Cultural Identity In America Literature Reader I english 235 Prof. Jesse Schwartz

Download 1.33 Mb.
Size1.33 Mb.
  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   30
Cultural Identity In America Literature Reader I

English 235

Prof. Jesse Schwartz

Fall II 2014

Table of Contents:

George Yúdice: “Culture” keyword 3

Krista Silva Greusz: “America” keyword 7
William Apess: “The Indians’ Looking-Glass for the White Man” 11

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 (excerpts) 16

Frederick Douglass: “What To The Slave Is The Fourth Of July?” 18
Walter Johnson: “Slavery” keyword 32
Ronald Takaki: A Different Mirror Chapter One 35
W.E.B. Du Bois: Selections from The Souls Of Black Folk 47
Charles Chesnutt: “The Goophered Grapevine” 60
Chesnutt “The Wife of His Youth” 68

Chesnutt “What is A White Man?” 76

Chesnutt “The Passing of Grandison” 80
Paul Laurence Dunbar: “The Scapegoat” 91

Dunbar: “The Lynching of Jube Benson” 100

Jose Marti “Our America” 105
Charlotte Perkins Gilman: “The Yellow Wallpaper” 110
Kate Chopin: “Desiree’s Baby” 120
Chopin: “At The ‘Cadian Ball” 123

Chopin: “The Storm” 131

Chopin: “The Story of an Hour” 137
George Washington Cable: “Tite Poulette” 139
Matthew Pratt Guterl: “South” keyword 156
Sui Sin Far: “Leaves From The Mental Portfolio Of An Eurasian” 158

Far: “A Love Story From A Rice Field In China” 170

Onoto Watanna: “The Japanese in New York” 174
Watanna: “His Interpreter” 179
Abraham Cahan: Yekl 194
Ania Yezierska “My Own People” 255

Yezierska: “How I Found America” 264


George Yúdice



The concept of “culture” has had widespread use since the late eighteenth century, when it was synonymous with civilization and still indicated a sense of cultivation and growth derived from its Latin root colere, which also included in its original meanings “inhabit” (as in colonize), “protect,” and “honor with worship” (as in cult). According to Raymond Williams (1976), the noun form took, by extension, three inflections hat encompass most of its modern uses: intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic development; the way of life of a people, group, or humanity in general; and the works and practices of intellectual and artistic activity (music, literature, painting, theater, and film, among many others). Although Williams considers the last to be the most prevalent usage, the extension of anthropology to urban life and the rise of identity politics in the 1980s (two changes that have left a mark on both cultural studies and American studies) have given greater force to the communal definition, particularly since this notion of culture serves as a warrant for legitimizing identity-based group claims and for differentiating among groups, societies, and nations. More recently, the centrality of culture as the spawning ground of creativity, which in turn is the major resource in the so-called new economy, has opened up a relatively unprecedented understanding of culture in which all three usages are harnessed to utility.

The meaning of culture varies within and across disciplines, thus making it difficult to narrate a neat linear history. Nevertheless, one can discern a major dichotomy between a universalist notion of development and progress, and a pluralistic or relativistic understanding of diverse and incommensurate cultures that resist change from outside and cannot be ranked according to one set of criteria. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, universalist formulations understood culture as a disinterested end in itself (Kant 1790/1952), and aesthetic judgment as the foundation for all freedom (Schiller 1794/1982). Anglo-American versions of this universalism later linked it to specific cultural canons: Matthew Arnold (1869/1971, 6) referred to culture as “the best which has been thought and said in the world” and posed it as an antidote to “anarchy”; T. S. Eliot (1949, 106) legitimated Europe’s claim to be “the highest culture that the world has ever known.” Such assertions, which justified U.S. and European imperialism, are currently disputed in postcolonial studies (Said 1993), but they were already rejected early on by defenders of cultural pluralism and relativism such as Johann Gottfried von Herder (1766/2002), who argued that each particular culture has its own value that cannot be measured according to criteria derived from another culture. This critique of the culture-civilization equation had its ideological correlate, first formulated by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (1845-46/1972), in the premise that culture is the superstructure that emanates from the social relations involved in economic production; hence, it is simply a translation of the ruling class’s domination into the realm of ideas.

The view of culture—and the civilizing process—as a form of control is consistent with the recent turn in cultural studies and cultural policy toward a focus on the ways in which institutions discipline populations. In the post-Enlightenment, when sovereignty is posited in the people, the institutions of civil society deploy “culture” as a means of internalizing control, not in an obviously coercive manner but by constituting citizens as well-tempered, manageable subjects who collaborate in the collective exercise of power (T. Miller 1993; Bennett 1995). The universal address of cultural institutions, ranging from museums to literary canons, tends either to obliterate difference or to stereotype it through racist and imperialist appropriation and scientism, sexist exclusion and mystification, and class-based narratives of progress. Populations that “fail” to meet standards of taste or conduct, or that “reject culture” because it is defined against their own values, are subject to constitutive exclusion with n these canons and institutions (Bourdieu 1987). Challenges to these exclusions generate a politics of representational proportionality such that culture becomes the space of incremental incorporation whereby diverse social groups struggle to establish their intellectual, cultural, and moral influence over each other. Rather than privilege the role of the economic in determining social relations, this process of hegemony, first described by Antonio Gramsci (1971, 247), pays attention to the “multiplicity of fronts” on which struggle must take place. The Gramscian turn in cultural studies (American and otherwise) is evident in Williams’s (1977/97, 108–9) incorporation of hegemony into his focus on the “whole way of life”: “[Hegemony] is in the strongest sense a ‘culture,’ but a culture which has also to be seen as the lived dominance and subordination of particular classes.”

But hegemony is not synonymous with domination. It also names the realm in which subcultures and subaltern groups wield their politics in the registers of style and culture (Hebdige 1979). Indeed, in societies like the United States, where needs are often interpreted in relation to identity factors and cultural difference, culture becomes a significant ground for extending a right to groups that have otherwise been excluded on those terms. The very notion of cultural citizenship implies recognition of cultural difference as a basis for making claims. This view has even been incorporated in epistemology to capture the premise that groups with different cultural horizons have different and hence legitimate bases for construing knowledge; they develop different “standpoint epistemologies” (Haraway 1991; Delgado Bernal 1998). The problem is that bureaucracies often establish the terms by which cultural difference is recognized and rewarded. In response, some subcultures (and their spokespersons) reject bureaucratic forms of recognition and identification, not permitting their identities and practices to become functional in the process of “governmentality,” the term Michel Foucault (1982, 21) uses to capture “the way in which the conduct of individuals or groups might be directed.” On this view, strategies and policies for inclusion are an exercise of power through which, in the U.S. post–civil rights era, institutional administrators recognize women, “people of color,” and gays and lesbians as “others” according to a multiculturalist paradigm, a form of recognition that often empowers those administrators to act as “brokers” of otherness (Cruikshank 1994).

These contemporary struggles over cultural citizenship and recognition can be traced to earlier battles over the attributes according to which anthropologists and sociologists in the 1950s and 1960s catalogued certain non-European and minority populations as “cultures of poverty.” This diagnostic label, first formulated by Oscar Lewis in 1959, references the presumed characterological traits—passivity, apathy, and impulsivity—that in underdeveloped societies impede social and economic mobility. We see at work here the narrative of progress and civilization that had been the frame within which anthropology emerged more than a hundred years earlier. Most anthropologists’ method had been comparative in a non-relativistic sense, as they assumed that all societies passed through a single evolutionary process from the most primitive to the most advanced. Culture, which has been variously defined as the structured set or pattern of behaviors, beliefs, traditions, symbols, and practices (Tylor 1871; Boas 1911; Benedict 1934; Mead 1937; Kroeber and Kluckhohn 1952) by means of which humans “communicate, perpetuate and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life” (Geertz 1965, 86), was the ground on which anthropologists, even into the 1920s, sought to track the origins of all societies as well as their progress toward (European and/or Anglo-American) modernity.

In partial contrast, the relativist or pluralist cultural anthropology (often associated with Franz Boas) that arose during the 1920s began to critique the scientific racism that underwrote many of these accounts, to question the premise that any such accounting could be objective, and to argue that there were neither superior nor inferior cultures (Boas 1928). Nevertheless, Boas and his U.S. and Latin American followers (Kroeber 1917; Freyre 1933; Benedict 1934; Mead 1937; Ortiz 1946) believed that culture could be studied objectively, as a science, so long as description and analysis were not hamstrung by the anthropologist’s cultural horizon. Many of the U.S. studies were explicitly designed, in Margaret Mead’s words, to “giv[e] Americans a sense of their particular strengths as a people and of the part they may play in the world” (1942/1965, xlii).

By the end of the 1950s (coincident with the rise of cultural studies in Britain and American studies in the United States), the Boasian legacy as well as other salient anthropological tendencies such as British structural-functionalism and U.S. evolutionism waned and other trends rose in influence: symbolic anthropology (culture as social and action by means of symbols [Geertz 1965]), cultural ecology (culture as a means of adaptation to environment and maintenance of social systems [M. Harris 1977]), and structuralism (culture as a universal grammar arranged in binary oppositions that rendered intelligible the form of a society [Lévi-Strauss 1963]). These largely systemic analyses then gave way in the 1980s to a focus on practice, action, and agency as the main categories of anthropological explanation, and also to a self-reflexivity that put the very enterprise of cultural analysis in question. Self-reflexive or postmodern anthropology criticized the writing practices of ethnographers for obscuring the power relations that subtend the ethnographic encounter, the status of the knowledge that is derived from that encounter, the relationship of ethnography to other genres (Marcus and Fisher 1986; Clifford and Marcus 1986), and even the analytical and political usefulness of the concept of culture itself (Abu-Lughod 1991; Gupta and Ferguson 1992; R. Fox 1995). Related developments in postcolonial studies focused on transnational hybridity in contradistinction to national cultural homogeneity. With the introduction of television and other electronic media, mass migrations from former colonies to metropolitan centers, and modern transportation and communications technologies, cultures could no longer be imagined as circumscribed by national boundaries. Metaphors like montage and pastiche replaced the melting pot in accounts of Brazilian culture (Schwarz 1970/1992; Santiago 1971/1973), echoing Néstor García Canclini’s description of popular culture as the product of “‘complex hybrid processes’ in which signs from diverse classes and nations’ are combined” (Dunn 2001, 97; García Canclini 1995; Appadurai 1996). More recently, García Canclini (2004) has added access to new information and communication technologies as another dimension to consider when weighing the effects that globalization has on culture-based understandings of difference and equality.

For many U.S. scholars, this troubling of culture as a category of analysis opened up a critique of the ways in which culture expanded in the late twentieth century to serve as an almost knee-jerk descriptor of nearly any identity group. While this expansion responds to the political desire to incorporate “cultures of difference” within (or against) the mainstream, it often ends up weakening culture’s critical value. Especially frustrating for critics working in these fields is the cooptation of local culture and difference by a relativism that becomes indifferent to difference, and by a cultural capitalism that feeds off and makes a profit from difference (Eagleton 2000). If a key premise of modernity is that tradition is eroded by the constant changes introduced by industrialization, new divisions of labor, and concomitant effects such as migration and consumer capitalism, recent theories of disorganized capitalism entertain the possibility that the “system” itself gains by the erosion of such traditions, for it can capitalize on them through commodity consumption, cultural tourism, and increasing attention to heritage. In this case, both the changes and the attempts to recuperate tradition feed the political- economic and cultural system; nonnormative behavior, rather than threatening the system in a counter- or subcultural mode, actually enhances it. Such a “flexible system” can make action and agency oriented toward political opposition seem beside the point.

While these critical responses to corporate and bureaucratic modes of multicultural recognition are useful, they often lack a grounded account of how the expedient use of culture as resource emerged. Today, culture is increasingly wielded as a resource for enhancing participation in this era of waning political involvement, conflicts over citizenship (I. Young 2000), and the rise of what Jeremy Rifkin (2000, 251) has called “cultural capitalism.” The immaterialization characteristic of many new sources of economic growth (intellectual property rights as defined by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the World Trade Organization) and the increasing share of world trade captured by symbolic goods (movies, TV programs, music, tourism) have given the cultural sphere greater importance than at any other moment in the history of modernity. Culture may have simply become a pretext for sociopolitical amelioration and economic growth. But even if that were the case, the proliferation of such arguments, in forums provided by local culture-and-development projects as well as by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Bank, and the so-called globalized civil society of international foundations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), has produced a transformation in what we understand by the notion of culture and what we do in its name (Yúdice 2003). Applying the logic that a creative environment begets innovation, urban culture has been touted as the foundation for the socalled new economy based on “content provision,” which is supposed to be the engine of accumulation (Castells 2000b). This premise is quite widespread, with the U.S. and British hype about the “creative economy” echoing in similar initiatives throughout the world (Caves 2000; Landry 2000; Venturelli 2001; Florida 2002).

As should be clear, current understandings and practices of culture are complex, located at the intersection of economic and social justice agendas. Considered as a keyword, “culture” is undergoing a transformation that “already is challenging many of our most basic assumptions about what constitutes human society” (Rifkin 2000, 10–11). In the first half of the twentieth century, Theodor Adorno (1984, 25) could define art as the process through which the individual gains freedom by externalizing himself, in contrast to the philistine “who craves art for what he can get out of it.” Today, it is nearly impossible to find public statements that do not recruit art and culture either to better social conditions through the creation of multicultural tolerance and civic participation or to spur economic growth through urban cultural development projects and the concomitant proliferation of museums for cultural tourism, epitomized by the increasing number of Guggenheim franchises. At the same time, this blurring of distinctions between cultural, economic, and social programs has created a conservative backlash. Political scientists such as Samuel Huntington have argued (once again) that cultural factors account for the prosperity or backwardness, transparency or corruption, entrepreneurship or bureaucratic inertia of “world cultures” such as Asia, Latin America, and Africa (Huntington 1996; Harrison and Huntington 2000), while the Rand Corporation’s policy paper Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Debate about the Benefits of the Arts has resurrected the understanding of culture as referring to the “intrinsic benefits” of pleasure and captivation, which are “central in . . . generating all benefits deriving from the arts” (McCarthy et al. 2005, 12). The challenge today for both cultural studies and American studies is to think through this double-bind. Beyond either the economic and social expediency of culture or its depoliticized “intrinsic” benefits lies its critical potential. This potential is not realizable on its own, but must be fought for in and across educational and cultural institutions.


Keywords for American Cultural Studies, 71-76


Kirsten Silva Gruesz



We hold these truths to be self-evident,” begins the main body of the Declaration of Independence, and the definition of “America” may likewise seem utterly self-evident: the short form of the nation’s official name. Yet the meaning of this well-worn term becomes more elusive the closer we scrutinize it. Since “America” names the entire hemisphere from the Yukon to Patagonia, its common use as a synonym for the United States of America is technically a misnomer, as Latin Americans and Canadians continually (if resignedly) point out. Given the nearly universal intelligibility of this usage, their objection may seem a small question of geographical semantics. But “America” carries multiple connotations that go far beyond its literal referent. In the statement “As Americans, we prize freedom,” “American” may at first seem to refer simply to U.S. citizens, but the context of the sentence strongly implies a consensual understanding of shared values, not just shared passports; the literal and figurative meanings tend to collapse into each other. The self-evidence of “America” is thus troubled from the start by multiple ambiguities about the extent of the territory it delineates, as well as about its deeper connotations. 

Seeking out the meaning of America might be said to be a national characteristic, if that proposition were not in itself tautological. The question prompts responses representing every conceivable point of view, from the documentary series packaged as Ken Burns’s America (1996) to prizewinning essays by schoolchildren invited to tackle this hoary topic. Foodways, cultural practices, and even consumer products are readily made to symbolize the nation’s essence (“baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet,” as a highly effective advertising campaign put it in the 1970s). Such metonyms gesture, in turn, at more abstract notions: Freedom, Liberty, Democracy. Whether implicit or explicit, such responses to the enigma of Americanness tend to obscure the conditions under which they were formulated. Who gets to define what “America” means? What institutions support or undermine a particular definition? Under what historical conditions does one group’s definition have more or less power than another’s? How does the continued repetition of such ideological statements have real, material effects on the ways people are able to live their lives? Without looking critically at these questions of nomenclature, “American” cultural studies cannot claim self-awareness about its premises or its practices.

Because the meaning of “America” and its corollaries— American, Americanization, Americanism, and Americanness—seems so self-evident but is in fact so imprecise, using the term in conversation or debate tends to reinforce certain ways of thinking while repressing others. In his slyly comic Devil’s Dictionary (1911), pundit Ambrose Bierce defines the term only through its opposite: “un-American, adj. Wicked, intolerable, heathenish.” “American” and “un-American,” Bierce implies, shut down genuine argument by impugning the values of one’s opponent. A less cynical example may be found in Walt Whitman’s preface to Leaves of Grass, which in several pages seeks to define the essence of America: “The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors . . . but always most in the common people.” “America is the race of races,” he writes. “The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem” (Whitman 1855/1999, 4–5). Whitman’s claims about America work toward his larger project of celebrating “the common people,” the heterogeneous mixing of immigrants into a “race of races,” and everyday, vernacular speech as the stuff of poetry. Each variant of his definition bolsters this larger ideology. Although Whitman seems to use “United States” and “America” interchangeably, elsewhere in the document Mexico and the Caribbean are included as “American”—a slippage from the political meaning to the geographical one that reveals the expansionist beliefs Whitman held at the time.

If the substitution of the name of its most powerful nation for the hemisphere as a whole is a mistake sanctified by the passage of time, the same may be said of the origins of the term “America.” Against Columbus’s insistence that the landmass he had “discovered” was Asia, the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci first dubbed it a “New World” in his treatise by that name. It was not Vespucci himself but a contemporary mapmaker, Martin Waldseemuller, who then christened the region “America,” though it originally referred only to the southern continent. Later cartographers broadened the designation to include the lesse rknown north—a further irony of history. The sixteenth-century Dominican priest Bartolomé de las Casas initiated an argument that raged across both Americas over whether Vespucci had usurped an honor rightly due Columbus; he proposed rechristening it “Columba.” 

To this day alternative theories of the naming of the continent flourish, finding new devotees on the Internet. Solid evidence links a British merchant named Richard Ameryk to John Cabot’s voyages along the North Atlantic coast, leading to speculation that Cabot named “America” for his patron a decade or so before Waldseemuller’s map. Others have argued that the name comes from Vikings who called their Newfoundland settlement “Mark” or “Maruk”—“Land of Darkness.” Still others have claimed, more circumstantially, that the root word derives from Phoenician, Hebrew, or Hindu terms, suggesting that one of these groups encountered America before Europeans did. Similar etymological evidence has been interpreted to show that the term ultimately stems from a word for Moors or Africans, so that “America” really means “land of the blacks.” “America” is thus a product of the same misunderstanding that gave us the term “Indian.” Given this similarity, one final theory about the term’s origins is particularly provocative. An indigenous group in Nicaragua had referred to one gold-rich district in their territory as “Amerrique” since before the Conquest, and Mayan languages of tribes further north use a similar-sounding word. These discoveries have led to the radical proposition that the name “America” comes from within the New World rather than being imposed on it. The continuing life of this debate suggests that what’s really at stake is not some ultimate etymological truth but a narrative of shared origins; each claim grants primacy and symbolic (if not literal) ancestry of the Americas to a different group.

The fact that only one of these foundational fables of America’s origin involves an indigenous name is revealing. Throughout the colonies, settlers tended not to refer to themselves as Americans, since the term then conveyed an indigenous ancestry—or at least the associated taint of barbarism and backwardness—they were (with certain romanticizing exceptions) eager to avoid. Instead, they called their home-spaces “New-England,” “Nieuw-Amsterdam,” “Nueva España,” reminders of the homeland reflecting a local, rather than continental, identification. Until well into the nineteenth century, as the example from Whitman indicates, “America” and its analogues in Spanish, French, and other European languages designated something called “the New World,” not necessarily “the United States.” And during the early modern period in particular, it was persistently represented as female, using an iconography that ranged from the savage devourer to the desirable exotic. Following the same pattern of feminization, a poem published during the Revolutionary War by the African American celebrity Phillis Wheatley first personified the nascent country as Columbia, an invented goddess who lent a tinge of classical refinement to the nation-building project. The image and name were quite popular during the century that followed. Referring specifically to the United States, “Columbia” distinguished the nation from the hemisphere, but it also came to carry its own ideological baggage and can thus be seen as a kind of predecessor to the contemporary usage of “America.” It prompted patriotic musings on the true meaning of “the Columbian ideal,” and inspired events like the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, calculated to draw international attention to a nation that increasingly celebrated modernity and progress. In addition, “Columbia” had an iconographic presence that “America” no longer does; the figure of the goddess appeared on coins into the early twentieth century.

At what point, then, did “America” become synonymous with the USA, within the nation itself if not worldwide? “Americanism” and “Americanization” had entered common usage by the beginning of the nineteenth century, referring at first to evolving linguistic differences from the “mother tongue.” Such changes are gradual, of course, but the Civil War marks one watershed. The war brought about not only an upsurge in patriotic feeling but a marked increase in centralized governmental power. A more unified vision of national identity seemed necessary to counteract the effects of sectionalism, followed by the perceived threat of the great surges of immigration at the end of the century. “Americanization” came to signify the degree to which those immigrants altered their customs and values in accordance with the dominant view of Americanness at the time.

Of the many figurative meanings that “America” has acquired over time, many involve notions of novelty, new beginnings, and utopian promise. The Mexican historian Edmundo O’Gorman influentially wrote in 1958 that America was “invented” before it was “discovered,” demonstrating that Europeans had long imagined a mythical land of marvels and riches they then projected onto the unfamiliar terrain. This projection was not always positive.

The common representation of a “virgin land” waiting to be explored, dominated, and domesticated relegates the natural world to the passive, inferior position then associated with the feminine. The French naturalist George Louis Leclerc de Buffon even argued in 1789 that since the region was geologically newer, its very flora and fauna were less developed than Europe’s—a claim Thomas Jefferson took pains to refute. Nonetheless, the notion of the novelty of the Americas persisted, extending to the supposedly immature culture of its inhabitants as well.

Early debates over literature and fine arts in English, Spanish, and French America focused on the question of whether the residents of a land without history could cultivate a genuine or original aesthetic. Some Romantic writers tried on “Indian” themes, while others spun this “historylessness” in America’s favor. The philosopher G. W. F. Hegel delivered an influential address in 1830 that claimed, “America is therefore the land of the future, where, in all the ages that lie before us, the burden of the World’s History shall reveal itself—perhaps in a contest between North and South America. It is a land of desire for all those who are weary of the historical lumber-room of old Europe” (Hegel 1837/1956, 86). Here Hegel uses “America,” as Whitman would a few decades later, to indicate the whole region, not just the United States. Claims about the New World’s salvational role in global history, then, gestated from without as well as from within. Given this longstanding tendency to define America in mythic terms, we must be skeptical of the common boast that the United States is the only modern nation founded on an idea—democratic equality—rather than on a shared tribal or racial ancestry. Such a claim to exceptionalism is of course particularly appealing to intellectuals, who traffic in ideas. In the early years of American studies as an academic discipline, in the 1950s, the field’s foundational texts located the essential meaning of America variously in its history of westward movement, in religious and philosophical individualism, or in the worship of progress and modernity. As the discipline has evolved, it now attempts to show how such mythic definitions arise in response to historically specific needs and conditions. When we go in search of what is most profoundly American, scholars now insist, we blinker our sights to the ways in which the actual history of U.S. actions and policies may have diverged from those expectations. Moreover, any single response to the prompt to define “America” tends to imply that this larger idea or ideal has remained essentially unchanged over time, transcending ethnic and racial differences. “America” has generally been used as a term of consolidation, homogenization, and unification, not a term that invites recognition of difference, dissonance, and plurality—all issues of crucial import in the post–civil rights movement era.

Such a recognition cuts to the heart of any Americanist pursuit, whether in historical, literary, or social studies, forcing scholars to confront fundamental questions of the field’s scope and limits. Jan Radway’s much-cited presidential address to the American Studies Association in 1998 repudiated the “imperial” arrogation by the United States of a name that originally belonged to an entire hemisphere, arguing that “American national identity is . . . constructed in and through relations of difference.” She went so far as to suggest that the organization eliminate the term “American” from its name altogether in order to “reconceptualize the American as always relationally defined and therefore as intricately dependent on ‘others’ that are used both materially and conceptually to mark its boundaries” (Radway 2002, 54, 59).

Though her proposal to change the name of the organization was more a provocation than a promise, Radway’s speech responded to challenges raised in preceding years by proponents of an “Americas” or “New World” cultural studies that would insist on a relational consideration of the United States within the larger context of the hemisphere. Inherently pluralistic, this transnational approach draws upon Latin American, Caribbean, and Canadian works and emphasizes their production within a history of U.S. imperial design. Rather than Alexis de Tocqueville and Michel Crèvecoeur, its canon of commentators on the meaning of America highlights lesser-known figures like the Cuban José Martí—who in an 1891 speech famously distinguished between “Nuestra” (Our) America, with its mestizo or mixed-race origins, and the racist, profit-driven culture he saw dominating the United States. Martí, like the later African American activist-writers W. E. B. Du Bois and C. L. R. James, was critical of the growing interventionist tendencies of the United States and sought to revive and provoke dissent and resistance. In addition to recovering such underappreciated figures, comparative Americanist work often locates its inquiry in spaces once relegated to the periphery of scholarly attention, such as the Spanish-speaking borderlands that were formerly part of Mexico. As contact zones between North and South, Anglo and Latino, such areas produce hybrid cultural formations that inflect mainstream U.S. culture with that of the “other” America.

Americas” studies, capitalizing on the plurality of its name, seeks to relativize the status of the United States within the hemisphere and the world—and thus reaches well beyond matters involving Latin American and Latino cultures. Bell Gale Chevigny and Gari Laguardia, introducing their landmark essay collection Reinventing the Americas (1986, viii), write that “by dismantling the U.S. appropriation of the name ‘America,’ we will better see what the United States is and what it is not.” The work of divorcing the name of the nation from the name of the continent has stumbled a bit on the lack of a ready adjectival form in English. A few scholars have recalled into service the neologism that Frank Lloyd Wright coined in the 1930s to describe his non-derivative, middle-class house designs: “Usonian.” Others, like Chevigny and Laguardia, simply substitute “U.S.” or “United Statesian” for “American,” arguing that the very awkwardness of such terms has a certain heuristic value, recalling us to an historical moment before the pressure toward consensus and national unity became as pervasive as it is today.

Perhaps such consciousness-raising about the power of “self-evident” terms could begin the slow work of altering social relationships and structures of political power. On the other hand, pluralizing “America” to “Americas” does not in itself do away with imperial presumptions—indeed, some of its deployments may reiterate them. Proponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which took effect in 1994, argued that the treaty would open borders and promote cultural interchange—at the expense, many would contend, of subjecting Mexico’s economy to tighter control by U.S.-based corporations than ever before. New proposals for a similarly structured “Free Trade Area of the Americas” could extend NAFTA to encompass thirty-four countries and some 800 million people. In this context, the plural term works opportunistically rather than critically, suggesting that in the future, the usage of “Americas” may require the same kind of critical scrutiny that we have just brought to “America.”

Keywords for American Cultural Studies, 16-22



William Apess (Pequot) 

The earliest major Indian writer of the nineteenth century, William Apess was born in 1798 near Colrain, Massachusetts. Apess’s mother may, however, have been Candace Apes, who was owned as a slave and listed as a “Negro” woman by Captain Joseph Taylor of Colchester until he freed her in 1805 at age twenty-eight. The author’s father, whose name was probably William A. Apes, was half white. His paternal grandmother was a full-blooded Pequot, who Apess claimed was descended from Metacomet (Wampanoag; c. 1639–1676, given the name King Philip by the English). After his parents separated when Apess was around three, he was reared by his maternal grandparents. Badly beaten by his alcoholic grandmother, Apess was subsequently bound out to whites at age four or five—a common practice for dealing with homeless children. Apess’s pranks and strong will resulted in his being transferred to a series of masters. During his service to his last master, Apess was converted to Methodism in March, 1813, at age fifteen. Forbidden by his master to attend any more Methodist revivals, Apess ran away. He subsequently enlisted in the army during the War of 1812 and served during the 1814 invasions of Canada and defense of Plattsburgh, New York. In 1817, Apess returned to Connecticut, where he was reunited with Pequot relatives. He began serving as a lay preacher to mixed audiences although his preaching was opposed by both his father and the local Methodist circuit rider, who forbade him to preach. In 1821, Apess married Mary Wood, a woman “nearly the same color as himself” (A Son of the Forest, 98), and supported his wife and growing family with a variety of jobs. After Apess moved to Providence, Rhode Island, he was regularly ordained in 1829 as a minister by the Methodist Society.

Apess’s A Son of the Forest (1829) is the first published autobiography written by an Indian. It appeared during the controversy over the Indian Removal Act (1830), which authorized the federal government to remove Indians from lands east of the Mississippi to Indian Territory and other areas deemed suitable. The autobiography is a testament both to the essential humanity of Indian people and to their potential for adapting to white concepts of civilization. A Son of the Forest follows the basic structure of the spiritual confession, popular at that time. Apess’s account of his experiences is especially interesting because he was primarily raised by whites. He describes how he was terrified of his own people because whites filled him with stereotypical stories about Indian cruelty but never told him how cruelly they treated Indians.

Apess published a briefer life history in The Experiences of Five Christian Indians of the Pequod Tribe (1833). Probably written before A Son of the Forest, this account is more critical of whites than the autobiography; the first edition of this book contained the essay “An Indian’s Looking-Glass for the White Man.” This essay illustrates the themes present in Apess’s work and the forceful style which made him a persuasive speaker. Apess contrasts whites’ savage treatment of non-whites with their professed Christianity—a frequent theme in nineteenth-century slave narratives and life histories of Indian converts. Here, as in A Son of the Forest and The Experiences of Five Christian Indians, Apess blames whites for the alcoholism that has decimated Indian families. His criticism of Indian agents is another theme common in Indian life histories. Apess effectively focuses the essay on the equality of people of color with whites. This concept of equality of all people under God made Christianity very appealing to Indian converts and to slaves.

Apess’s last two books grew out of his commitment to the fight for Indian rights. He describes the Mashpee struggle to retain self government in Indian Nullification of the Unconstitutional Laws of Massachusetts, Relative to the Marshpee [sic] Tribe (1835), one of the most powerful pieces of Indian protest literature of the first half of the nineteenth century. A mixture of Indian, white, and black, the Mashpees were subjected to considerable white prejudice. Apess’s contact with them and their fight for civil and political rights turned Apess into a dedicated social reformer. Apess organized a council to draw up grievances, moved his family to Mashpee, became a spokesman for the tribe, and publicized their case in the Boston press. By 1834, his efforts gained success, as evidenced by the large audience that heard his Boston speech on the subject. The same year William Lloyd Garrison, the abolitionist editor, took up the cause of the Mashpee in The Liberator. Apess’s efforts helped the Mashpees regain their rights, one of the few such Indian victories in the 1830s. However, the nation’s attention was increasingly drawn away from the plight of the American Indian to the debate over the abolition of slavery. To remind whites of what New England Indians had endured, Apess wrote his final work, the eloquent Eulogy on King Philip (1836). Originally delivered as a series of lectures at the Odeon in Boston, the Eulogy on King Philip is a study of white-Indian relations in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century New England. After this work was published, Apess disappeared from public view and the details of his later life are unknown. 

"An Indian's Looking-Glass for the White Man" (1833)

[1] Having a desire to place a few things before my fellow creatures who are traveling with me to the grave, and to that God who is the maker and preserver both of the white man and the Indian, whose abilities are the same, and who are to be judged by one God, who will show no favor to outward appearances, but will judge righteousness.

[2] Now I ask if degradation has not been heaped long enough upon the Indians? And if so, can there not be a compromise; is it right to hold and promote prejudices? If not, why not put them all away? I mean here amongst those who are civilized. It may be that many are ignorant of the situation of many of my brethren within the limits of New England. Let me for a few moments turn your attention to the reservations in the different states of New England, and, with but few exceptions, we shall find them as follows: The most mean, abject, miserable race of beings in the world—a complete place of prodigality and prostitution. [prodigality = drinking, wasting]

[3] Let a gentleman and lady, of integrity and respectability visit these places, and they would be surprised; as they wandered from one hut to the other they would view with the females who are left alone, children half starved, and some almost as naked as they came into the world. And it is a fact that I have seen them as much so—while the females are left without protection, and are seduced by white men, and are finally left to be common prostitutes for them, and to be destroyed by that burning, fiery curse, that has swept millions, both of red and white men, into the grave with sorrow and disgrace—Rum. One reason why they are left so is, because their most sensible and active men are absent at sea [Indian men served on whaling ships, e.g. Tashtego in Moby-Dick]. Another reason is, because they are made to believe they are minors [inferiors?] and have not the abilities given them from God, to take care of themselves, without it is to see to [except for making and selling] a few little articles, such as baskets and brooms. Their land is in common stock, and they have nothing to make them enterprising.

[4] Another reason is because those men who are Agents [government officials of Indian affairs], many of them are unfaithful [treacherous], and care not whether the Indians live or die; they are much imposed upon by their neighbors who have no principle. They [

[5] I will ask, if the Indians are not called the most ingenious people amongst us? And are they not said to be men of talents? And I would ask, could there be a more efficient way to distress and murder them by inches than the way they have taken? And there is no people in the world but who may be destroyed in the same way.

[6] Now if these people [the Indians] are what they are held up in our view to be [“ingenious,” “men of talents”], I would take the liberty to ask why they are not brought forward and pains taken to educate them? to give them all a common education, and those of the brightest and first-rate talents put forward and held up to office. Perhaps some unholy, unprincipled men would cry out, the skin was not good enough; but stop friends—I am not talking about the skin, but about principles. I would ask if there cannot be as good feelings and principles under a red skin as there can be under a white? And let me ask, is it not on the account of a bad principle, that we who are red children have had to suffer so much as we have? And let me ask, did not this bad principle proceed from the whites or their forefathers? And I would ask, is it worth while to nourish it any longer? If not then let us have a change; although some men no doubt will spout their corrupt principles against it, that are in the halls of legislation and elsewhere. But I presume this kind of talk will seem surprising and horrible. I do not see why it should so long as they (the whites) say that they think as much of us as they do of themselves.

[7] [This I have heard repeatedly, from the most respectable gentlemen and ladies—and having heard so much precept [teaching], I should now wish to see the example . . . .

[8] I know that many [whites] say that they are willing, perhaps the majority of the people, that we should enjoy our rights and privileges as they do. If so, I would ask why are not we protected in our persons and property throughout the Union? Is it not because there reigns in the breast of many who are leaders, a most unrighteous, unbecoming and impure black principle, and as corrupt and unholy as it can be—while these very same unfeeling, self-esteemed characters pretend to take the skin as a pretext to keep us from our unalienable and lawful rights? I would ask you if you would like to be disfranchised from all your rights, merely because your skin is white, and for no other crime? I'll venture to say, these very characters who hold the skin to be such a barrier in the way, would be the first to cry out, injustice! awful injustice! [reverse discrimination?]

[9] But, reader, I acknowledge that this is a confused world, and I am not seeking for office; but merely placing before you the black inconsistency  that you place before me—which is ten times blacker than any skin that you will find in the Universe. And now let me exhort you to do away that principle, as it appears ten times worse in the sight of God and candid men, than skins of color—more disgraceful than all the skins that Jehovah ever made. If black or red skins, or any other skin of color is disgraceful to God, it appears that he [Jehovah / God / Creator] has disgraced himself a great deal—for he has made fifteen colored people to one white, and placed them here upon this earth.

[10] Now let me ask you, white man, if it is a disgrace for to eat, drink and sleep with the image of God, or sit, or walk and talk with them? Or have you the folly to think that the white man, being one in fifteen or sixteen, are the only beloved images of God? Assemble all nations together in your imagination, and then let the whites be seated amongst them, and then let us look for the whites, and I doubt not it would be hard finding them; for to the rest of the nations, they are still but a handful.

[11] Now suppose these skins were put together, and each skin had its national crimes written upon it—which skin do you think would have the greatest? I will ask one question more. Can you charge the Indians with robbing a nation almost of their whole Continent, and murdering their women and children, and then depriving the remainder of their lawful rights, that nature and God require them to have? And to cap the climax, rob another nation [African Americans] to till their grounds, and welter out their days under the lash with hunger and fatigue under the scorching rays of a burning sun? I should look at all the skins, and I know that when I cast my eye upon that white skin, and if I saw those crimes written upon it, I should enter my protest against it immediately, and cleave to that which is more honorable. And I can tell you that I am satisfied with the manner of my creation, fully—whether others are or not.

[12] But we will strive to penetrate more fully into the conduct of those who profess to have pure principles, and who tell us to follow Jesus Christ and imitate him and have his Spirit. Let us see if they come anywhere near him and his ancient disciples. The first thing we are to look at, are his precepts, of which we will mention a few. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength." The second is like unto it. "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." On these two precepts hang all the law and the prophets. . .

[13] The first thing that takes our attention, is the saying of Jesus, "Thou shalt love," &c. The first question I would ask my brethren in the ministry, as well as that of the membership, What is love, or its effects? Now if they who teach are not essentially affected with pure love, the love of God, how can they teach as they ought? Again, the holy teachers of old said, "Now if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his"—Rom. xiii. 9. Now my brethren in the ministry, let me ask you a few sincere questions.

[14] Did you ever hear or read of Christ teaching his disciples that they ought to despise one because his skin was different from theirs? Jesus Christ being a Jew, and those of his Apostles certainly were not whites,—and did not he who completed the plan of salvation complete it for the whites as well as for the Jews, and others? And were not the whites the most degraded people on the earth at that time, and none were more so; for they sacrificed their children to dumb idols!  And did not St. Paul labor more abundantly for building up a christian nation amongst you than any of the Apostles. And you know as well as I that you are not indebted to a principle beneath a white skin for your religious services, but to a colored one.

[15] What then is the matter now; is not religion the same now under a colored skin as it ever was? If so I would ask why is not a man of color respected; you may say as many say, we have white men enough. But was this the spirit of Christ and his Apostles? If it had been, there would not have been one white preacher in the world—for Jesus Christ never would have imparted his grace or word to them, for he could forever have withheld it from them. But we find that Jesus Christ and his Apostles never looked at the outward appearances. Jesus in particular looked at the hearts, and his Apostles through him being discerners of the spirit, looked at their fruit without any regard to the skin, color or nation; as St. Paul himself speaks, "Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free—but Christ is all and in all." [Colossians 3.11] If you can find a spirit like Jesus Christ and his Apostles prevailing now in any of the white congregations, I should like to know it. I ask, is it not the case that every body that is not white is treated with contempt and counted as barbarians? And I ask if the word of God justifies the white man in so doing? When the prophets prophesied, of whom did they speak? When they spoke of heathens, was it not the whites and others who were counted Gentiles? And I ask if all nations with the exception of the Jews were not counted heathens? and according to the writings of some, it could not mean the Indians, for they are counted Jews. [early American missionaries hypothesized Indians as lost tribes of Israel]  

[16] And now I would ask, why is all this distinction [of skin colors] made among these christian societies? I would ask what is all this ado about Missionary Societies, if it be not to christianize those who are not christians? And what is it for? To degrade them worse, to bring them into society where they must welter out their days in disgrace merely because their skin is of a different complexion. What folly it is to try to make the state of human society worse than it is. How astonished some may be at this—but let me ask, is it not so? Let me refer you to the churches only. And my brethren, is there any agreement? Do brethren and sisters love one another?—Do they not rather hate one another? Outward forms and ceremonies, the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye and pride of life is of more value to many professors, than the love of God shed abroad in their hearts, or an attachment to his altar, to his ordinances or to his children. But you may ask who are the children of God? perhaps you may say none but white. If so, the word of the Lord is not true.

[17] I will refer you to St. Peter's precepts—Acts 10. "God is no respecter of persons"—&c. [etc.]  Now if this is the case, my white brother, what better are you than God? And if no better, why do you profess his gospel and to have his spirit, act so contrary to it? Let me ask why the men of a different skin are so despised, why are not they educated and placed in your pulpits? I ask if his services well performed are not as good as if a white man performed them? I ask if a marriage or a funeral ceremony, or the ordinance of the Lord's house would not be as acceptable in the sight of God as though he was white? And if so, why is it not to you? I ask again, why is it not as acceptable to have men to exercise their office in one place as well as in another?

[18] Perhaps you will say that if we admit you to all of these privileges you will want more. I expect that I can guess what that is—Why, say you, there would be intermarriages. How that would be I am not able to say—and if it should be, it would be nothing strange or new to me; for I can assure you that I know a great many that have intermarried, both of the whites and the Indians—and many are their sons and daughters—and people too of the first respectability. And I could point to some in the famous city of Boston and elsewhere. You may new look at the disgraceful act in the city of Boston and elsewhere. You may now look at the disgraceful act in the statute law passed by the Legislature of Massachusetts, and behold the fifty pound fine levied upon any Clergyman or Justice of the Peace that dare to encourage the laws of God and nature by a legitimate union in holy wedlock between the Indians and whites. I would ask how this looks to your law makers. I would ask if this corresponds with your sayings—that you think as much of the Indians as you do of the whites. I do not wonder that you blush many of you while you read; for many have broken the ill-fated laws made by man to hedge up the laws of God and nature. I would ask if they who have made the law have not broken it—but there is no other state in New England that has this law but Massachusetts; and I think as many of you do not, that you have done yourselves no credit.

[19] But as I am not looking for a wife, having one of the finest cast , as you no doubt would understand while you read her experience and travail of soul in the way to heaven, you will see that it is not my object. And if I had none, I should not want any one to take my right from me and choose a wife for me; for I think that I or any of my brethren have a right to choose a wife for themselves as well as the whites—and as the whites have taken the liberty to choose my brethren, the Indians, hundreds and thousands of them as partners in life, I believe the Indians have as much right to choose their partners amongst the whites if they wish. I would ask you if you can see anything inconsistent in your conduct and talk about the Indians? And if you do, I hope you will try to become more consistent. Now if the Lord Jesus Christ, who is counted by all to be a Jew, and it is well known that the Jews are a colored people, especially those living in the East, where Christ was born—and if he should appear amongst us, would he not be shut out of doors by many, very quickly? and by those too, who profess religion?

[20] By what you read, you may learn how deep your principles are, I should say they were skin deep. I should not wonder if some of the most selfish and ignorant would spout a charge of their principles now and then at me. But I would ask, how are you to love your neighbors as yourself? Is it to cheat them? is it to wrong them in any thing? Now to cheat them out of any of their rights is robbery. And I ask, can you deny that you are not robbing the Indians daily, and many others? But at last you may think I am what is called a hard and uncharitable man. But not so. I believe there are many who would not hesitate to advocate our cause; and those too who are men of fame and respectability—as well as ladies of honor and virtue. There is a Webster, and Everett, and a Wirt and many others who are distinguished characters—besides an host of my fellow citizens, who advocate our cause daily. And how I congratulate such noble spirits—how they are to be prized and valued; for they are well calculated to promote the happiness of mankind. They well know that man was made for society, and not for hissing stocks [cf. “laughingstock”] and outcasts. And when such a principle as this lies within the hearts of men, how much it is like its God—and how it honors its Maker—and how it imitates the feelings of the good Samaritan, that had his wounds bound up, who had been among thieves and robbers.

[21] Do not get tired, ye noble-hearted—only think how many poor Indians want their wounds done up daily; the Lord will reward you, and pray you stop not till this tree of distinction shall be leveled to the earth, and the mantle of prejudice torn from every American heart—then shall peace pervade the Union.

Share with your friends:
  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   ...   30

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page