Friday, October 16, 2020

Anti-Indigenous Content in S. E. Hinton's THE OUTSIDERS

On October 13, 2020, S. E. Hinton replied to a tweet asking her to consider writing a graphic novel version of The Outsiders. In her reply she said no, and that: 
"The Outsiders is the first book many people read in their life & it shows them they CAN read a book. Not that they can turn the pages of a graphic novel." 
If you're on twitter, you saw (or can go see) responses to her reply. A day later, she sent out another tweet saying she is reconsidering her earlier remark and apologized to fans of graphic novels. Watching it unfold, I remembered that The Outsiders is one of the classics that has anti-Indigenous content. 

Do you remember these passages, in Hinton's The Outsiders

On page 106-107, Two-Bit says: 
"I thought all the wild Indians in Oklahoma had been tamed. What little squaw's got that tuff-looking mop of yours, Ponyboy?" 
Early in the book, Hinton describes Two-Bit as the oldest member of their gang and "the wisecracker of the bunch" (page 9). People think his remarks are funny. He reminds Ponyboy of Will Rogers (I wonder if Hinton knew that Rogers was Cherokee?). 

The state currently known as Oklahoma is where you'll find thirty-nine sovereign tribal nations. Hinton grew up in Tulsa. I don't know what the population of Native people was in the 1960s in Tulsa or Oklahoma, but my guess is that Hinton may have had classmates that were Native. As a kid (she wrote the book while she was a teenager), did she carry stereotypical ideas of what Native people would look like? 

We certainly see stereotypical ideas in Two-Bits words. First is "Wild Indians." Two-Bit also uses what growing numbers of people recognize as a slur: "squaw." And what does he imagine that a "squaw" does? Scalp others. Some would argue that Two-Bits identity as a joker makes a difference in how readers are meant to interpret that passage. You've heard all the "it's a joke!" disclaimers for insensitive jokes, right? Humor like that does not humor me. Jokes like that are made at someone's expense. Defense of them are also made at that someone's expense. 

This passage is on page 135-136 (point of view in the book is Ponyboy):
Screeching like an Indian, Steve went running across the lawn in flying leaps, stopped suddenly, and flipped backward. 
And,
With a happy whoop I did a no-hands cartwheel off the porch steps, hit the ground, and rolled to my feet.
See the stereotyping there? Indians "screech." And Ponyboy "whoops" -- presumably, like an Indian would.... and you know that means the woo-woo sort of thing you see in movies and television shows. 

I looked around a bit to see if I could find any lesson plans where teachers are teaching kids about the stereotypical content of The Outsiders. I found some worksheets here and there but they're all about class differences. Do you know of any worksheets that address the anti-Indigenous passages? 

On Twitter I see objections from many people. I'm noting the problematic Native content. Some are noting that Gone With the Wind is referenced several times. The book's content was bad when it came out in 1967. Most people did not notice it then, and some do not notice it now. Some think it does not matter. I disagree. It matters. Though I didn't create this post with the intent of reviewing the book, I think I'll just say that whether it is characterized as anti-Indigenous or anti-Black or outdated--it need not be taught today. There are better options. 

In short, I do not recommend The Outsiders. If the book is put forth as a graphic novel, I wonder if Hinton would do that edition and if she'd leave out the references to Gone With the Wind and the stereotypical Native passages?  

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For your reference, a screen cap of Hinton's tweets:




  



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