Thursday, July 02, 2009


Betsy McEntarffer, a regular reader of American Indians in Children's Literature submitted a comment to my post about Hank the Cowdog. I'm post her comment here today. She wrote:

I read Hank the Cowdog several years ago when I was a paraeducator at an Elementary School. I tried to convince teachers and the librarian that the coyote images (believe me when I say the visual images are as bad or worse than the verbal ones)would make readers think of American Indians and were terribly derogatory and insulting. Needless to say I was pretty thoroughly ignored - and the series is a best seller! My granddaughter now is reading the series so I talked with her about the coyote images and she said, "I know they're just made up coyotes, Grandma, Indians are totally different." I hope she truly does understand. Thank you for persevering in the face of continual publisher and author insensitivity. Some of us are listening.

I read her words just after reading about a study in brain research that found people 'feel the pain' of people like them more readily than they 'feel the pain' of people who are not like them. You can read about the study in Science Daily. Obviously, Betsy's colleagues were unable to feel the pain of Native children who would see the coyotes as derogatory. Read the study, "Less Empathy Toward Outsiders."

How can we use the study? Is it possible we can say to people who are unmoved by our words "Hey, it isn't your fault, it is your brain's fault. You're hard wired not to care. But it doesn't have to be that way. Take command. Override what your brain is telling you."

I'm glad that Betsy's granddaughter understands that Indians aren't like the coyotes, but WHY is that conversation even necessary? Do we have that conversation about other groups? Any groups? Do you hand your child/student a book and say 'oh, and that part about X group, ignore it. It isn't accurate." How much does that happen?

1 comment:

Debbie Reese said...

Farida Dowler tried to post this comment. Blogger wouldn't let her do it. I've had that problem, too, on other blogs. She sent it to me via email, and with her permission, I'm posting it here on her behalf.

Farida said:

One of the things that makes good literature like Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian or Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry so powerful is that the books do call upon the readers to feel empathy and want to make the world a just place with respect for everyone. However, it seems that unacceptable representations of different cultural groups slip so easily into light fare that's meant to entertain, and the knee-jerk reaction to the criticism is often "Oh, stop being so p.c."

When I am at my most optimistic, I don't believe that humans are hard-wired not to care about people who are different from them. I do think we need to be continually challenged to answer the question, "How do you think you'd feel if...?"