Monday, September 03, 2018


This post was initially titled "Debbie--have you seen American Apartheid: The Native American Struggle for Self Determination by Stephanie Woodard" but as I did some research on that book, I grew increasingly furious at Kirkus. I put that original title in parenthesis and inserted "An F'ed up KIRKUS Review" because that's where I am at the moment.

A reader wrote to ask if I've read American Apartheid: The Native American Struggle for Self Determination by Stephanie Woodard. Published by Ig Publishing on July 1st, 2018, it isn't a book meant for children or young adults, but it is the sort that I think teachers might find useful. I haven't read it, but am intrigued. Here's the description:
In recent years, events such as the siege at Standing Rock and the Dakota Access pipeline have thrust Native Americans into the public consciousness.
Taking us beyond the headlines, American Apartheid offers the most comprehensive and compelling account of the issues and threats that Native Americans face today, as well as their heroic battle to overcome them. Author Stephanie Woodard details the ways in which the federal government, states and counties curtail Native voting rights, which, in turn, keeps tribal members from participating in policy-making surrounding education, employment, rural transportation, infrastructure projects and other critical issues affecting their communities. This system of apartheid has staggering consequences, as Natives are, per capita, the population group that is most likely to be shot by police, suffer violent victimization by outsiders, be incarcerated, and have their children taken away. On top of this, indigenous people must also fight constantly to protect the sacred sites and landscapes that hold their cultural memories and connect their spirituality to the nation’s mountains, plains, waterways and coastlines. Despite these many obstacles, American Apartheid offers vivid pictures of diverse Native American communities that embody resilience, integrity, and the survival of ancient cultures.

Looking at the Barnes and Noble website, I see that Louise Erdrich and Tim Giago blurbed it. I often go to B&N to see reviews because they usually post complete reviews. Amazon will use only positive excerpts from reviews, thereby mis-using the reviews (leaving out less-positive or outright negative critiques). As of right now (Monday, Sep 3, 2018), Amazon doesn't have any professional reviews at all. Barnes and Noble has one: from Kirkus.

And--that Kirkus review--made me utter WTF when I got to these lines:
However, the book is marred by some misleading contentions. Woodard laments the disproportionately high incarceration rate for Native Americans as compared to whites, but she does not address the question of whether the former commit crimes at a higher rate than the latter. Moreover, her assertion that in 2016, Standing Rock Sioux confronted construction of the Dakota Access pipeline only through "nonviolent demonstrations" is not entirely true; there were numerous reports of violent acts committed by the protestors, including stampeding bison and hurling projectiles at law enforcement personnel. 

That reviewer says the book is "marred" by "misleading contentions" and then that reviewer gave two examples that make the reviewers ignorance or racism visible.

Apparently this reviewer thinks that we commit crimes at higher rates than White people. Then, the reviewer talks about "violent acts" at Standing Rock. I assume the reviewer brought that up as evidence of our "violent" ways that make us commit more crimes than Whites. That reviewers remarks tell us that they believe stereotypical ideas of us as violent people. That is utterly disgusting and harmful, too, in so many ways. 

Kirkus--whether this is ignorance or outright racism on the part of your reviewer and that reviewer's editor, you really ought to address the content of that review! It was published in your May 15, 2018 issue. I wonder how many librarians saw that review and decided not to order the book? How many are reading the online review and making that same decision? How many readers are seeing that review at Barnes and Noble and deciding not to get the book? All of those decision are based on the ignorance of your reviewer. If you choose not to, your silence will be telling us a lot.


Jean Mendoza said...

My comments are based NOT on what the author of American Apartheid has written, but on content of the Kirkus review related to Standing Rock and NoDAPL.

This strange assertion by the reviewer follows the text Debbie quoted from the review:

"[Woodard's] dubious statement [that Native people at Standing Rock were non-violent] is particularly important, for Woodard intermittently cites the Dakota Access protests as crucial to a revival of interest in Native American affairs; as one Puyallup tribesman said, “Standing Rock helped us grab the world’s attention once again.”

Unpacking that: Reading the Morton County sheriff's justification for the militarized (but otherwise typical) overreaction to Standing Rock resistance will give the impression that "numerous" violent acts jeopardized the safety of the police. Did the Kirkus reviewer give the same attention to getting fully acquainted with the perspectives of the participants in the Standing Rock camps?

The camps were set up with a commitment to non-violence, to being a prayerful, unarmed presence -- people putting their bodies on the line to stop the destruction of the water supply that serves not just the Native residents, but also hundreds of thousands of other people downstream from the DAPL.

I've watched the videos of that bison herd the reviewer refers to. At what point was the safety of law enforcement officers threatened? (Hint: never.) That's not a valid example of "violence" by water protectors, though the reviewer claims it is.

Apparently, some individuals in the camps may have occasionally thrown things in the direction of the heavily armored and armed policers. It was not an organized effort and reports from sources other than the policers indicate that those were outliers. Surely, the reviewer knows that 1) in any large group of people, a few may stir things up in spite of what their leaders or their neighbors want, 2) no one, including the police, can say for sure whether the throwers were Native or supporters of Native sovereignty, and 3) "law enforcement" is known for having infiltrators join resistance groups to do something provocative that gives the policers "justification" for (over)reaction.

Next -- The reviewer's says that a (supposedly dubious) claim of non-violence is "especially important" given that Standing Rock was "crucial to the revival of interest in Native American affairs." That feels oddly phrased and just wrong. Again, assertions that Standing Rock's purpose and practices were non-violent are not dubious. And "interest in Native American affairs" has never been in short supply among Indigenous people, so whose interest does the Kirkus reviewer think is being revived?

It feels as if the reviewer is trying to avoid saying something else -- maybe sounding an alarm call, like "OMG, in the Native struggle for self-determination, if some Native person gets upset enough to throw a rock, the entire cause becomes suspect and perhaps unworthy of the world's interest or support."

Which feels like big-picture tone policing.

One of the lessons/reminders from Standing Rock for those who were watching, & for those who were there, is that police forces are increasingly concerned about protecting corporate interests over the health and well-being of communities. Another is that police forces are more comprehensively armed and armored than at any other time in US history, and capable of unprecedented violence against communities. Not only are they capable, they are willing to exaggerate or manufacture any danger to themselves in order to rationalize deployment of their arms and armor.

To me, that seems "especially important" and a lot more threatening than a few thrown rocks, or a herd of bison kinda sorta not exactly stampeding within sight of the police presence. It makes support for Native sovereignty and self-determination feel absolutely essential.

Celeste said...

I am really disappointed with Kirkus! Thank you for drawing attention to this book, which sounds like a fascinating read.