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Oprah banishes "The Education of Little Tree"

Oprah Winfrey has removed the book "The Education of Little Tree" from her book website, which is one of the most influential book-selling sites in the world. "The Education of Little Tree," published in 1976, purports to be the autobiography of an Indian child who is raised by his grandparents. As it turns out, the book was written by Asa Carter, a pro-segregation racist who wrote speeches for George Wallace. Carter later wrote "The Rebel Outlaw Josey Wales," a novel which became a successful movie.

My father, Jerry Kopel, met Asa Carter when they were first year pre-journalism students at the University of Colorado in 1948. A 1998 column by my dad looks at the paradox of a man who was a virulent racist, yet who was also deeply proud of his real-life Indian grandfather. Did writing "Little Tree" provide Carter with some redemption for the terrible things that he did in the 1950s and 1960s? My father hopes so.

Bill Poser (mail) (www):
I'm not surprised at the removal, but dismayed. In the case of a work of fiction such as this, where the credibility of the author as to facts reported is irrelevant, surely only the attitudes expressed by the book, which are the opposite of racist, should be relevant, not the biography of its author. This is a variation on the ad hominem fallacy.
11.7.2007 3:13am
EH (mail):
It sure is, and it's also guilt by association vis a vis the book to its author.
11.7.2007 3:55am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Make no mistake about it, this action reminds one of book burning. If the book is good then why remove it, or burn it, particularly when the author is dead? While Lincoln emancipated the slaves in the rebellion states, and supported adoption of the thirteenth amendment, he still held a poor opinion of the black race and said so publicly. Should we throw away everything written by Lincoln? H. L. Mencken was a great American man of letters, but we now know from his personal diaries that he held a poor opinion of Jews. I for one intend to keep my large collection of Mencken's works. I'm not happy to know his true feelings about Jews, but I still like his work. US and European political correctness has now gone all the way to Lysenkoism. A prominent scientist (James Watson) gets purged from his job and condemned by governments and the media for speaking the truth. Some European countries will even send you to jail for speaking the truth.
11.7.2007 5:58am
Swede:
Racism, the charge of racism, or past acts of racism is never to be tolerated.

Unless, of course, you're Robert Byrd.

Then a chorus of crickets breaks out.
11.7.2007 6:33am
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):
Maybe if it were Amazon pulling the book from its shelves - which is how the post makes it sound - but this is just Oprah choosing not to recommend a book. It's not as if she's trying to get people to boycott it.

It's a pretty stupid reason to decide not to recommend a book. But to me, choosing not to give a book free publicity is far removed from book burning.
11.7.2007 6:41am
A. Zarkov (mail):
"But to me, choosing not to give a book free publicity is far removed from book burning."

It is far removed from book burning, and that's why I said, "reminds." But look at the opening sentence of the article.
"Oprah Winfrey has pulled a discredited children's book, …"
Now ask yourself did Oprah pull the book because the author really wasn't a Cherokee orphan, or because the dead author once supported racial segregation? After all, the book attained a bestseller status and won the Abby Award as a "hidden treasure." It obviously has literary merit. Pulling it from a recommended list is a profoundly political act in this context.
11.7.2007 7:19am
PersonFromPorlock:
Ms. Winfrey is free to do as she pleases with her list; we're free to comment on it. The Republic is not endangered.
11.7.2007 7:35am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Children's books get far too much attention anyway.
11.7.2007 7:46am
A.C.:
I took a look at the 1998 column, and the thing that surprised me most is that the author assumed all people of color would be opposed to racism in all its manifestations. I see no particular contradiction in being pro-Native American and anti-African American, or vice versa. Neither is an admirable position, but no contradiction is involved. Non-white people can racist towards other non-white people.

Of course, Oprah is free not to recommend books by authors who are hostile to her group. This rule would apply even if Carter was 100% Cherokee and the book was pure autobiography.
11.7.2007 8:57am
Tracy W (mail):
It obviously has literary merit. Pulling it from a recommended list is a profoundly political act in this context.

Indeed. And keeping it on the list would also be a profoundly political act.

That something is political doesn't tell us anything about whether it is right or not.

It does make a difference to me when something is presented as true but fundamentally isn't. The autobiography of an Indian boy brought up by his Cherokee grandparents is interesting in a way that a book written by a guy imaginging what it would be like to be brought up by a Cherokee grandparent isn't. I read "The Education of Little Tree" and only just now discovered it isn't n autobiography, and that changes my feelings about it. I still think it was charmingly written and created some lovely images in my head, but now I've downgraded its reliabilty and I feel a bit cheated.

Had it been presented as fiction from the start, I wouldn't feel that way.
11.7.2007 9:07am
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):

Now ask yourself did Oprah pull the book because the author really wasn't a Cherokee orphan, or because the dead author once supported racial segregation?


Probably both. I assume she pulled James Frey's book - though maybe not. In any event, I agree that the act could be seen as political, and personally I think that they are both stupid reasons to change your opinion of a work of literature. But I see a huge difference between choosing not to endorse a book for whatever reason, and trying to get it banned, burned, whatever.

The original post struck me as somewhat misleading:

Oprah Winfrey has removed the book "The Education of Little Tree" from her book website, which is one of the most influential book-selling sites in the world


To me, that sounds more like Amazon deciding not to sell a book rather than a talk show host choosing not to include it as one of a handful of recommended selections. Maybe the distinction isn't as meaningful as it seems to me.
11.7.2007 9:08am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
It's a shame, "The Outlaw Josie Wales" is one of my favorite westerns. But I'm not going to stop liking it because the original writer may have been a d-bag. It's more of an anti-war movie than a "south will rise again" movie in its tone anyway - Wales just happens to be from the South. And its pretty profoundly anti-racist, or at least egalitarian.
11.7.2007 9:56am
Jam:
I have not read the book.


"I see no particular contradiction in being pro-Native American and anti-African American"


Actually, there is historical reason for the above mindset: the Buffalo Soldier.

Here is another for Ms. Winfrey to consider:

"I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything."

Mr. Lincoln's Speech, Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois," September 18, 1858
http://www.nps.gov/liho/debate4.htm



"I cannot make it better known than it already is that I strongly favor colonization."
(snip)
"With deportation, even to a limited extent, enhanced wages to white labor is mathematically certain. Labor is like any other commodity in the market---increase the demand for it, and you increase the price of it. Reduce the supply of black labor, by colonizing the black laborer out of the country, and, by precisely so much, you increase the demand for, and wages of, white labor. "
Abraham Lincoln, 2nd Annual Message
December 1, 1862
Washington, DC
http://www.geocities.com/presidentialspeeches/1862.htm
11.7.2007 10:00am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
A. Zarkov-

A prominent scientist (James Watson) gets purged from his job and condemned by governments and the media for speaking the truth.

Ehh - he said some pretty goofy things. He's said some pretty goofy things all along, especially about wanting to control other people's reproduction. A few years back he was talking about trying to prevent people with "mental illness" or "addictions" from reproducing. In my opinion this is pretty nuts. Make a list of your top ten favorite writers, your top ten favorite musicians, and your top ten favorite actors/directors. If all the ones that had some kind of mental illness or addiction at some point had been aborted or avoided through selective breeding, how many would be left? A quarter? Half? Hitler wanted to create a racist utopia, and Watson wants to create a drab utopia of accountants and insurance salemen.
11.7.2007 10:08am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Typo: Should be "salesmen" above.
11.7.2007 10:13am
cathyf:
It does make a difference to me when something is presented as true but fundamentally isn't. The autobiography of an Indian boy brought up by his Cherokee grandparents is interesting in a way that a book written by a guy imaginging what it would be like to be brought up by a Cherokee grandparent isn't.
I'm still confused... Reading Jerry Kopel's, column I can't tell whether it is false that Carter was brought up by his Cherokee grandparents, or it's simply assumed false by people who believe that it's impossible for noble brown people to raise a racist child. ("Noble brown people" being redundant, of course, since all non-white people are noble.)
11.7.2007 10:27am
DDG:
People are strange. Being pro-Native American but anti-Black was a somewhat common position historically and wasn't seen as contradictory. The usually line is that the Whites wanted the Indians to be part of White society, but the Indians wanted no part of it. Blacks wanted to be part of White society, but the Whites wanted no part of it.

There was (and is) a myth of Noble Savage attached to Indians by whites, but Blacks were often considered sub-human. And people who are "oppressed minorities" often don't sympathize with other "oppressed minorities" (this quasi-Marxist idea is, like other Marxist ideas, usually wrong). (White attitudes towards Indians changed in the 19th C., mostly for the worse)

It's also pretty common for people who consider themselves white to have Indian ancestors if their families have been in America long enough (I do).
11.7.2007 10:34am
Andy Freeman (mail):
> A few years back he was talking about trying to prevent people with "mental illness" or "addictions" from reproducing. In my opinion this is pretty nuts.

It's fairly standard progressive thought from the early part of the 20th century.
11.7.2007 10:41am
World B. Free:
Oprah pulling a book from her club because it is written by a notorious racist - rightful condemnation.

School Board banning books, because they show Cuban kids in red neckties - the board got to do, what the board got to do.

Slippery f'n slope.
11.7.2007 10:44am
PLR:
Did writing "Little Tree" provide Carter with some redemption for the terrible things that he did in the 1950s and 1960s? My father hopes so.

Redemption for ill treatment of others probably requires more than writing a cute little story, even if it is written beautifully.
11.7.2007 10:48am
A. Zarkov (mail):
American Psikhushka:

'A few years back he was talking about trying to prevent people with "mental illness" or "addictions" from reproducing.'

His statements on reproduction are not what got him purged. He got purged for saying:

"… [Watson] is inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa because all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours -- whereas all the testing says not really, …"

Watson has a schizophrenic son making him sensitive to the suffering people have to endure from genetically based diseases. You will have to be more specific about what he actually said before I would judge his statement(s) as nutty.
11.7.2007 11:01am
Lior:
World B. Free, PersonFromPorlock:


This article is about the value of Oprah's actions; clearly she can recommend whatever books she wants. The school board article was on the legality of the school board pulling certain books rather than on the merits — which I agree should have been in favour of keeping the books.


Certainly Oprah is free stop recommending this book, but this sends a bad message that needs be countered. Should the NY Philharmonic stop playing Wagner and Orf? What about the works of Richard Strauss, who was an active member of the Nazi party and an official of the third Reich?


One difference between the works of recent and long-dead authors: Mel Gibson personally profits from you paying to see his films. Given his opinions on Jews and others you may not want your money to go his way. Listening to Wagner (or Strauss) doesn't implicate this secondary consideration.
11.7.2007 11:17am
Mike& (mail):
Typo: Should be "salesmen" above.

I'm one of the least PC guys you'll find. Nonetheless, I think it should say: "Typo: Should be 'salesperson' above." ;-)
11.7.2007 11:23am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
A. Zarkov-

His statements on reproduction are not what got him purged. He got purged for saying:

He went beyond that, saying something like "anyone who has to supervise black employees knows that", which is more offensive than what you quoted.

Watson has a schizophrenic son making him sensitive to the suffering people have to endure from genetically based diseases. You will have to be more specific about what he actually said before I would judge his statement(s) as nutty.

His comments went beyond referring to schizophrenia to other kinds of mental illness and addiction. He made the statements in a radio interview a couple years ago, I couldn't find it. If anyone else can please post it.
11.7.2007 11:43am
whit:
would be nice to compare this reaction (autobiography found to be fraudulent) to the reaction when it was found out that rigoberta menchu's "autobiography" (loved in academica, won numerous awards, etc. etc.) was a complete fraud.


iirc, in the latter case, the fraud didn't matter because "truth is a metanarrative" and plus, the "message" was what was important.
11.7.2007 11:48am
K Parker (mail):
"The Outlaw Josie Wales" ... [is] more of an anti-war movie
Some people have pretty low standards for what constitutes anti-war, I guess. But surely not every work that exposes the hardships of war, or the perceived futility of it by some of its participants, qualifies as anti-war. I for one would rather reserve the term for those whose actual message is that we (or they) shouldn't have participated in war. Otherwise, we might as well call The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn "anti-black" because it happens to portray some racists.
11.7.2007 11:54am
r78:


Unless, of course, you're Robert Byrd.


Oh you mean when Byrd was involved in the Klan 30 or 40 years before it was legal for black folks to sit at lunch counters in Georgia?

Is that what you were talking about?
11.7.2007 12:04pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
K Parker-

Some people have pretty low standards for what constitutes anti-war, I guess. But surely not every work that exposes the hardships of war, or the perceived futility of it by some of its participants, qualifies as anti-war. I for one would rather reserve the term for those whose actual message is that we (or they) shouldn't have participated in war. Otherwise, we might as well call The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn "anti-black" because it happens to portray some racists.

In my opinion the anti-war and the anti-statist undertones are subtle, but clearly there. It's been a while since I've seen it, but didn't Wales refuse to join up until the "Red-legs" slaughtered his family? And then the "Red-legs" are pursuing him after the war has ended to cover up or complete their war crime - slaughtering Wales' unit after they had agreed to surrender. If memory serves there's also a bunch of anti-statist material surrounding the old indian Wales joins up with as well.
11.7.2007 12:21pm
WHOI Jacket:
But if a church pastor were to say that Harry Potter shouldn't be on recommendation lists...........


We'd hear from the usual suspects.
11.7.2007 12:26pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
American Psikhushka:

"He went beyond that, saying something like "anyone who has to supervise black employees knows that"


What Watson said about black employees as quoted in the UK Independent was:

"His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true". He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because "there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don't promote them when they haven't succeeded at the lower level.
Whether this statement is more or offensive than the other is not the issue. Do we want scientists to never make statements that might offend someone even if evidence backs them up?

"His comments went beyond referring to schizophrenia to other kinds of mental illness and addiction."

That's possible. Watson sometimes rambles on and speaks his mind. Others are free to disagree and correct him. But when we purge people, attack them without evidence, that's Lysenkoism.
11.7.2007 12:44pm
ronnie dobbs (mail):
I hope Oprah's never recommended a Roald Dahl book. After having loved his books as a kid, I was disappointed to learn that he was a pretty nasty anti-semite in real life. Nonetheless, as others have said, sometimes you have to separate the art from the artist.
11.7.2007 12:52pm
otherhand1 (mail):
Concerning the "people dealing with employees" comment, I bet if you could take a secret ballot of a few hundred such people, most would agree with his comment. I've heard countless stories from managers and supervisers who have come to the same reluctant conclusion, which must not be named.
11.7.2007 12:54pm
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):
Well, there is a difference between saying that it is more difficult to deal with black employees, and implying that it is more difficult to deal with black employees because they are genetically inferior.
11.7.2007 1:10pm
otherhand1 (mail):
Yes, there is a difference, but both could be true.
11.7.2007 1:27pm
Smokey:
r78:
"Oh you mean when Byrd was involved in the Klan 30 or 40 years before it was legal for black folks to sit at lunch counters in Georgia?

"Is that what you were talking about?"
So Sen. Byrd gets a free pass. Conclusion: Democrats can be racist with impunity.

Check out Jam's 10:00am comment disparaging Lincoln before paying any attention to anyone's craven apology for the despicable Robert KKK Byrd.
11.7.2007 1:46pm
Joel Rosenberg (mail) (www):
When great writing -- or other art -- is created by bad people, that's a reason, I think, to study it more carefully, not to ignore it. Which, of course, neatly solves the Problem of Mel Gibson: when mediocre art is created by bad people, there's no reason to give the art particular attention, or the bad people royalties.

That said, as others have noted: Oprah Winfrey isn't a government, and her refusing to recommend a book isn't censorship.
11.7.2007 2:09pm
WHOI Jacket:
No one is saying it's censorship.
11.7.2007 2:13pm
Swede:
What do Senator Robert Byrd and Harry Potter have in common?

They're both wizards.
11.7.2007 3:18pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Lior:

Should the NY Philharmonic stop playing Wagner and Orf? What about the works of Richard Strauss, who was an active member of the Nazi party and an official of the third Reich?

If they want to, why not? The market will provide other sources.

Given [Gibson's] opinions on Jews and others you may not want your money to go his way.

I don't go to movies anyway, but if I did I'd judge my entertainment dollar's return solely in terms of how much entertainment Mr. Gibson provided for it. Political Correctness is, quite literally, a fool's game.
11.7.2007 3:31pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
With regard to A.C.'s point that one can be pro-Native and anti-Black, I note that a current controversy in the Cherokee Nation and, I believe, the federal courts, is over the status of black Cherokee. Prior to the Civil War, the Cherokee held black slaves and there was a good bit of intermarriage. When the federal government registered Cherokees, however, many of the black and mixed-blood Cherokee were not counted as Cherokee. The current Cherokee government is now refusing to consider their descendants as members. While there is financial motivation to keep down the number of tribal members, it is argued, I suspect correctly, that the motivation for this is in large part racist.
11.7.2007 3:55pm
James Fulford (mail):
The character of Lone Watie, played by Chief Dan George in the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales, is based on General Stand Watie, a Cherokee who fought for the Confederacy. Many of the Cherokees owned slaves, and more recently the Cherokee Nation has voted on whether descendants of slaves can be considered Cherokees. (More recently means March 3, 2007.)

So it's easy to see that someone could be pro-Native American, and anti-African American at the same time, since there's a history of conflict between the two.
11.7.2007 4:02pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
Cathyf, Carter is not of Cherokee descent. His claim the book was autobiographical was false. I would recommend pulling the book for that alone. And Menchú's
11.7.2007 4:19pm
Syd Henderson (mail):
Did Oprah put it on her website because it was based on the author's experiences? If so, finding out it wasn't seems like a reasonable reason for pulling it.

If we found out tomorrow that "The Diary of Ann Frank" was fiction (which it isn't since it's been validated), wouldn't that make us think twice about assigning as a true story?
11.7.2007 5:11pm
DDG:
Andrew J.,

It's not clear whether Carter had Cherokee ancestors. He wasn't orphaned, true, but it's not unlikely that he was descended from american indians. And as Kopel's article makes clear, he certainly claimed such ancestry long before he wrote the novel. Many "white" americans have native american ancestors, so it wouldn't really be that unusual.
11.7.2007 7:53pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Don't know about the NY Philharmonic, but there is/was a ban in Israel on performing Wagner and I seem to recall at least some controversy about playing his music in NYC in the 50s and 60s.
11.7.2007 11:06pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
James Fulford-

The character of Lone Watie, played by Chief Dan George in the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales, is based on General Stand Watie, a Cherokee who fought for the Confederacy.

Do you have other evidence that the character in the film is based on Stand Watie? Because in the context of the film the implication is that Lone Watie lied to the squaw to get her into bed.

In any case if anyone wants to see an excellent western with no incidence of anti-black racism, overt or implied, see The Outlaw Josie Wales. I'd rank it as tied for first for best western with Jeremiah Johnson.
11.8.2007 1:48am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
A Zarkov-

Do we want scientists to never make statements that might offend someone even if evidence backs them up?

No. But we can expect them to be more careful and measured in what they say, especially in a field that was and is so closely related to the eugenics movement. We live in a country that only a few short decades ago was sterilizing blacks, native americans, and whites that certain rich and influential people found "troublesome".

That's possible. Watson sometimes rambles on and speaks his mind. Others are free to disagree and correct him. But when we purge people, attack them without evidence, that's Lysenkoism.

I agree that the purge may have been excessive. But in several cases like the one I mentioned he has gone beyond theory and seemed to encourage acting on his theories and opinions without much concern for whether they were correct, whether there might be unforseeable consequences, whether most people agree with him or with the likely outcomes, etc.
11.8.2007 3:19am
Tracy W (mail):
Reading Jerry Kopel's, column I can't tell whether it is false that Carter was brought up by his Cherokee grandparents, or it's simply assumed false by people who believe that it's impossible for noble brown people to raise a racist child. ("Noble brown people" being redundant, of course, since all non-white people are noble.)

Not by me. One of my great-uncles is both part-Maori and says extremely racist things about Maori. Since he was raised by his biological parents, clearly at least one brown-skinned person managed to raise a racist child. Whether Great-Granddad was noble as well as brown-skinned is another question.

Incidentally, said great-uncle, despite his racist comments, married a part-Maori woman himself. People are complicated.
11.8.2007 5:38am
Jam:
Tracey:

My father in-law (I will refer to him as R) was such a person. R referred to me once as a "Jap." Jap here meaning foreigner. We became very good friends over time and I mourned his death, from alcoholism, deeply. My children (my oldest 2) knew him in his best and that was a blessing.

R had some racial issues, primarily, with blacks but there was black man (I will refer to him as M) who had been close friend with him for ages. I met B and he was a gentle soul. M was the one to get the doctor when several of my in-laws were born. I have been told that in the days when it was not "proper" to seat down in mixed company M was a regular at the family table. R would have given his life for M. R would say that M was different.

R lived with us for a number of years and worked with immigrants, Mexicans mostly, and developed a respect for their work ethic. R could only work as a handiman and was in job competition with the Hispanics.

People are complicated indeed.

PS: My number 2 child at the family supper one night asked us something funny. He said that he came up with it all on his own. What do you get when you cross a Puerto Rican with a farm girl from Mississippi? A Hick-spanic.
11.8.2007 9:24am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Good point about Menchu. I understand her book is still a required reading in some college classes.
Nobody's drawing back as from a bad smell.

It all depends.
11.8.2007 3:30pm