Donald N. Yates
A Paper for
“Perspectives on Ethnic Identity: Epigenetics, Marketing, DNA and Genealogy”
90 minute Colloquium
Twelfth International Conference on Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations
Vancouver, British Columbia
June 12, 2012, 14:15-15:15, Room 3
Participants: Teresa A. Panther-Yates (moderator), Dr. Anne Marie Fine, Elizabeth C. Hirschman (virtual participant), Wendy D. Roth, Donald N. Yates
When the phone rings at DNA Consultants or DNA Spectrum, sometimes it is a caller interested in “proving” their ethnic identity for official purposes. One category of calls concerns people wishing to “prove” they are Jewish, and another, people wanting to “prove,” in crude terms, “how much Indian blood I’ve got in me.” The motives and level of information vary widely. We explain, in so many words, that our tests are for private purposes to satisfy one’s desire to find answers about family genetic genealogy, not for legal or administrative use, that the rabbinical courts decide who is Jewish, that the federal government superintends Indian tribes in the United States, determines benefits and, most importantly, does not accept DNA as evidence, demanding rather a paper trail of vital records leading back to a named ancestor on the final rolls, which are based on treaty law. These facts, rattled off daily, are usually the end of the matter, but on occasion, the callers are insistent, even angry about what they perceive as their rights and entitlements, even accusing us of standing in their way, over-charging for a service that should be free and discriminating against them.
After dealing with these issues for years, I have formulated a practical distinction I will use in my paper examining ethnic identity, the difference between an illusion and a delusion. Very loosely defined, an illusion is something society creates. A delusion is something individuals do to themselves. As we shall see, the two are interrelated. It is an illusion that the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma or State of Israel wants to gather up and cherish the remnants of their lost tribes. It is a delusion to believe that you can get an Indian scholarship for your grandchild because your ancestor (usually there is only one allowed per family tree) was an Indian, name and tribe unknown. It is a delusion to believe you are going to find a good, Indian woman (perhaps through eHarmony on the Internet) because you have Indian genes and high cheekbones. This is based on a whole complex of illusions about Indians, the most fundamental of them racist in nature and implication.
Let us have a look at some of the illusions about Indians in literature before we move on to a few mass delusions about them in life and society in the present-day United States. Indigenous people of North America are found throughout British and American fiction, from Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Chief Broom in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to Eva Broussard in Abigail Padgett’s Strawgirl. Two works, however, invite our special attention in this colloquium because of their juxtaposition of Indians and Jews. These are Bernard Malamud’s posthumous, unfinished novel The People and George Tabori’s novella and play “Weisman and Copperface: A Jewish Western.” Both appeared in 1989, and both deal, albeit very differently, with the theme of Jews and Indians. The first is a historical tall-tale modeled on Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians. The second is a thoroughly contemporary story set in New Mexico.
Coming at the end of a long and distinguished career, Malamud’s The People does not seem to fit with anything he had ever attempted before. Its setting is historical, unlike any of his previous work. It takes us back over a hundred years to the 1870s. Its material is equally uncharacteristic, for here is a rip-snorting action tale about a Jewish peddler named Yozip kidnapped by Indians in the Wild West. Malamud’s usual work focuses on urban Jews. In place of the somber reality of tenement houses, sweatshops and grocery stores, we have a weird folktale, a romantic fable with hardly a naturalistic detail in it. The only thing The People does have in common with novels like The Assistant and Dubin’s Lives is the rich humor and vein of mentschlekhayt, a Yiddish word that means “humanity.”
Bernard Malamud was born in Brooklyn in 1914, the son of Ashkenazi Russian immigrant parents Max and Bertha Malamud. He studied at the City College of New York and Columbia University, obtaining an M.A. in 1942. He taught high school in a predominantly black neighborhood in his native Brooklyn and Harlem. In 1945, he married Ann de Chiara, moved to Greenwich Village and was soon publishing short stories. However, it was not until 1952 that he published his first novel, The Natural, a baseball fable. This was followed in 1957 by The Assistant, considered by many people his finest work. In 1959, he received the National Book Award for The Magic Barrel, a collection of short stories dealing with the tragicomic lives of immigrant Jews. It portrayed a world in which reality and fantasy often interlaced, one to which Malamud often returned in his writing. He won the award again, as well as a Pulitzer Prize, for The Fixer (1968). Other books over the years were A New Life (1961), Idiot’s First(1963), Pictures of Fidelman: An Exhibition (1969), The Tenants (1971), Rembrandt’s Hat (1973), Dubin’s Lives (1979), andGod’s Grace(1982). Malamud died of a heart attack in his Manhattan apartment, March 18, 1986, after working that morning on the final chapters of The People. He had made it through most of a first draft with notes for the concluding chapters. This was published in 1989 with some of his last short stories.
The plot of The People unfolds around the year 1870. Yozip Bloom, a bumbling peddler and sometime “copitner” (carpenter) with a thick accent, is wandering through the West with a decrepit wagon and horse named Ishmael. One day, “in a burst of imagination,” he bids adieu to wagon and horse, plucks a gold nugget from a streambed and sets off to find out what is wrong with his life. In a town fifty miles east of Pocatello in Washington State two bad guys shoot his hat off and attempt to make him do a Jew’s dance, but Yozip fells them both with a quick left hook. As a reward he is made the town’s new sheriff.
Yozip is then kidnapped by Indians, who carry him off gagged and blindfolded to a secluded valley. Their old chief wants to recruit Yozip as the People’s advocate to uphold their cause with the lying, thieving, murdering Americans. After passing a series of initiation tests, Yozip becomes a reluctant tribesman. When the old chief dies, he is named the successor. Unsuccessful in talking sense to the Americans, he leads the People on a mad lunge through Montana, just ahead of the U.S. cavalry. This part of the novel is patterned on the attempted escape to Canada by Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé, celebrated for his speech, “From where the sun sits today I will fight no more.” Meanwhile, Jozip, as he is now called, has a romantic entanglement with the old chief’s daughter, One Blossom, and a series of violent confrontations with the braves, foremost among them Indian Head. The Indians’ bid for freedom ends with a devastating massacre. Jozip surrenders on behalf of the tribe, the Indians are shipped off in cattle cars to a reservation in Kansas, and he returns to Chicago. Here he at first joins a circus as a White Indian but later “enrolls in night school to study law in order to help the Indians fight persecution and injustice.”
There are many comic episodes in The People, but perhaps the funniest is the initial meeting between Sheriff Yozip and the old Chief Joseph. Yozip is released from his fetters to find himself in a “tall teepee that rose like a mast above the earth.” After relieving his bladder, he turns to the “weather-faced” chief.
The old Indian cast off his ceremonial bonnet with a suppressed yawn. . . The chief grunted. He touched a finger to himself, then to Yozip. “We meet equal.”
Yozip agreed in principle.
“We seek to do what the Great Spirit told us when this earth fell from the ocean sky. The sun and moon were candles. All men come from the Great Spirit, who made us born as men. His name is Quodish. Man spoke his words. They spoke then in one tongue. Quodish is the sun who is sacred.
“Is it not so?” he asked Yozip.
“To me this is reasonable,” Yozip answered. “And if a man tulks to me reasonable I don’t say to him no. . . .”
“You must speak my words to the white man,” said the chief . . . .
“You, with your name . . . .”
“As the moons change so does the world change. I have told my braves that the old moons are gone, and now is the time for new change, but never of our forests or sky.”
The chief nodded and Yozip nodded. They were sitting cross-legged on the ground.
“We are an ancient tribe,” said the chief. “Some call us the first of this land. Our ancestors said they were the children of Quodish. We live in his word. We speak his name in our hearts. We touch our heads when we think of him. I say my words to him. Do you understand what I mean?”
“Of cuss,” said Yozip, though he did not say what the words might mean.
“We are descended from the first tribe.”
“This I understand. From the first comes the second.”
“Where do you come from?” asked the chief.
“I come from Russia. I am a socialist.”
“What is socialist?”
“We believe in a better world. Not to hurt but to help people.”
“These are our words too,” said the old chief. “We are the People.”
“Amen,” said Yozip.
This scene introduces several similarities between Jews, who are the disadvantaged and despised people of Europe, and Indians, their downtrodden equivalents in the New World. It establishes pacifism as a quality Yozip and the old chief both have in common. And it brings the first mention of Quodish, a word that reminds us of kaddish, the Jewish ritual blessing of the name of God.
Malamud had seized upon the idea of writing about Indians at Oregon State College in Corvallis thirty years before. Admitting later that with each new book he liked to challenge his imaginative skills, in The People he seemed to realize that he was stretching them to the limit. His notes show a meticulous record of research into the Salish Indian culture. He made lists of actual Nez Percé names he might use, though he ended up choosing imaginary, and humorous, ones: Wilderness Man, Split Jug, Fast Turtle, One-Leg-Is-Bad, Small House, Foxglove . . . .
Indian characters are notoriously hard to develop. While Malamud does not exactly shrink from the demands of the task, he also is not afraid of stereotypes. We can imagine Woody Allen (“Zelig”) playing Yozip and Floyd Westerman (Seven Bears in “Dances with Wolves”) as the old chief. Both Jew and Indian are caricatures, one a schlemiel, the other a Hollywood parody of the medicine man who waits for his tribe to be saved by a white brother arriving from afar. Malamud excels, of course, in combining the realistic and supernatural; one has only to think of Levine, the black angel in one of his stories in The Magic Barrel. His characterizations are even-handed, at least, and neither Jews nor Indians are spared. In general, though, the Indians constitute round, believable characters who do undergo change in the course of the narrative. As Irving Howe puts it, “They may be of a kind never seen in heaven or on earth, but in Malamud’s fable they come to be impressive and stately figures,”
At one point Yozip asks, “But how can I be an Indian if I was born in Zbrish, in Russia?” The old chief counters that his “true color” is red (a definition of Indianness). The two are natural brothers and symbolically carry the same name. When Yozip goes to Washington to argue the People’s case before the government, the Indian Commissioner questions his ancestry with the sneer, “Do you refer to American Indians or to Hebrews,” implying the two have nothing to do with each other. Yozip is anguished. He leaves the Commissioner’s presence as “a half-ass Hebrew Indian.”
Gradually, Jozip/Yozip accepts his fate and even begins to assert a sort of Indian character, much as Frank in The Assistantovercomes his fears and hatred and becomes a Jew, marrying Morris the storekeeper’s daughter. Malamud’s fiction is full of such reluctant cases of people finding themselves. The human experience as lived by a Jew provides his usual basic subject matter, and being Jewish is often his central metaphor. He once said, “There are more Jews around than one sees or knows of. And because I think this is so I have defined a Jew as a person who wants to be one.” All Jews, then, are Jews by choice. In The People, however, Malamud gives this theme a twist. The main character becomes an Indian because he wants to be one. He is an Indian by choice and cannot do otherwise. The beauty of the Indian way of life, represented by his love of One Blossom, dictates the stern morality and quasi-religious affirmation and commitment Yozip finds in the end. It is a transcendent metamorphosis fraught with ambiguity both for him and for others – the Indians, the government and the public, who marvel at the White Indian in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
It is a pity the novel was not finished. The last few scenes were planned to include a blessing pronounced on the fallen maiden One Blossom, in other words a sort of mourner’s kaddish for the vanished People. This was to be followed by a “Hasidic’ dance of the recovered self,” thus effectively fusing Jewishness and Indianness. The end of the novel was to be a “rejoicing of life when the self seems annealed.” Jew and Indian were to be perfectly and naturally joined. What began as a “jokey” fable will end as a mystical experience. “In remembering [our ancestors], the artist awakens in himself compassion for their memory as well as for all suffering humanity; and in doing so affirms the value of the individual human life,” wrote Malamud.
Jewish Indian chief Solomon Bibo. New Mexico Historical Society, Santa Fe.
Though Malamud’s choice of American Indians as a foil for the Jewish ethos may strike us as singular to the point of being odd, he did not write in a total vacuum. He followed a very well-worn tradition. The three giants of twentieth-century American Hebrew poetry all cultivate this theme. The first to do so was Benjamin Nahun Silkiner. His Indian epic titled Mul ohel Timmura(Before the Tent of Timmura) appeared in 1910. After him came Israel Efros (1891-1971), who used Native American motifs in a more naturalistic way in a historical poem about the Jewish Pocahontas (Silent Wigwams, 1933). The third, Ephraim E. Lisitzky (1885-1962), wrote an ambitious epic of more than 300 pages cast somewhat dubiously in the thumping meter of Longfellow’sHiawatha (Dying Campfires, 1937). Lisitzky later turned his hand to a collection of poems about the black experience, In the Tents of Kush (1953).
In addressing such themes, these émigré intellectuals show they recoiled from the crass materialism of the United States and found congenial alter egos in the country’s marginalized minorities. They gravitated to Indians because Indians were the most attractive novelties the New World had to offer them in the way of material. Indians represented unconquered material that could give the emerging medium of Hebrew poetry a distinctively American flavor. Moreover, among European Jews, the Lost Tribes theory was not completely dead. Silkiner, Efros and Lisitzky transformed “into a strange yet potent truth the misbegotten notion . . . that the Indians were Jews, according to the critic Michael Weingrad.
For Silkiner, the figure of the Indian becomes “a dark mirror in which the poet could contemplate the most extreme Jewish hopes and fears,” writes Weingrad. The conquest of his fictional Silent Tribe by the brutal Spaniards functions for him as a meditation on the possibility of Jewish annihilation in his own day. The tale of the hero Mugiral is “a chronicle of his own soul.” In exactly the same way, Efros uses the image of the Indian as “a product of the author’s personal concerns.” His story of Tom, a young English painter, who falls in love with the daughter of a Nanticoke Indian chief, Lalari, is “deeply infected . . . by Jewish history.” Sadly, the Indians in all these works by American Hebrew poets meet tragic ends; not a few commit suicide.
Lisitzky pays homage to Indians, too, though his treatment of them is generic and sentimental, according to Weingrad. Thus, we find them living
their lives in innocence and righteousness, hunting their game, catching their fish, fighting their wars and smoking their peace-pipes, singing their songs, dancing their dances, and raising up prayer to “the Great Spirit.”
Lisitzky’s white men are equally banal figures, arrogant, hypocritical and cruel. Although he draws from authentic folktales – Ojibwe, Seneca, Mohawk, Onondaga, Shawnee, Kwakiutl, Hopi, Menominee, Cree and Algonkin, among others – his Indians are all the same. True to his upbringing in the values of haskalah (the humanistic enlightenment period of European Jewry), Lisitzky gently civilizes them and silently improves them. In a sense, they are turned into good Jews. One of his heroes, Nanpiwati, becomes a champion of peace and brotherhood, but is then victimized in a way that would appeal to the Jewish love of martyrdom. The analogy with Judaism becomes unavoidable in the tale of how the people cooperatively push up the sky to make more room for human existence. Lisitzky explicitly links this to the destiny of the Jewish nation since Sinai. On a different occasion he returns to the same parable to make a point that it is Jews who have the responsibility of raising skies. This is perhaps a reference to the concept of tikkun olam, or perfecting the world. Weingrad believes he “merely uses an Indian tale for Jewish purposes,” oblivious that this leaves him open to the charge of “cultural imperialism, exploiting selected Indian tales to foist upon them Western values, ethical precepts, morals or messages which are otherwise seldom, if ever, enunciated.”
However wooden the Indians of twentieth century Hebrew literature may be, these representations do pave the way for writers like Malamud to compare what it means to be a Jew with what it means to be an Indian. Perhaps it is no coincidence for Malamud that the names Diné, Lenni Lenape, Anishnabe, Ani-Yunwiya and a host of others all mean “people” in the language of each particular tribe. Evidently, this opens the door for a meditation on what it means to be human, as a modern Jew might praise another human being for being a mentsh (“man” in Yiddish).
Not only in literature but also in society, American Jews have maintained a high degree of sympathy with Indians. The list of those who have advanced their cause is impressive. It ranges from the founders of the New York-based advocate group Association on American Indian Affairs and Felix Cohen, creator of the authoritative Handbook of Federal Indian Law, to Professor Stan Steiner, architect of Native American Educational Services College in Chicago, the country’s only institution of higher education chartered, owned, staffed and attended exclusively by American Indians.
If Malamud’s hero is a Jew who becomes an Indian, the next protagonist is best understood as an Indian who becomes a Jew. Copperface in George Tabori’s Weisman und Rotgesicht (1989) is a more deliberate and thought-provoking blend of the two ethnic types. This “Jewish Western,” as the subtitle calls it, dramatizes an encounter in modern-day New Mexico between Holocaust survivor/underwear salesman Arnold Weisman and the half-breed Rotgesicht. The German word means literally Redface, but it is translated in the English version of the play as Copperface. Weisman and his “Mongoloid” daughter (I am quoting the language of the play) Ruth are headed for New York City with an urn containing Mrs. Weisman’s ashes, which in accordance with her wishes they intend to scatter in a park at the corner of Riverside Drive and 99th Street. Leaving the main highway, they get lost in the desert around Santa Fe, where a hunter steals their car and leaves them to be rescued by an Indian who rides up on a mule. This is Rotgesicht, who tells them he is the descendant of a Cherokee chief. As is revealed in time, however, he is actually Geegee Goldberg, the product of a mixed marriage between a “squaw” named Juanita and a wandering Jew named Goldberg. This incongruity is probably inspired by the real-life story of the Jewish Indian chief Solomon Bibo, who married the Acoma Pueblo woman Juana (fig. 15.1)
In the climax of the action, an act of the play titled “High Noon,” Weisman and Rotgesicht have a contest of words and exchange boasts about all the suffering endured by their respective peoples. Weisman drops dead of a heart attack, Ruthie dumps her mother’s ashes on her father’s head and rides off with Rotgesicht. We come to realize the mule represents the hybrid nature of Rotgesicht’s mixed parentage, just as Ruth’s being called a “Mongoloid” pokes fun at the “Mongolian” origin of Indians.
According to critic Lillian Friedberg, Tabori’s subversive slapstick raises not only the “Jewish Question” of how Jews should lead their lives, but also the “Indian Question.” Both are handled provocatively, without any definite resolution. The action of the play skids and swerves along in “a complex network of persecutory and racist mechanisms, both internal and external, that lead to the situation in which Indian identity [is challenged] by the dominant culture in much the same way as Jewish identity in the Diaspora,” writes Friedberg. Tabori adopts a Native American setting to explore the question of identity much as Malamud operates from an explicitly Jewish point of view.
Tabori was born in Budapest on May 24, 1914 and died in 2007. Over a long career, he lived in Berlin, Israel, Egypt, London, New York, Hollywood and, after 1987, Vienna. He produced a stream of novels, short stories, screenplays, radio dramas and stage plays during his long life. The Buechner Prize Committee in 1992 considered that his work brought “nearly the whole history of Germans and Jews onto the stage.” Among those dramas are Masada (after Josephus), My Mother’s Courage (about his mother’s escape from deportation to a death camp in 1944), Mein Kampf (which stars a young Adolf Hitler living in a basement with two Jews), and a host of adaptations of great writers, including Shakespeare, Kafka, Brecht and Descartes. The radio play Frohes Fest(Happy Holiday, 1979) parodies the cult of Christmas through the eyes of an American Indian foreign correspondent in Bavaria who is beaten and stripped by three Santa Claus figures and left naked in the snow –another exploration of the theme of Indians and Jews in a hostile climate.
One character in Tabori’s Cannibals casually observes, “You do not become a Jew. You are reminded of being one.” The same could be said of Tabori, who never set foot in a synagogue in his life and was seven-years-old before his family even told him of his Jewish heritage. Like many Jews of the Habsburgian Austro-Hungarian Empire the Taboris were thoroughly secularized. They converted to Catholicism, though they were non-believers and non-practitioners in that faith as well—Crypto-Jews in reverse.
Despite his dissembled origins, though, most of Tabori’s work deals on some level with Jewishness and anti-Semitism. These themes are pursued against a philosophical backdrop that often raises the question: Which is better, to be a victim or a perpetrator? Such a question underlies Weisman and Rotgesicht’s duel of wits, with each striving to prove he has a monopoly on suffering. It is little more than a “pissing contest” until Rotgesicht suddenly confesses his bastard Jewish parentage. The tension in the play comes from our uncertainty about his identity, of course. As Friedberg puts it, “It is not quite clear whether Rotgesicht is a self-hating Jewish actor in Redface or a self-deprecating Indian actor in Whiteface.” Finally, Rotgesicht is unmasked as a half-breed Jew, a “redface minstrel.” He wins the contest.
As the counterfoil to Weisman, Rotgesicht is neither red, nor white nor Jew. He is a “son of a bitch,” which is actually the title of a previous version. And so he rides off into the sunset with his retarded bride on the Road to Nowhere. It is a scathing, but somehow satisfying, conclusion in what may as well have been a Western concocted by Mel Brooks and Franz Kafka.
A scene from the play Weisman und Rotgesicht: the Jewish Indian comically debates with a Holocaust survivor while the latter’s daughter Ruth looks on. Photo Petra Winkelhardt.
The figure of Rotgesicht with his complicated identity raises an interesting point. Jewish Indians as Jewish Indians are subject not just to a double but to a quadruple form of misunderstanding. We see the double form in the way in which Yozip/Jozip, his very name a dichotomy, is challenged by the commissioner in Washington and taunted by the two outlaw brothers. Neither anti-Semitism nor the “metaphysics of Indian hating” (Melville’s phrase) needs to be explained. They are familiar enough. What compounds the situation are the other two varieties of racism: Jew against Jew and Indian against Indian. Ashkenazi Jews often pick on their more secularized Sephardic counterparts, while official, “real” Indians like to show they can “out-Indian” the Wannabes. Let us look first at the latter phenomenon.
In an article in the American Indian Quarterly that appeared the same year as Malamud and Tabori’s pieces, William Quinn distils his work experiences as an “ethnohistorian” at the Bureau of Indian Affairs into a sort of legal brief on the subject of Wannabe Indians. “The Southeast Syndrome: Notes on Indian Descendant Recruitment Organizations” argues that Native American cultural associations in that region of the country are not Indian tribes; they do not deserve federal recognition and in fact do not even qualify as “authentic.” In this position lurks a denial of Indian historicity that is similar to the disbelief many choose to harbor about the Jewish Holocaust. All Indians must “vanish” as though they had never existed. Quinn has a deep-seated antipathy toward any ethnicity that does not conform to the dominant, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, male technocracy of contemporary America.
He defines the Southeast Syndrome in a very precise way. It is a resurgence of Indian identity or “pan-Indianism” among descendants “and others” in the former territories of the Five Civilized Tribes. The brief historical background he gives by way of a lead-in is not very sympathetic to Indians real or imagined. We encounter the same truisms found in most U.S. history textbooks. What is original on Quinn’s part is the sleight of hand that comes next. The Indians who remain behind after the force removals of the 1830s suddenly become descendants of Indians, not actual Indians per se. True Indians have been relegated to history, at least in the reservation-free (we are tempted to say judenrein) Eastern states.
Not all the Indians of the southeastern tribes, however, went west. Small bands of Cherokee, Creek, and other tribes either hid in the hills, swamps, or similarly remote places or obtained official permission to remain. Others, mostly individuals of mixed blood, simply relocated to the next county or area where they were not known as Indian and homesteaded or otherwise established themselves as white by repudiating, at least publicly, their Indian heritage.
Note that in the eyes of the government, these “individuals of mixed blood” cease to be Indians once they are severed from their tribe. Their children and grandchildren are merely “descendants,” some of them only alleged and unproved descendants at that. These watered down versions of the Indians of history strive for a legitimate status they will never obtain. Since they do not live in Indian Country they cannot be Indian. Because they are modern and contemporary they cannot be granted any historicity.
There are disturbing subtexts of a racist nature here. Quinn hints that the mixed bloods were the result of miscegeny in the first place. Some white men will always want to “go Injun” on you! Even though the mixed bloods were once bona fide members of Indian communities, at a time when Indian nations enjoyed autonomy and power, their descendants must be repudiated.
To Quinn’s horror, these “descendant organizations” actively recruit members, apply for federal and state recognition as Indian tribes (a process which if it is successful brings entitlements such as educational assistance) and promote what he judges to be a phony, unfounded culture, one based on books and media images. He describes the movement in alarmist words:
First, it has given rise to individuals identifying themselves as Indian whose ancestry has no documentable Indian heritage or whose claim to Indian ancestry is simply bogus. Such people are usually enamored of a romantic image of the noble Indian, so they applicably identify with this image and usually assume an Indian name, certain costume and ornamental trappings. Second, whether there is any Indian blood in their family lines or not, most of the culturally non-Indian people identifying as Indian have distorted notions of Indian cultures, issues, and history—notions which have their bases more in films and novels than in fact . . . . Related to these common images of the Indian stereotype is an ideology best described as a belief in the “Indian way.” Analogous to the teachings, or general philosophy of fraternal organizations, the “Indian way” among members of these groups is used in the sense of propriety in their behavior toward one another.
According to Quinn, the requirements for an American Indian group to exist as a “tribe” presuppose
that a single Indian group has existed since its first sustained contact with European cultures on a continuous basis to the present; that its members live in a distinct autonomous community perceived by others as Indian; that it has maintained some sort of authority with a governing system by which its members abide; that all its members can be traced genealogically to an historic tribe; and that it can provide evidence to substantiate all of this.
What seems to worry Quinn most are the ridiculous lengths to which Wannabes will go to give themselves the appearance of being Indian. The horrors of “reverse acculturation” are specifically mentioned:
While the usual pattern of acculturation among members of more traditional Indian tribes has been to assume gradually the technologic material culture of modernity, these individuals in organizations epitomizing the Southeast Syndrome reverse this process. With their cultural starting points being indigenes of our modern, technologic society, they aspire retrochronologically [sic] to their images of pan-Indian culture wherein chiefs wear war bonnets, everyone wears moccasins, naturalism is sacrosanct, and the “Indian way” is practiced. This is often accompanied by an apparently perfunctory depreciation of modern material culture.
About the best Quinn can make of this behavior is that the “descendants” suffer from a form of “selective perception.” Having played lawyer, and God, he now plays psychologist. These illegitimate groups are probably “harmless and may indeed serve as a method for the externalization of unconscious archetypes or suppressed elements within the psyche.” But they still constitute a serious burden to “the solemn guardians of Indian rights and dedicated champions of Indian causes.”
Why is Quinn so hostile to Indian culture? Why does he approve only of “his” Native Americans? And how are “Indian recruitment organizations” different from Masonic lodges, Polish-American Leagues, the Sierra Club, churches, professional associations like the Guild of Graphic Artists, genealogical societies or even trade associations?
The answers touch on a type of racism we can observe in another group: the exclusivity many Jews show toward other Jews. As suggested by the Jewish writers glanced at in this chapter, there are two types of Jews, the “white” assimilated Jew, often unduly entranced by the materialism of the New World, and “other” Jew, more ethnic, pious, poor and suffering, but also mystical and noble. Sometimes they appear in the same person, with a consequential see-sawing between self-loathing and self-congratulation. These two ethnic breeds are replaced, or displaced, by good and bad Indians in the work of Efros and Silkiner. Tabori gives his Weisman character the choice of becoming a “white” Jew (the perpetrator) or the other “brown” kind (a victim). Weisman chooses to be a victim and he dies in passivity; his counterpart Rotgesicht takes action and rides off the victor. Weisman ends up being a good Jew and Rotgesicht, a bad Indian. A clue to Rotgesicht’s true nature is his bland, good-ole-American disguise of “redface,” artificially produced by a layer of Coppertone tanning cream.
The opposition between the two types of Jews is demonstrated by the Cold War that sometimes erupts on a social level between Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Subconsciously, and sometimes overtly, the former claim to be “more” Jewish than the latter. Underneath this antagonism is a denial of historicity to Spanish Crypto-Jews. The classic study of this problem is B. Netanyahu’s The Marranos of Spain, in which it is resolved by an appeal to halakhic law.
With a sophistry worthy of the Office of Recognition, Netanyahu first takes care to distinguish the New Christians in post-1391 Spain from the Anusim (“Forced Ones”) of an earlier era.
The forced convert is not an outright traitor, as the real convert was considered to be, but he is nevertheless a cowardly deserter; he should realize that he has committed a disgraceful act and his bearing should be one of shame and humiliation; only a long process of repentance through sufferance could obliterate his shame and sin . . . . What can be deduced . . . regarding the shifting attitudes among the conversos toward both Christianity and Judaism can be safely summarized as follows. The attachment to Judaism was weakening; the trend toward Christianity was intensified . . . . The conversion of many, which was at first forced, ended as a voluntary one . . . the number of real renegades was alarmingly increasing.
The theory that the Marrano camp as a whole is to be regarded a Jewish camp appears fictitious even when applied to that early period [fifteenth century]. Already then it was drifting away from the Jewish fold . . . .
The Marranos ought to be treated realistically according to what they actually were – not unwilling, but willingconverts, and consequently traitors to the Jewish religion and enemies of the Jewish people.
Netanyahu stacks the cards against Marranos using much the same strategy as the U.S. government does with Indians. But in both cases, it is a denial of historicity.
Wannabe Indians are scorned by “real” Indians because they pick and choose what customs they will adopt, because they have “a distorted notion of the way in which Indians live and behave in the 1980s,” according to Quinn. In Netanyahu, Crypto-Jews are likewise looked down upon because their practice of Judaism is “limited to the performance of certain Jewish rites only.” Neither Marranos nor Wannabe Indians have met their quota of suffering. They are thus not entitled to the “official” standing of a reservation Indian or Holocaust survivor.
Now I will be happy to take your questions and comments.