06/10/2017 by syrbal-labrys
I’ve been reading about a book per week this year, but not doing reviews. But the most recent book I read frankly hit one of my major red-button peeves. Yes, it is a mere novel. It was nicely, even “sensitively” written and the characters modeled with a fair amount of thought and respect. But…
Always a but, isn’t there? You know how on the nightly news, filled with disasters and horror, there is always that moment when some asshat in front of the camera far, far away in distant lands says something like, “We don’t know if any Americans were injured or killed yet…” That part of the news always pisses me right the fuck OFF. What, you total shitheel, it isn’t really a story unless an American is involved?
That is how this much-raved about novel made me feel. After all, the bare bones of the bloody horror, murder, mayhem, massacre that ends the book is not a new tale in America. The story’s characters’ dramatic ending is an American Indian village in flames and naked women and children driven into the snow to die or be killed on the spot. Can you even GUESS how many times that horrid white American story has played out, how often the Indians who endured it told that story amongst themselves?
The book? One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus. You know an author has been unusually convincing in some fashion when the second edition has a bit where the author again tells his readers this is all fiction. He worked very hard on this book and deserves his accolades, I suppose. But the point of his little fiction is that a few dozen white women – from jails, asylums, the broken South – agree to marry Cheyenne warriors to aid in assimilating the next generation into American (white) life. The story is heart-rending, the novel idea coming up against a gold rush in the Black Hills and the need to get those pesky Indians out of the way. So, a massacre of a village reported to be hostile — but the lead cavalryman, knowing it is in fact a peaceable village, does not stop the murders — even when the white Indian-bride he loves begs him for aid.
Is that an unrealistic story concept? Not at all. But the story left me depressed that a piece of history that played out in genocidal fury and completeness time and time again is suddenly now a big deal in a novel. Because the words telling the story were put on the lips and in the journals of a WHITE woman.
I’m not usually one for screaming about cultural appropriation. It is, frankly, being nonsensically applied to EVERYthing these days. But this book, sweet fiction that will dampen hankies all over the nation? This is historical appropriation — the angry depressed feeling it gave me was that the Amerindian tale only counts when told with white words and that the real misery of history isn’t good enough. The book tries to do good. It tells how the system was rigged to starve Indians into submission, or murder those who didn’t submit fast enough.
But you don’t need a novel presented as the (highly unlikely) “journals” of a white woman to learn that. Not really. If you do? Well, you haven’t quite owned white America’s way of taking whatever it wants from anyone of color.