What is America? Who is American? What represents America? Those are the key questions of the course we are taking now. As it was in other texts, it also penetrates the text “Playing Indian”, too.
American Identity is incomplete and unfinished, wrote D. H. Lawrence, a British writer, in his critique (Deloria 3). People might all know that there were native Indians before Europeans came in America at first. However, in modern days it is very hard to find Indian things in America. Everything is so modern, so one might not think of Indians in daily life. On the other hand, you should not think only the external forms of the Indians; the point here is ‘Indianness’, the mind of Indians. Indianness is still underneath American identity.
The author, Philip J. Deloria, said the Indianness is the hidden identity of America. It has functioned as an identity from Boston Tea Party, in 1773. Against the provincial governor, Indian costumed men dumped tea into Boston harbor. It functioned as a catalytic event of Americans defining themselves (Deloria 2). After that, in big events, people played Indian (citation). It expresses two paradigmatic moments, Revolution and modernity. Americans might potentially acknowledge that Indianness is the basic identity and power of American. Maybe they tried to resist with Indianness. Indianness is a kind of driving force of America. Deloria mentioned “You can’t change your nature and mode of consciousness like changing your shoes” (9)
However, there is a contradiction in seeing Indians. One sees them representing freedom. However, the other side sees them as a savagery.
Savage Indians served Americans as oppositional figures against whom one might imagine a civilized national Self. Coded as freedom, however, wild Indianness proved equally attractive, setting up a “have-the-cake-and-eat-it-too” dialectic of simultaneous desire and repulsion. (Deloria 3)
Lawrence said it connects to current American identity with two dilemmas. The first one is that Americans tend to define themselves as what they were not. They don’t have their own positive identity. The second one is that they want to get both civilized order and savage freedom (Deloria 3). It still remained not clearly identified (Deloria 9).
I want to focus on the word “playing”. As the title of the text is “Playing Indian”, I think this is the perfect word for this text. Americans tried to win in the historical moments by wearing Indian costumes and ‘playing’ them. I think play is a common way to escape all over the world. For example, in Korea, there were clowns in 14th ~ 20th centuries. They were in the lowest social class at that time. However, as Deloria said, ‘wearing a mask also makes one self-conscious of a real “me” underneath’ (7), the clowns also could say their unsaid words in their masks. They usually criticized the King by wearing the costumes of king and masks. It was very popular among common people in that era. Common people at that time couldn’t say thoughtlessly about their king. If they do, it was one of the biggest guilt. But the clowns were only permitted to do that. So the plays of the clowns worked as an escape of everyday life, and those spoke for all people. It was thrilling but it was not a direct sarcasm. These kinds of characteristics of Korean clowns function similarly with American’s playing Indian.
1. This text is written in 1998. Do you think the ‘Indianness’ is still in America? In what ways?
2. Do you agree with the author that Indianness is precondition for the formation of American identities (Deloria 6)? If not, why?