I’ve Been Robbed

I learned last week through the WordPress pingback feature that a substantial number of Brain Drain posts had been mentioned on another site. As any blogger would probably agree, to see a pingback to what you’ve written is an honor of sorts, a hat tip to your brilliance or at least a mockery of something quirky you’ve said. You smile, feel full of yourself for a minute (sometimes two) and move on. Instead, this list of pingbacks aroused suspicion. This is a partial view:

literature linked here saying, “Silence Speaks Louder In response to Richard Barsa …”
literature linked here saying, “Anne Finch: Creating Her Own Space The poem ?The …”
literature linked here saying, “Quills: Voyeur as the Voice of Reason The Voyeur a …”
literature linked here saying, “Objectivity: A Question of Perspective In referenc …”

Although I’d like to think I’m that important, nobody is worthy of being legitimately quoted twelve times in a single day.

I followed the pings to their source. There, a solid, orange banner bore the photo of a young woman-child. She wore a skimpy, green silk halter and cowboy hat. Her long, blonde highlights were seductively fanned by some off-screen electronic device yet there was an innocence about her that threw me. The small image was cocked to one side and framed as if it were a film negative but that didn’t produce the negative feeling in my gut as much as the title ”literature” in bold letters (with a lower case L and quotes included) under which were all my latest posts. Only one, Aisha in Rwanda: In Need of Humanity, had been offered up for redistribution, NOT MY WHOLE DAMN BLOG.

While one knows that to blog is to run the risk of having your thoughts hijacked, still, the kicker was seeing a copyright symbol at the bottom of the page alongside the words “posted by Smite jonz.” Funny, Smite, you look a lot like ME in that picture linking to an article all about ME in the Saint Rose Chronicle.

Smite chose Blogger to host his (?) site, which works hand in hand with Google’s AdSense Program. From the look of it, this thief stole material from all over the web for two months, increasing the chances of drawing site traffic through numerous keywords. Cha-ching. Any visitor clicking through a sidebar ad generated a small pittance for Smite. The problem is this (as if there is only one here). The last time I looked at Smite’s tracking widget by Geovisite.com, new visitors were pouring in by the minute from all over the world to read my material and with no kickbacks to me.

Ad-ing insult to injury, the kind of advertisements I was generating was astonishing. According to Google:

AdSense for content automatically crawls the content of your pages and delivers ads (you can choose both text or image ads) that are relevant to your audience and your site content?ads so well-matched, in fact, that your readers will actually find them useful.

How does my text translate to “Pro-Republican” in bot speak???? There were seven Republican spots on “my” page.

I notified the folks at Blogger last week, following their procedure by attaching a copy of my passport photo for proof of identity. By using my real name and photo, not just my screen name, Smite may have temporarily dealt a heavy blow to my identity but he also gave me legal leverage in pursuing him. I’ve been watching to see how Blogger would deal with the offender and the site was finally removed today.

Of course, I’m pleased to be me again. More than that, this experience has taught me that it’s possible to make some dough off my own work. It’s been proven by Smite and his boatload of field testing, field testing that I’ve already paid for and learned a great deal from. Thanks for all the hard work, Dude. I’ll use it wisely.

Then again, perhaps the wiser choice is to stick with WordPress whose policy states:

We have a very low tolerance for blogs created purely for search engine optimization or commercial purposes, machine-generated blogs, and will continue to nuke them, so if that’s what you’re interested in WordPress.com is not for you.

It seems, once more, capitalism has been proven to gum up the works of “free” speech.

My Intellectual Cosmos

Taking stock, a reflective exercise often assigned at the end of a class, is also a graduation requirement. This is my first draft. Tweaking to follow… although references to “navel gazing” and “mental masturbation” are definitely keepers.

The Collegiate Experience and My Intellectual Cosmos

This reflective essay has been assigned to help connect my Senior Seminar experience, with its focus on pre-romantic poetry, to the greater Saint Rose experience and thus my intellectual cosmos. To be honest, I find this task rather difficult. My trouble stems from the Senior Seminar portion of this ponderance. Let me first say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the intellectual, in-depth conversation every class has offered and that I find significant value in the exploration of early literary theory and the ability to measure today’s ideas by comparison. Still, I struggle to kindle some sort of greater passion for the subject matter in a present-day application that brings new awareness to light.

In my ideal world, Senior Seminar should be more than an entertaining intellectual exercise. I had hoped for a topic that would engage my passion, inspire me to action in righting some contemporary wrong and raise my own awareness as well as the awareness of those who read what new discoveries my research has to offer. Instead, I am reminded time and again, as we jest about the many ways in which poets have continually pondered their navels, that the struggle of the human experience merely shifts at a snail’s pace. Looking to history offers little more than greater historical knowledge of humanity’s slowly morphing circumstances, faulty attempts at understanding through overly general categorization, and constant repetition of these mistakes. While history is a fantastic place to begin, traveling back in time is not necessarily the best place to finish, at least in the opinion of this Saint Rose senior.

While the official capstone of pre-romantics study has been a wonderful venue in which to exercise analytical skills developed in other classes, I would say that the study of theory and postmodernism have been my personal and intellectual capstones. Through these two classes I have become significantly aware of and even horrified by the assault of stereotypes upon my own thoughts. I have since used that awareness to both examine and challenge knee-jerk reactions as well as my long standing perceptions of this crazy world we live in. Theory has provided new ways of understanding beyond those with which I was familiar. By studying an array of alternative ideas, I found freedom in choice and relieved the constraint on my personal identity. Of course, one could argue that social constructs not only bind identity, but that there can be no identity without such definition. It is in the understanding that boundaries are arbitrary and differ from culture to culture that freedom to make new and different choices exists. Liberated in my ability to move beyond the limited scope of what little I was told I could be, I have also learned to see this postmodern world for what it is and have situated myself within as a global citizen. Armed with my new perspective, I dare to dream bigger dreams and choose to live a life in which I am more aware of the impact I have on others as well as myself.

An example of how Postmodernism changed my life stems from examining a postmodern text through a theoretical lens. Choosing Linda Hutcheon’s definition of historiographic metafiction, I have explored the film and filming process of The Last King of Scotland. This movie focuses on former dictator Idi Amin’s reign in Uganda as experienced by the fictional Dr. Garrigan. Many uneducated Ugandan citizens who watched this film in underground viewing huts believed the fictionalized version to be historical, calling the film “real.” While this might appear to suggest the realism that film technology has the ability to create, the project reveals a far more disturbing picture. Intimidated extras believed that Forest Whitaker was truly Idi Amin and that they were being paid to support his political agenda. A twisted version of the death of Uganda’s beloved Kay, Amin’s wife, corrupts her image through one more Western violation of a black woman for the sake of appealing to a Western audience. Also, in a culture where modesty is imperative, filmmakers in a bind to find willing extras coerced Amin’s impoverished former poet to run naked through a party scene, essentially blackmailing him so he could make enough money to return to his family when he merely wanted to read. Throughout my paper, which I still intend to polish and publish, unethical Western film making philosophy becomes as exposed as that poor poet. By the end of the fifteenth page, there is no question that ethical behavior is required in this failed form of historiographic metafiction, one influenced by money and the reinforcement of stereotypes rather than empowerment of all of humanity . Revealing the horrors of Hollywood-style colonization and commoditization of an entire third world nation, this, by far, is my most meaningful academic work to date. My latest paper on the poetics of Anne Finch could never be as powerful.

On a personal level, what I have learned in Postmodernism has inspired me to action. I have begun to thoroughly and independently research my own possible impact as a Westerner when volunteering in Africa this summer. I will continue to diligently study how best to immerse myself within the Ghanaian culture while recording the lives of dying HIV/AIDS patients for their soon to be orphaned children. Preservation of cultural and familial information is my main goal and I wish to leave as little impact upon these people as possible. For this reason, I have chosen a non-governmental organization serving the needs and projects developed by the local villagers rather than joining forces with one imposing Western ideological ideas and solutions. This is not to say that Western philosophy is entirely corrupt, but there is no denying that, in inextricable conjunction with capitalism, it consumes other cultures at an extraordinary pace. While the study of literature has been invaluable in gaining better understanding, literature without action is nothing more than mental masturbation.

I have, in a previous reflection paper, likened my personal growth through the study of literature to a spiritual awakening; the best possible outcome college can have on an individual without the involvement of religion. I can honestly say that the study of theory and the global impact of the postmodern have changed, for the better, who I am as a person. Saint Rose initially rejected my application and, upon appeal, accepted me with condition, so it is with great pleasure that I have proven worthy of that chance by earning a 4.0. While earning that grade is certainly a crowning achievement, it means nothing but for the fact that I am walking away with a new world view as well as an eye toward making a difference. That, to me, is an end result well worth the hard work I have invested in myself these past two years.

Looking at Quills

Having selected Philip Kaufman’s Quills (2000) as my “Writers in Motion” film of choice, I watched it twice, first to take in the entire story and again to take notes. For further insight, I watched the DVD extras on screenplay writer Doug Wright’s commentary, costuming, setting and casting, searched for the text of the screenplay to read for sheer literary value, and hit JSTOR for some scholarly direction. I also found accounts of the Marquis de Sade’s real life on the Time Warner True Crime site and discovered another devoted to PVC fetish wear designed in the Marquis’ name. Before I knew it, I had shoved so much material into my feeble little brain that my ability to create a single thesis ground to a screeching halt. I screamed, “TOO MUCH INFORMATION!” and took a break. This is how I roll.

Reading Barsam’s last chapter of Looking at Movies offers the perfect springboard for this paper I have yet to begin. With graduation looming just 15 days away, that’s what I call salvation in print. One method Barsam suggests is a tracing of dualisms or binary oppositions. In Quills, that could include things such as:

• nature/culture
• good/evil
• freedom of speech/censorship

By outlining some of these issues, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, I find that the film pits these oppositions against one another in order to explore the gray areas in terms of what writing can and must accomplish.

What this film seems to want to say is that writing fiction or creating narrative is not only inherent in one’s nature, but that human nature is at odds with culture. More specifically, culture is the tool to reign in our human nature, particularly since the libertine nature of an individual is rarely good for a greater societal state of being. This is precisely where the purpose of fiction enters in and Barsam’s section on “Memesis or Catharsis” (321) comes into play..

If fiction is a safe place to play out situations of vice, purging it – if you will – as the asylum’s Abbe de Culmier (Joaquin Phoenix) instructs the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) to do, then the position of this film begins by leaning toward the Greek philosophy that art is cathartic. Departing from reality for the sake of the story, the creators want to say that the more those in power try to suppress public access to what is essentially 18th century pornography (inherent human nature?), the more persistent and even violent the fiction becomes. The idea of “story” takes on a life of its own and will fight through the quill of its author or any other means to survive.

Alternately, while the Marquis says his theatrics are “just a play,” his words are undeniably influential and carry a great deal of power. Because the power of the Marquis’ story results in the death of a laundry maid, Medeleine LeClerc (Kate Winslet), as well as incites the chaotic destruction of the asylum’s own society, Plato’s belief that art is dangerous also comes to fruition. The Bible too is portrayed as a narrative of dangerous means, God being accused of stringing his son up “like a side of beef” making the Marquis fearful of what God might do to him if he succumbs to the word. The inclusion of this platonic argument asks the audience to truly examine all sides.

If this film proves anything, it’s that this argument is still going on today, whether through the resurrection an ancient criminal or the recent blame of video game violence when children act like vengeful lunatics. Telling are the last lines of the film which echo an earlier sentiment: that to know virtue one must also know vice and that fiction offers that outlet. According to the filmaker’s, censorship be damned but so too is the fiction writer.

While I haven’t the skill for it, I’d love to address a Freudian analysis of this film’s creators. What kind of person venerates a man who, in real life (and this is merely one of many counts against him), locks up six young girls for 6 weeks of torture and sexual abuse, releasing them to separate convents with instructions not to talk about their traumas all to make a case for free speech? I suppose I can understand that you’d want to use the worst case scenario for the ultimate effect, but what irked me most about this film is that I was coerced into finding the Marquis rather witty, sometimes charming, seductive and even logical if not completely self absorbed. How dare they make me cheer for such a perverse asshole. Maybe I should psychoanalyze myself (another approach Barsam mentions). Then again, I might get locked up too.

I’d go further but then I’d be writing my paper right here and now. That would ruin the surprise for even me (or something like that). This was an awesome place for some serious brain drain in order to sort some threads I’ve been considering (and to prove I read the chapter), so thanks for reading. Any feedback is welcome.

Jacobson’s Whiteness of a Different Color

“Matthew Fry Jacobson Traces Racial Constructs in Whiteness of a Different Color


As the white race is somewhat new to scholarly examination, it provides a useful tool in determining how race is assigned and used to regulate the body politic throughout history. Rather than studying oppressed minorities and the effects they have suffered, the white majority holds far more control having dictated who deserves white privilege and why. In Matthew Fry Jacobson’s historical survey, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race, he effectively argues that race is a social construct rather than biological fact, particularly as he traces the shifting white privilege assigned or denied to the Irish as well as the interpretive operation of race upon Jews, and although he does little to address gender bias within racial categories or include immigrant source material and their own views of where they fit in, these shortcomings offer little dissuasion from his matter of point.


To summarize, Jacobson’s central argument in Whiteness of a Different Color is that race is not a biological fact but a socially constructed and shifting device used to both include and exclude certain people from white privilege. To prove this, he follows three dimensions of race as they appear throughout a richly documented history of American culture:


race as an organizer of power whose vicissitudes track power relationships through time; race as a mode of perception contingent upon the circumstances of the moment; and race as the product of specific struggles for power at specific cultural sites (Jacobson, 11).


Essentially, the perceptions and employment of racial ?whiteness? shifts according to the social and political needs of the time and/or place with no concrete set of rules to define it.


To demonstrate race as an organizer of power, Jacobson cites the Immigration Law of 1790. Its phrase “free white persons” is directly connected to citizenship and the ability to self-govern within the republic. The term “white” operates exclusively to keep Asians and Africans out of America, and yet inclusively allows for mass migration of non-Anglo-Saxon Europeans like the Irish. Probationary white privilege is initially bestowed upon these immigrants, particularly in contrast to blacks, but by the 1830s science attempts to define and rank the races. From 1840-1920 native citizens use these differences to protect their privilege from new immigrants. Racial divisions are reinforced by limitations on entry to America via the Johnson Law of 1924 while probationary whites in America embrace the biology of race as prideful unification among themselves. Eugenicists of the 1920s decide upon three major divisions of race, Caucasian, Mongoloid or Negroid, subsuming the smaller racial divisions but replacing them with ethnicity through to the 1960s. Nazi Germany fallout of the 50s causes the reification of these larger racial divisions in order to assimilate Jews into “white” America. The civil rights movement simultaneously puts internal pressure on the country and the dividing line becomes black and white. These fluid boundaries of “whiteness” are evidence of conscious choices made by those in power to include or deny privilege based on the ever changing social, economic and political needs.


This perception of race, as Jacobson says, is “not only asserted or discussed but ‘seen'” (Jacobson, 137). Anti-Semitism, for example, is often centered on the visual. “The circuit is ineluctable. Race is social value become perception; Jewishness seen is social value naturalized and so enforced” (Jacobson, 174). At the same time, these visual features are embraced positively to unify a prideful Jewish population. Through this embrace of the Jewish physical difference, Jews are at once white and other. Science embraces this as well until WWII, the Cold War, and postwar prosperity shifts Jews toward Hebrew and then Caucasian categories.


Race becomes the product of power struggles at various political sites. In the 1840s, the Anglo-Saxon supremacy simultaneously separates pure Americans from savages at the borders while situating the self-governing far above the lowly Celtic immigrants. Problematic at best, imperialism paves the way toward a pan-whiteness as best suited for a unified national identity and expansion. American cultural collisions with Native Americans and Mexicans, are narrated as a citizen training of sorts that defines America as contrasted by the racialized and “uncivilized other” again and again. In 1870-1920 Naturalization cases, race is problematic particularly because there is no set standard for determining a Caucasian, whiteness, and ability to assimilate. Every legal determination threatens the delicate basis for racial differentiation. Beginning in the 1930s, the civil rights movement solidified the black and white color line to the benefit of probationary whites who thus became Caucasian. As both blacks and whites embraced the color line as a point of contention, including Roosevelt with his support of the New Deal, they slowly reified the difference between only two races where there had once been many. Jacobson concludes with an epilogue explaining that, as of the 70s, there has been a new trend of ethnic and/or racial embrace, as Caucasians care to shed the responsibility of oppression and claim their personal merit as hard earned rather than a privileged advantage.


Jacobson is exceedingly convincing as he traces the Irish immigrants’ various permissions into, and denials of, white privilege. By consulting the law, representational fiction, cartoons, magazines, news papers and scientific writing, all applicable to the times, the dots are connected along a cohesive journey as quite probably experienced by the Irish. Oppressed by Europeans as non-Anglo-Saxon, uncivilized savages, the Irish are admitted into America as “free white persons” thanks to the phrasing of the Immigration Law of 1790. Analyzing Breckenridge’s timely fiction, Modern Chivalry, an Irish character becomes the hero after battling the Indians. This heightened white recognition is something that the character originally did not have. Jacobson attributes this redefinition to:


republicanism [which] would favor or exclude certain peoples on the basis of their “fitness for self government” and some questionable peoples would win inclusion based on an alchemic reaction attending Euro-American contact with peoples of color” (Jacobson, 17).


Peoples of color include Native Americans and African Americans. For the Irish, to enjoy white privilege one must prove an ability to govern as whites do, in direct contrast with the “other.”


In the 1830s, Irish privilege is denied as science works to debate monogenesis versus polygenesis. Racializing the fragmentation within a single white race as based on physical and moral traits, these studies emerge to ?enumerate, describe, and ultimately rank the world?s peoples? (Jacobson, 33). While science offers whites a newly defined terminology of difference, the Irish and other variegated whites are demoted once again to “wild” or “savage” due to additional forces at work: the influx of immigrants drawn to the increased industrialization of America from 1840-1920, the nativist need to protect the republic from those who were deemed unable to govern themselves, and the forces of capitalism requiring an underclass to function.


The status of the Irish undeniably changes here. Perhaps the most telling account of this new, wild Irishman can be observed in the first three picture plates beginning on page 200. Irish skin is colored black to indicate their savage nature, equating them with blacks and Indians. Jacobson also examines literature produced just after the Irish New York City draft riots of 1863. In Harper’s Magazine (1867), Eleanor Leonard recalls “a howling as of thousands of wild Indians let loose at once” (Jacobson, 52). Public opinion in cartoons, newspapers and magazines reflect this wild notion widely, questioning who the Irish are.


From the 1920s through the 1960s, eugenicists decide upon three major divisions of race, Caucasian, Mongolian and Negroid. These larger categories subsume the minute differences previously defined within each category, and the Irish are once more restored to a privileged state of Caucasian. This move has since been solidified by the subtle reification by the civil rights movement in the 1930s drawing a line between black and white while erasing any other that existed between different whites.


Following this lengthy, historical paper trail is just one track used to prove that no racial definition is fixed. As the Irish slip in and out of favor on more than several occasions throughout history, this is not simply an odd occurrence. It also becomes evident that when the Irish are accepted as part of a white American front against a common enemy, they can simultaneously be out of favor as compared with the Anglo-Saxons as social and political needs change and thus complicated relationships exist.


Also not fixed are the physical or facial characteristics of race. Jacobson offers a strong argument for the ways in which visual attributes become inscribed upon the body and used to define Jews by non-Jews and Jews alike. Jacobson suggests that there is a “relationship between race as a conceptual category and race as a perceptual category” (Jacobson, 173). In other words, racial resemblance is first assigned and then recognized between two disparate objects of perception.


Arthur Miller’s Focus (1945) provides the perfect example of how this works, particularly in the aftermath of World War II when “Jewish” is being redefined. The main character, Newman, after hiring a Jew to the dismay of his boss, gets new glasses to better identify and prescreen interviewing Jews. His new glasses not only improve his vision, but he and others think they make him look more Jewish. As Jacobson describes:


The social category “Jew” becomes aligned with the visual category “Jew.” Layered atop this foundation of political exploitation is a superstructure of Jew-hatred deriving in large part from a psychology of self hatred. (Jacobson, 191)


The visual perception changes Newman’s identity, causes him to lose his job, affects his love life in various twists and turns, and all outcomes are based on unverifiable assumptions. When he looks for Jewish signs, he sees them and yet he can’t be absolutely sure how factual they are.


According to Jacobson, Miller’s removal of any verifiable connection between race and Jews allows anyone to pass as Jewish. Miller “locates the phenomenon of race in the eye of the beholder in disparate acts of perception engendered by the political economies and power relations” (Jacobson, 198). Looking and being seen, once done in a racially charged way, can shift perception allowing the viewer to see something that does not exist.


There are two points where this book may fall a bit short. First off, as noted in Donna Gabaccia’s generally positive review:


In his discussion of American imperialism, Jacobson presents convincing evidence that some European immigrants actively embraced America’s manifest destiny to vanquish lesser peoples in pursuit of democracy and that this represented, for them, a claim on whiteness as a form of property and of privilege? One hopes that the next studies of whiteness will draw on an equally broad range of sources from within immigrant communities to examine these other dimensions of “becoming Caucasian.” (Gabaccia 986)


Literature granting insight to this unique perspective would certainly be an interesting enhancement. Still, the continually changing operation of race in America via even just the historical legal documentation is enough to support the argument that race is a social construction.


Gabaccia also hopes that future “studies will show greater sensitivity than Jacobson’s to the fact that Americans have ?seen? race in deeply gendered ways” (Gabaccia 985-986). Again, I agree that gender plays a role in furthering different kinds of oppression within same racialized or ethnic boundaries and that those implications are important. Still, Jacobson’s thesis deals strictly with the operations of race without further division and his argument convincingly remains within bounds of that thesis. I don’t see the addition strengthening the argument as much as nuancing it.


Jacobson’s argument for the social construct of race ultimately succeeds because he convincingly interrogates the changes in racial meaning as related to historical events and needs of the time. As the Irish swing both in and out of racial fashion, these changes are directly related to Anglo-Saxon needs to distinguish themselves as superior, self-governing bodies and to consolidate national citizenship for the empire in the face of international “others.” This reveals the organization and re-organization of power via race as it morphs to into the social, political and economical needs of the time. Race thus becomes the product of specific struggles for power at national and international sites. Jacobson also proves that race is a fallacy of perception, demonstrating how Jewishness in particular, but also other racial manifestations, is imaginatively mapped and then actively recalled in an attempt to identify race. Without embellishing the book with gender issues or alternate perspectives that could have added, the argument stands firm.


Works Cited


Gabacca, Donna. Rev. of Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race by Matthew Frye Jacobson. International Migration Review 34. 3. (2000): 985-986.


Jacobson, Mattew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. By Matthew Frye Jacobson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.


January 11: ACLU Guantanamo Protest

From the ACLU:

This Friday, you can join thousands of people across the country in marking a sad anniversary with an act of hope.

The first prisoners arrived at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay on January 11, 2002. Guantanamo quickly became an international embarrassment. It has made a mockery of our laws and values for six long years. We won’t allow seven; this is the year we are going to end the national disgrace.

Nationwide, the ACLU has set January 11th as a day of protest, declaring that it’s long past time that we put an end to illegality and close down Guantanamo. The ACLU and organizations across the country are asking people of conscience to wear orange to protest Guantanamo. I hope you will consider standing in solidarity by wearing orange on Friday as well.

Guantanamo is a reminder that fundamental values of justice and fairness can sometimes be violated by the very government entrusted with upholding them. That’s why we hope you will get involved in one of the following ways:

Pledge to stand up for American ideals and values. Sign the Pledge. And ask your friends to get involved.

Throughout this week, there will be events across the country- protests, prayer vigils, marches, and more – to bring focus to the injustices being perpetrated at Guant?namo.

Check out the materials available online: you can print out a poster and fact sheet, download a blog badge and get a toolkit with tools and tips on how to get further involved on January 11th.We’re running online ads on over 100 blogs to raise awareness and ignite further activism in new audiences. If you have a blog, please consider downloading and posting a badge, and blog about closing Guantanamo this week. Let us know about your blog and we’ll keep you on the inside track with updates, interviews and additional resources.

Guantanamo has become a stain on our nation’s honor. That is why it is so important you join the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are demanding the closure of the prison at Guantanamo on January 11th.

Thank you for standing with people of conscience to demand the US government close Guantanamo once and for all.

Thank you,
Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director ACLU

P.S. There is so much more we can do to spread the word and encourage others to join in this protest. Check here for more ways to get involved.

ACLU, 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor New York, NY 10004

Indigenous Identity

The Disintegration and Reclamation of Indigenous Identity in America (from the archives: 12.13.2006)

European settlers, civilized folk with a strong avarice for economic and territorial affluence in the New World, fought a dark and dangerous indigenous people for nearly three centuries after the arrival of renowned explorer Christopher Columbus. Offerings of Indian Territory were extended in an attempt to peacefully divide the land among both races, but the Indians resisted and violent battles ensued. Great American heroes were born out of such battles and yet benevolence prevailed as Americans generously offered gifts of English language and Christian religion to civilize the remaining savages. Unable to achieve the desired effect, the Indians have remained an unresolved problem for America, a country fondly referred to by its thriving citizens as ?land of the free and home of the brave.

Indigenous history reveals a very different story, one of the invasion and occupation of the Great Turtle Island, genocide of the original island people, and for those few remaining, ethnic cleansing through assimilation. Forced to abandon their native identities and adopt European-American culture, indigenous people have been coerced to submit to an occupying force and are further marginalized by the power of the English language. In both its euphemistic and discriminatory capacity, English has bound Native Americans to a history and identity which is not their own, and in a way their own language could never have betrayed them.

To say these stories possess the dramatic elements of a theatrical production is a valid argument as it has already been demonstrated. The Euro-American version of history, much like Prospero’s narrative in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, offers a triumphant telling of European colonization. As Paul Brown remarks in “‘This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine’: The Tempest and the Discourse of Colonialism,” Prospero calls to his various listeners “and invites them to recognize themselves as subjects of his discourse, as beneficiaries of his civil largess” (P. Brown 218). Shakespeare, understanding the usurping power of Europe in America, calls attention to Prospero’s mastery of language as power of “civility” over “savagery.” Interestingly, the English language, as used to strip indigenous people of their culture, eventually empowered them to address their oppressors and reclaim what is left of their Native American identity. By recording the struggles they have faced, Indians have elevated themselves far beyond mere “linguistic subjects of the master language” (P. Brown 220).

Historically, the most powerful linguistic tool employed by expansionists was the euphemistic term “Manifest Destiny.” This concept legitimized American advances into territory already inhabited by Mexicans and American Indians. As Dee Brown describes in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, “To justify breaches of the ‘permanent Indian frontier,’ the policy makers in Washington invented Manifest Destiny “The Europeans and all their descendants were ordained by destiny to rule all of America. They were the dominant race” (8). While Americans were purportedly fated by God to expand in the name of their great experiment of liberty, ironically, this liberty was not meant for all people. Indians were rounded up while soldiers “concentrated them into camps” (D. Brown 7), allowing for American retrieval of Appalachian gold. Brown’s naming of a recognized dominant race indicates the point at which Indians became aware of two choices. They could either fight to retain the freedom of their land or submit to relocation, making way for the American harvest of natural resources with the promise of provisions in return. When Little Crow, chief of the Mdewkanton Santee, toured the rapid developing eastern cities, he “was convinced that the power of the United States could not be resisted” (D. Brown 9), and yet he was “determined to oppose any further surrender of their lands” (D. Brown 9). Black Kettle, leader of the Cheyenne, trusted the American offer of provisions as payment for his lands and relocated to ensure tribal survival. Black Kettle was killed on a reservation along side 103 fellow Indians in an attack of betrayal by American soldiers. Manifest Destiny was clearing the way and “like the antelope and the buffalo, the ranks of the proud Cheyenne were thinning to extinctio”? (D. Brown 174). By the late 1950’s only the terms had changed. Leonard Peltier, in Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance, describes “the most feared words in our vocabulary: ‘termination’ and ‘relocation.’ To us, those words were an assault on our very existence” (Peltier 80), as was the FBI term “neutralization.”

Another effective tactic employed by American colonists was dysphemism, linguistically painting a damaging picture of indigenous culture. “Savage” and “heathen” were common terms associated with Indian people regardless of the observation Christopher Columbus had made, “So tractable, so peaceable, are these people” (D. Brown 1). During the winter of 1868, “In his official report of victory over the ‘savage butchers’ and ‘savage bands of cruel marauders,’ General Sheridan rejoiced” (D. Brown 169) in what could be considered his own savage slaughter, although he didn’t label himself as such. Placing the words into written military record simply reinforced a long standing stereotype already in place. Still, the lasting effects of his influence are evident in Sheridan’s most famous spoken words, “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead” (D. Brown 171) which was “honed into the American aphorism The only good Indian is a dead Indian” (D. Brown 172). Opposition to this type of attack on the Indians proved futile as only victory mattered to the government. When “white men who had known and liked Black Kettle attacked Sheridan’s war policy, Sheridan brushed them aside as ‘aiders and abettors’ of savages who murdered without mercy” (D. Brown 170).

Sheridan proved quite influential in popular American belief. This same accusation of “aiding and abetting” savages was bestowed upon Leonard Peltier more than one hundred years later. He has resided in prison since 1976 with no substantial evidence supporting murder charges for the deaths of two FBI agents at the Pine Ridge Reservation. Considered a political prisoner by many, he is suspected to be the scapegoat for a failed attempt by the FBI to exterminate more Indians, clearing the way to the reservation’s Uranium enriched soil. Former Attorney General and Peltier’s defense attorney, Ramsey Clark, in his preface to Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance says, “There’s no question but that our own government was generating violence against traditional Indians at Pine Ridge at that time as a means of control and domination, some believe on behalf of energy interests” (Peltier xvii). Peltier himself says, “I shot only in self defense. I wasn’t trying to take lives but to save lives of a defenseless group of Indian people. That’s the only “aiding and abetting” I did that day” (Peltier 170). Peltier has become the symbol of “an Indian who dared to stand up to defend his people” (Peltier 14), his story bearing strong resemblance to early Indian warriors who rallied against oppression for the health and well being of their tribes. For this reason, he and they share the charge of aiding and abetting, although this phrase is no longer as damaging to Peltier as is a new legal term. “So simple an act by the courts as changing my ‘consecutive’ sentences to ‘concurrent’ sentences would give me my freedom” (Peltier 171), a poignant example of bondage through language. Prison guards who attempted to cage Peltier’s spirit as well as his body often used degradation for provocation, talking about “how stupid and filthy Indian people were, about how ugly our women were and how they had such loose morals, about how our children were ‘defectives’ and should be rounded up and shot like stray dogs” (Peltier 146). Peltier returned only his strength of silence.

This constant labeling was a large part of the language that Americans insisted was superior as they stripped Indian children of their native tongue. In 1884, Gertrude Simmons Bonnin “attended White’s Indiana Manual Labor Institute in Wabash, Indiana where she experienced humiliation and insensitive treatment” (Fetterley 532). She would “actively test the chains which tightly bound [her] individuality like a mummy for burial” (Fetterley 555). Bonnin’s mention of burial is telling as Americans attempted to assimilate the Indian children, a process in which much of their culture became dead to them. In 1953, Peltier attended the Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school in Wahpeton, North Dakota. He, like Bonnin, was forbidden to speak anything but English without the consequence of a beating. ?Still, we did. We’d sneak behind the building the way kids today sneak out to smoke behind the school, and we’d talk Indian to each other” (Peltier 78). Indian language, the connection it embodied to the Earth and to others, became contraband, criminalized for decades.

During their Americanization, Bonnin and Peltier found themselves “drawn to both cultures ‘spread eagle between them’ nearly torn apart by the conflicts and contradictions between the two” (Peltier 79). Claiming his individual identity, Leonard embraced each name he was given. He is prideful of his connection with French fur hunters through Peltier and recognizes Leonard for its meaning of lion-hearted. His Indian names include Wind Chases the Sun, symbolic of freedom, and He Leads the People, a call to action. The Christian and American labels, which can be interpreted as an act of assimilation, are respectfully declined as Peltier says of his indigenous identity, “I am a native of Great Turtle Island. Our sacred land is under occupation and we are now all prisoners” (63). Bonnin, “in discarding her white American names, gave herself her own tribal name, Zitkala-s’, which means Red Bird” (Fetterley 532). This identification provided a solid base from which all other thought flowed for each author.

A focus on connection between Indian people is what inspired the English writings of Dee Brown, Leonard Peltier and Zitkala-s’. Dee Brown reached back through the past collecting sources of forgotten oral history to “fashion a narrative of the conquest of the American West as the victims experienced it, using their own words when possible” (D. Brown xviii). Hoping that these words have not been dulled, Brown explains that “we rarely know the full power of words, in print or spoken” (D. Brown xvi). The number of books sold is testament to the clarity of the words sharp truth. Peltier is compelled to join his story with Brown’s history because “speaking out is my first duty, my first obligation to myself and to my people” (Peltier 9) and “Only when I identify with my people do I cease being a mere statistic, a meaningless number, and become a human being” (Peltier 43). Peltier, in particular, is most separated from his people behind prison walls. In writing, he is able to break free like Wind Chases the Sun. Combining her award winning mastery of oratory skills stemming from Indian tradition, along with her American English writing skills, Zitkala-s’ publishes accounts of her childhood for “Atlantic Monthly”, providing a realistic and softer presentation of Indian family life and criticism of assimilation practices. Her regionalist “desire to tell Indian legends and stories in an Indian voice in written English may have created an intolerable opposition to the oral story telling tradition she hoped to ‘transplant'” (Fetterley 534). Caught somewhere between Indian and white society, her return to advocacy, or “life as a reformer may indicate that the price she paid for attaining the language’ was the loss of place” (Fetterley 534). Still, her struggle is documented and what culture could be preserved is.

People of indigenous descent have joined in a great discourse with traditional white American history. Their tale, after centuries of struggle, has just recently reached a greater audience with a fairly new possession of writing skills within a much longer history of oral culture. The English language, which originally attempts to bind them, is used to set them free because people, not the language itself, defines cultures as inclusive or other. Through their history, novels and poems, each author extends an invitation to a middle ground with no retaliation for the crimes committed against their people. As Shakespeare’s Prospero eventually learns, “The rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance.” (Shakespeare 75, 28)

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William, et al. The Tempest Ed. Gerald Graff and James Phelan. William Shakespeare, The Tempest; A Case Study in Critical Controversy, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000, 10-87

Brown, Paul. “‘This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine’; The Tempest as the Discourse of Colonialism” William Shakespeare, The Tempest; A Case Study in Critical Controversy, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000, 205-229

Peltier, Leonard. Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance. New York: St. Martins Griffin, 1999.

Fetterly, Judith and Marjorie Pryse, eds. American Women Regionalists 1850-1910. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995.

Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2001.