Monday, August 13, 2012

"In any war between the civilized man and the savage..."

Have you seen this ad? It is, or has been, on buses in New York City and San Francisco. (See an ABC San Francisco news story on the ad: "Pro-Israel ads on Muni buses spark criticism.")

The ad uses "civilized man" and "savage." It doesn't say "savage man"--it simply says "savage."

I'm wondering if the roots of the "savage" idea used by the American Freedom Defense Initiative go back to children's books? One children's book after another uses "savage" or "savages" to describe Indigenous peoples.

Want some examples?

In Carol Ryrie Brink's Caddie Woodlawn, published in 1935, Mrs. Woodlawn says "those frightful savages will eat us out of house and home" (p. 7). 

In Lois Lenski's Indian Captive, published in 1941, Captain Morgan says "An untamed savage, growing up like a wild beast in the forest" (p. 264).

In Elizabeth George Speare's Calico Captive, published in 1957, the narrative reads "Two of the savages came from the bedroom, dragging a shrinking and almost naked Susana between them" (p. 16). 

In Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond, published in 1958, John says to Kit "How did you learn to read when you say you just ran wild like a savage and never did any work? (p. 27).

In her Sign of the Beaver, published in 1983, Matt thinks "How could he possibly teach a savage to read?" (p. 32).
These books are miseducating the young people who read them.

Words are powerful weapons that are used to socialize---to teach---that certain peoples are "other" to be feared, defeated, killed, colonized. Not using nouns that make it clear that Indigenous peoples are human beings, or men, women, children, and babies, helped, and helps, to justify wars and aggression by the "civilized man" on American Indians and anyone else deemed as "enemy." With 'savage' ideology firmly embedded in that "civilized man," all manner of aggression and war are possible. 

I think children's books are part of the socialization that creates an attitude like the one on display in the ad, and I will continue to use American Indians in Children's Literature to point out destructive biases that hurt all of us. I hope you will, too. 



reg said...

Debbie, this is apparently a quote from Ayn Rand -- I ran across this today just after reading your post:

Ayn Rand may not have been exposed to American children's books but the sentiment is just as despicable no matter its derivation.

Beth said...

Funny that the term "savage" is being applied to the Palestians. That implies that they are the indigenious people to those lands and are being oppressed by colonialist land-grabbers. By the way, I know this isn't a children's book, but what are you're thoughts on Brave New World, and the "Savage" in that story?

Blinkdawg said...

I just stumbled on your blog, and I think it's great...and, yes, the slogan on that ad reeks of psychological violence.