Sunlit Water

July 15, 2007


Filed under: Culture — by teofilo @ 1:56 am

I haven’t read the article on Polish interest in Judaica that started this discussion, but I’m not so sure the Poles’ philosemitism is “substantially deeper than what’s implied in the United States’ appropriation of Native American place names.”  This is kind of a contentious issue, but I think you could make a very good case that up until the War of 1812 or so Indians were “a substantial and integral element of the cultural, political, and economic life of the country even if they were never fully integrated or accepted.”  It’s certainly not clear to me that Polish Jews were significantly more important to the cultural or political life of pre-WWII Poland, though the argument for greater economic importance is probably pretty strong.  And, of course, historical cultural, political and economic importance isn’t really that relevant to the issue of justifying interest in a historically oppressed and currently marginal group.

Relatedly, the Dana Goldstein post Matt links to strikes me as yet another example of the unfortunate tendency of even smart, well-informed people in this country to take a drastically oversimplified view of the very complicated history of interactions between whites and Indians in what is now the US.



  1. I’d be willing to bet that perceptions here are a function of the size of the Native American population where you live. On the East Coast, it’s surprisingly easy to think of Native Americans as simply no longer existing (oh, I know there are Native Americans on the East Coast, but a woman in my apartment building is literally the first I’ve ever run into to know socially, if you don’t count Latinos with some admixture of native ancestry.) Out West, they’re a much bigger part of the population.

    You just end up thinking about things differently when you do or you don’t have real-world contemporary information about them.

    Comment by LizardBreath — July 15, 2007 @ 12:43 pm |Reply

  2. Exactly. When I came east for college, I was amazed at how often I encountered people saying things that implied (or stated outright) that there were no longer any Indians. And this was in a place quite close to several reservations.

    Comment by teofilo — July 15, 2007 @ 5:51 pm |Reply

  3. I agree. I think it’s even more invisible to many white East Coasters because black people are so often defined as being black, and their Native ancestry is often either unknown or unacknowledged by others.

    Comment by Witt — July 15, 2007 @ 7:24 pm |Reply

  4. White people, too. In fact, I think a lot of this goes back to the way many Americans view race as a simplistic contrast between white and black.

    Comment by teofilo — July 15, 2007 @ 8:27 pm |Reply

  5. Huh, see, I have a different stereotype about that. The white people I know who have Native American heritage are always very, very eager to tell you about it. Sometimes cloyingly so.

    To go back to the invisibility thing: There was a report a few years ago (probably when some Census data came out) about the mortality rate for Indian men. On the Pine Ridge reservation it was the worst, but it was just generally dreadful — I think like mid-50s or something. There was a tiny flurry of “what industrialized country could possibly accept this” news coverage and then…nothing. Not a visible issue in mainstream American political discussions, even about healthcare and health access.

    Comment by Witt — July 15, 2007 @ 8:59 pm |Reply

  6. I guess I mean not so much the perception of the people with Indian ancestry themselves (who, as you say, tend to get annoying about their often spurious heritage) as the perception of other white people, which is I think what you were talking about in regard to black people. Like, the sense that pretty much everyone is either white or black, and nothing else.

    As for mortality rates etc., in some respects many reservations are a lot like third world countries. (Pine Ridge is reputed to be the absolute worst.) One thing this demonstrates is that Universal Health Care is not a silver bullet, not that anyone’s claiming it is.

    Comment by teofilo — July 15, 2007 @ 10:51 pm |Reply

  7. Anyway, I’m not really talking about people with mixed ancestry, who generally aren’t culturally Indian in any meaningful way (for reasons that are, of course, important to a full understanding of the history involved), but rather about people who have maintained tribal affiliation and at least some vestiges of “traditional” culture. These are the people that an awful lot of Americans seem to think don’t exist anymore.

    Comment by teofilo — July 17, 2007 @ 12:20 am |Reply

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