September 01, 2009

Romanticizing life on the rez

Gyasi Ross writes about his experiences with well-meaning liberals:

13.0:  Legacy of heavy breathing woman

By Gyasi RossMe, stupidly letting Ms. White/Black Liberal know that I’m from the reservation: “Sheila, do you like these shoes? I bought them on eBay. Technology’s crazy--I remember when I was a kid, we used to have to travel so far in our beautiful red pinto to get shoes. And the storeowners could tell the rez kids by the Copenhagen imprint in our jeans, and they generally thought any kids from the reservation were dirty thieves! It’s so cool--now I don’t have to travel anyplace!”

Ms. White/Black Liberal, with Birkenstocks and turquoise toe rings: >SQUEALS< “Oh my gosh--you’re from the reservation? It must have been so hard! How did you get out? Y’know, I know you hear this all the time, but my mom was part Chickasaw, but she was stolen away by her Uncle Jude who was a dairy farmer and made her bathe in milk every single day until her brown faded away.”

Me, noticing that she does kinda smell like milk and maybe she’s not lying: >Sigh< “You didn’t hear anything else I just said, did you?”
Why this is a problem:When it comes to misinformation about the Rez, it’s an “equal opportunity” phenomenon. It could be non-rez Skins--who think they know what’s best for the rez, but never go to the rez--like Heavy Breathing Woman. Or it could be non-Skins whose only knowledge about reservations stems from romance novels. Either way, reservations only merit romance or sympathy, but never familiarity. There’s never an effort to increase understanding or to inquire what the reservation truly needs--just assumptions and guesses based upon ... nothing. And unfortunately the misinformation and assumptions are not inconsequential.

Misinformation hurts.

Like Heavy Breathing Woman, these unfamiliar Skins and non-Skins make decisions about our futures--about law enforcement, school programs, health care and housing on the reservations.
Comment:  I'd say Ross' conclusion is accurate. Romanticizing life on the rez, or any aspect of Indian life, probably doesn't help anyone.

Ross thinks his "Heavy Breathing Woman" is an urban Indian who has never visited a rez. Could be, but you don't have to visit a rez to understand the problems. I've visited a few dozen reservations, but only for an hour or a day or two. Most of my knowledge comes from articles and books. Read 50,000 or 100,000 items on Indians and you probably won't have many romantic illusions either.

And let's recall that Ross thinks Pocahontas is a great movie for Native girls. His favorite "Native" actor seems to be Steven Seagal for kicking so many people's butts. In other words, Ross doesn't like Native stereotypes except when he does.

And let's note Ross's apparent disdain for women. He envisions his "Heavy Breathing Woman" as "a short Skin lady who liked smoking her Benson & Hedges and wearing Aquanet bangs with Photochromic tint glasses. He characterizes the person who romanticizes him as "Ms. White/Black Liberal." From his previous posting, we know he doesn't think much of "Short-Haired White Professors" (i.e., feminists or "feminazis"). Apparently his world consists of admirable female relatives, Native beauties who resemble Disney's Pocahontas, and other women who have condescending labels instead of names.

For more of Ross's columns, see Indians Join Military for Paycheck? and No Pride in Native Pride T-Shirts?

Below:  A romantic picture of Indian life.

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