October 11, 2012

My abusive relationship with Sherman Alexie

I've met a lot of authors now, at conventions, readings, or in a classroom setting. For the most part I can avoid gushing like a teenage fangirl. After all, authors are just people. Even famous ones.

But for some reason, Sherman Alexie is different. He makes me nervous, and when I get around him--say, at one of the two recent Seattle readings I attended--I say silly, embarrassing things. What can I say? I just want him to like me.

Why won't you be my friend?

But he never will. Mostly because my fangirlness turns me ridiculous, but also because I am white.

In both of his recent appearances he said stunning things about white people. Things like, "You genocided a really entertaining people."

To me this feels like a slap. I have never genocided anyone. I've never even killed anyone, Indian* or otherwise. I think it should go without saying that no one is guilty of the crimes of his or her ancestors. Furthermore, I'm pretty sure my ancestors' history in this country is too short to include the genocide of which Alexie speaks. One branch of my family immigrated in the 1950s (and probably haven't killed any Indians since). But of course that's not the point.

I can't even imagine how a person of color would take Alexie's statement. Despite his assertion that Seattle is a white city, I saw many non-white faces at both of his readings. Odd that his "you" would exclude all the minorities.

The point seems to be to make white people uncomfortable. I can get behind this, on principle. After all, we're often a bit too comfortable. So when Alexie says that he assumes white Seattlites are racist, I try to look at it from outside my own reflexive defensiveness and consider that perhaps I am racist even though I don't think I am.

The point, I suppose, is to make white people feel like a minority.

But it does kind of hurt my feelings. It feels weird to admire an author who seems to hate me. Why do I do this? Oh, but I do love the words, the wonderful words. I know I'll keep going back.


* "Indian" is Alexie's term; please don't blame me for using it.

7 comments:

  1. Back in 1989, after seeing the Spike Lee film "School Daze" in college to review it and "Joe's Barber Shop, We Cut Heads" for the college paper, I pledged a Black fraternity on campus, Alpha Phi Alpha. The same fraternity Martin Luther King, Jr. belonged to. I lasted through about a week of interviews before they cut me out. Was a strange week, and often I felt like I should be shouldering a tremendous amount of guilt for being white.

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    1. White guilt is a strange thing indeed. I haven't quite wrapped my mind around why some of us go out of our way to feel bad. But I'll bet being the minority for that week was a learning experience in all kinds of ways.

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