Friday, November 26, 2010

Scott Andrews (Cherokee) on OF THEE I SING

Scott Andrews is a professor at Cal State University, Northridge, where he teaches in English and in the American Indian Studies program. Dean Radar is also an English professor, teaching at the University of San Francisco. Dean publishes a blog called The Weekly Rader where he looks at the intersection of media, art, politics, and culture. On Tuesday, Dean published Scott's Of Thee I Sing: A Semiotic Review.  Here's one excerpt:  
Seeing the image of Sitting Bull as Real Estate is surprising in this context.  A book like Of Thee I Sing is intended to remind us of famous, admirable people from American history – to make them visible to us again.  It is odd, then, that in this act of remembrance, Sitting Bull is not present. 
 Scott analyzes the illustrations and ends with this:
Of course, it is better to have an Indian in the book than not.  But it would be nice to have an Indian who lives on the ground like a human rather than in the ground like a specter or ghost.
Click over to read his entire essay. You can read my first post about it here. I have yet to get a copy of the book to see what the text itself says. 

Scott writes that it is better to have an Indian in the book than not. I'm not sure I agree. We (American Indians) are overrepresented in children's and young adult literature.  You can see some of what I mean by "overrepresented" in my notes on SLJ's Top 100 Children's Novels, a list compiled by Elizabeth Bird. 

And you can also tune in (online) to Native America Calling on Dec 2nd when they discuss Of Thee I Sing. Guests that day include Ernie LaPointe (one of Sitting Bull's descendants) and Rhonda LeValdo, a Native journalist.


Scott Andrews said...

I understand the argument that it would be better to not be included. I understand the idea that American Indians have been over(mis)represented in children's literature. My thinking was that having an American Indian among this list of American heroes has its benefits. I was not thinking of this image in the context of other books for children.

Debbie Reese said...

Your critique is terrific, Scott. I've shared it with colleagues in children's and YA lit.

Yeah, the potential in Obama's book was great. You said it well: "make them [famous people] visible" to us. The illustrator failed to do that with the most invisible (by virtue of overrepresented) group there is.

I do need to say that I haven't seen the book itself yet, and you have, so you've got a perspective on it that I don't.

Context. It matters. Whose context. What kind of context...

Beverly Slapin said...

Bought a copy of the book last week, Debbie. It's even worse than I had thought. I'm writing up some notes and will pass them along to you. Excellent critique, Scott. Thanks.

Take care,


jpm said...

The representation of Sitting Bull in the president's book just made my heart sink. I have nothing to add to that piece of the conversation; Debbie, Scott Andrews, NAJA, and Dean Rader have already covered anything I can think of to say about that.

But -- another aspect of the situation that I find worrisome is the Fox-fueled objection to the choice of Sitting Bull. Of course, the disinformation aspect of it is no surprise. Reading what those Foxes (in the henhouse) have been saying, I felt I was hearing echoes of something, and I just realized what it is: the incessant yammering about Bill Ayers. The Right was able (at least in many minds) to re-criminalize Ayers, who if most of us remember right, had already done his time in jail and seemed to be anything but an outlaw in present time. In the comments about Sitting Bull we have another manufactured (as Indian Country Today points out) controversy for the purpose of advancing unspoken goals as well as the widely advertised goal of making sure Barack Obama is a one-term president.

But it's deeply unsettling, the way that indigenous individuals and indigenous causes can be essentially criminalized (e.g., by Fox) in order to further goals of groups (corporations, "tea parties", etc.) who either have no concern for the well-being of indigenous people and communities or would not object to doing them harm. I'm still just putting this together in my mind -- but part of the Fox message is that for indigenous people to have resisted the European/American invasion in any way, including by defending one's home, is to have behaved as a criminal.... Of course, I suppose they are only tapping into what they perceive to be beliefs of much of their fan base. Is Joe Bruchac's biography of Sitting Bull on their radar screen yet?

Beverly Slapin said...

The Fox disinformation-Ayers-Sitting Bull connection: My sinking feelings exactly, Jean! Before now, I was unable to put a name to it. Thanks.

Did you mean Joe Bruchac's YA novel about Geronimo? I don't remember his writing about Sitting Bull.

Debbie Reese said...

Jean is right-on in her comments about Fox and the right wing. Did you see Rush Limbaugh's inane remarks about Obama's proclamation on Thanksgiving?!