Saturday, March 20, 2010

Watching Avatar While Human

In “Watching Avatar While White” @ Booklife, Cynthia Ward says, "In the worlds of Pandora and the imaginary Dances “Wild West” and Burroughs’ Mars and Tarzan, a white man doesn’t just find himself redeemed from his impure, inharmonious, and sinful state. He finds himself redeemed specifically from the evils of colonialism, slavery, and the other forms of oppression that whites have imposed upon people of color for centuries."

I left this response:
The whole “redemption” idea only makes sense if you buy into the essentially Christian redemption concepts of contemporary anti-racist theory. If you don’t, if for example you’re a working class soldier who has been following bad orders, joining the other team may not have anything to do with redemption. It may just be about doing the right thing, no matter which side you start on.

The idea that Avatar is all about white guys is also at odds with Palestinians becoming Navi to dramatize Zionist oppression.

By the way, did John Carter have slaves? I never got the impression that he was one of the 300,000 rich folks who controlled the Confederacy. Being an officer suggests he has some money, but not enough to buy himself a generalship. I think one could assume Carter was like Robert E. Lee, someone who was opposed to slavery, but thought his state was more important than his nation.

Also, whites did join American Indian tribes. Google one of my favorite examples, Simon Girty, or see, for example, this site:

The native people of this continent tend to see people in tribal (ie, cultural) terms, not racial ones. There are exceptions, of course, like the modern Cherokee, but they’ve adopted the racial outlooks that Europeans brought to this continent.

Mind you, I think Avatar’s a flawed film, and making the hero the guy who rode the biggest bird was overkill, but “white” people are not the only people who write stories about outsiders who become champions. It’s a fairly common element of folktales everywhere. It’s about belonging.
I'm tempted to elaborate on what so-called redemption stories may actually be about. Justice and enlightenment should be on the list.

And the notion that Native Americans were racist rather than tribalist should also be tested with the example of Quanah Parker, the great chief of the Comanches who is seen as half-white by racists and racialists, but as Comanche by tribalists and nationalists.

ETA: Apologies for using "Native Americans" rather than "American Indians" above. I've been reading too many posts by anti-racists. I do know American Indian is generally the preferred term.


  1. Gah, you are more polite than I would have been. That is the kind of person I want to beat about the head with a cluebat. I mean, we just had St. Patrick's Day, Irish history and stuff. Cromwell, Barbados, several hundred years of oppression, and you can't get much whiter than the Irish.

    Besides that, the implication of some universal "white guilt" is offensive in and of itself. My family never owned slaves as far back as I can trace, and were victims of oppression and class pressure rather than dishing it out. Feeling guilty about what one group did to another years ago is vaguely ridiculous, and if you want to lump all Caucasians as "white", then suppose I should feel guilty about killing the jews too, since Hitler was white. Bah.

  2. I like Cynthia, so it was easy to stay polite. If she'd been among the anti-racists who ran around last year calling anyone who disagreed with them a racist, I might've been tempted to be more blunt. But really, it's like being angry with a Scientologist for believing in Scientology--it's the theory that's flawed, not the person. Getting angry with them just makes them more convinced you're a wog, a tool of Xenu.