Many a high school student has moaned and groaned about a book reading assignment, it can almost be considered a right of passage. When you’re in an Advanced Placement class, which gives you college credit while in high school, these classes typically involve deeper thought and a few extra hours of homework in exchange for a taste of the college life.
One of the AP English Literature books on the curriculum at Arcadia High School in Phoenix is by Native American author and filmmaker Sherman Alexie, whose life and experiences on the Spokane Indian Reservation is the foundation of his award-winning work. “Reservation Blues,” a short story about a mystical guitar that inspires its new owner to form a band and embark on a cross-country tour, pits Alexie’s familiarity of reservation life against the American definition of success: money, fame, and power.
A few Arcadia High students, however, are protesting the book choice; in early 2018, Alexie addressed and acknowledged sexual abuse allegations filed by several women. Therefore, during this brave frontier of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, these students have already played judge and jury, and convicted Alexie of artistic unworthiness. It is this immediate disregard for an artist’s work, where the AP, college-level thinking should kick in for everyone, from the teachers and students, to the parents.
Has anyone looked deeper into the issue? Native Americans are among (if not) THE poorest, THE most neglected, THE most abused of demographics living in the United States. Native. Americans.
In a study the by U.S. Department of Justice by the University of Delaware and University of North Carolina, Wilmington, Native American women are murdered at 10 TIMES the national average. If a non-native commits rape or murder against a Native American on a reservation, the federal government has jurisdiction over those crimes, not the tribal or state police. However, when tribal police submits cases for federal investigation, prosecutors decline over two-thirds of these requests. Where is the recourse and justice for these victims’ families?
Sadly, many forms of abuse have, currently, and will continue to exist on reservations due to bureaucratic loopholes, lack of accessible resources and funding to break the cycle of violence and abuse among Native Americans.
I understand the spirit behind the protest. But if “he abused” is the only reason to protest, then perhaps a better book to read would be his memoir, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” That gives you a better perspective of his life and the perpetuation of alcoholism, abuse, violence, and stereotypes he lived and endured every single day.
I hope the parents of these protestors look further into this too; education is part of being a good parent, not just saying, “I support you, honey.” Perhaps reading up on the background of Alexie will prove to be an educational experience for the entire family? I’m not trying to change minds, but I would want the students to take the time and look through another perspective other than their own.
I’m not defending him in any way. But at least he admitted it, acknowledged what he did, and apologized to his victims. That’s more than others have done lately. The difference is that at least Alexie, a Native American best-selling author (a minority within a minority) can actually afford to hire a therapist and break the cycle. No, he can’t break it on behalf of ALL Native Americans, but he’s breaking it in his own family, his own personal circle, and that’s a ripple that will make a difference in a mighty big pond.
Otherwise, expect others to follow and protest other books, songs, films, and other art, whose creators suffered physical, mental, emotional, alcoholic and other abuses.
Forget works by Poe, Carroll, Hemingway, F. Scott AND Zelda Fitzgerald, Cobain, van Gogh, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, even The Beatles, and many others. Don’t watch anything by Joan Crawford, either.
Abuse doesn’t always have to be visible. All of these artists have abused, been abused, or both.
All artists’ work is a form of self-expression. If you are uncomfortable at viewing art from different perspectives, you are only limiting yourself.
Just look deeper, and look at art from another perspective. Your self-censorship can only make you narrow-minded. You could possibly fail English Lit and History, too.
Evonne S. Avalos is a freelance writer and graduate from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.