The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
How we cite our quotes:
It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's nothing you can do about it. (2.53)
In this passage we begin to see how, for Arnold, being poor and being an Indian get all tangled up together in the same knot. Poverty comes from being stupid and ugly, and being stupid and ugly comes from being an Indian. This toxic line of logic leads to some pretty dark thoughts: you begin to feel you deserve to be poor. You begin to feel totally helpless and trapped – like there's nothing you can do to change things.
"When I first started teaching here, that's what we did to the rowdy ones, you know? We beat them. That's how we were taught to teach you. We were supposed to kill the Indian to save the child."
"You killed Indians?"
"No, no, it's just a saying. I didn't literally kill Indians. We were supposed to make you give up being Indian. Your songs and stories and language and dancing. Everything. We weren't trying to kill Indian people. We were trying to kill Indian culture." (5.40-5.42)
Mr. P explains to Arnold how the school teachers initially tried to make the school kids give up being Indians. Taking the Indian-ness out of the child was supposed to save the children, but notice how brutal the whole process was. Teachers not only beat and abused the children, they also stole away their "songs and stories and language and dancing." Which, do you think, would be worse? (We say they're both pretty darn terrible.)
If a teacher told you it was bad to be white or black or (insert your race/ethnicity here), would this change the way you thought about yourself?
"Who has the most hope?" I asked.
Mom and Dad looked at each other. They studied each other's eyes, you know, like they had antennas and were sending radio signals to each other. And then they both looked back at me.
"Come on, I said. "Who has the most hope?"
"White people," my parents said at the same time. (6.7-6.10)
Arnold wants to know who has the most hope, and his parents say that it's white people. Why? Is it because the middle-class white folks in Reardan have more money and resources? How does class also change how much hope we have? Do you think poor white people have as much hope as rich ones?