Double standards? In MY America? It might be more common than you think.

In Dan Blim’s paper, “McDowell’s Vanishing Indians,” he exposes a contrast between how post-emancipation white Americans viewed Native Americans and African Americans. He argues that the view that Native Americans were “vanishing” as part of a natural process allowed them to be parodied in their portrayals in a way that Black Americans could not, as many Americans were deeply uncomfortable with America’s slaveowning past.

The document I chose juxtaposes two hymns with each other; one from a “converted indian” and the other from “a little slave boy. The two have a stark contrast in the language they use. The “indian hymn” uses an extremely vernacular dialect of english, whereas the “slave boy’s hymn” is rather eloquent. To illustrate further, I will show the first stanza of each.

“ In de dark wood no indian nigh, den me look heaben and send up cry, upon my knees so low. Dat God on high, in shinee place see me in night wid teary face: de priest he tells me so.”

“There is a book, I’ve heard them say, which says ‘thou shalt not work or play on God Almighty’s holy day.’ On Sundays then, O let me look, in God Almighty’s holy book” (Christian Advocate).

Regardless of whether either text’s authorship is genuine as the publishers describe it (I’m not sure that it is. I couldn’t find another publication of the “slave boy’s hymn”, but the “Indian Hymn” has been included in numerous publications, including several that assert origins for the hymn, all of which conflict with each other. One such origin is even verifiably false. Friends’ Review published a version asserting that it was written down by Reverend William Apess in 1798. Rev. Apess was a renowned public speaker and activist for Native American rights in his day, not to mention that he was himself from the Pequot tribe, but he was born in 1798, so whatever plausibility the publishers of the Review sought to gain by using his name is lost when the facts are checked. While the exact history of the hymn is unknown, it is certainly sketchy.) , we can see even from their choice to include these contrasting texts that some dynamic akin to what Blim describes is at play. Even though the readers of the Advocate might not have assumed that either party would be educated, the slave boy is shown to have some eloquence, while the Indian is portrayed as a caricature that would be familiar to their audience.

The column concludes with a paragraph that echoes McDowell’s own comments on slavery. “Thank God that the old days of slavery, with all the enforced ignorance, the bitterness of bondage, and the cruel seperation of families, are gone forever, and that so much now is being done to give the freedmen both the ability and the opportunity to read in ‘God Almighty’s holy book,’” (Christian Advocate). This supports the narrative that Blim illuminates, where White Americans seek to uplift Black Americans in order to forget the horrors of slavery, but feel comfortable enough to portray the “vanishing indian” as a caricature.

Works Cited:

“Two Quaint Old Hymns.” Christian Advocate, 18 May 1893. American Periodicals, https://search.proquest.com/americanperiodicals/docview/125850496/767F6D35CC094709PQ/1?accountid=351, Accessed 19 September 2019.

 

1 thought on “Double standards? In MY America? It might be more common than you think.

  1. Really interesting source! I’m glad to see you attend to MacDowell’s assertion that Native American music is worth reusing, while African-American is not. I’m not sure I agree with where you take that MacDowell quote that Blim includes: there were plenty of parodies of ostensibly “black” behavior and music on the minstrel stage and in sheet music. We’ll talk more about these in the next few classes. But it is certainly interesting to see this publication presenting Native American speech with an accent/dialect that likely comes from the blackface minstrelsy tradition, while presenting African-American speech as polished and normative. I suspect there are more profitable comparisons to be made between representations of Native American and African American musics around the turn of the century – maybe something to keep looking into in a final paper?

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