January 31, 2015

Racist City Journal blames kids

Recently, drunken sports fans hurled beer and insults at 57 Native students at a hockey rink in Rapid City, South Dakota. That isn't necessarily a pop-culture issue, so I mentioned it only in my tweets. But an article in the Racist Rapid City Journal has elevated the story to a new level.

An article explains:

Blaming the Victims: Witness Says Pine Ridge Reservation Students Did Not Stand Up for National Anthem

By Levi RickertThe students, who ages range from 8–13 years-old, were subjected to beer being sprayed on them and racial taunts of telling them to go back to the reservation from a corporate suite leased by Eagle Sales of the Black Hills, the Anheuser-Busch distributor for the region.

The Rapid City Journal’s story cited a person who was in the suite as claiming: “the incident was ignited when some members of the school group reportedly did not stand for the National Anthem prior to the start of the Rapid City Rush game.”

Justin Poor Bear, who was one of the parent chaperones who attended the game, denied the claim. He told the Journal: “We all stood up.” The newspaper reported two other officials of the American Horse School at Allen on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, indicated the students stood up for the national anthem.

The students were escorted out of the game by the adult chaperones who feared for the safety of the children, Poor Bear told Native News Online on Thursday.
What this tells us

Along with the image above, Chase Iron Eyes wrote:The Racist City Journal, I mean Rapid City, calls out little Native grade schoolers for allegedly "not standing" for America's Nat'l Anthem, so I guess that means, if they didn't stand, that's justification for adults to racially attack kids with beer, frisbees, & beer cups whileyelling "GO BACK TO THE REZ." How about a story that they haven't arrested the perpetrator(s) even though they know his identity. We have our own Nat'l Anthem & we stand for yours, you stand for ours.More thoughts on this article from Last Real Indians:@RCJournal suggests Native Children could've deserved to be assaulted as they didn't stand for Nat'l Anthem ‪#‎FU‬And educator Debbie Reese:Rapid City Journal headline abt what Native kids did or did not do is irrelevant. Nothing justifies pouring beer on kids.Rob reacts

My snarky take on the subject:

Forget about climate change, poverty, or terrorism...the Racist City Journal has today's top story headlined on its front page!

Did the Native students also say the Pledge of Allegiance? Put their hands over their hearts? And sign a loyalty oath? We don't know the answers to any of these questions!

And if they didn't do these things, then what? I'd love to see the Racist City Journal spin that into a news story.

A news story that's more important than the racist assault on 57 Native kids, that is.

For more on Rapid City racism, see #NativeLivesMatter in Rapid City and Rapid City Board Rejects Sculpture Garden.

January 30, 2015

Review of How I Became a Ghost

How I Became A Ghost (How I Became a Ghost Series)Told in the words of Isaac, a Choctaw boy who does not survive the Trail of Tears, HOW I BECAME A GHOST is a tale of innocence and resilience in the face of tragedy. From the book's opening line, "Maybe you have never read a book written by a ghost before," the reader is put on notice that this is no normal book. Isaac leads a remarkable foursome of Choctaw comrades: a tough-minded teenage girl, a shape-shifting panther boy, a lovable five-year-old ghost who only wants her mom and dad to be happy, and Isaac s talking dog, Jumper. The first in a trilogy, HOW I BECAME A GHOST thinly disguises an important and oft-overlooked piece of history.

Editorial Reviews

"The beginning of a trilogy, this tale is valuable for both its recounting of a historical tragedy and its immersive Choctaw perspective." KIRKUS, STARRED REVIEW --Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2013

"...a thrilling caper . . . a recommendation for reluctant readers who like their history tinged with the otherworldly." RECOMMENDED --The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Literature

"Tingle, a Choctaw storyteller, relates his tale in the engaging repetitions and rhythms of an oft-told story . . . spare and authentic." --Dean Schneider, THE HORN BOOK MAGAZINE

2014 American Indian Youth Literature Award --American Indian Library Association, ALA

2014 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People --National Council for the Social Studies & Children's Book Council

2014 American Indian Youth Literature Award --American Indian Library Association, ALA

2014 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People --National Council for the Social Studies & Children's Book Council
Comment:  I read this book because of all the glowing notices it's received. Such as this one from Debbie Reese in her American Indians in Children's Literature blog:

Tim Tingle's HOW I BECAME A GHOSTAs the title suggests, Isaac is going to become a ghost, but this isn't a scary ghost story. Scary things do happen--this is a story about the forced relocation of a people, but it is more about the humanity of the people on that trail than it is about that forced relocation. How I Became A Ghost is about spirituality and community and perseverance. And laughter. There's some delightful moments in this story! Throughout, this story shines with the warmth that Tingle's storytelling voice brings to his writing. I highly recommend How I Became A Ghost. I have it on good authority that we'll hear more from Isaac. I look forward to it.True, it presents civilized Indians who live in a farming community in a Native nation that has treaty rights with the US. That's something if you're expecting the "half-naked grunting Indian men" of Little House on the Prairie.

But that's not enough to make it a good book. I'll have to go with some of the negative comments I found on Goodreads:I know this book was written for the 9-12 year age group, but I think Tim Tingle vastly underestimates the intelligence of that age group. They're kids, they're not stupid. I had a few problems with this book.

This is definitely a children's book, NOT a young adult book, so more advanced readers may be bored by the simple, minimalistic language.

I gave this 4 stars initially, but then just a little bit of research today revealed that some of the history is likely wrong, and that complicates things. There is a fantasy element anyway, but the shocking smallpox blanket scene seems to be entirely fictional.

Even though I think the kids would enjoy this WAW possibility, I just felt it was so exaggerated and unreal that I couldn't get into it. In this story of the Trail of Tears, Isaac is a Choctaw brave that can see ghosts and talk to them and has visions of when people will die. And he becomes friends with another brave that can turn into a leopard. Together they try to free a girl that has been kidnapped and forced to work for several cruel soldiers. This is a no vote for me.

Love the title, and I really wanted to love the book -- Not many kids' books about Indian relocation have passed my way. But I just couldn't get into this. I started reading it out loud to myself; it sounds almost like oral stories written down. As stories told 'live,' in an intimate group, I think it would be better. On the page, it has a stilted, boring feeling. I am not sure kids will stick with this one. Too bad.
The smallpox-blanket thing is disconcerting, and perhaps enough to disqualify the book as "history." It might be okay if Tingle had used the blanket gambit once--a bit of untold lore that might have been true. But it's a frequent issue on his Trail of Tears. The characters have to sniff out each blanket to determine if it's contaminated or not.

I think Tingle was trying for a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn type of adventure with Choctaw protagonists and magical elements a la Twilight. And if someone without Mark Twain's abilities had rewritten Tom Sawyer for 9-year-olds, it might come out like this.

That's fine, but everyone's talking as if How I Became a Ghost is a great read for adults as well as pre-teens. With all the remarkable books out there, I wouldn't even recommend this to 9-year-olds unless they were deeply interested in Indians. To me, it's a Choctaw "Hardy Boys" starring Ghost Boy and Panther Boy, not a serious book for old(er) readers.

Rob's rating: 5.0 of 10. Great cover, though.

January 29, 2015

Review of Code Talker

Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir By One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWIIHe is the only original World War II Navajo code talker still alive—and this is his story . . .

His name wasn’t Chester Nez. That was the English name he was assigned in kindergarten. And in boarding school at Fort Defiance, he was punished for speaking his native language, as the teachers sought to rid him of his culture and traditions. But discrimination didn’t stop Chester from answering the call to defend his country after Pearl Harbor, for the Navajo have always been warriors, and his upbringing on a New Mexico reservation gave him the strength—both physical and mental—to excel as a marine.

During World War II, the Japanese had managed to crack every code the United States used. But when the Marines turned to its Navajo recruits to develop and implement a secret military language, they created the only unbroken code in modern warfare—and helped assure victory for the United States over Japan in the South Pacific.

Editorial Reviews

"From Guadalcanal through Bougainville to Peleliu, Nez relates a riveting tale of jungle combat and his personal struggle to adapt to civilian life following the most cataclysmic war in our nation’s history. Gripping in its narrative, Code Talker is history at its best." --Colonel Cole C. Kingseed, U.S. Army (Ret.), co-author of Beyond Band of Brothers

"A fascinating inside look at one of WWII’s most closely guarded secrets…This is an important book, a previously untold piece of our history." --Marcus Brotherton, author of Shifty's War

"You don’t need to be a fan of World War II literature to appreciate this memoir…a fascinating melange of combat in the Pacific theater, the history of the Navajo people and the development of a uniquely American code." --The Associated Press

"A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation." --Kirkus Reviews
Comment:  I just finished reading this for my Breaking the Code screenplay. Some thoughts:

I'd say "riveting" is an overstatement. Unlike some readers, I had no trouble putting the book down.

Code Talker is maybe 1/3 Nez's childhood, 1/2 the war, and 1/6 the rest of his life. So the bit about his "personal struggle to adapt to civilian life" is also an overstatement. That wasn't Nez's big issue. His real challenge, which I wouldn't call a struggle, was leaving the sheltered Navajo life for boarding schools and the big city.

The book is fine on Nez's childhood. Especially if you haven't read biographies of Southwestern Indians in the pre-war years, when contact with the white man was still rare. It's great on the war years, where you get a real sense of what soldiers had to endure in the Pacific. I'd say it rushes through the post-war years...but nobody's necessarily interested in that part of Nez's story, so it's okay.

My main cavaet is that nothing terribly dramatic happens. You want heartwrenching personal conflicts in stories like these. Nez overcoming the cruel boarding-school master! Nez overcoming the racist Marine sergeant! Nez in hand-to-hand combat with a deadly Banzai enemy!

Nothing like that happened. If Nez hadn't been at ground zero during the formation and deployment of the Navajo codetalkers, we might not care about his story. What he witnessed is the interesting part--but witnessing isn't quite as compelling as struggling oneself.

Those points aside, Code Talker tells you everything you'd like to know about the origin of the codetalkers. It's a must-read on that subject. And it's a solid entry in the broader category of Native memoirs.

Rob's rating: 8.0 of 10.

January 28, 2015

"Colorblind" = denying racism's existence

When you say you 'don't see race', you’re ignoring racism, not helping to solve it

Race is such an ingrained social construct that even blind people can ‘see’ it. To pretend it doesn’t exist to you erases the experiences of black people

By Zach Stafford
People love to tell me that they often forget that I’m black. They say this with a sort of “a-ha!” look on their faces, as if their dawning ability to see my blackness was a gift to us both.

When I point out that their eyesight had never left them, that my skin has never changed colors, and that they probably did not really forget that I am black, they inevitably get defensive. First, they try to argue that it was a compliment; the smart ones quickly realize that complimenting someone on not being black is actually pretty racist, so they switch gears.

I don’t see race! is usually their next tactic, followed by I am colorblind, though they never give credit to Stephen Colbert. By “colorblind” they don’t actually mean that they can’t see green or red; rather, they are suggesting that they can’t ever be racist, because they don’t register skin color at all.

This ideology is very popular–like a racial utopic version of the Golden Rule–but it’s actually quite racist. “Colorblindness” doesn’t acknowledge the very real ways in which racism has existed and continues to exist, both in individuals and systemically. By professing not to see race, you’re just ignoring racism, not solving it.

Still, the idea of “colorblindness” is incredibly popular, especially with young people who believe racism is a problem for the older generation and will soon die out. According to a 2014 study done in partnership with MTV and David Binder Research, almost three-fourths of millennials believe that we should not see the color of someone’s skin, as though it’s a choice. Nearly 70% believe they have achieved this and are now actually colorblind; and the same percentage shockingly believe that we make society better by not seeing race or ethnicity.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see A Hunger to Deny Racism and The "I Don't See Race" Crock.

January 27, 2015

Phony "patriots" love American Sniper

Don't hate on critics of 'American Sniper'—criticize its flawed hero

By Matt RozsaFor far too many Americans, it is impossible to separate criticism of individuals within certain institution—or even systematic injustices perpetrated by those institutions—from the actual institutions themselves.

This was seen last year in the right-wing backlash against those who protested racial profiling among law enforcement. "If you read the liberal mainstream media," argued Ben Stein, you’d think "that the main problem with race in America was poor innocent black people being set upon and mistreated by the police." In his dismissal of the #BlackLivesMatter protests, Rudy Giuliani claimed that "they are tearing down respect for a criminal justice system that goes back to England in the 11th century." After a crazed cop-hater assassinated two police officers in December, New York Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch blamed it on those who "incited violence on the street under the guise of protest."

There is an obvious logical response to these attitudes. "You can truly grieve for every officer who’s been lost in the line of duty in this country, and still be troubled by cases of police overreach," argued Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. "Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive. You can have great regard for law enforcement and still want them to be held to high standards."
And:Of course, the reason we are seeing such reflexive rallying behind American Sniper and Kyle’s character is that there are Americans who wish to turn him into such a symbol. "Treating Kyle as a patriot and ignoring any other possibility," observes Dennis Jett of the New Republic, "allows Americans to ignore the consequences of invading a country that had no weapons of mass destruction, had nothing to do with 9/11, and had no meaningful ties to Al Qaeda." Just as important, the canonization of Chris Kyle allows Americans to duck the morally thorny questions involving Kyle’s possible killing of innocent civilians, his dehumanization of both Muslims in general and Iraqis specifically, and his bloodthirsty attitude toward war itself. Because his supporters don’t wish to see these things (or, even worse, secretly condone them), they gloss over the inconvenient details and insist that drawing attention to them is un-American.

This speaks to an issue even larger than questions about the Iraq War, America’s military presence overseas, or even racism among law enforcement (to refer to the earlier analogy in this article). If America is going to have an intelligent public debate on any political issue, it is essential that its citizens be able to participate without fear of having their motives baselessly attacked. More specifically, if we are to hold our government accountable for its actions, we absolutely must be able to criticize its most powerful institutions—particularly those who use violence, be it the military abroad or the police at home—without being intimidated into silence.

It's not un-American to question Chris Kyle and the military operation he worked for. In fact, it might just be the most patriotic thing you can do.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see American Sniper = Indian Killer.

January 26, 2015

American Sniper = Indian killer

Caution! 'American Sniper' Is a Dangerous Movie

By Mateo RomeroThis is a tense war movie that looks great. But just underneath the film’s sexy veneer is a shockingly racist ideology of hate and death that is advanced by the white male sniper Chris Kyle.

Kyle is the ideological descendant of Custer and the Seventh Cavalry. He belongs to an elite white male cadre of swinging dick meat eaters who will solve the problems of invaded brown people with a bullet. Iraqi and Syrian combatants are called “fuckin’ savages.” Direct statements of racism and death may or may not reflect the realities of the modern U.S. military. But they do give rise to false dichotomies that dehumanize the enemy and make it kinda fun, cool and necessary to kill them.

For the moment, Sniper is the fave mascot of the reactionary right wing of white America. Its visual beauty softens the harsh fact that the movie glorifies death, racism, hatred, religious prejudice, sexism, colonialism and moral corrosion. It presents some great ideas about caring for and protecting the people of your tribe. If you’re a white Christian American, that is. Women, minorities, kids, Muslims need not apply. They’re part of the bullet-to-the-head fix.

Why is this film so important in its depiction of outdated and corrosive white conservative male values? Because it is a time of great change and social movement in the world. The time of white American male rule and hegemony is coming to an end. And American wingnuts don’t like it one bit.
Some of the problems in Kyle's book--from Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature blog:

"Injun" in Chris Kyle's AMERICAN SNIPERWhen American Sniper opened in theaters last week, I started to see reviews that pointed out Kyle's use of the word savage to describe Iraqis. That word has been used to describe American Indians. I wondered if Kyle made any connections between "savage" and American Indians in his book. The answer? Yes.

In his autobiography, Kyle uses "Injun" in two places. Here's what he said on page 267:Or we would bump out 500 yards, six or eight hundred yards, going deep into Injun territory to look and wait for the bad guys.And here's what he said on page 291:Our missions would last for an overnight or two in Injun country.See? He made connections between "savage" Iraqis and "savage" Indians.
Kyle's attitude = American imperialism

Many people have written about the problems in American Sniper. Here's the main one:

“American Sniper’s” biggest lie: Clint Eastwood has a delusional Fox News problem

The insanities and fantasies at the heart of "American Sniper" explain everything about the state of the 2015 GOP

By Sophia A. McClennen
Let’s start with the delusion. The film draws a direct link between the events of 9/11 and the war in Iraq, forgetting completely that the war in Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11. Not one of the attackers that day was in any way connected to Iraq. Thus to connect 9/11 to Iraq is delusional. Not even the Bush administration made that overt a link—at the time they claimed they went to Iraq to keep the Iraqis from using weapons of mass destruction that were never found.

But that’s not the perceptions of many who watch Fox News. As the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland reported back in 2003: “Those who receive most of their news from Fox News are more likely than average to have misperceptions.” In their poll they found that 80 percent of Fox viewers held at least one of three Iraq-related misperceptions, more than any other news consumers, especially those that consume NPR and PBS.

The point is that the 9/11-Iraq link is delusional, but it is also a common link in public perceptions of those on the right who watch Fox News and clearly it is one that makes sense to Eastwood and those that think like him.

The second problem is the culture of violence. While the film tries to show Kyle wrestling at some level with some of his kills, he still very clearly divides the world into categories. As his father puts it in the film, there are wolves (those that want to kill you), sheep and sheep dogs (who have to protect the sheep from the wolves). Not only are there just three categories of life, but these categories are also defined solely by a logic of violence and aggression. In the film, Iraqis are almost all depicted as wolves, even women and children. Kyle’s first two kills are a young boy and his mother. But they posed a threat and thus needed to be killed. As Kyle later explains, he has no remorse over any of his kills, just over the lives he wished he could have protected.

At no point does the film consider the fact that the war was based on false justifications. At no point does it imagine that those in Iraq might have seen the U.S. soldiers as invaders in their homeland. At no point does it imagine that the violence suffered by our own soldiers could have been avoided if we simply hadn’t started the war to begin with. The logic of war is completely unquestioned, making this the most simplistic war film we have seen nominated for an Oscar in decades.

January 25, 2015

Spirit of the Beast in Batman

A posting about a 1991 Batman comics notes its Native subject matter.

2015 31 Days of Comics–First Comic You Ever Bought

By Brian CroninLuckily, as I noted, I had been reading comics for years at this point, so I was not thrown, because otherwise, beginning with part 3 of a three-parter involving Batman teaming up with an 130-year-old Native American Shaman to stop the man’s grandson from killing people as part of a ritual that involved retrieving ancient Native American relics probably wouldn’t be the place to start reading Batman comic books.Comment:  I haven't read this storyline. But based on the page below, it's a mess.

The grandson is wearing a kachina-style mask. That would place him in one of the Pueblo tribes of the Southwest. But they'd consider it sacrilegious to wear a mask for anything but a sacred ceremony.

The grandfather invokes "Manitou" as the grandson tries to kill him with a tomahawk. Both cultural references come from the Eastern Woodlands--the opposite side of the country from the Southwest.

The other Indians are wearing bandanas, which was typical of the traditional Navajo and Apache. These tribes live near the pueblos but aren't Pueblo tribes themselves. And the don't wear bandanas anymore.

For that matter, Indians don't use tomahawks anymore unless they're reenacting their culture in a show. So everything about the story seems flawed. It includes stereotypes from at least three cultures, none of which match.

The three-parter

ComicVine.com gives a synopsis of the whole story:Batman #462--Spirit of the Beast, Part 1: To Live and Die in California

Batman found one of Bruce Wayne's friends dying of an axe wound. He followed a lead to San Francisco. He was on the scene when another was attacked, but he couldn't stop it. Native Americans were taking back artifacts that the white man had taken from them.

Batman #463--Spirit of the Beast, Part 2: Ghost

Batman followed another lead into Death Valley. He stopped the Indians from killing one of their own, an elderly blind man. The old man told Batman what was going on. They went after the rogue Indian preparing for a ritual.

Batman #464--Spirit of the Beast, Part 3: Sacrifice

Batman and the old man stopped the ritual and saved the hostages. Batman left him there to die (he was over 130 years old) and went home (taking the man's dog).
If the tribe lives in Death Valley, all the cultural references are wrong. Death Valley tribes don't have kachinas, don't invoke Manitou, and don't wear bandanas.

The plot is the oldest cliché in the book. Someone did something bad to the Indians, so a shaman or demon or ghost vows revenge and returns to kill people.

I don't know if there was anything supernatural in this three-parter. Typically the "bad" Indians pretend to be spirits but turn out to be thugs.

I gather the grandfather inspired his grandson to kidnap people and perform deadly rituals. Then the grandfather turned against the cause and was thrown out.

The deadly-ritual part is standard fare, even though it's badly stereotypical. No Indians are performing any rites except the benign ones they've performed for centuries.

Having the grandfather turn against his followers is a slight twist, but probably not enough to justify the story. These stories usually pit a "good" Indian against a "bad" one who's the black sheep of the family.

Bottom line: Unless your story offers some incredible take on the tired "revenge from the past" plot, you probably should avoid it. I doubt Batman #462-464 is an exception to this rule.

January 24, 2015

Economist's bogus "sloth" claim

A recent Economist article stirred some controversy by claiming casinos make Indians poor. Specifically, it claimed that tribes with per capita payments from gaming are more likely to be mired in poverty.

People in the know scoffed at this claim, since they've seen with their own eyes how gaming has helped tribes. Now here's a rebuttal to the claim.

Of Stereotypes and Slack Reporting Standards: The Economist’s Claim that Native American Gaming Leads to “Sloth”

By Shawn Fremstad & Erik StegmanAn article in this week’s The Economist is a reminder that we haven’t put the bad old days of racially distorted coverage of poverty beyond us. The article claims “cash from casinos makes Native Americans poorer.” According to the author, a particular problem is that tribes distribute part of the revenues directly to members—typically known as “per capita payments”—which encourages “sloth.” The article is accompanied by a photograph of an American Indian man in front of a slot machine, a grin on his face and his arm pumped in the air.

Given research like Gilens’ and the long history of stereotyping American Indians as lazy, The Economist should have been particularly careful to ensure that it had solid evidence to back up its claim. In lieu of such evidence, The Economist relied on a few anecdotes and a single article by a private attorney published in a student-run law review.

We took a closer look at the law review article that The Economist relied on and were not impressed. It purportedly shows that poverty was more likely to increase in certain Pacific Northwest tribes that distributed part of their gambling revenues to members than in those that did not. But there were only seven tribes (out of a total of 17 that the article focused on) that did not distribute gaming revenues directly to members. The total reported decline in poverty among these seven tribes amounted to only 364 people. The study contained no controls for any of the many factors that affect poverty rates, nor did it take into account size differences in the tribes, differences in the size and structure of the per capita payments, or other relevant factors. In short, the study is absolutely useless in terms of providing meaningful evidence to support The Economist’s claim.

Even worse, The Economist failed to mention the existence of rigorous, peer-reviewed research contradicting the article’s thesis. Unlike the single paper cited in the article, this research uses methodologies designed to isolate the causal effects of per capita payments and generally finds that they have positive effects on poverty and other indicators of children’s well-being. For example, research by William Copeland and Elizabeth Costello, both professors at Duke University, uses longitudinal data that tracks both American Indian and non-American Indian children in western North Carolina. After the introduction of a per capita payment for American Indian families, they documented “an overall improvement in the outcomes of the American Indian children while those of the non-[American] Indian children … remained mostly stable.” Strikingly, educational outcomes for American Indian children “converged to that of the non-[American] Indians,” and the arrest rate of American Indian children fell below that of non-American Indians.
Comment:  No doubt the original article was part of the right-wing agenda to demonize the poor. According to Mitt Romney and the "47%" lie, giving people "handouts" or "freebies" makes them lazy and shiftless.

Note that this doesn't apply to corporations and rich people who get billions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies. They're good, hard-working Americans who don't waste their freebies on booze or drugs--or so they tell us.

People have been telling this lie about Indians almost since the beginning. We took their land, destroyed their cultures, gave them "firewater"...and surprise! They weren't as strong and independent as they once were. That's because we took their land and destroyed their cultures, not because they're inherently lazy.

January 23, 2015

Backstrom offends Indians, others

Our meanest antihero yet: How Fox’s “Backstrom” deliberately pushes p.c. buttons

Rainn Wilson stars in this strange comedy about a misanthropic detective whose life is in shambles

By Sonia Saraiya
The cold open of the first episode of “Backstrom” is basically a setup for a racist joke. You could argue that the joke is there in order to be ridiculed—that it’s so ludicrously offensive that it’s being used to make a point instead of to get laughs. You could also argue that it is not racist so much an example of religious discrimination—the joke is at the expense of the protagonist’s doctor, Dev, who is Hindu. Dr. Dev, played by Rizwan Manji, is inquiring after detective Everett Backstrom’s health, because he’s one bad physical away from being reassigned. “If you Hindus are so smart, how come 98 percent of you live at the dump?” Backstrom retorts, clearly taken with his own cleverness. His doctor is unamused, but takes it in stride. Of course he takes it stride—he’s not really given much else of a choice, is he? He’s the bit part next to Rainn Wilson’s first billing; the script demands that he be tolerant of Backstrom’s bitching, because that’s how the audience will learn that Backstrom’s a good guy underneath all that irascibility.

Undeterred, Backstrom—and “Backstrom”—keeps going. “I arrested a white supremacist for killing six Indians,” he emphasizes to the doctor, broadly calling attention to how he’s not a racist. “Not tandoori Indians, like you, but you know, the [wah-wah-wah] Geronimo kind.” And then he finishes with a flourish: “At the press conference, I sang ‘one little, two little, three little Indians…’” Backstrom is only in the doctor’s office for two minutes. He drops another “Hindu,” grabs a prescription to “make a friend,” and in a parting shot, tells his doctor that “Dev is a girl’s name.” And then 90 seconds later, he shows up to his crime scene, griping about his unconventional prescription: “My doctor’s a Hindu. I’m lucky he didn’t make me be friends with a cow.”

It does not abate. Backstrom’s angle changes—sometimes he’s sexist, sometimes he’s slut-shaming, sometimes he’s complaining about Chinese immigrants taking over America. (In one particularly shocking moment, he investigates an illegal gambling outfit, and when he spots a beautiful woman working there, he blusters that the warrant authorizes them to conduct strip-searches.) But this is both Backstrom and “Backstrom”—mean-spirited, offensive and weirdly proud of it.
Comment:  I watched the first episode. The critics and I agree: Backstrom isn't good.

Fox’s Backstrom is the boorish detective you’ll hate to hate

'Backstrom': TV Review

'Backstrom' is one sorry character

A Caustic Detective on the Beat

January 22, 2015

Wyoming Republican uses "Injuns" slur

Wyoming lawmaker uses ‘Injuns’ slur to oppose Medicaid expansion for tribes: report

By David EdwardsA Wyoming newspaper is standing by its reporting that a state lawmaker used a racial slur to describe Native Americans while making a case against expanding Medicaid.

The Rock Springs Rocket-Miner reported on Wednesday that during Tuesday testimony in the Wyoming legislature about expanding the Medicaid program, state Rep. Allan Jaggi (R) was one of the few lawmaker to speak against the idea.

“They (tribal members) are covered under a federal deal,” Jaggi said, according to the paper. “The Injuns are going to be taken care of.”

On Thursday, the Rock Springs Rocket-Miner said that Jaggi had called, and “vehemently denied” using the slur.

“I surely did not say that. I did not say ‘Injuns,’” Jaggi insisted. “That is not in my vocabulary no more than I would call blacks the other word.”

But Rock Springs Rocket-Miner Managing Editor Deb Sutton said that the paper was standing by the quote.

Northern Arapaho Business Council member Richard Brannan told the paper that it felt like “we are still in the 18th century in Wyoming.”

“We are American Indians, not ‘Injuns,’” he pointed out.
Comment:  For more on "Injuns," see Headline: Stop Your "Injuns" and Kincannon: Injuns Are Mad at Me.