar Press. It didn't get reviewed by any of the major review journals. That is due to it being published by Sand Dollar Press, which has only published one book: Revealing Eden.
In an interview posted at Amazon, Foyt said she drew on her "deep fears about Global Warming" to write this story in which "an overheated earth turned social standards upside down." On her website, she writes that she wanted to create a world where "environmental chaos turns today's prevailing beauty standards upside down."
So... she created a story set in the future in which "Coals" are black people whose dark skin makes them more resistant to "the Heat" (skin cancer). That makes them more powerful than the "Pearls" whose white skin makes them more susceptible to skin cancer. The Coals survived "The Great Meltdown" (caused by depletion of the ozone) in greater numbers and are now the ruling class. The Pearls are the lowest class. They all live together underground. The Pearls coat their white skin and blonde hair so their skin is darker and their hair is black. The product they use is called "Midnight Luster." It has to be reapplied every few days. It wears off, and if it gets wet, it comes off. It can also be rubbed off. They wear it for protection from the sun (which would make sense if they went above ground, which they don't) and so that their white skin doesn't antagonize the coals. "Midnight Luster" allows Pearls to pass as Coals. Lowest in class are "Cottons" (Albinos). Between the Coals and the Pearls are the Ambers (Asians) and just above them are the Latinos who I think are "Tigers Eye."
It is difficult to follow the story itself. There are gaps and inconsistencies that an editor would have caught. The logic of the world Foyt creates doesn't hold up. I suggest you read Margaret J. B. Bates's critique at Legendary Women. It has links to other sites with information about the book and does an excellent job of discussing blackface.
Writing about Foyt's book lets me call attention to the ways that Foyt (and those who like the book) are caught up in stereotypical ideas about Indigenous people.
Yeah... Indigenous people are in her book, too.
But they don't have a category like Coal or Pearl. They don't live in the tunnels. Instead, they're on the surface near the equator, and they're the Huaorani. Somehow, they've made it into Foyt's future (on the surface), but she doesn't tell us how they were able to survive the Meltdown.
In the story, Eden and her father (a scientist experimenting on "Interspecies Structural Adaptation") and a coal named Bramford leave the underground when a radical Coal group led by a guy named Jamal attacks the lab. But before they leave, Bramford asks her father to do his experiment on him, which turns him into a creature that is part jaguar.
They fly to Sector Six which is "a lawless, barren land" where "drug lords," or "The Heat" or predators might kill them (p. 48). As we'll see, Sector Six is near the equator. This reference to drug lords is one of the things that doesn't make sense and isn't explained. Instead, it just IS. It is not unlike the ways that a lot of Americans---today---blame Latin America for drug problems.
When they land, Eden sees "a half-dozen, short, muscular Indians wearing a rag-tag assortment of clothes" (p. 50). Some have machetes, some have blowguns (and poison darts), and, "Despite fanciful feathers tucked into simple bowl-cut hairstyles, the warriors appeared fierce" as they stood by their vehicles (p. 50).
Her father is excited to see "The Huaorani" (and yeah, Foyt uses a capital T every time she references The Huorani) who, he says, are "the world's last independent indigenous tribe. No one knows how or where they've survived." Course, that is his (outsider) perspective (Foyt's, that is). Obviously, the Huaorani know how and where they survived. Not telling us (readers) keeps them in the realm of an unknowable exotic mythical tribe.
They're expert hunters, her father says, who hunt "cowode" which are "non-humans or anyone different from them" (p. 50). Since Bramford isn't human, Eden thinks she can get the Huaorani to kill him. Eden, Bramford, and her father get off the plane, and she yells "cowode" and points to Bramford, but instead of killing him, they "fell to their knees and began to chant in ecstatic voices" (p 51):
"El Tigre! El Tigre!"
I'm guessing that the Huaorani people of Ecuador speak their own language and Spanish, too, so their use of Spanish in the novel is plausible.
Anyway, it turns out that the Huaorani think Bramford is El Tigre ("the Jaguar Man") who is the "long-awaited Aztec God" and because Eden is with him, they look upon her with "equal reverence" (p. 51). I guess Foyt want us to think that the Huaorani and Aztec have the same gods. Indigenous people, whether we're in North or South America... some writers think our ways are the same, no matter our location or history. Monolithic, ya' know! Interchangeable!
The Huaorani take Bramford, Eden, and her father to a village where (p. 54):
Native women and children in tattered rags stood by, staring blankly at the arrivals. They looked ill with patchy hair, and red, scaly rashes on their brown skin. Their stomachs were swollen, their eyes lifeless. Two drunken men sprawled in a heap of garbage. One of them raised his head, eyed the commotion, then spit and turned over.
Blank stares and lifeless eyes? This portrayal of the Huaorani isn't consistent across the novel. Here, it sounds like she's looking at a 'save the children' commercial. And drunken men?! Why is THAT there?
The nearby river is covered with green and black layers, which her father says is residue from oil mining (p. 54):
"My hypothesis is the tribe sold their oil rights long ago, probably for worthless cash. I suspect no one ever explained the consequences."
Ah, yes! Primitive, ignorant savages! Except that's not the case in reality. It is a trope, however, that works when the author and her audience are all steeped in stereotypes of primitive Indians.
From that village, Eden and Bramford go to another one where the people aren't as destitute. They are mostly naked, and wear their "ragtag" clothes when they're going to town (p. 85). They make no sound when they walk (ah, yes! Another stereotype!) and boys become warriors only after they've been initiated by being stung by dozens of "bullet ants" (p. 88). They are a happy people with shamans and remedies and a lifestyle that Bramford wants to preserve and emulate. Sounds like Lieutenant Dunbar in Dances With Wolves
! Or that guy in Avatar
Soon, Eden wants to be Native, too!
She asks Maria, a Huaorani woman, to cut her hair in the Huaorani style (bowl-cut). As her blonde hair falls to the floor, she wonders if Maria's daughters think it "held some potent magic or evil" (p. 112). As she looks in the mirror, she thinks she "might pass as a tribeswoman" (p. 112). Her father asks her and asks if she's "going Native" (p. 114).
Towards the end of the novel, Eden and Bramford go to "Heaven's Gate" to get a root they need to save her father's life. There, they see an "ancient, fortress-like stone terrace" that Bramford tells her was built by the Aztecs.
Did they really go all the way from Ecuador to northern Mexico?! Or, has Foyt got us back in the interchangeable Indian space again?
At Heaven's Gate, Bramford tells Eden that the Aztecs are watching them but are afraid of Eden's skin color. The pair dig up roots that Eden realizes are the "proverbial Fountain of Youth" (p. 130). Later, Aztec warriors help Eden and Bramford fight the radical group that wanted to take over the underground. The warriors appear and disappear without a sound.
The novel ends with Eden and Bramford kissing, ready for part two in Foyt's "Save the Pearls" series.
A too-kind word that sums up my appraisal of the book? Ick. My concluding thoughts
Foyt's book is a mess. Through most of the story, her main character is racist. She says and thinks things about Coals and Huaorani that are racist, arrogant, and ignorant. Because of that, her early comment that she wants to mate with a Coal (Jamal) to improve her standing doesn't make sense. She is sexually attracted to Jamal and later transfers that attraction to Bramford, but she detests Coals, and, what are we to make of the title of the series title, "Save the Pearls"?!
Eden does blackface and isn't happy. Happiness only comes when she goes Native, with "going Native" an act that is based on stereotypes and romantic notions of what it means to be Indigenous. In that way, Revealing Eden
is a lot like the picture book, Brother Eagle Sister Sky
, in which white people learn to take care of the earth only when they adopt romanticized ideas of Native views.
Foyt is asserting that the story is about global warming, and while that is part of the story, it seems to me that the overwhelming storyline is calculated to stir things up in a bid for attention... Like an internet troll. There's nothing to learn or think about in this story. Its too rife with stereotypes and us-versus-them binaries. The writing is bad, and I struggled to read the book. I thought I could just stop, but given the rise in self-published novels and the apparent success this one is receiving, I stuck with it, in hopes that other might-be-self-published authors would read it and revisit any Indigenous themes they may be exploring. Stereotypes will sell, but don't do it.
The book cover (shown here), story, and video promoting the book caused a great deal of conversation on the Internet. Given the way Foyt described Eden when she goes Native (with the "bowl-cut"), some clever person could figure out how to show the three faces of Eden. But then again, maybe Foyt will do that herself on the cover of her next book.
Let's hope that there is no next-book.
Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius
Editor's Note: Back in 2009, I wrote up a short note about Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius. Because the book is on the We Give Books site, I decided to revisit that short post, add to it, and repost a cleaned up version of it here, today:
Though it is much loved and winner of an American Book Award, every time I think of Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius
, the image that I recall is not the lovely lupines she walks amongst or the landscapes people adore. Instead, I remember this page:
(Source for image: http://theartofchildrenspicturebooks.blogspot.com/2011/03/miss-rumphius.html
Here's the text for that page:
Now he worked in the shop at the bottom of the house, making figureheads for the prows of ships, and carving Indians out of wood to put in front of cigar stores.
"He" is Cooney's great grandfather. He's the one who carved cigar store Indians. So... what is wrong with that page?
|Source: Oklahoma Historical Society|
Noted Creek writer, Alexander Lawrence Posey
that the cigar store Indians "are the product of a white mans's factory, and bear no resemblance to the real article." Posey died in 1908.
Is Cooney wrong for including this information in her book? It is factual as Cooney wrote it--carvers of that time period did carve figureheads for ships and wooden Indians, too--but given that Miss Rumphius
was published in 1982 and the information about these carvings being stereotypical is quite old, perhaps she could have inserted "stereotypical" in front of "Indians."
If she had done that, the text on that page would be:
"Now he worked in the shop at the bottom of the house, making figureheads for the prows of ships and carving stereotypical Indians out of wood to put in front of cigar stores."
Course, if Cooney did that, the story wouldn't be as charming as it is, but it would be more accurate
, and it could prompt teachers, parents, and librarians to address stereotypes whenever they read the book to children. What do you think?
At the end of May, I wrote about Elizabeth Warren (running for US Senate against incumbent Scott Brown) and her family story about how they are part Cherokee.
Last night was the first debate between Warren and Brown. The first thing Scott Brown brought up was Warren's identity. He said "Professor Warren claimed she was a Native American, a person of color. And as you can see, she's not."
Scott Brown's ignorance is showing!
Brown's remark suggests that a blue-eyed blonde could not be American Indian. He is wrong about that.
Being a tribally enrolled member or citizen of a federally recognized tribe is what matters (and yes, there is a lot of debate about federal recognition and state recognition). Is Native identity determined by skin color? Nope. Hair color? Nope. Obviously, his idea of what an American Indian should look like is based on stereotypes!
The Cherokee Nation has several videos about being a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Here's one:
As the video demonstrates, Cherokee's "look" lots of different ways with regard to hair and skin color.
Scott Brown ought to watch that video!
And maybe he should read Cynthia Leitich Smith's short story, "A Real-Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate" in Moccasin Thunder,
edited by Lori Marie Carlson.
There's a lot of ignorance in America (around the world, in fact) about who American Indians are, but there are a lot of outstanding children's and young adult books that can unseat that ignorance. Moccasin Thunder
has short stories by several leading Native writers: Joy Harjo, Sherman Alexie, Richard Van Camp, Linda Hogan, Joseph Bruchac, Greg Sarris, Lee Francis, and Susan Power. Pick it up today. Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown could learn a lot by reading it.
Did you see the video that started circulating yesterday? The one that shows Scott Brown's staff making war whoops and doing the tomahawk chop at an Elizabeth Warren event? The media is portraying it as a mockery of Warren's Native heritage.
"Outrageous!" the pundits exclaim.
On one hand, I'm glad they're seeing it as outrageous. On the other hand, I'm going to pull on Floyd Red Crow Westerman's song, "Where Were You When":
Did you listen to it?
I wonder where Warren and all the pundits have been all this time? All these years when Native people have been fighting mascots.
Has Warren issued statements
At the University of Illinois, countless people came forward to say they were part Native, and that they like these mascots because they honor American Indians. With their "part Native" proclamation, they felt quite emboldened to attack Native people whose identity is part of our daily lives. By that, I mean Native people who are tribally enrolled or tribally connected to a Native Nation. In his excellent report on Brown and Warren
in Indian Country Today
, Mark Trahant includes a video clip in which Cherokee Nation Chief Baker said that he wishes "every Congressman and Senator in the U.S. had a... felt a kinship to the Cherokee Nation." Presumably, Baker thinks they would be allies of Native Nations and our needs. My experience at Illinois tells me that kinship of that kind works against us more than it does in support of us.
Warren is saying that if her staff had done what Scott Brown's staff did, there would be "serious consequences." She's telling him to DO something.
I'm asking HER to do something. This is a chance for her to regain support from people who have lost faith in her due to the way she is handling the identity issue.
Ms. Warren: Mascots and stereotyping have serious consequences for Native children and their nations. You're seeking a senate seat in a city that has a stereotypical mascot. Issue a statement condemning it.
Here's another suggestion: To help us displace the stereotypes planted in the minds of children, take a minute each day to highlight a book by a Native author
who tell stories of our lives as-we-are, rather than the classics that stereotype us. I can help you select books to highlight.
This is an opportunity for you!
The title for today's blog post comes from this math worksheet:
The photo was taken by the mother of a Native student in a school in Wisconsin. Indian Country Today has the full story
, and I urge you to read it, talk with fellow teachers in your school, and evaluate teaching materials in your school, library, or home, with an eye towards identifying similarly offensive materials as this math worksheet.
Natives names carry significance---just like the naming of any people, anywhere---and this worksheet trivializes Native people by mocking Native names. It happens a lot. And "squaw" though widely recognized as derogatory, appears in a lot of children books
Curious about the origin of the question/answer math worksheet, I found the "joke" in these places:
I also figured out that the book the math worksheet is published in is Masterminds Multiplication & Division: Reproducible Skill Builders & Higher Order Thinking Activities Based on NCTM Standards
, published 1995 by Incentive Publications. Masterminds Multiplication & Division
is apparently used in a lot of schools. Is it in yours?
IndieCade, or, the International Festival of Independent Games was held last week, October 4-7, 2012.
Ben Esposito's "Kachina" (which I gather is still in development) was designated as a 2012 Official Selection. Here's a screenshot from the website:
Here's what the description says. See, in particular, the text I put in bold:
Kachina is a physics-based toy that evokes Katamari Damacy's sense of order & scale mixed with Windowill's childlike wonder. Drawing as readily from Hopi folklore as it does Bruce Springsteen, Kachina invites you to play with the creatures and artifacts of North American mythology.
And, here's a video from IndieCade, showing the game being played:
I taught elementary school for several years and know the value of games that help children understand physics, but...
Esposito and the IndieCade people who selected it as an Official Selection must not know that teepees and totem poles have nothing to do with the Hopi people. They obviously have no idea what kachinas mean to the Hopi people, and they also likely have no idea that calling the religious traditions of an Indigenous people "folklore" is derogatory.
It may not matter to Esposito, but I think teachers who want games like this for their students and
who have knowledge of American Indians would reject it. I'm going to tweet this post to Esposito. Maybe he can change it before it is finished.
Last year, students in Ohio University's S*T*A*R*S (Students Teaching About Racism in Society) student group launched a campaign to push back on Halloween costumes of cultural groups. They created a series of posters, including this one, in which the people (in the photo) are wearing feathered headbands, in what they believe to be Indian costumes.
The campaign got some national media attention from CNN
. Dressing up as an "Indian" is not ok. Though it is often well-intentioned, its outcome is generally one that puts ones ignorance on display. Will you say anything to students you see dressed like Indians this Halloween? I hope so.
Thanks to Erin for letting me know about Brandon Mull's Fablehaven series...
Launched in 2007, the first book is titled Fablehaven. Subsequent ones have subtitles. I haven't read any of them, but plan to do so. The second volume is Rise of the Evening Star. Here's what Erin pointed out in her Goodreads review:
The illustration is on page 165 of the paperback. The girl in the illustration is Kendra. She's looking down at a foosball table. It doesn't look anything like any of the foosball tables I've played on... Here's the text from page 163:
Spitted on rods were four rows of Indians and four rows of cowboys. The cowboys were all the same, as were the Indians. The cowboy had a white hat and a mustache. His hands rested on his holstered six-guns. The Indian had a feathered headdress, and his reddish-brown arms were folded across his bare chest.
Some questions... Have you seen a foosball table like that? And why was that particular scene chosen for illustration?!
When Kendra beats "the Sphinx" (he's "a black man with short, beaded dreadlocks" whose "skin was not merely a shade of brown--it was as close to truly black as Kendra had ever seen") at a game of foosball, he tells her "I feel like General Custer."
More questions... Custer? Why? What does it add to the story to have a cowboy and Indians foosball table?! Why did Mull include any of this?
And why have no reviewers noted it?
In 1657, John Amos Comenius wrote and illustrated Orbis Pictus, an encyclopedic picture book for children that is now commonly recognized as the first picture book for children. In honor of Comenius, the National Council of Teachers of English established a nonfiction book award and named it the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children. Comenius included Indians in the book in the section about religion, where he wrote:
The Indians, 10. even at this day, worship the Devil, 11.
Here's the illustration. The Indian and Devil are on the right. The Indian is kneeling. To, as Comenius said, "worship the Devil."
I don't mean to suggest that NCTE ought not to have named the award after the book, but I do wish that writers, illustrators, reviews, publishers, teachers, and librarians would be more thoughtful about misrepresentations in things they write, illustrate, publish, teach, and share today. You can't, of course, misrepresent what people like Comenius think, but you can present their thoughts in a way that points out the err of that thinking.
A few weeks ago, I pointed to stereotypes in Brandon Mull's Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star. Today, I'm pointing to problems in his Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague.
First---here's an overview, by Denise Daley (her review is at Barnes and Noble):
Strange things have been happening in Fablehaven. A mysterious shadow plague is slowly overtaking the once peaceful magical creatures that live there. The nipsies are like regular people except they are only about half an inch big. Some of their kingdoms have recently been attacked by other nipsies who have somehow been transformed into sinister beings. Seth is the first to discover the disturbing changes. He and his sister Kendra have been staying with their grandparents at Fablehaven. Kendra has unique abilities that can possibly help, but the situation is extremely dangerous. Kendra's grandparents reluctantly grant her permission to visit a special place where she is inducted into the Knights of the Dawn. She and several other knights immediately begin an assignment to retrieve a hidden artifact.
That assignment takes her to the "Lost Mesa preserve" (p. 94) in Arizona which is on Navajo land. The hidden artifact is one of five. Together, all five of the artifacts can open a demon prison called Zzyzxa. In chapter 7, Kendra and the other knights arrive at Lost Mesa. Here's the illustration at top of that page:
Some of you will say "but that's Taos!" when you see that page. I sure did! (For those who don't know about Taos Pueblo, do an Internet search of images on Taos Pueblo and you'll find plenty of them.) There are, in fact, pueblo people in Arizona. The Hopi Nation is there, and, they do have structures like the ones at Taos, but seriously---do the search and there's no denying that a photo of Taos was the inspiration for Brandon Dorman's illustration of Lost Mesa.
Kendra and her group are driven to Lost Mesa by "a quiet Navajo man with leathery skin, probably in his fifties" (p. 122). His name is Neil. He's wearing a cowboy hat and a bolo tie, and though Kendra tries to get him to talk to her, he answers her questions "but never elaborated or made inquiries of his own" (p. 123). Though some of us are quiet like that, I suspect that Mull is drawing on stereotypes of the stoic Indian.
Neil starts talking a bit more when they get closer to Lost Mesa. He tells her they call it Painted Mesa, and that
Almost nobody knows, but part of the reason the Navajo people ended up with the largest reservation in the country was to conceal this hallowed place" (p. 125).
How, I wonder, do people who aren't Native, or who don't pay attention to the quality of Native content in children's and young adult books, process that line?! Part of it is true. The Navajo Nation does have the largest reservation in the United States. But that bit about having the largest reservation so they could conceal a hallowed place?! Who, in Mull's fantasyland, did THAT?!
Mull has done some research for this book. His research is evident in this exchange, when Kendra asks about Lost Mesa (p. 125):
"Do Navajo's run it?" Kendra asked.
"Not solely. We Dine are new here compared to the Pueblo people."
"Has the preserve been here long?" Kendra asked. She finally had Neil on a roll!
"This is the oldest preserve on the continent, founded centuries before European colonization, first managed by the ancient race outsiders call Anasazi. Persian magi actually established the preserve. They wanted it to stay a secret. Back then, this land was unknown across the Atlantic. We're still doing a good job at remaining off the map."
"Painted Mesa can't be seen from outside of the fence?" Kendra asked.
"Not even by satellites," Neil said proudly. "This preserve is the opposite of a mirage. You don't see us, but we're really here."
In Mull's book, Lost Mesa is an "it" that is "run" by someone. He might know that Native Nations are sovereign governments, but he might also think they're like corporations to be run by someone. From Neil, we learn that the Navajo and Pueblo people run Lost Mesa together. Remember what I said earlier... there are, in fact, Pueblo people in Arizona, but they generally refer to themselves as Hopis. Historically speaking, the Navajo are newcomers to that area.
Let's assume that Mull is talking about villages on one of the Hopi Mesas. They were, in fact, founded centuries before European colonization. But, "first managed by the ancient race outsiders call Anasazi" is a bit messy. "Managed" confirms my suspicion that Mull thinks of Native Nations as companies rather than governments. "Ancient race" is Hopis, but I think it was the Navajo people that called them Anasazi, and then, that term was widely used by anthropologist and archaeologists. For a long time, a lot of people thought the Anasazi people vanished, but today, it is widely acknowledged that we (present day Pueblo Indian) are descendants of that "ancient" people and that we didn't vanish.
But what to make of "Persian magi" who "actually established the preserve" before Europeans even knew the continent existed?! These magi must be part of Mull's fantasy world. He doesn't say they established the village. He specifically says "the preserve."
And then that part about being invisible?! We're supposed to be with Mull in his fantasy world, but as a Native person who knows a lot about the ways that mainstream power structures misrepresent and omit Indigenous people, I gotta say that this is wacky!!!
On page 127, Neil pulls up at a hacienda. There's a pueblo near the hacienda. We meet "a short Native woman" named Rosa and her daughter, Maria, who is "a tall, slender Native American woman with a broad jaw and high cheekbones." Rosa has "copper skin" and is the caretaker of Lost Mesa. They also meet Hal, who is Maria's father and Rosa's husband. He is described as a "potbellied man with narrow shoulders, long limbs, and a heavy gray mustache." I think he's white, don't you? White is the default. Generally speaking, writers only describe skin color when a character is not white.
Hal takes Kendra and Gavin (a youngish knight like Kendra) on a tour of Lost Mesa. They see "an old Spanish mission" with a cemetery and "a pueblo" which, Hal says, "are the oldest structures on the property" (p. 131). Hal stops to feed the zombies in the cemetery.
Yeah... you read that right. Hal tells them that it is the oldest and biggest zombie collection in the world. In the cemetery, there are almost 200 graves. Beside each grave, there's a bell on a small pole, with a cord attached to the bell. The cord goes down into the grave. If a zombie is hungry, it rings its bell. Hal lifts a tube, unstops it, puts a funnel in it, and pours "goopy red fluid" from a bucket down into the grave. Are you creeped out? Or grossed out?!
Next stop is a museum that houses "the world's largest collection of freestanding magical creature skeletons and other related paraphernalia" (p. 135). Gavin objects to the display of a dragon skeleton, because, he says dragons are sacred, and its sacrilegious to display their bones. That's an interesting turn, given that complete skeletons of Native people were, for many years, displayed like museum objects. For more info on that topic, this video is worth watching:
Back to Mull's story....
That night, the group of knights climbs Lost Mesa to "the Old Pueblo" (p. 204):
Lightning blazed across the sky, the first Kendra had noticed since setting out. For a moment, the entire expanse of the mesa flashed into view. In the distance, toward the center, Kendra saw ancient ruins, layer upon layer of crumbling walls and stairs that must once have formed a more impressive pueblo complex than the structure neighboring the hacienda. Briefly her eye was drawn to the movement of many dancers prancing wildly in the rain on the near side of the ruins. Before she could consider the scene, the lightning flash ended. The distance and the darkness and the rain combined to obscure the revelers even from Kendra's keen eyes. Thunder rumbled, muffled by the wind.
"Kachinas!" Neil cried
The middle-aged Navajo rapidly loosed Kendra from the climbing gear, not bothering to remove her harness. Lightning flared again, revealing that the figures were no longer engaged in their frenzied dance. The revelers were charging toward them.
Ok, I'm going to stop reading Mull's book.
Equating kachinas with revelers is offensive. Using "prancing wildly" and "frenzied" to describe them is also offensive. Seems to me that Mull is the one in a frenzy! Caught up in superficial knowledge of Native peoples, he inserts stereotypes and misinformation into another genre of children's literature. Some might find his books engaging. I find them insulting.
Why, I wonder, did Mull feel compelled to write Native people into his book?!
No doubt, fans of Mull's series will submit comments to this review, telling me "its just a book" and "its fantasy, not non-fiction, so leave it alone!"
The fact is, it isn't ONE book. It isn't just Mull's Fablehaven series. Its misrepresentation and stereotyping in books published every year, going back hundreds of years. It'll only stop when we stop buying books like this.
Consider what you have on your library shelves right now. If you started a pile of fiction and nonfiction books that misrepresent Indigenous people, and placed alongside it ones that accurately portray Indigenous people, you'd see what I mean. And hopefully, you'd start to deselect those with misrepresentations. Course, you'd have a lot of space, but you could fill that space with books that don't misinform your patrons and students. Won't that be better? For all of us?
Over at BuzzFeed, Leonora Epstein posted 15 Unbelievably Racist Valentine's Day Cards. I'm sharing two of them in this post. Before I do that, though, let's take a look at the subtitle for her post. She writes "This collection of V-Day cards circa 1900 to 1930 or so will make you wish Valentine's Day never existed." With that subtitle, she suggests that times are different. I think she's not paying attention to mascots like the ones for the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Indians. She must not know about the Gwen Stefani video either.Problems:
Let's take a look at two of the cards:
"Ugh ugh" - I'd love to know who it was that first put down "ugh ugh" as words or speech of Native people!
The headdress itself - One of the common stereotypical ways that a headdress is drawn.
The geometric trim around the heart - I guess this could be traced to textiles Native artists weave on looms. But don't artists from other groups also use looms in creating their woven items?
Wondering about his "give me" line. What do you think about that?
And or course, he is playing Indian. The artist didn't intend you to think the boy is actually Native. That's different (mostly) from the other Valentine's Day cards in the BuzzFeed article...
Here's the second one:Problems:
"How" - Another utterance someone attributed as the way that Indians say hello. You remember it from Disney's Peter Pan?
The headdress - Another of the common ways that a headdress is drawn...
Given her skin tone, we can speculate that the artist meant her to actually be Native, but that's not likely. Like the boy in the card above, she's most likely playing Indian, too.
If you want to see more, check out the ones Adrienne K. has been posting each year
at Native Appropriations. As far as I know, makers of the Valentine's day cards no longer use these stereotypes. I wish authors and illustrators of children's and young adult literature would stop, too!
Upon learning that Champaign Public Library's 110 Books for Every Child included books with blackface and that stereotype American Indians, Creek author Durango Mendoza wrote that children and their families "could feel ambushed by the foul among the good."
I'm going to ask him if I can use that phrase as a label for any time that I write about a book in which a child--Native or not--might be ambushed by the foul in a book that has received much acclaim by others.
Today's post is about three of those books.
First is Harry Allard's The Stupids Step Out. Though the text never mentions American Indians, James Marshall decided to put Kitty, their dog (so named because they're stupid), in a headdress:
In The Stupids Have A Ball
, Marshall presents Kitty in a headband with one feather (leaf?!) in it:
series is very popular. Scholars who write about how best to engage reluctant readers point to these books as ones teachers should use. Teachers that use those two books with Native children are likely giving then more reasons to be reluctant to read! And anyone with insight into stereotyping and why it is wrong will have found the foul among the good
that Durango Mendoza expressed.
We can do better! If The Stupids
books were the last books on earth, we might have to use them, but they aren't. We can set them aside, can't we?
And while you're in the 'setting aside' mode, take a look at Marshall's George and Martha, Encore.
In it, he's got George playing Indian...
Why would we, in 2013, use books that stereotype American Indians? Doing so affirms (or introduces) playing Indian, and we don't affirm or introduce playing ______ (fill in the blank), do we?
__________________Stupids Step Out
, first published in 1974, by Houghton MifflinStupids Have A Ball,
first published in 1978, by Houghton MifflinGeorge and Martha, Encore,
first published in 1973, by Houghton Mifflin
The US Census released 2010 demographic data a few days ago. Among the data being pointed to in articles and essays is that "...American Indians and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are the most likely to report being of more than once race. Blacks and whites are the least likely." That excerpt appears in the New York Times, in the March 24, 2011 article by Susan Saulny.
It suggests that more American Indians claim more than one race than was the case in the past, that there is more mixing than ever before. I don't doubt that, but let's hit the pause button...
I'm tribally enrolled with Nambe Pueblo. I grew up there. My daughter and I, like my parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, etc., live our identity as Indians of Nambe Pueblo.
I teach at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. In every class I teach, I've got a handful of students who say they have a great grandparent who was Native. They don't know what tribe that ancestor was, and, they usually have only a vague idea of what it might mean to be Native. Most of them have no idea of Native Nations, of Native sovereignty, of being on a tribal census, what treaties mean, that dances might be sacred... A great many of them romanticize an Indian identity based on popular culture and (sadly) biased teachings in school. Some of them manufacture that identity, putting it on in the form of, for example, a bone choker. They mean no harm. In fact, they wear such things with great pride. But! They don't live a specific Native Nation identity.
Yet, many of them check a box on school enrollment forms, and, likely on the U.S. Census, that says they're part Indian. And so, the statistics are kind of... skewed.
A few months ago, the Times ran another article in which college students reported being mixed, some of them with Native heritage, but that none of those distinct identities mattered.
Identity matters for those of us who are raised Indian. We work very hard at maintaining our nationhood and our sovereignty, and, we work to protect the integrity of our traditions from being exploited by people who don't understand them...
The students interviewed for that Times article mean no harm when they say their Indian identity doesn't matter. It doesn't matter---to them. But it does to me, and it does to Native Nations. The students' well-meaning embrace of a mixed identity, in effect, obscures a lot, and in that obscurity, it does do harm. It contributes to the lack of understanding of who American Indians are... And it takes the US down a merry melting pod road where we all hold hands and smile in ignorance.
Ignorance is not bliss. It is ignorance.
You don't have to be ignorant. You can learn a lot about American Indians, and know us---and maybe your own ancestry---for who we were and are, rather than some abstract stereotypical notion you've been carrying around.
Spend some time on American Indians in Children's Literature, learning about who we are and what we care about. Read our newspapers! Check out Indian Country Today. Read Mark Trahant's columns there, and see how ICT covers mascot stories. Listen to our radio stations! Start with National Native News. Did you know we have Tribal Colleges? And a journal called Tribal College Journal that you can read online? There's a lot to know!
Last week I wrote about the use of Geronimo's name for Osama bin Laden. Since then I've been researching, reading, and thinking about Geronimo, his people, and how Apaches are portrayed.
One thing I did was search in the Comprehensive Children's Literature Database (CLCD) to see how many items in CLCD have "Geronimo" in the title. One of the results was an image that appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1886. Here's the image (source is Library of Congress):
Right away, I thought "but that isn't how they dressed..." This
is how they dressed (source is White Mountain Apache History
led its readers astray. I'm going to see if I can find a copy of that issue so I can see what it said. Periodicals of the time, I think, led readers astray. They published sensational accounts of "atrocities" committed by "savage" Indians. Such accounts scared readers. They were then terrified of Indians. Over and over, you can read that Geronimo "struck terror" in the hearts of settlers.
It is important to remember that it was war
Atrocities were committed by soldiers in the U.S. Army, too, as documented in reports of the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864. Indians were terrified of soldiers, and of settlers, miners, and mountain men, many of whom scalped Indian men and women.
In his Violence Over the Land
, Ned Blackhawk writes about a mountain man named James Beckwourth who was in the west in the 1820s, working for a trading company. Gunning for the Pun-naks (Bannock), Beckwourth wrote that he and his group followed Pun-naks for 45 miles, and then attacked them. The attack continued (p. 172):
"... until there was not one left of either sex or any age. We carried back four hundred and eight-eight scalps, and as we then supposed, annihilated the Pun-nak band."
I'm going to study Blackhawk's book to see if he talks about how Beckwourth was covered in the press. He does say that Beckwourth exaggerated what he actually did. I'll also read John Coward's book, The Newspaper Indian: Native American Identity in the Press, 1820-90
For now, the scouts, as shown in Harpers, and as shown in the photograph, invite us to apply critical media literacy skills.
In comments to "Chief Read Heap Much" on June 16, 2011, Wendy submitted a comment about Lenore Look's Alvin Ho: Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects, and Other Man-Made Catastrophes (2010). The illustrations are by LeUyen Pham. It is pitched at children in 2nd through 4th grade.
Here's what Wendy said:
Have you all read the latest Alvin Ho book? There's an almost astonishing "playing Indian" theme. I can't understand it on multiple levels. Why did the author think this is something kids still do? As an Asian American didn't it seem at all "off" to her? And how on earth did it get past the editors and readers at the publisher? It's a major part of the plot. (My review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/126789049)
Her comment prompted me to dash over to the library and get a copy. Reading the book, I can see why the Alvin Ho books (I think this is the third one) are appealing and getting starred reviews. In writing and format, it feels a bit like Alexie's Absolutely True Diary.
By that, I mean it is a quick read, lot of humor, and cool illustrations throughout. See what I mean?
Engaging writing and cool art, but Wendy is right. Below are summary, excerpts, and illustrations. Beneath the summary is my discussion, in italics. Summary
In chapter three, Alvin is going down the street and stops at Jules's house because there's a lot of noise coming from his yard. Alvin peers through the bushes and sees that a bunch of kids (he calls them "the gang") are playing "King Philip's War." Alvin tells us that it was the "war between settlers and natives that nearly wiped out all of Massachusetts a hundred years before the American Revolution wiped out everyone else" (p. 35). Here's the illustration on that page:
The child in the bottom right corner is Pinky, playing the part of King Philip. He tells Alvin that it is "settlers against Indians" and that they're practicing for an upcoming birthday party that Alvin doesn't know about:
"Do you have settler gear?" Pinky asked.
I shook my head no.
"How 'bout Indian gear?"
I shook my head again.
"No wonder you haven't been invited," said Pinky. "No war paint, no moccasins, no fun."
That night, Alvin makes a wish:
"I wish for the Deluxe Indian Chief outfit with fringe," I said, my breath dripping on the glass. "Complete with bow and arrow and the huge feather headdress that makes you look like a giant bird."
In the next chapter, Alvin hopes for the invitation to arrive, but he's sure he actually needs that outfit in order to be invited. He does get an invitation, but it is to Flea's party. She's a girl, and he hates girl birthday parties. His mom wants him to go, and Alvin thinks that if he agrees to go, maybe his mom will get the Deluxe Indian Chief outfit for him:
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Stereotypes can be really useful to a writer. You want to quickly communicate exactly what sort of person this is? Just pop in a few generally-recognised characteristics, and the average mind will fill in the rest.
So, for instance, you give a character bad breath and equally bad teeth, and chances are the reader will identify him as a bad person.
Or give her blonde hair, long legs and a high-pitched giggle, and you’ve got a bimbo. See? There’s even a specific word to match the image! And just one little detail can make a big difference: replace the giggle with a sly, sulky pout and, hey presto, instant High School Queen Bitch!
Then there’s this one: a young black man in a hoody wandering through an expensive, exclusive gated community at night. He’s got his hood up and is walking slowly, muttering to himself. There’s something in his hand. So: burglar, probably on drugs. Possibly armed. Definitely dangerous.
The problem here, of course - as some of you will already have worked out - is that real life doesn’t deal in comfortable stereotypes. And the character I’ve just described wasn’t a character. He was Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old who had every reason to be in the expensive, exclusive gated community, since he was staying with his father who lived there. And he wasn’t actually talking to himself; he was on his phone, using a handsfree headset. And he was walking slowly because…
You know what? I don’t know why he was walking slowly; and actually, it doesn’t matter. At all. There’s no reason anyone should have to explain anything about Trayvon Martin’s behaviour that night. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. Walking slowly isn’t a crime in Florida, where the gated community is; nor is talking on a mobile phone; or carrying a bottle of iced tea and a bag of Skittles; or wearing a hoody; or wearing your hood up; or being young, black and male.
Yet now Trayvon Martin is dead. He’s dead because he fitted another man’s stereotype of villainy; and because that man was licensed to carry a gun.
And because Florida has a law that allows anyone to use deadly force if they believe themselves to be in danger of death or serious injury, the man who shot Trayvon Martin has not been arrested or charged.
Stereotypes. They should come with a warning.
You can read more about the Trayvon Martin case here, and you can sign a petition to have his killer prosecuted here. John's website is at www.visitingauthor.com.He's on twitter as @JohnDougherty8. His latest books include:Finn MacCool and the Giant