“War Dances” by Sherman Alexie ★★★★

War Dances

A nice mix of short stories and poetry by an insightful writer. I sometimes wondered if some of his writings may be his personal truths or if he was telling others’ stories or just making up stories.  It was all very honest; he understands the inner workings of people.

What stood out for me was his story about Elder Briggs, a young man killed in the midst of a burglary, and how one moment in time can change so many lives.  It also was thought-provoking in how those affected by tragedy can look at the same situation in different ways in order to find a comfortable scapegoat on which to place the blame.  It was an interesting study on human nature.  None of us want to be the one at fault.

Also, his poem about watching a man intentionally swerving his car to try to hit a stray dog, and how a witness to that terrible act has to make a decision about whether to do anything about it…or not…when their own personal safety may be in jeopardy.

There are snippets about life as a Native American (or really insert any minority) which are telling when describing them having to tolerate ignorance, such as an interview with an old-timer recalling a brave act by an American Indian soldier in WWII who saved others’ lives at the risk of his own, and even in the honored way the old soldier spoke of his former buddy’s courage, he still made light of the fact that they called him “Chief”. Another story recalls a little boy raging against a blatant deception, and then being referred to as “Little Crazy Horse”.

This is veering off track here on a personal tangent, but I need to try to ease some guilt. I was a kid in the 70s in a very small town (you literally knew every person in town) with a large population of Native Americans in the area, and remarks like those above were used.  In particular, I remember someone being referred to as “Chief”.  Our Hispanic friend–we only knew about three Hispanic kids growing up and they were from the same family–might be referred to as “Taco” (that makes me cringe).  One guy who was a big football player had the name “Sumo”, etc.  No one used them with any blatant malice.  It was just their nickname, like one of my friends who was in actuality a pretty girl had been called “Toad” ever since elementary school; a boy was known as “Hubba Bubba”. I was dubbed “Diddly Dawn” by my dad and “Diddly” caught on because I am always late for everything.  That name sounds kind of gross now, actually. haha  I have no idea where a lot of my friends’ names came from.  Of course the origin of  “Chief” and “Taco” is obvious, but we looked at them the same as if we had used their first names, and often the names were interchangeable, even within the same conversation.

Although we (white people) may have been oblivious to how hurtful the racially-slanted names might have been, we would have felt terrible if we had known we were hurting our friends.  I honestly don’t think any of the recipients of those nicknames said anything about it.  It seems now like it should have bugged them; however, it often meant you were well liked if you had a nickname, so maybe they really didn’t mind. These kids were popular.  It was the general insensitivity of the times, I think, especially in an area that had no diversity to speak of.  We could be best friends with these people and yet still be oblivious to our own ignorance, I guess.  It’s embarrassing to admit.

It’s easy to make fun of a general anonymous group.  Back then, we told “Polack” jokes or “Ole & Lena” jokes with the same blase’ attitude and umbrella stereotyping as today’s blonde jokes.  Those jokes, for us kids, had lost their meaning in regard to a specific people or whatever stereotype they might hold.  I think I was in high school before I even learned about the association between Polack jokes and Polish people, and I’ve never learned why they would have been made the butt of jokes. I just assumed it was probably something from my grandparents’ generation.

borg

You saw the word assimilated and immediately thought “Resistance is Futile” didn’t you?  It couldn’t have been only me.

We as kids honestly didn’t know better; anything we would have said would have been repeated from what we heard adults say, kind of like in today’s world you could have asked even 6- or 7-year-old kids who they wanted to win the presidential election and they would have had very strong opinions which would immediately let you know whether their parents were conservative or liberal.  Kids absorb their surroundings and echo what has been assimilated.

As a whole we now know about the need for tolerance/kindness/fairness. Hopefully we can start moving in the right direction and make sure we are teaching our children to be better than we have been.

War Dances by Sherman Alexie

2 thoughts on ““War Dances” by Sherman Alexie ★★★★

  1. Well, growing up in the east end of London in the 50s we suddenly had an influx of Jamaicans. I think they were the butt of many a cruel joke, but it wasn’t necessarily meant to be cruel. PC hadn’t been invented and I suppose many were racists without being aware of it. Good post.

    Liked by 1 person

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