“When asked whom he (Sherman Alexie) considers his primary audience, he responded: “College-educated white women. That’s who buys and reads our books in mass numbers. To say otherwise is to either be purposefully or accidentally a liar. That said, my ideal reader is a poor, weird brown kid. And I get enough letters from them. When a weird brown kid says, ‘This story meant this to me,’ that’s the power.”
So, okay, the success of many NA writers depends upon an alliance between “college-educated white women and weird brown kids.” I get that. I’ve been part of that. I AM part of that, though it is so confusing that I don’t write for publication. I USED to, in an alliance with weird brown kids, some of whom were just weird and not kids anymore. Some have died, sometimes of old age.
But what is this alliance? White women are educated to believe it is their highest value (generations of nurses, nuns, teachers, and mothers have taught this) to be an enabler of a kid who would otherwise be disadvantaged. That is, stigmatized. The power of the educated woman goes back to the Victorian women who took on early tribal people and maybe Kahlil Gibran and Zane Grey.
The practice didn’t threaten white men who could care less unless there was money or political advantage involved, and there wasn’t. Helen Hunt Jackson could run wild with “Ramona” because it was just “a novel.” It wasn’t until Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict got serious about weird brown people that men of consequence took notice. By that time, too late. The women had become role models. Which is why a high proportion of educated white women read Native American writing from a kind of semi-anthropological point of view. And why they get very upset when it turns out they’ve been deceived. There’s a wicked element of ownership.
Plus, being highly educated, some women assume they know the truth, have special insight, and therefore have more worthiness in an objective sense. Low status males tend towards this dynamic as well. It comes out in all the “isms” — "I may not be a “whatsis” but I know more about whatsises than anyone else." This plays into a kind of mystic fusion idea. But some men (red-necks, for instance) detecting this, will put a lot of energy into controlling women with such ideas — maybe with violence. And so will low-quantum tribal women or light-skinned brown women.
You believe what I’m saying? In part it is recognition of hegemony, the standing order that tries to preserve itself. But it is also an opening for heiristics. “A heuristic technique (/hjᵿˈrɪstᵻk/; Ancient Greek: εὑρίσκω, "find" or "discover"), often called simply a heuristic, is any approach to problem solving, learning, or discovery that employs a practical method not guaranteed to be optimal or perfect, but sufficient for the immediate goals.”
I’m late to the uproar. This second related-to-fake ethnic claim being that Sherman Alexie chose for an anthology a white man who used a Chinese pseudonym, the name of a female classmate. Last time, he attacked a white man who used a Navajo pseudonym, a name created from Navajo language roots. It’s been pretty obvious from the beginning that Alexie has a controlling obsession about race and class and status and being a weird brown kid. To use psych lingo, this “hooks” him. (Probably his mother as well.)
Both of these situations arose over designations of value/virtue, awarding of prizes, inclusion in “best of” anthos, and all the praise people are quick to award to those who have already been labeled as praiseworthy. Noting this much earlier ("the plus and minus system"), I have made it my mission to appreciate the ugly, neglected, rejected, outrageous, and even illegal. Nor was I out there kissing frogs. I cherish outrageous people for what they are. This is against the core value of educated white women who feel they must “heal” and “support” — i.e. control. PTSD is raw meat to them. They bring in their curative successes and lay them at the feet of the white entitled males, Abraham’s second-hand sacrifices.
Making you angry? Good. Think about it. You can get famous and rich that way, attacking people. But I can’t make myself do it. I like live people.
The kicker is that since it’s educated white women who buy most books of any kind, not just those written by weird brown boys, they have a lot of power, all hidden, but based on having enough income and the good sense to buy books instead of shoes. Many weird brown boys don’t have enough money to buy either one. Most don’t have access to publishers, esp. as they have existed in the past.
Today someone as inspired as Adrian Jawort can declare himself a publisher and sell NA books to NA people, but those who are educated and have money will buy books by Sherman Alexie because white people praise him. Higher status. And because he’s made money and movies, which are the criteria — not so much for educated white women.
Much of this shortage of brown boys who write successfully, as Alexie notes, is structural: the number and nature of bookstores, the newspaper pages of reviews, agents at large as well as staff editors who can make silk purses out of pencil sharpeners. The internet has changed everything, including the ability to spot plagiarism or imitators, and a tsunami of writing — millions of scribblers hoping for distinction in a tech world that can’t tell good writing from bad (as if anyone ever could) but doesn’t care because they are totally absorbed in tech strategy. Their tech road to fame and fortune is designing the perfect platform. Content is irrelevant. In fact, vids, linking, format and fonts totally occupy minds that in the past might have composed poetry or structured books.
There have been decades by now of scoffing at good grammar, recognizable spelling, word order in sentences, graceful handling of tense, and so on. Beginning as an English teacher, I value all that, but — having a theatre background even earlier — I still love the intense, eccentric, explosive, morally driven kind of thing that comes from the ESL crowd, even when the first language in question is a kind of pidgin version full of gestures because more often spoken instead of written.
I tried to find the poem that purported to be Chinese and instead found one about acid reflux, which was interesting because reflux plagues me. Everything is personal at root. (“The Bees” by Bruce Mackinnon. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/detail/52157)
The other one, the one with the long title that was included in the antho is “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve”. (Easily googled.) To me it doesn’t seem Chinese — it seems like a poem by Sherman Alexie. How much is value driven by simple recognition? But it doesn’t seem like an NA poem either, so what does that say?
I tried to find the writer who used the Chinese pen name, Michael Derrick Hudson. He has disappeared. No job. Phone disconnected. That was his punishment. Sherman Alexie just becomes more famous. Maybe that's a sort of punishment as well. Maybe both need witness protection.