In her analysis, Ithiliana made some good points. For one, she notes that his apology is part of a much longer post. As such, she sees his apology as being buried. He could have featured that response as a stand-alone item. She's right. In fact, I would have preferred that Gaiman wrote a stand-alone post.
Lots of linguistic scholarship exists on how badly people with greater authority/power do apologies to people who have less authority/power, but I think Gaiman's fauxpology goes even further into bad, considering he's blah blah award winning author. Or maybe, from another perspective, it's a well done manipulation that is designed to highlight his power and authority while "graciously" offering apologies (without ever once saying, I'm sorry, I screwed up) to the little people out there (multiple ones, by the way, as you'll see if you read the link of my snarky summary).
As I wrote my post yesterday (Neil Gaiman on "a few dead Indians"), I went back and forth with myself as I thought about what Gaiman said. He offered an apology. A Miss-Manners-type-person would say I should accept his apology.
But, I didn't want an apology.
There a lot to gain by reading and studying what ithiliana said. She is taking a certain angle on what Gaiman said. My angle is different.
I wasn't hurt by what he said, and I wasn't offended either. I can't afford the energy it would take to be offended everytime I come across something like "a few dead Indians." Part of what I'm doing with American Indians in Children's Literature is compiling the evidence of just how much this happens. I focus on these occurrences in children's and young adult books (see for example, my analysis of the Elizabeth Bird's Top 100 Children's Novels), but sometimes, I point to other incidences, too, which provide societal context for what occurs in children's books (see my post about a kid playing Indian in a Tommy Hilfiger ad).
The "few dead Indians" situation, in my view, called---not for an apology---but for something else.
What Neil Gaiman says is a big deal because of who he is... An award-winning and best-selling author who has, because of his books for children and adults, become a celebrity. Does who he is, I wondered, make him a person with greater authority and power as compared to me? Does his status make me someone with less authority/power, and therefore, should I be grateful that he paid any attention at all to my post about "a few dead Indians" and his subsequent Tweets to me about it?
Some would say "yes, Debbie, you should be grateful that Neil Gaiman paid any attention to you!"
I disagree because I have some power and authority, too, based on my research and writing and my advocacy for Native peoples. How any of us defines power and authority is relative to where we stand, the perspectives we put forth, and the people who pay attention to what we say. Did he choose to comment on my "few dead Indians" post because someone (his agent, perhaps?) told him that children's book authors, parents, teachers, librarians, professors, editors, and reviewers read my site?
Were his actions motivated by a sincere interest to acknowledge that he screwed up? Or were they motivated by an attempt to maintain a positive profile? Or both? Or, neither?!
Whatever the case may be, one thing is certain. A lot more people in the world now know that a remark like "a few dead Indians" merits attention. I didn't want an apology (yeah, I know, that's starting to sound redundant), but in truth, I wanted more than what Gaiman offered. I thanked him yesterday, not for the apology, but for being willing to publicly share his reaction and thought process. That is important! He wrote:
I was put out of sorts by Deb's initial post (mostly because I was reading it going "but that OBVIOUSLY wasn't what I meant"), and was idiotically grumpy on Twitter, but when I was called on it (by Pam Noles), and finally looked at the actual words recorded, I realised that people were perfectly sensibly taking what I said to indicate...He provides an example that other writers could use. First reactions from Sharon Creech, Ben Mikaelsen, Ann Rinaldi, and Anne Rockwell to my critiques of their words and books were like Gaiman's. They were defensive, too. Have they revisited that defensive reaction? Privately, perhaps, but to my knowledge, not publicly, as Gaiman did. His reaction aside, he gave his readers three options as to how his remark might be read. Continuing with what I excerpted above, he wrote:
... that I thought that a) the US was pretty much unpopulated before the arrival of the white colonists in the 17th century, and/or that b) I was being dismissive of the slaughter of Native Americans, or simply that c) Native Americans were somehow inconsequential in the history of the Americas. (None of which was my intention. But intentions only take you so far.)As I said when I first wrote about his remark, I was pretty sure he knew better, and I think what he said above is evidence of that. He's told us what he thinks and he acknowledges that intent matters little.
I would have liked him to go further than he did. I would have liked him to say "I should have corrected myself right away. I should have said something when the interview was published. But, I didn't." He tells us that he knew it was a stupid thing to say, but that he just moved on. His decision to just move on is important for him and all of us to consider. WHY did he just move on? Did he think nobody would notice? Well, he was right, wasn't he? Nobody noticed for over a year! How many times was that interview read? How many people read it and didn't notice that he said "a few dead Indians"?!
That is the problem. Hundreds (thousands? millions?) of times, those words were read, and nobody pointed them out. What I wanted from Neil Gaiman was for him to say this:
PEOPLE OF THE WORLD WHO READ THAT INTERVIEW AND MY WORDS!!!
WE ALL SCREWED UP!
WHY DIDN'T WE SAY SOMETHING?
DON'T WE CARE?
ARE WE TOO BUSY TO TAKE A MOMENT TO SAY SOMETHING?
IF WE ARE TOO BUSY, DOESN'T THAT MEAN THAT WE'VE CHOSEN NOT TO INTERRUPT A CYCLE OF UNINTENDED WORD-VIOLENCE ON A GROUP OF PEOPLE WHO MANY OF US SAY WE RESPECT, LOVE, ADMIRE AND HONOR?
A GROUP OF PEOPLE WHOSE CHILDREN DON'T SUCCEED IN SCHOOL?
A GROUP OF PEOPLE WHOSE CHILDREN COMMIT SUICIDE WAY TOO OFTEN?
See what I wanted from Neil Gaiman? Due to his status, he is a person of influence. I wanted him to use that influence and that incident in a much larger way than he did. If he did, his words would be a powerful force that would work towards a decrease in the messed-up ways that American Indians and Indigenous peoples are portrayed in children's and young adult books, and in society (like the Hilfiger ad), too.
Can you imagine what the book publishing world would do if his million-plus fans (assuming he said what I suggested above) wrote to, say, HarperCollins, the publisher of Little House on the Prairie (firstname.lastname@example.org) to say
"this book is messed up. Yeah, some regard it as a classic, but, it misrepresents and miseducates Native and non-Native children about the life of Native and non-Native people living in Indian Territory in the 1800s."
Can you imagine a scenario in which Native parents didn't have to think about keeping their children out of school on the day their teachers plan a Thanksgiving reenactment? Or, when their classmates were going to do a "land run" like the one that took place in Oklahoma? If you pause for just a minute, can you imagine how much of that sort of thing goes on?
With this post, am I alienating Neil Gaiman and his fans and anyone who read his apology and think well of him for offering it? Maybe, but I'm choosing to think that amongst that group of people there are a great many who will read what I've said and be motivated to think even further about the ways American Indians are represented in the books their children read, and, that seeing it for themselves, they'll be motivated to take action.