Monday, January 30, 2012

The White Supremacy Order

Would you like a side of guilt with that order?
My personal experience with Native American literature can be described with one word, adoration. I believe Native American literature is funny, entertaining, and extremely informational. Unfortunately, because the literature is so informative, it brings up issues from the past. History cannot be escaped. People have tried to rewrite history, but the truth has a way of resurfacing.
I was completely aware of the racism and hostility shown towards the Indians, even though history books record a loss with the Indians as a massacre and a victory with the Indians a battle. I have come to know what happened, accept that it has happened, and realize that it is still affecting their race. My reaction to their literature is of course guilt because I am a white descendent, and feel personally responsible for things that I have no control over. I come from both sides; I am German and Native American, and I have always wished growing up that I were more Native American than white because the Indian in me can be represented with a tiny fraction. Because my white heritage dominates my blood, I feel this sense of guilt overwhelming the pride I should feel for American Indian literature. It is hard to come from a heritage that has displayed immoral behavior and dishonorable actions. Sometimes we can forget that even though where we come from as a people is important, who we are as a person is more important.
So, it is an established fact that while reading Native American literature as a white American, guilt is a natural response. What I don’t think is a “natural response” is the responses I have come across when people are dealing with white guilt. I was completely baffled by what these critics have to say about American Indian literature.
Some people shut down all at once, or reject Native American literature. “I can’t believe this. I don’t want to read this. This isn’t even literature.” Well, what qualifies literature to become part of the Canon? Why is it important enough to be studied by scholars? People approach these questions from a biased angle. American Indian literature cannot be held to the standards of Western literature. In Western literature, the stories are put on paper to be read in a romantic way. Choosing the right word is a crucial factor in Western literature because the goal is to state something in two different ways or insinuate something else in a witty way. When love is compared to a rose, the writer is insinuating that love is beautiful, fragile, short-lived, etc. In Native American literature, the stories are put on paper just so the world has documentation of a version of a moral that used to be told. It is difficult to read something that is meant to be spoken. American Indians expressed their stories orally and were specific to certain types of audiences. The classic trickster tale of how Possum lost his hairy tail is aimed toward teaching modesty and discouraging boastfulness.
Still, others react to Native American literature in an exponentially negative way. “This is bullshit. This is disgusting. I don’t have to read this because I don’t owe it to anybody to participate in this nonsense. This literature contains racism all right, racism against whites.” Obviously, American Indian literature is diversity intensive, not because of its crude humor, but because it is different from what we are used to reading. People claim that reading jokes about private parts, bodily functions, and profanities is insulting. This can be proved to be quite the opposite. Not only can this type of humor be found in Italian and African literature, but Western literature as well. Exhibit A: THE MOST WIDELY READ BOOK IN AMERICA AS WELL AS ACROSS THE GLOBE – the Holy Bible. The Bible is a beautiful piece of literature that is studied by Christians and atheists alike because of its astounding stories. It is an ancient text full of poems and morals that anyone can learn from. Although the Bible is very beautiful, its contents are far from a PG rating. Where did we coin the term “sodomized?” From a story in the Bible at Sodom and Gomorra where full grown men were raping other men. If that story doesn’t make you puke, the story of two daughters who manage to get their father wasted on wine so that he would have sexual relations with them because they believed the human race would end with them will make you vomit. These stories and more are contained within the pages of the Bible, yet it is one of the most esteemed books of all time.
It is natural to feel guilt while reading Native American literature. No, this generation of whites is not responsible for Wounded Knee, broken treaties, or reservations, but we owe it to us to learn what happened because this generation can be responsible for positive outcomes. We should thirst for more knowledge of the past instead of denying it or pushing it away.
“Knowing is half the battle.” –G.I. Joe
This expression is stupid but true. At least if we are educated diversely and open-minded, we empower ourselves with the ability to change and learn from our mistakes.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Business of Fancydancing

When I started reading The Business of Fancydancing, I expected racism, alcohol abuse, even the feeling of emptyness, but nothing could have possibly prepared me for the degree to which Indians are poor.
"'Hey, Dad, we ain't got any food left.' 'What's in your hand?' 'Just two slices of bread.' 'Well, you can have a jam sandwhich, enit?'" (13)
At first I imagined what a sandwhich would taste like with only jam in the middle...disgusting. What a lazy way of making toast, or half of a pb&j.
"'What's that?' 'You just take two slices of bread and jam them together.' Willie laughed loudest and looked back at me." (13)
I laughed too. I laughed so hard that my eyes started to water, and I could barely read the next sentence.
"'You can have a wish sandwhich, too,' Willie said. "All the time you're eating, you wish there was something in your sandwhich.'" (13)
Then, the water rolling down my cheeks formed real tears; I cried at the first page. Even though the story is fictional, I know that the situation is real. I remembered the photographs that Reel Injun presented of reservation Indians without food, hot water, or a home.
They all look so hopeless, just waiting for something to come along that is different from what they know, better from what they know.
"Then, the blue van shuddered, the headlights went dim, out, and the van stopped dark in the endless night. 'What the hell is it?' 'Out of gas.' 'Shit, we're going to have to push it home.'... I turned back to the van, put my shoulder to the cold metal and waited for something to change." (15)
Again I felt hopelessness. I can't give the boy a proper sandwhich or start the "res car."

"I cut myself into sixteen equal pieces/ keep thirteen and feed the other three/ to the dogs, who have also grown/ tired of U.S. Commodities,..." (16)
Sherman Alexie always confounds me when he says something two ways in one sentence. He directly insinuates that Indians can only afford groceries through the government, but he suggests the method of payment is through the fractions of race in your blood. If his father is a full-blood Indian (8/8) and his mother is 5/8 Indian, he is left with 13/16 Indian blood. (8/8 + 5/8 = 13/16) To feed the dogs, the boy must feed them his white blood, the only blood worth money. Then he will be a full-blooded dirt poor Indian.
"I know all the mothers of America have told their kids: 'Clean up your plate. There are people starving in India.' When I was young, living on the reservation, eating potatoes everyday of my life, my mother would tell me to 'clean up your plate or your sister will get it.'" (18)
I grew up learning about starvation in third world countries. My mother used to tell me, "Eat your vegetables. There are starving children in Africa."

I never imagined starvation could be possible in America, and I wondered: How could they go on? Through fierce penny-pinching?
"I wept/ dimes into quarters and made a living/ on the corners." (32)
Yes, they survived on chump change and by cutting corners, or sacrificing common luxuries we take for granted everyday, but Alexie states another method of surviving. Through love, people can bare suffering because misery loves company.
"We raised our arms to the wind, silently/ my mouth was surrounded with words/ I could never speak/ alone. We had come together/ to call this space arched in our backs home." (33)
I honestly wondered if Alexie had experienced this sense of loss and comfort with a woman. The poem is dedicated to Kari. Who is Kari? I can't find anything on her.
"No one ever had no job/ but we could always eat/ commodity cheese and beef/ and Mom sold her quilts/ for fifty bucks each to whites/ driving in from Spokane/ to buy illegal fireworks." (35)
I laughed so hard after reading this because I know for a fact that my mother and I would pay 100 dollars for a gen-u-ine American Indian quilt. It would feel like being wrapped in a museum! I am curious as to whether Indians recieve more that just commodity cans from the government, more specifically, i wonder if they recieve health benefits.
"He smiles at his own joke. He has Indian teeth." (81)
What do Indian teeth look like?

I really hope this is not what Alexie had in mind.

Either way, Sherman Alexie once again made me laugh, made me cry, and made me want to watch his movies.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Hate John Wayne

Reel Injuns
The stereotypes associated with Native Americans in film and the irony that arises from those stereotypes.
A Good Indian is a Dead Indian: The Stereotypes
The movie Indians are always portrayed as free spirited people with a deep connection to nature in a religious sense. All the Indians come from a tribe of great hunters and horsemen. All Indians live in teepees and wear feathers, headbands, and human body parts. Finally, and most importantly, all Indians can be found in the deserts of the southwest, crawling over every rock in war makeup and skimpy loin cloths. Of course, all of these stereotypes were made up by white men or taken from a short encounter with someone who thought they were an Indian.
Before Indians were forced to live on reservations, there weren’t any fences that separated them from any land, and there weren’t any white people suppressing their religion. Before colonization, Indians were free spirited and connected to nature in a deep way, but not in such extreme ways shown in film. Not all Indians smoked pipes to have visions of their spirit animal and to rename themselves. Although, Indians were nomadic, and they roamed and hunted all over America before they were corralled into unwanted lands and forced to accept Christianity. This drastic change ceased all hunting as well as fishing. Not all Native Americans tribes were strictly hunters. Most Indians gathered food as well as hunted or fished. Not all Native Americans are great horsemen either. Only the Crow tribe exhibits a deep passion for horses. To them, a horse is a member of the family. At the burial of a horse, the Crow people will cry. They rode their horses everywhere and back, from the mountains to their homes, which weren’t always teepees. Indians dwelled in huts or lean-tos made of natural animal hide or tree wood. Their clothes were also made of animal hide, and never human skin, hair, teeth, or fingers. All of the apparel Indians wore in the movies was introduced by white men. Headdresses of feathers were used to distinguish cowboys from Indians in fight scenes, and headbands were worn by actors to hold on their wigs. The cowboys spread these concepts across the entire United States, and not just the southwest. Fact: not all Indians are from the deserts of the southwest. Indians originated from plains and mountains more often that deserts!
Iron Eyes Cody = Ironized Cody: The Irony
Crazy Horse, one of the greatest and most famous warriors in Native American history, will soon be honored with a colossal statue etched into the side of a mountain. The only issue with this monument is that an actual photograph of Crazy Horse doesn’t exist. All experts who have studied Crazy Horse agree that all pictures taken of “Crazy Horse” are phony because Crazy Horse never allowed himself to be photographed. He believed that his image was not as important as his actions or the legacy he left. The carved statue can only be a representation of a great Native American.
At least the Crazy Horse monument will be a more accurate representation of an Indian than the white men in the movies. Because the white men in the film business didn’t trust Indians, they spray painted white people and gave them black braided wigs. The way they walked, spoke, and behaved was completely inaccurate. The only thing the director captured on tape was a white man pretending to understand how a red man carries himself.
The most infamous of these white man/red man fakers was Iron Eyes Cody. He was an Italian man who repressed his identity because of the hatred of immigrants. To be accepted by society, Iron Eyes Cody played a Native American on film. Everyone immediately accepted him as the role he played, and Cody further convinced himself that he really was an Indian. He married a Native American woman and adopted two Indian boys. By this time, Iron Eyes Cody had completely rejected his heritage and believed that he was Native American. To his dying day he tried to persuade the public of his false background. I honestly can’t blame him. The Indians are like the energizer bunny; whatever happens, they keep on going to the steady drum beats of a pink rabbit. Besides, I’m completely convinced that all white people believe they are related to an Indian princess…“Pocahontas herself!”