In yesterday's post I wrote about the word shared and how Rockwell uses it in two of her books, and I wrote about the persistence with which writers put American Indians in the same sentence as animals.
Today, I want to look at the opening paragraph in the book.
Three hundred years ago, there was no United States of America. Instead, there were thirteen English colonies in North America.I'm focusing on that paragraph to show you how bias looks and what it teaches.
Anne Rockwell is a prolific writer. Though I've not studied her picture books for very young children, I can see by perusing the titles, that an early childhood teacher would use many of them.
How might her biography look if the focus was George Washington and his interactions with American Indians? That's not the book she wrote, so, some may deem it unfair to criticize her treatment of American Indians and American Indian history. Her first sentence is
Three hundred years ago, there was no United States of America.Rockwell's book was published in 2008. Three hundred years ago puts the story in the year 1708. Rockwell is correct. At that point in time, there was no United States of America. Her next sentence could be "Instead, there were hundreds of Native Nations." But this is her next sentence:
Instead, there were thirteen English colonies in North America.That sentence is also correct. In 1708, there were thirteen English colonies in North America. But! I'd insert an additional sentence, and, I'd rewrite her sentence so that the paragraph would say "Europeans who had fled Europe had come to North American and were occupying the lands that belonged to the Native Nations. These Europeans set up thirteen English colonies."
You following that? I'll put it here, in clean copy. Here's Rockwell's opening paragraph, followed by my rewrite of her opening paragraph:
Three hundred years ago, there was no United States of America. Instead, there were thirteen English colonies in North America.See the difference? See how she shapes the story with her choice of what to say and how to say it? She's telling this story from her point of view as an American. I'm revising her story from the point of view of an American Indian. Her statements are factually true. So are mine.
Three hundred years ago, there was no United States of America. Instead, there were hundreds of Native Nations. Europeans who had fled Europe had come to North America and were occupying lands that belonged to the Native Nations. These Europeans set up thirteen English colonies.
But, she avoids telling her readers that the birth of the United States was complicated. She keeps some information from her readers, and as we saw yesterday, she presents bears, wolves, and, American Indians as something George wasn't afraid of.
She's creating an image for her readers. In that image, American Indians are animal-like and living in the woods. The Indians she presents are not civilized, living in colonies like the Europeans.
But, her presentation is not true! American Indians were, in fact, highly developed, self-governing societies. They had leaders with whom Washington and the like had diplomatic negotiations with. She is concealing that information from her readers. Being generous, I can say that she probably does not know she's doing that. It isn't a deliberate decision.
[Personal note: I grow weary and angry at myself for constantly saying "Native people were not primitive." But, that false idea is so well taught in America that it needs to be said again and again and again.]
Presenting Indians as primitive and uncivilized savages lets Rockwell (she's not the only person who does this. Most writers do it.) portray the Europeans as superior to the indigenous peoples, which ultimately works to say that Europeans were right to take Native lands as their own. I said as much when I critiqued Rockwell's book about Thanksgiving. She responded, saying that she never thought that, and that I was twisting her words. You could say that I am "reading between the lines."
Some might say I'm reading too much into what Rockwell says in that opening paragraph. Again, it isn't an isolated case. Most people who write about that period omit or inaccurately portray American Indians. I think it is wrong to do so. What do you think?
Update, March 9, 6:30 AM: --- In a comment (see comments section), K pointed out that there are still hundreds of Native Nations and said my sentence suggests there are no longer any Native Nations. Regular readers of this site, and, readers with knowledge about American Indians know that there are, in the present day, hundreds of tribes.