Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lynne Reid Banks - The Indian in the Cupboard, where Omri "got an Indian" (chapter 1)

Chapter 1 - Birthday Presents

Page 1:
It was not that Omri didn't appreciate Patrick's birthday present to him. Far from it. He was really very grateful---sort of. It was, without a doubt, very kind of Patrick to give Omri anything at all, let alone a secondhand plastic Indian that he himself had finished with.

Page 2:
"Do you really like him?" asked Patrick as Omri stood silently with the Indian in his hand.
"Yes, he's fantastic," said Omri in only a slightly flattish voice. "I haven't got an Indian."
"I know."
"I haven't got any cowboys either."
"Nor have I. That's why I couldn't play anything with him."
Omri opened his mouth to say,  "I won't be able to either," but, thinking that might hurt Patrick's feelings, he said nothing, put the Indian in his pocket, and forgot about it.

Most people know exactly what Banks is talking with when she introduces the "plastic Indian" that Patrick gives to Omni. A great many people in my generation had easy access to these plastic Indians, but they're a lot harder to get---thankfully---these days:

The opening paragraph to Indian In the Cupboard sets a lot of people right on edge. Sociologist Michael Yellow Bird (he's Sahnish and Hidatsa) wrote a terrific article about those plastic Indians. It's called "Cowboys and Indians: Toys of Genocide, Icons of American Colonalism." It was published in the Fall 2004 issue of Wicazo Sa Review.

You might read "Toys of Genocide?!" and be taken aback by the word 'genocide', but Yellow Bird's article helps students in my Intro to American Indian Studies courses see just how problematic the toys are...  Here's an excerpt from p 35:
"Imagine if children could also buy bags of little toy African-American slaves and their white slave masters, or Jewish holocaust prisoners and their SS Nazi guards, or undocumented Mexicans and their INS border patrol guards." 
He goes on:
"Imagine if the African-American set included little whips and ropes so that the white slave masters could flog the slaves that were lazy and lynch those who defied them. Imagine if the border guards in the Mexican toy set came with little nightsticks to beat the illegal aliens, infrared scopes on their rifles to shoot them at night, and trucks to load up those that they caught."
And he continues:
"Imagine if the Jewish and Nazi toys included little barbed-wire prison camps and toy trains to load up and take prisoners to the toy gas chambers or incinerators."

Omri is tired of the plastic toys he and Patrick play with, but this gift is especially useless to both of them because neither one has a cowboy. They go together, according to Banks, so they can... so they can..... so they can... what?!  His point, of course, is that we cannot imagine the other toy sets, but we easily, readily, even happily endorse playing Cowboys and Indians...

Later in the article he talks about how he felt paying for a bag of the plastic Indians, to use in his classes...  He pulled out his wallet and took out out a dollar bill and saw George Washington. He thought of how Washington is called a founding father, but that the Seneca called him "Caunotaucarius" which means the town destroyer because Washington sent troops through Seneca territory, burning down villages, destroying crops and stored foods, killing many, and leaving the rest to starve through a bitter winter. On the five dollar bill Yellow Bird pulls out next is Lincoln, repeating that analysis with him and then with Andrew Jackson (he's on the 20 dollar bill), too. I can send you a copy of the article if you don't have access to it.

Editor's note, Oct 22, 2014: Not sure why I stopped after page two! Do I want to pick up that book and read it, again, and add to this post? Not really. Thinking about it, though, because there's more to say about it. Lot more to say...  

Free lecture at Navy Pier, November 13

Here's the poster for a free lecture I'm giving at Navy Pier in Chicago. It'll be at the Chicago Children's Museum, from 11 to 1:00 on Saturday, November 13, 2010.

I like the poster for the event... one of my favorite books is in the background: Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer.

[Note: There is one error...  I'm an Assistant (not Associate) Professor.]

I hope you can attend! Teachers get CPDUs, but you gotta pre-register...  Call 773-534-2417 to register.