Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ghettos, Sterilization, and Other Things We Might Consider

I've been having some lingering thoughts about Monday's discussion and since Wendy Rose's poem touch on issues of appropriation as well, I thought I'd stay with the already established topic and go deeper.

I've noticed that a number of students felt that Churchill was going too far in supposing that mascots could *really* be a problem, so I wanted to add a couple points to consider in our discussion:

1) The history of ghettoization.  Many students associate the word "ghetto" with the inner city and, in this country, tend to think of Watts, Compton, Harlem, Skid Row, and so forth, but the term itself was first used in Venice to describe neighborhoods in which Jewish people were compelled to live.  The term came into more widespread use during WWII when the Nazi party ghetto-ized the Jewish people in Germany, Poland, etc.  I bring this up because it might make Churchill's comparison of mascots to the case of Julius Stricher more poignant if we consider the fact that Native Americans in this country are, to some extent, a ghetto-ized people.

2)  An argument was raised that, if Native Americans left the reservation, they could better themselves, but of the nation's 2.1 million Native Americans, only 400,000 live on reservations.  Many living off the rez still face problems with poverty.  Those on the reservation have some help in the way of tribal support, government assistance, health care, and the like, but those services only go so far to help.  According to a 1997 article in the Washington Post, "Pine Ridge, which is in Shannon County, S.D., [is] the poorest county in America, a place where unemployment hovers around 80 percent, where the per capita income is $3,417 a year, the lowest in the nation, where two out of three people live below the federal poverty level"  (Carlson).  We should not over-simplify the difficulty of a decision for a person or family to leave their home in hopes of a better life that may not be available to them.

3) Many of us are not fully aware of the extent of anti-Indian prejudice because it isn't a part of our daily lives, but the writers we're examining this semester are more fully educated on the topic.  This isn't a matter of simply having their feelings hurt.  They're looking not only at a history of genocide against their people, but know that much of the attempt to wipe them out has continued into the present day.  Both Alexie and Churchill mention the sterilization of Native American women through the 1970s, for example. (To find a more comprehensive list of links, look at the bottom of Churchill's essay.)

This is by no means a comprehensive list of factors we should consider when we read Churchill's article, but it's a good place to start.  Perhaps it makes it a little easier to see why these writers are offended by the cartoonish representation of their people--a representation that makes it easier to ignore them and the continued threats they face.


  1. I think that most of us in your class were unaware of the anti Indain sentiment because before the class we thought of Indians as being a dead civilization.

  2. You're absolutely right. Actually, that's one of the reasons I wanted to teach this topic--I love the vibrant community of Native American writers and I had to share that with you guys!