Saturday, March 03, 2018

over at Rewire Mary Annette Pember discusses the recent Sherman Alexie reportage

Litsa Dremousis, Alexie’s former longtime friend (now described by Alexie as a spurned lover), has been writing about allegations against him on her Twitter account. She said she is not a victim.
Some of Alexie’s alleged victims have shared their stories with NPR, according to Dremousis. NPR has not yet aired the interviews.
“He seemed to view Native women as the easiest prey,” Dremousis wrote.

Alexie isn’t the only man, Native or non-Native, who has been accused of viewing us as easy prey. Native women are 2.5 times more likely than any other ethnicity in America to be sexually assaulted, according to the Department of Justice.


For Native women, reporting one of our own adds a uniquely sickening challenge.
“Indian Country is so marginalized that when we see someone do well and receive recognition, we don’t want to participate in anything that would take them down,” said a Native woman friend I’ll call “S.”

S. recently reported a well-known Native man for sexually harassing her and has requested anonymity. The man is lauded in his profession, both in and outside of Indian Country. He supervises many people in his job.

“It’s hands off when it comes to reporting one of our own, regardless of his actions,” S. said.
S. spoke of her painful self-talk as she grappled with her decision to report the perpetrator. “He’s so important; he’s done so much for Native people. Maybe I need to take one for the team,” she told herself. “I wrestled with my importance versus his. I didn’t want to embarrass or hurt his family,” S. said.

S. was tormented with layers of self-doubt. Perhaps she should remain silent, she thought. Soon the quality of her work and life began to suffer. She began to isolate herself. The turning point came when she learned that the man had been accused of victimizing many other women, all single mothers for whom a job loss would be tragic.

S., who considers herself an outspoken advocate for women, told herself, “How can I remain silent knowing he’s preying on others, women who have fewer resources and support than I.”

S. reported the man to supervisors. A subsequent internal investigation found that there was not enough evidence to launch an investigation. The man was cleared of wrongdoing.

“They told me their decision was final,” S. said. “The whole experience has utterly impoverished my body and spirit. The unjustness of the process has almost been worse than his actions.”

“The amount of power yielded by men in high-profile positions is shocking. They can manipulate the process and outcome because they have money, influence, and a network of supporters who enable them,” she said.

Most Native communities are small and tightly knit. Publicly accusing a man in authority of sexual harassment or assault can open up one’s entire family for retribution. Housing, employment, access to services, and even enrollment in the tribe might be jeopardized.

When a community sees itself as besieged and marginalized then accusations against leaders are viewed with more than just skepticism.  Even if the allegations might seem to have a basis in reality the need to preserve the social unit's sense of identity and public standing can override other concerns.  As a former member and attender of Mars Hill this is not the least bit difficult for me to understand.  As someone of mixed lineal descent from Native American and white parents this is also not too difficult for me to understand. 

I would suggest we keep in mind that as women rise in the ranks of power they will have the same temptations as men will and may abuse those positions of power and privilege accordingly.  it's not as though within the last twenty years we haven't read headlines about women with positions of influence in schools having inappropriate relationships with students, for instance. 

It's too bad that the author imputes to just the Western worldview that winning trumps all else.  After all, if some sense of winning didn't trump all other concerns couldn't we have heard about the Native American men abusing women by now?  There's more than one way to "win", and arguably a reticence to report on or confront Native American men exploiting women comes from the other side of the coin of "winning at all cost", which is saving face at all cost.  As Alexie complained about Native American culture, the warrior culture cares about honor and saving face even when that's a bad thing.  The irony of that observation may never lose its sting, but it's a point to consider, that a great deal of harm has come not so much from wanting to win at any cost but out of a relentless desire to keep up good appearances at all costs.  So when we get to something like this:

In my tribe’s Ojibwe worldview, all life, especially humans, contains a dual spirit, rendering us capable of great achievements while also harboring a terrible capacity to wreak pain and havoc on others.

Maybe the greatest fault lies in overlooking that fundamental truth.

It's the sort of axiom that has little weight if the aim is to burnish the reputation of the Ojibwe worldview as in any way observably distinct from a "Western" worldview.  Because, as people have no doubt trumpeted for ages, Christianity tends to be thought of as "Western" (even if it isn't, globally speaking or even historically speaking, what with all those Church Fathers from Africa and the Middle East).  Yet within Christianity there is plenty of teaching about how we are born with the stain of sin and a capacity to commit great evil.

If so many spiritual traditions acknowledge this reality about the human condition the question is not necessarily so much "does anyone actually not believe this about humanity?" as "on what bases might we exempt ourselves from this recognition, and what can we do to avoid doing that?"

Since Sherman Alexie talked about having a fundamentalist upbringing he can't say he wasn't taught any of that stuff.  It might even be worth pointing out that, as I was noting earlier this week, there is no ideological point of distinction that necessarily makes a man more or less likely to use people.  One of the ideas I've had the most doubts about in the last twenty years is that apologetics bromide "ideas have consequences".  Yes, that "can" be the case but in the post-Weinstein moment the fact that many men who have come under scrutiny for how they treat women would seem, on paper, to have feminist sympathies or have explicitly supported Hillary Clinton's campaign  or any number of other things is, it turns out, no safeguard against men being exploitive.  For that matter there's no reason to assume it's only men who are exploiting.  Women can exploit people, too, both women and men at that. 

Maybe we need to step away from the assumption that is so common not only among some Christian circles but perhaps has a presence in Native American communities to, that by dint of our worldview and not being like those people we're not as bad as those people or able to be as bad as those people, whoever those people are.

Because, clearly, we can be, have been and are even likely to be as bad in the future.  If anything in the wake of the scandals in publishing and the arts feminism might simply be one of the covers and lures that men use within the industries to do what they've done.  This hardly means that I'm inclined to think that Mars Hill Church was full of men whose chief aim in social terms was to protect women ... but as scandal after scandal plays out in the post-Weinstein moment I do wish that the partisans of traditional red and blue or left and right would give up the delusional notion that either of them are better than the other. 

The assumption that "our" team can't really be guilty of abetting men or women who exploit people is one of the ways these people are able to use people.  In the Christian and Jewish traditions sin is not just an individual capacity for harm, it's also collective.  The community has the capacity to harm people.  In the conventions of the modern blue and red or left and right in Anglo-American terms it can seem as though the American mistake is to fixate on either the collective side or the individual side without keeping the two together.  A potentially axiomatic pitfall of the blue/left side is to think of guilt in group terms.  This group is guilty of X or Y while that group is virtuous by dint of A or B.  That can be true, certainly, but that may have turned out to be the historic cover that exploitive men have been able to use because the left/blue side may have a weakness for group purity standards in which the sins of the individuals are excused or sidelined for the sake of the group cause. 

The same dynamic plays out, perhaps, in a slightly different way along the red/right side.  There's more of an emphasis on individual responsibility and by dint of that stance there can be a propensity to conclude that group guilt doesn't really apply, or if it applies at all to those on the blue/left side.  But a belief in the reality of such a group success on the red/right side in terms of stance may just be a mirror for the perceived opposite number, with men in power allowed to breach the socially presented codes of conduct so long as it doesn't damage the reputation of the group purity codes. To look back a bit on the rise and fall of Mars Hill, if a conservative evangelical doesn't cheat on his wife or do anything that's construed as obviously wrong with finances then he should be presumed good regardless of how verbally abusive he might get or regardless of the extent to which he made a point of owning much of the intellectual property associated with a church brand that in other contexts would have been the intellectual property of the church and not the man.  Or, as Mark Driscoll put it, some men can convince themselves they're not terrible men because they love their family.  There's a little irony there.

After decades of propagandistic campaigns the proverbial left and right have taken against each other it would seem the blind spots are painfully obvious by now.  It's too easy to be alert to the moral failings of the enemies at the expense of seeing that whatever our team is, there are plenty of men and women guilty of those moral evils, too.  The apostle Paul's instruction to Christians in Corinth was that they not refrain from associating with sinners who did not even identify themselves as Christian at all, for then they would have to not be in the world, but that they should not associate with anyone who calls themselves a Christian who indulges in a variety of sins, one of which included sexual immorality, along with a panoply of other sins.  The warning was that it wasn't the business of the gatherings of Christians in any given region to vigilantly monitor or police the conduct of the outsiders but of those who professed to be insiders. I have wondered in the last ten years whether our propagandistic mentalities in technological societies has led us to be more obsessed with monitoring the perceived or real evils of our ideological enemies to the point where we don't really care about the failures to live up t our own professed ideals within our own communities.

It's a lot tougher to challenge people to live by the stated ideals of the in group from within than it is to lambast the other team for being bad.  Or as Adolf Schlatter put it in his commentary on Romans, our own share in evil is not removed by our condemning evil in others. 

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