Captain Kirk Lets Americans Down
Five-year old Jordan Bray had two heroes. Laura Ingalls Wilder and Captain James T. Kirk. I was glued to the television to watch both of them. It sort of figures they would both die in the same Tweet thread.
First, I was alerted that William Shatner had sent out a tweet about Laura Ingalls Wilder losing her literary award named in her honor.
In light of this tweet, I thought I would approach this man who represented the “enlightened, scientific white man” who “learned from the past” about culture such that the brave exploration of new worlds was not supposed to be colonialism or railroading indigenous people. This man who represented Star Trek.
I sent him a tweet thread. It began with a tweet introducing him to Ana Mardoll’s tweeting of the book, Prairie Fires, by Caroline Fraser which actually takes a critical eye to Laura Ingalls Wilder. Mardoll provides us with facts from the book ranging from Pa Ingalls’ serial stealing such as from the company store to Pa’s role in getting Mary blinded — which involves arrogance and not listening to common wisdom.
I was hoping Shatner would read Ana Mardoll’s humorous, fact-filled journey through the truth of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life. For example, the Germans who moved into Wisconsin and Minnesota in the 1850s would often wait for Native people to go out hunting, and then they would move into their homes. When the Native people returned home, the white people refused to leave and started building their own buildings there.
That is what the Ingalls did in Minnesota. When the Dakota people got home, Charles refused to leave. The other German family who moved there with them upon recognizing that Native people were demanding their land back, vacated it. Charles Ingalls wouldn’t. Laura reports this as the government kicking her family off the land, but the truth is that the government actually sided with Charles as the white man. He just refused to pay the government fees for the land. So, they left Minnesota.
I knew it was a bit of pipe-dream to get William Shatner to actually read a tweet thread by a woman author. It wasn’t likely he was going to read about how Wilder simply didn’t report her family’s story with accuracy.
Knowing that people frequently don’t read what you send them, I sent a second message in the thread to Shatner. It included the following picture of a page out of an academic journal article titled, “Little Squatter on the Osage Diminished Reserve.”
The above page sums up the problem with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s brand of historical racism. By sugarcoating the way the Ingalls appear to treat Native Americans — and giving the white people in the story the ultimate sympathetic behavior and characteristics — she tells a lie both in terms of actions and consequences.
Wilder’s is only the most benevolent racism. It doesn’t ask white people to challenge their assumptions about the behavior of their ancestors. Ingalls’ work encourages them to excuse and justify it. Genocide becomes mere “displacement.”
As I read through “the Little Squatter” analysis of history, this academic encouraged me to think about Wilder’s work in a whole new light. Between recognizing that Wilder had helped numb me to the actions of White Americans in the colonial period — and being angry at the slew of historical inaccuracies in her books — I could see why she wasn’t being honored with a book award anymore.
Do you know who doesn’t know why they are not honoring Wilder with an award anymore?
William Shatner. This was this flippant response to my thread to him.
Now, let’s see what educated, thoughtful people had to say about the Wilder history: essentially, it would be better that we name a literary award after Zane Grey. His novels were also bitterly racist and starkly violent toward Native people. But at least they were honest. Both factually and historically. Plus, then the novels would force white Americans to face their history head on.
With Grey’s books, the nastiness of these settlers is front and center. In Ingalls’ books, it has been sublimated in service of the American myth-making that white people absolutely had to take over that land. “It was sad. It was inevitable.” It is genocide by manifest destiny that we all excuse as “ just a product of the era.”
It was good for me to read these academic pieces. Two individuals and one family on the Mayflower were my grandparents. Further pioneer grandparents descend from them. My ancestors absolutely stole land and killed Indians while justifying it by saying these people were inferior. I’m not going to sugarcoat that by saying, “Today’s value system says that is wrong, but it didn’t say so then, so my ancestors are off the hook.”
We literally make excuses for Wilder’s racism and her literature with the same mechanism she taught us to use. “Don’t blame us. We were just the products of our time. We will supply you with the myths that excuse our behavior. Then you can continue to do so.”
William Shatner’s fans proceeded to spend the day lambasting me for “burning books” because of choosing to critique Wilder’s books and agreeing with the removal of her award. Rather than demonstrating critical thinking, he never read the academic sources I provided, and he gave a knee-jerk, anti-intellectual, anti-politically correct response. His reactionary behavior led his fanbase to follow suit except for the rare critical thinkers.
The saddest part was how smug they were as they lectured me about how stupid I was for “burning books like an authoritarian” and “erasing history.” These people who had rejected knowledge were actually continuing to adopt a false history so they could maintain a propagandistic story about themselves.
Despite the fact I had to spend the day dealing hundreds of his fans writing obnoxious comments to me, I found that by the end of the day, William Shatner had blocked me. It was a triumph for ignorance. It was a triumph for Wilder’s lies and misrepresentations of the past. It was a typical day in Trump’s America.