December 15, 2007

NAACP protests Ten Little Indians

Is every little Native stereotype worth protesting? Not necessarily.

Lakota East play opening draws interestLakota officials initially cancelled the play in November after they were pressured by Gary Hines, president of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Hines objected to the story's original British title which contained a racial slur.

Superintendent Mike Taylor then reversed the district's stance. The change was made to put the focus back on the students and to use it as an opportunity to begin dialogues about diversity in the community, said school spokesman Jon Weidlich.

"The publicity has certainly sold some seats," Weidlich said shortly before the students took the stage.

Despite the district's wishes to put the controversy to rest, a small group of American Indian advocates from the Lakota East community and Northern Kentucky University handed out bookmarks to people before they entered the building. The bookmarks featured an image of a Lakota Indian from the 19th century and a quote from Lakota Chief Black Elk: "The power of a thing or an act is in the understanding of its meaning."

A member of the group, Wendy Creekmore, said though they dislike the novel's first American title, "Ten Little Indians," they were there not to protest the performance, but to raise awareness of American Indian history and culture.
Wikipedia explains the source of the controversy:In the original 1939 UK publication, the rhyme used the phrase Ten Little Niggers and the action was set on Nigger Island. In the 1940 US publication, the rhyme was Ten Little Indians and the island was called Indian Island. Both versions were used for some sixty years. Present-day printings of the book, endorsed by the Christie estate, use the phrases Ten Little Soldiers and Soldier Island.Another Wikipedia entry provides more details:It is important to note that the original nursery rhyme was not about Native Americans. It was about East Indians and used the word Nigger: a British Army slang term for any non-white--later editors found it less offensive to replace this word with "Indians."Comment:  Apparently the NAACP and Indian activists objected to the name Ten Little Indians (not Ten Little Niggers).

True, the poem belittles its subjects--whether they're black, Asian Indian, or American Indian. It suggests they're careless and prone to violence and death. By talking about them like children, it implies they're children.

But is the play title alone worth the effort to protest? Worse offenses occur a dozen times a month. I know because I keep track of them.

I'm all for protesting cultural mistakes and insults, but I wouldn't spend more than a few minutes on this issue. With this blog entry, I've given it about as much attention as it deserves. If you want to protest something, take a stand against the worst offenders--i.e., mascots, movies and TV shows, cartoons and comic books that stereotype Indians. The play's title is a trivial problem compared to them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree but it isn't just a title. It is what they are teaching young inpressionable mind I think it is important to stand up for everything you believe in big or small if we all stood up together maybe we would quit getting run over.