“Superman and Me,” Native American Issues, and Social Journalism

A couple of weeks ago, my students read “Superman and Me” by Sherman Alexie in class. I wish we got to discuss more about the essay–how he develops the Superman allusion throughout the essay! the ironic, antithetical, and paradoxical ideas about the identities Indians are to assume! the message (the purpose) of the essay to Indians (and more broadly to minorities)! (I’ll admit it: I’m a nerd. Unpacking essays like “Superman and Me” gets me SO excited). However, what I wanted to discuss was something that happened just a couple of days after we read the essay in class. A couple of days after we first read “Superman and Me,” I stumbled onto this article and this video on Facebook.

I’ll be the first to admit that I know pathetically little about the realities that Native Americans face in America. (Let’s not stop there, I know little about the realities that minorities in America in general face today. I have much to learn about the situation of Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and even Asians in America today). (To my students: If this is you, let me tell you–it’s okay. There’s so much to learn in this world, and I am in the process of learning. I hope that you are as well. We are all ignorant to some things–some truths, some realities–but being complacent in our ignorance is not okay.)

When I first read this article, I was disgusted. It doesn’t surprise me–to read that money continues to run the world. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that economic incentives drive politics and international relationships and policies. Maybe I knew this on an intellectual level when I was in high school, but, in recent years, the persistent presence of economic interest as the implicit motivation behind the content of the vast majority of the articles I read about current events has disheartened me and has made me become incredibly cynical.

When I read this article, I was sad also. Native Americans are ignored and have no voice in American society. (When was the last time you have heard from any public Native American figure?) They have little political power and influence, and the injustices that have been perpetrated against them throughout history have been shrugged aside with mere political apologies. Our nation views them more as cultural tokens than real and living people, and the extent that Americans knows about Native American reservations is probably that Native Americans live on (read: were forced onto) reservations.

To read that oil developers are eyeing Native American lands for profit makes me wonder when our greed will end. When will we start acting for the good of the environment? When will stop taking away from others anything that may be of profit to a select few? And why, WHY am I not reading about this in the national news? Instead, I’m reading about it on Facebook and seeing it shared on social media. The Native American voice–the minority voice–is being silenced again. And why is it being silenced? I don’t know for sure, but I would assume that it’s not profitable to publish these stories because 1. oil developers (and the U.S. government that is funded by wealthy individuals) are probably really eager for this deal to go through and 2. stories about Native Americans aren’t of great concern to the mass public. Less appeal to the audience = less hits on the internet = less money from advertisers that publish advertisements on web pages. And that, in a nutshell, is how journalism works in this day and age. Again, money runs the world.

Social Journalism
Having written all of that, I want to talk a little about social journalism. The big questions that any smart thinker should have raised after reading the above paragraphs are these: “Is the information in the article accurate?” and “Is the article telling the full story?” Because my whole criticism is contingent on my belief that information conveyed in the article is true.

As I alluded to earlier, there are some stories that simply don’t make national headlines. After scouring the internet for all things related to Ferguson, Michael Brown, and other minority victims of racism and police brutality, I’ve lost a certain confidence and trust in traditional news outlets. News outlets are quick to move on from one story to the next. The communities that are impacted by the events that happen, the communities that are left behind when the national media moves on, are the ones, however, that are truly invested in the stories that continue on. Because those stories don’t just end when the news outlets leave town. Due to the rise of social media, individuals from these communities continue to report their stories on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other smaller websites unaffiliated with traditional news outlets. As the use of social media has spread, traditional journalism has transitioned to social journalism, in which stories are broken through social media by traditional journalists and amateur journalists alike. Now, anyone can publish their story online.

How Should Readers Read in the Age of Social Journalism?
What is the implication of social journalism for readers today? Well, it’s a great time to employ those skills you learned in high school social studies and english courses. As I navigate through the articles I read online today (both the ones from traditional news outlets and nontraditional sources), I evaluate the authors:
  • Are they biased? Unbiased? What are their biases?
  • Are they a reliable source of information? Are they outsiders or insiders?
  • Is their information corroborated by other sources?
  • What is their motivation and their purpose for writing and publishing this article?
  • etc. etc.

I encourage reading, and I encourage reading widely. Reading widely should lead you to a huge variety of sources, including nontraditional sources of information. But no matter what you read–whether it’s from a “reputable” source or one that has yet to earn such a designation–keep your wits about you. Don’t buy into everything anyone tells you. Think!

Last-Minute Notes:

  • I hadn’t heard of Sherman Alexie before I read “Superman and Me,” but as I was browsing his website Falls Apart today, I realized that he’s the author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I’ve heard great things about this book, and this is on my to-read list!
  • While I was browsing Alexie’s website, I also stumbled onto this video. Did you guys know that Alexie’s books are banned in some communities? This is crazy to me, but I believe it, and, honestly, this just reinforces some of the issues I talked about in this post….
  • Check out Alexie’s website and twitter to learn more about him!
Articles I Read While I was Writing this Post: 
(No, this is not a bibliography. I get distracted by articles; I’m not someone that can just sit down and write continuously until I have a final product. I write a little, read a little, think, return to my writing, find myself distracted again, and repeat that whole process all over again. There are some GREAT reads among these articles!)
A few last thoughts:
I made a whole boatload of unsupported claims in this blog post. I’m sure future blog posts will also have boatloads of unsupported claims as well. As someone who teaches that a person must always be able to defend their answer, this blog post really makes me cringe. There’s a lot that someone could latch onto to criticize and argue against. That being said…I also didn’t envision such a long post, so I’ll end it here, unsupported claims and all.
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