For the “Shouts & Murmurs” humor column in its May 25th issue, The New Yorker presents “Men and Dancing,” a collection of four absurd dialogues written by actor and playwright Jesse Eisenberg. In each dialogue someone is pressuring a man to perform a dance that is part of his job and the man makes every excuse in the book to avoid doing so. For example, a quarterback presses a wide receiver to do a touchdown dance and a royal aide pushes a court jester to dance for the king.
The first dialogue—where an imaginary Native “squaw” insists that her ”chief” perform a rain dance to help their starving tribe’s crops grow—is deeply troubling.
Keep in mind that there are more than 560 federally recognized tribal nations in the United States alone, and that doesn’t count those that are not federally recognized. Each is unique—and a living testament to resistance in the face of settler colonialism. Yet Eisenberg collapses all Natives into one.
Using a worn-out stereotype isn’t all that’s wrong: here are five more examples of The New Yorker’s and Eisenberg’s racism in this failed humor piece:
“Squaw:” This English-language word is derived from the Algonquin term for “woman” but it’s the equivalent of calling someone a “cunt.” White men have been using this racist slur that reduces Native women to their genetalia for about 400 years, and it’s time to put an end to it.
“Rain Dance:” Tribal peoples participate in private ceremonies that include certain dances that are not performed for white consumption. The very idea that Eisenberg would make up a ritual that he knows nothing about only illustrates his ignorance and entitlement.
“Chief:” Sure, some tribal nations have chiefs, but they, too, have names. For centuries, non-Natives have used “chief” to refer to Native men regardless of their position in the tribe. The term also ignores that women, including clan mothers, hold leadership roles in countless tribal nations. Calling a nameless Native “chief” is racist. End of story.
“Two Dogs Prancing Unself-Consciously Across New Horizon:” In Eisenberg’s piece, the “chief” suggests that someone with the above-stated name perform the vital rain dance. Native names hold a special meaning and are passed down through generations. Some Natives have names like “Kills The Enemy” or “Has No Horse” are still challenged. A white man poking fun at those names by stripping them of meaning? Yeah. That’s racist.
“Bear meat:” Eisenberg’s “chief” suggests hunting bears instead of rain-dancing. Although white people have traditionally consumed all kinds of meat including venison, squirrel and rabbit, there’s long been a moral panic about what meats tribal peoples eat. The stereotype of Natives hunting bears is caught up in the antiquated notion of them being exotic creatures who are inherently close to nature. Stop it, Jesse Eisenberg. Just stop it.