Sunday, October 27, 2013

An uncomfortable moment at an otherwise terrific event

Today I went with my girl to the Texas Book Festival.

Since it was a literary event, of course I wore a shirt promoting one of my favorite authors.

No better place than a book festival, where readers, writers and publishers are milling about, to let it be known that I am a researcher of one of America’s most endearing and enduring writers, right?

We went specifically to hear Sherman Alexie, one of my girl’s favorite authors. I have only recently been introduced to his work, through my girl, although he has been a popular, award-winning author for decades. As a Native American, he writes from that perspective. As she read his books, my girl and I, and others, would have some good conversations about culture, prejudice, and similar topics.

But somehow, I just wasn’t thinking about that when I chose my apparel. Until…
Mr. Alexie began to talk about one of his banned books.

I am strongly against censorship, and believe in the right of any/everyone to express their views.
However, as I realized I was wearing a shirt featuring an author banned for insensitivity to Native Americans to a reading by a Native American, I admit that I wished I had thought that one through a little more.
Of course it felt like Mr. Alexie looked at my shirt every time he mentioned anything related to prejudice. I know that’s not true, but it was uncomfortable anyway.

And don’t take that to mean I’m embarrassed by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was a product of her times, and it would not have been accurate for her to portray relations between whites and Indians as all hunky-dory. I just wish I had been a little more sensitive to the situation.

Other than that, I had a great time. I really enjoyed hearing Mr. Alexie, much more than I thought I would. I will be reading more of his works.


Faith Lynn said...

I didn't even think of that! I don't think he was offended, though. I guess we'll find out if you end up in any of his stories!

Mama Hen said...

Ha! I never even thought of THAT!

Anonymous said...

I recently read a blog post by someone who tore into the Little House Books and said they should be banned from the schools so as not not offend Native American children. All the comments agreed with this blogger. I'm waiting nervously for day when I get confronted over my portrayal.

Anonymous said...

And, nice to see you back. I've missed you!

Lauri said...

I think I read that as well. I thought Melanie posted some great points on it.

Mama Hen said...

I'd like to read that blog, and Melanie's responses as well. There have been some good discussions about it at beyondlittlehouse, too. Obviously, I don't believe the books should be banned - the "offensive" remarks could be great teaching/learning opportunities.

Mama Hen said...


Anonymous said...

I've been questioned about the portrayal of Native Americans and Ma's reactions in particular on a fairly constant basis in my programs. One thing the blog we recently read, and the people commenting, seem to miss is that the worst lines, I.e. "the only good Indian is a dead Indian," are NOT spoken by Laura's family. And only one person there seemed to even notice that Laura, as a tiny child, objects to the removal of the Osage.
I also thought it was important to point out the US Government and the newspaper publishers' dual roles in the chaos with a stream of conflicting and confusing messages, which Penny Linsenmayer's article in Kansas History makes quite evident.

I've read more of that blog; I'm following it, and the comments on that post are still rolling in. A few people have very extreme viewpoints but most are civil and debating very real issues. Unfortunately there are also a couple of trolls with a heavy white supremacist agenda and that is unnerving.
I will say this though: any discussion on the topic needs to address the facts on both sides, and I am always happy to do it because I think it is incumbent upon us as fans and researchers to understand the objections as well as the praise of LIW's work.

Anonymous said...

The blogger is Abagond. The subtitle is "500 words a day on anything I want," and the post was "The Whiteness of Laura Ingalls Wilder." He posted a picture of MG as little kid Laura and later when asked why he said he did it because she was more visually recognizable than LIW. Some people commenting got hung up on plots from the TV show, as usual, so there is some discussion about that, too.

Don't worry too much about your T-shirt, Mama Hen! I think the author may have been pleased that even though you support LIW, the important thing is you brought your girl to HIS event and she is a big fan of his!
I agree we should not ban works, but rather use them as teaching opportunities. One problem with the LH books, though, is that schools which still use them tend to relegate them to early elementary schools, so they are used with children too young and innocent to have discussions about things like the Minnesota Massacre or the realities of slavery, or the fact that many of the illegal settlers alongside the Ingalls in Kansas were former slaves who were trying to find their way in the world with newfound freedom amongst many very hostile neighbors, especially some of the whites!
I can only hope that the parents among us are filling in the blanks and giving truthful answers when their children encounter questions of race and fairness within the books.

Lauri said...

I've always thought that it was interesting that when people are discussing racism in "Little House on The Prairie" they never mention that they are seen by a black doctor! I don't know that it forgives Ma's attitude towards the Indians, but it certainly adds something to the story, IMHO.