Leslie Marmon Silko

In “Yellow Woman and a Beauty of Spirit,” Leslie Marmon Silko writes about the traditions that predate the modern exposure of the Laguna Pueblo culture to the white culture. As with Gunn Allen, the creation traditions were more female-centric, with the idea of a woman as savior rather than woman as requiring rescue. Those are the kinds of legends that her culture formed, rather than the European style fairy tales that box women into inactive roles, no more than scenery, sometime less.

Marmon Silko also touches on the difference that she was aware of even as a young child between her and other children on the reservation. She and her sisters were part white, and they looked neither white nor Indian. They were outsiders in both worlds to the modern sensibilities of adults in her parent’s generation, but:
My physical appearance seemed not to matter to the old-time people. They looked at the world very differently; a person’s appearance and possessions did not matter nearly as much as a person’s behavior. For them, a person’s value lies in how that person interacts with other people, how that person behaves towards the animals and the earth. (464)
It is that sensibility that Marmon Silko harkens to in her writing. The ideas that beauty is not about appearance but action. That it cannot be limited to appearance, but that beauty is found in a healthful, happy person who interacts with others and nature in a harmonious way. Sturdy strength as a virtue, rather than any variety of waifish beauty that modern media tries to sell.

The idea of race was also different for the old culture. “In the view of the old-time people, we are all sisters and brothers because the Mother Creator made all of us - all colors and sizes” (465). Again, the emphasis is not on appearance. They accepted that people are different and celebrated that difference, rather than trying to group, exclude and ‘Other’ those that looked different from themselves.

In class, this brought us to a discussion of whether racism is worse now than it was in the past or if matters of race have improved in the culture in which we live. For most of us, that means America, and specifically Idaho. But also, I don’t think anyone in the class, including the instructor was born before 1975. So our perspectives are necessarily colored by our ages. But we came to an agreement that it is, in a way, worse now than in the past.

Because racism used to be more acceptable, it was open. People believed there were rational excuses for being racist, for believing one’s own race to be superior to another’s. In the current day, it is less acceptable to be racist, and so racist actions are couched in different language. People now claim that any action that might be called racism isn’t ‘really’ about race. And that brought to my mind the sentiment that I’ve learned from various sources, but for which I will credit here The Screwtape Letters and The Usual Suspects, that the best trick the devil ever played was convincing you he didn’t exist. If anyone who does not directly experience racism believes that it doesn’t exist, then it isn’t a problem for them, and they can go on with their comfortable lives believing that a post-racial society is reality and ignore the devil they think has been vanquished.

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