August 24, 2015

The backlash against "identity politics"

The real reason Americans fight about identity politics

By Amanda TaubLaw professor Nancy Leong studies what she calls "identity capitalism"—the ways in which particular identities like one's race, gender, or sexual orientation have traditionally constituted positive or negative social "capital," and how the value of that capital is changing. She believes much of the backlash against so-called identity politics is really about a sense that the status quo is under attack, and fear that something worse might replace it.

She explained to me that it's really easy for people from dominant groups to assume that the status quo isn't biased, because they've never had to confront that bias themselves. And so when they see that an existing system is being changed to include minority groups or accommodate other interests, there's a tendency to assume that the natural order of things is being disrupted in some illegitimate way.

For instance, Leong pointed out, in the affirmative action debate she has noticed a tendency to assume that standardized test scores are inherently valid measures of merit—"that someone with a 160 on the LSAT is more deserving than someone with a 150 on the LSAT"—and that affirmative action that admits students with lower scores is therefore favoring "less qualified" students.

But that doesn't take into account ways in which standardized tests may themselves be an imperfect, even biased, measure of merit. Likewise, complaints that curricula now need to include certain books "just because" they are written by nonwhite, non-male authors assume that in the past, books earned their way onto the curriculum via objective merit, and that any replacements are, by definition, sacrificing quality in the name of diversity.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see "It Feels Good to Be White" and How Microaggressions Sneak In.

August 22, 2015

Cannibal film to spark discussion?

A 'Savage Cannibal' Movie in 2015? We Can Do Better

By Tara Houska[I]n the midst of competing interests to protect indigenous peoples or capitalize on the Amazon’s natural resources, out comes a film portraying tribes as bloodthirsty savages.

Despite Roth’s assertion that a fictional film causing harm to existing peoples is “absurd,” presenting an at-risk population as cannibalistic beasts feeds into the mantra of saving, assimilating and educating uncivilized tribes for their own good (and the good of resource-hungry corporations). Stereotypes and dehumanization have very real consequences.

Roth himself joked about the impact of his film crew to the isolated Amazonian tribe he located and featured in his film, “We [had] to tell them what a movie is…They’ve never even seen a television…[B]y the end they were all playing with iPhones and iPads. We’ve completely polluted the social system and f*cked them up.”

These days, Roth is attempting to soothe the many environmental and indigenous rights organizations that have denounced his pending film. He’s joined a campaign to preserve the rainforest and partnered with a charity to start a journalism fund highlighting the issues faced by indigenous peoples.

On Wednesday, he told Variety he “made ‘The Green Inferno’ to spark discussion and bring awareness to the devastation these tribes face at the hands of corporations.” That’s a far cry from a man who earlier stated that he wanted to make a cannibal film but needed the right storyline.
Comment:  The only discussion The Green Inferno is like to spark is a discussion like this one. Namely, pointing out how racist and stereotypical the movie is. How the reality not depicted by Roth the racist is much different.

For more on The Green Inferno, see "From Tiger Lily to Green Inferno" and Cannibal Indians in Green Inferno.

August 21, 2015

Trump lovers want a strongman

Donald Trump, mad king of the GOP: What his surging popularity reveals about Republican extremism

Donald Trump's demagoguery has been so successful for the same reason rightwing extremism is on the rise

By Conor Lynch
The form of populism that we have seen Donald Trump embrace, a kind of nationalist nativism, promising to “make America great again” by keeping the brown people out and bringing jobs back to white America, has obviously gained traction. Trump is the antithesis of a career politician. He is openly sexist and xenophobic, but does not have to worry about losing campaign donations from his inflammatory comments. He does not talk like an anti-government rhetorician, but instead embraces the passions of the rightwing base—whether it be xenophobia, nationalism, or anti-intellectualism—while also promising to use his strength as president to crack down on all of society’s perceived ills.

And here lies a major contradiction with this man, who talks endlessly about the concerns of conservatives, yet promises to address them with the strength of the federal government and executive office—something which conservatives are supposed to oppose.

When given a choice, it seems that followers of the extreme right are willing to use the strength of the federal government, as long as it is addressing their concerns (e.g. national security, illegal immigration, abortion, gay marriage). Of course, not all conservatives have embraced Trump, and many see through his demagoguery—but the people (at least a current plurality of GOP voters) have been enamored by his strongman shtick.

Trump is just one person, and may very well fade away in the months to come—but it is becoming clear that the right wing has increasingly retreated into a “mythical self-glorification,” as Hedges put it. Trump and his followers want to “make America great again.” But what does this mean? No doubt, Trump would say cutting our debt and bringing back jobs from China and Mexico, which is something most Americans would agree on. But the overwhelming rhetoric against immigration, foreign nations, and diplomacy (and diplomats) does point to a kind of retreat from reality into a hyper-nationalist mythology of American exceptionalism. Conservatives seem to be craving a strong personality like Trump, who can come into office and restore traditional values and America’s global supremacy with his superhuman business know-how. This similarly happened in the early 20th century, when strongmen like Mussolini and Hitler rose to power with a promise to restore national supremacy, while creating scapegoats for their problems. Trump wants to restore America’s greatness, and is going after immigrants and foreign nations to provoke much of white America.
Donald Trump’s campaign of terror: How a billionaire channeled his authoritarian rage—and soared to the top of the polls

Democrats have been having a good laugh at Trump's expense this summer. Here's why we shouldn't be laughing

By Heather Digby Parton
It’s easy to dismiss Trump’s ramblings as the words of a kook. But he’s tapping into the rage and frustration many Americans feel when our country is exposed as being imperfect. These Republicans were shamed by their exalted leadership’s debacle in Iraq and believe that American exceptionalism is no longer respected around the world—and they are no longer respected here at home. Trump is a winner and I think this is fundamentally what attracts them to him:I will be fighting and I will win because I’m somebody that wins. We are in very sad shape as a country and you know why that is? We’re more concerned about political correctness than we are about victory, than we are about winning. We are not going to be so politically correct anymore, we are going to get things done.But his dark, authoritarian message of intolerance and hate is likely making it difficult for him, or any Republican, to win a national election, particularly since all the other candidates feel compelled to follow his lead. (Those who challenged him, like Perry and Paul, are sinking like a stone in the polls.) And while Trump’s fans may want to blame foreigners for all their troubles, most Americans know that their troubles can be traced to some powerful people right here at home. Powerful people like Donald Trump.

Still, history is littered with strongmen nobody took seriously until it was too late. When someone like Trump captures the imagination of millions of people it’s important to pay attention to what he’s saying. For all his ranting, you’ll notice that the one thing Trump never mentions is the constitution.
Comment:  For more on Donald Trump, see Trump Promises "Normalcy" aka Whiteness and "Restoring America's Greatness" = Disneyesque Dream.

August 20, 2015

Review of Underground

Back in 2009, this comic book got some press:

UndergroundUNDERGROUND is a graphic novel from IMAGE COMICS. Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Steve Lieber, and colored by Ron Chan, the story follows Park Ranger Wesley Fischer as she tries to save Stillwater Cave--and then has to save herself.Going 'Underground' With Parker & Lieber

By Zack SmithNewsarama: Steve, Jeff: Underground! What's it about and who's in it?

Jeff Parker: Wesley Fischer is our main character, she works for the State Parks system as a Ranger, though her first love is caving. She's a fairly recent immigrant to the town of Marion, where she pulled a lot of strings to get stationed so she could explore the Stillwater Cave there.

The cave has been closed to the public for years for safety reasons, and there's a growing movement in the town to develop it as a show cave, like a sister to Mammoth Cave, to bring some tourist dollars into the area.

Wes is against this because she doesn't want the cave system compromised--there's already been a fair amount of damage to it over the years. But the local entrepreneur Winston Barefoot is putting his considerable weight behind the venture, and an inspector from the state is coming to look into the matter.

The problem is that some of Winston's men have taken the initiative to get the cave ready for development to hurry things along.

NRAMA: Tell us about Wesley and the other main characters.

SL: Wesley is a park ranger and environmentalist, not necessarily in that order. She's smart, athletic and concerned, but not looking to be any sort of hero. But the cave is a fragile ecosystem, and she's committed to keeping it pristine.

Seth Ridge is a park ranger too. He's part Cherokee and unlike Wes, he has deep roots in the town. For him, the cave was a place to hang out with his buddies as a kid. He and Wes hooked up for the first time the night before the story starts, and they aren't really sure where they stand with each other.

Some reviews of Underground:

This Comic Is Good--Underground

A Year of Cool Comics---Day 82

Native aspects

The story is set in Marion, Kentucky. Since it's in the far west of the state, near Illinois, I don't think many Cherokee lived there. They did spend the winter of 1838-1839 there during the infamous Trail of Tears.

Anyway, several characters seem to be part Native:

Winston Barefoot mentions his "Cherokee heritage" in one panel and runs a store filled with Indian kitsch. Seth Ridge says his mother was Native. Ridge is a Cherokee name and Barefoot is evidently supposed to be Native too.

Barefoot and Ridge both have reddish skin, though it comes and goes. Barefoot's henchman Harden also has this skin color, as does the chief ranger, occasionally. Harden and the ranger may be Native or part Native too.

Alas, Underground makes no use of this Native background. No Native legends of the underground or anything. It's kind of a missed opportunity.

At least there's nothing stereotypical, so that's good.

As for the rest of the series, it's competently done but nothing you need to read. The characters spend one issue mostly dangling by ropes and another creeping through a water-filled passage. If you're into caving or want a change of pace, check it out.

August 19, 2015

"Sioux Were Silenced" weren't silenced

Forum editorial: UND, don't pander to protesters' transparent ploy to retain 'Fighting Sioux'First, they want the university’s list of selections for a new UND team name to include “North Dakota.” It’s a transparent ploy to somehow retain some iteration of “Fighting Sioux,” which has been retired.

Second, they want the immediate resignation of UND President Robert Kelley because by their assessment he has presided over a name-change process that has not been responsive to their concerns. What a crock. If ever there was a process that has been painfully long and over-the-top inclusive, it’s been the university’s name-change saga.

But none of that matters to a small, but noisy cabal of unreconstructed “Fighting Sioux” fans. No matter what the eventual choice is, no matter what sort of consensus is achieved, no matter how many voices have been part of the process, they will not accept the inevitable. It makes no sense for Kelley and the university to continue to pander to them. They had their shot, they lost. Whatever they do now is sideshow.

The arrogant contention that “the Sioux have been silenced” is so obviously false as to be cartoonish. First, the “silence” made loud headlines for years, and still is. Second, the history of the moniker debate is replete with pro-Fighting Sioux arguments, some cogent, others offensive. That the case was weak and ultimately failed is the reality that some arguers refuse to accept.
The big lie:Supporters of the name and logo got the question on the June 11, 2012, ballot, and North Dakotans voted overwhelmingly (67.34 percent)–in every county, including counties that encompass reservations and other tribal lands–to retire the nickname and logo. Days later, the higher ed board voted to prohibit use of the name and logo, and said UND could not adopt new monikers until 2015. UND has been working for months, and is close to selecting one of five options.

Thus, the charge that all voices were not heard and that some voices were “silenced” is a lie. The matter has been aired as thoroughly as any in the state’s recent history. “Fighting Sioux” fans can make all the noise they want at Saturday’s rally, but they bring nothing new to the debate, nothing credible to the discussion.
Comment:  For more on the Fighting Sioux, see NCAA Threatens Sanctions for "Sioux" and "Sioux" Supporters = 5-Year-Olds.

August 17, 2015

NCAA threatens sanctions for "Sioux"

NCAA threatens sanctions for saying ‘Sioux’

By Bob CollinsThe NCAA has reportedly told the University of North Dakota not to let fans of the former Fighting Sioux mess with the end of the National Anthem.

The UND crowd often ends the anthem with “the home of the Sioux” rather than the “home of the brave.”

The NCAA has forced the school to abandon its Native American nickname and mascot. UND is currently weighing new nicknames.

But Forum News Service reports the NCAA has told UND President Robert Kelley that the school could face sanctions if it continues to allow the crowd its freedom of speech, although the NCAA didn’t actually characterize it that way.
Comment:  For more on the Fighting Sioux, see "Sioux" Supporters = 5-Year-Olds and Sammy Sioux and Sally Squaw.

August 16, 2015

"Sioux" supporters = 5-year-olds

If you haven't been following the "Fighting Sioux" story, UND's mascot lovers are now calling themselves The Sioux Were Silenced. They're campaigning for the school to use the label "University of North Dakota" rather than choose another mascot.

Do they like the unadorned name for aesthetic reasons? Hardly. Here's what's really going on:

LETTER: 'No nickname' fans sure do like 'Sioux' jerseys

By Jeff WillertOn July 25, the front-page photo accompanying a story on the prospects for the "UND/North Dakota" nickname shows supporters of that nickname wearing "Sioux" jerseys and holding "We are the Sioux forever" signs.

Meanwhile, almost no one in the photo is wearing an item of clothing that bears the actual name being considered: UND/North Dakota.

The same goes for the hockey and football games I've seen on TV. The seats are full of "Sioux" jerseys, shirts, hats and so on.

What that says to me is that the UND/North Dakota nickname supporters want no nickname in an attempt to preserve the "Sioux" nickname. Otherwise, if they are so happy with UND/North Dakota as their new nickname, why aren't they wearing UND/North Dakota clothing and holding UND/North Dakota signs?

This obviously bitter attitude of "fine, no Fighting Sioux, then we'll show you; we'll have nothing!" needs to be put to rest. It's the position that some 5-year-old kids would take.

LETTER: Petulance of some UND fans discredits university

By Andrew HertingI oppose the use of "North Dakota" as a nickname for UND, because I feel that most of the individuals who support this choice see it as a protest vote. That is to say, by choosing this nickname, students and other stakeholders are expressing opposition to the retirement of "Fighting Sioux" as the school nickname.

Essentially, they are signaling that if they cannot have their old nickname, that they would rather have no nickname at all.
And:I have seen firsthand that many outside the region view UND students suspiciously due to their tenacious support of a label viewed by many as insensitive at best. The refusal to replace the name sends the message that UND students view their right to continue to use a tribal name as more important than their desire to convey respect toward the American Indian community.

Students rightly recognize that blocking the introduction of a new nickname will protect the old name from being replaced. For this reason, I urge UND student government to take a leadership role in discouraging the UND student body from backing the "North Dakota" nickname.
Comment:  For more on the Fighting Sioux, see Sammy Sioux and Sally Squaw and "Siouxper Drunk" = Hostile and Abusive.

August 15, 2015

Vanishing Indians in As an Oak Tree Grows

Rewriting History: American Indians, Europeans, and an Oak Tree (Loudness in the Library Year Three, Part 3)

By Bank Street College Center for Children's LiteratureI did a double-take when I cracked open As An Oak Tree Grows*, a 2014 book that inaccurately reflects the history of European and Native American interactions. In the story, which traces the life of an oak tree (planted as an acorn by a young Native boy), the Native character simply disappears as the Europeans move in. Bank Street students, who participate in extensive curricula on unlearning Native stereotypes, immediately recognized this as problematic, because it erases the conflicts and violence that arose when Native people fought to defend their homes and land from colonial invasion. As one student noted,

“Because it’s a children’s book, they wanted to make it ‘nicer.’ ”

Working together, teachers and kids identified three primary areas of concern with As An Oak Tree Grows:

The pictures show a lot of empty land, as if it was uninhabited; one wigwam appears in the first two pages, alongside a vast wilderness.
Where is the Native child’s community? The pictures send the message that the land was largely empty and there for the taking. Students said:

“If you don’t give kids the right images, they get the wrong ideas.”

“If kids don’t see other stories, they might think this is the truth.”

“These books shape a child’s mind.”

“The illustrations should show more of the truth.”

Then, there’s this text:

“The boy grew up and moved away.”

Kids were puzzled because they knew that the larger story of Native/European interaction is one in which Europeans forcibly removed and/or killed huge portions of Native populations.

“‘The boy grew up and moved away’? That didn’t happen.”

“They were there first. It is very unlikely that the boy just moved away.”
Vanishing Indian = "detail"?

This posting led to a lively exchange of views in the comments section. First, a defense of the book:I am all for diversity and truth in literature but not every single story has to contain all the details about every situation. I’ve read this wonderful book–about a tree–and if you’re concentrating on how many wigwams are in the picture or whether the boy moved away or his throat was slit and he was buried in a mud bog, you’re missing the point. The story is about a tree. A tree that is manages to live long enough to witness a lot of things, good and bad. A child, reading about this tree does not need to know the details of what went on while the tree was alive. It’s inappropriate and distracting to include so much extraneous detail when the story is meant to be so simple and beautiful. I agree that children can and should be included in the true story of what goes on in life….in the appropriate venue. G. Brian Karas is a wonderful author and a gifted artist and I hate to see his work held hostage by people who wish he’d made their choices. It’s part of the trend of censorship in the guise of political correctness. His book, his choices. Mr. Karas, you’ve created an amazing book. Don’t bend over backwards to please everyone else. You’ll only end just bending over.Followed by a rebuttal:The fact that you dismiss the history of violence that Europeans enacted against Native populations as “details” that cause me to “miss the point” of the book sends the message that you, in fact, are missing the point of this post. The point is, with simple adjustments to the pictures and the text (adjustments which the kids suggested themselves), the book could have been more respectful towards Native populations, not to mention more historically accurate–an important factor for a Non-Fiction book. Including the truth about Native/European interactions would not have subsumed the rest of the book, it would have made for a better book.

You say, “A child, reading about this tree does not need to know the details of what went on while the tree was alive.” But, a Native child might pick up this book and immediately recognize it as an erasure of his/her history.

For that matter, a Native child browsing the internet might also stumble across your comment above, in which you so blithely characterize “whether… his throat was slit and he was buried in a mud bog” as a “detail” that doesn’t matter, and is, in fact, “inappropriate and distracting.” How do you imagine a Native child would feel, upon reading that? Debbie rightly points out that this language and the sentiment behind it are extremely offensive. It sends a message that white people have the right to cling to a false, Romanticized version of history. Ultimately, it sends a message that non-Native people matter more than Native people.

Finally, your accusation of censorship is both false and hypocritical. My post makes no suggestion that any libraries or bookstores should remove AS AN OAK TREE GROWS from their shelves, nor do I suggest that anybody should not have the right to write or publish anything they desire. In fact, my first post of this series ( is all about censorship. You are confusing free speech with consequence-free speech. Just as the creators of AS AN OAK TREE GROWS had every right to publish this book, I also have every right to criticize it, and so do the children I teach.
Comment:  Forget the slit throat--if you can. How would Native children feel after reading that their ancestors gave up their land voluntarily? Welcomed their own destruction? Vanished willingly into the mists of time?

I dunno. How would white children feel if the Europeans sprouted horns? Laid eggs? Turned into cockroaches that swarmed across the land? If Native children have to accept lies and omissions in "nonfiction" books, why shouldn't everyone have to do it? What makes the Native-oriented falsehoods more acceptable than the European-oriented ones?

For more on vanishing Indians, see Native Artifacts Aren't Antiquities and America Constructed to Erase Indians.

August 14, 2015

Vineyard owner "Runs with Wine"

Santa Fe vineyard owner defends ‘offensive’ Facebook post

By Madeline SchmittOn Monday, Reinders shared a picture depicting a Native American holding a wine bottle. The picture has text on it that reads “My Indian Name Is Runs with Wine.”

“So when I saw that, I thought ‘Gosh I used to run, and also we’re in the wine business, and I’m Native American,’” she said. “I mean it was me. It was personal to me.”

Not everyone saw it that way. Some people found it offensive, making fun of Native American names and perpetuating stereotypes, and asked her to take it down.

Reinders removed it, but was left stunned and confused at the situation.

KRQE News 13 showed it to a few people, who reacted.

At first glance, Pojoaque resident Janet Ortiz thought the Indian name was “cute,” because her granddaughter gave her the name “Walks with Fists” years ago. Upon closer look, she changed her mind when she saw the word “wine.”

“I didn’t like it because it connotes something different, almost associates wine with Native Americans and not in a good way,” Janet Ortiz said.

“It’s just promoting the drinking more,” Espanola resident, Sharron Nuttall said.

Nuttall said drinking is a big problem in the area and that the picture is attacking the Native American population.

Reinders took to Facebook to make an apology if she offended anyone, but says she just doesn’t see it that way.

“I’m sad for them because that’s their negative perception,” she said. “This was not meant to offend anybody, this was about myself.”
Comment:  It's one thing to make a joke like this among friends. They presumably know your style and the context and get the point.

It's another thing to make a joke like this in public. In that case, you're making a general statement like "This is how I see Natives." That's a reasonable interpretation if people don't know you, anyway.

Actually, the owner's explanation is ridiculous:

1) If her great-great-grandma was Ute, that doesn't mean she is Ute.

2) Whether she's Ute or not, the "brave" image and the funny Indian name aren't Ute. They're false stereotypes that misrepresent all Indians.

3) It's silly to think: "I'm an Indian who happens to run and happens to sell wine. I'll put the three things in one image but claim they're unrelated."

Most people will connect the things because they're obviously connected. The Indian named "Runs with Wine" is running with wine. The strong implication is that this is a drunken Indian who's running wild because of the wine. Which is obviously stereotypical.

If you can't see that, you're not trying. You're so wilfully blind that it's hard to tell whether you're a liar or an idiot.

For more on alcohol, see Vans Sells "Drunken Indian" T-Shirt and "Drunker Than 10,000 Indians."

August 13, 2015

Manson = West Virginia Sioux?

The only interesting part of short-lived Marilyn Manson controversy was the notion that he might be a Sioux from West Virginia. Here's a discussion of this on Facebook:...except he's not Sioux. may be talking about a family legend undocumented in any genealogy. That's pretty much the case with every wannabe.Yeah, Sioux in West Virginia?If he means a Siouan culture rather than actual "Sioux," his claim isn't totally impossible:

Virginia's First People--Culture--LanguageWhen Europeans and Africans began arriving in what is now Virginia, they met Indian people from three linguistic backgrounds. Most of the coastal plain was inhabited by an Algonquian empire, today collectively known as Powhatan. The southwestern coastal plain was occupied by Iroquoians, the Nottoway, and Meherrin. The Piedmont was home to two Siouan confederacies, the Monacan and the Mannahoac.One-drop rule?Rob Schmidt, there are a couple of points in his tree where something like that *could* have happened, and the closest one to him means that he *might* be something like 1/1024 but leagues past unenrollable and no-culture-present.I think he'd claim the ubiquitous Cherokee if he were just making this up. That's why I suspect he's repeating a family legend.

Yes, his "Sioux ancestry" would've been so long ago that he'd be 99.9% white. In which case he'd have no business claiming to be part Native. You're like the whitest person on the planet if only one in 1,024 of your ancestors is nonwhite.One drop rule, though. Problem is, this is the first he's spoken about it, he's mis-spoken about it, and he does not normally claim it or follow his culture. Kinda hard to claim you are if you know nothing about it.Right, that's one possibility. Another possibility is that someone told him Sioux and West Virginia and he's too ignorant to know that doesn't make sense.Rob is right, a few times I came across a family getting "Siouan" confused with Sioux.I think a few people in the Virginia area claim to be Monacan. If someone told him that's a "Sioux" tribe, it could explain the discrepancy.