"And what's more, our white dentist believed that Indians only felt half as much pain as white people did, so he only gave us half the Novocain."
When describing his painful medical history, Junior explains how the white dentist treats Indian patients on the Spokane Reservation. The dentist believes in the stereotyped and racist notion that Indians have a higher pain threshold, so he only gives Junior half as much Novocain to numb his mouth as he would give a white patient. This type of thinking falls into the category of scientific racism, which is the (faulty) belief that certain internal attributes - like strength, pain tolerance, or intelligence - are inherent in a specific ethnic group. Juniors anecdote about the dentist also alludes to the common racist trope of the Noble Savage in which non-Indians believe that Indians are stoic creatures who do not complain about physical torment.
"Seriously, I know my mother and father had their dreams when they were kids. They dreamed about being something other than poor, but they never got the chance to be anything because nobody paid attention to their dreams."
Like almost everyone else living on the Spokane Indian Reservation, Junior and his family are poor. However, he knows that his parents had dreams of escaping the reservation and their poverty when they were younger. He knows that nobody sets out to be poor. The problem his parents faced, though, is that they had no assistance or support to pursue a different path than their parents; nobody pushed them out of the only life they had ever known. Junior describes the cycle of self-doubt and the crushing low self-esteem that comes from growing up poor, which means that Junior is already aware of the fact that anyone who wants to pursue a life outside of the reservation will need to be able to rely on a strong support system.
"His father is drinking hard and throwing hard punches, so Rowdy and his mother are always walking around with bruised and bloody faces.
'It's war paint,' Rowdy always says. 'It just makes me look tougher.'"
One notable problem on the Indian reservation is abuse, which is often connected to the more widespread problem of alcoholism. Junior often alludes to these issues in his diary, especially when describing Rowdy's father. Rather than viewing himself as a victim, though, Rowdy shrugs off the tragedy of his situation with specific cultural humor. He references war paint which certain tribes used to intimidate people for battles, claiming that people view him as tough because he takes constant beatings. This shows the cycle of hopelessness that Junior frequently mentions; Rowdy does not even consider trying to change his situation, but rather, he believes that he has no choice but to cope with it. The inherent problem is that Rowdy himself grows up to be a volatile, angry man, thus perpetuating the cycle of violence.
"'But I do forgive you," he said. 'No matter how much I don't want to. I have to forgive you. It's the only thing that keeps me from smacking you with an ugly stick. 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.'"
Mr. P. discusses an important aspect of American history, which is that white settlers actively tried to eliminate Indian culture in order to make indigenous people assimilate to a Western lifestyle. There are numerous documented cases of settlers taking Indian children from their reservations and placing them in Catholic schools. Their braids were cut off, and they were forced to learn English and forget their own nation's language. Mr. P. references this tragic history when he tells Junior how as a teacher, he was once instructed to ensure that his Indian students forget their songs, language, and culture. This conversation reveals the early American tactic of using forced assimilation to subdue the Indians and take their land. However, Mr. P. is the one who shares this knowledge with Junior, and it is his guilt that forces him to push Junior to fulfill his potential.
"None of those guys punched me or got violent. After all, I was a reservation Indian, and no matter how geeky and weak I appeared to be, I was still a potential killer."
One of the most arcane stereotypes about Indians is the Noble Savage trope. Early settlers believed that Indians were uncivilized and relied on their basic animal instincts for self-preservation. Junior believes that his white classmates at Reardan view him through this racist lens. Therefore, even though Junior is picked on in Wellpinit for being a sickly, gangly fourteen-year-old, in Reardan he is simply the product of centuries of savagery.
"Man, I've always cried too easily. I cry when I'm happy or sad. I cry when I'm angry. I cry because I'm crying. It's weak. It's the opposite of the warrior."
One of the most dangerous aspects of widespread discrimination is that its victims often start to internalize it. For example, Junior feels as though he needs to embody the hyper-masculine stereotype of the stoic Indian warrior, like Rowdy does. However, while Rowdy is large and mean, Junior has always been picked on for being small and awkward. Therefore, he feels as though his frequent crying is proof of his weakness, while in truth Junior is actually more emotionally mature than Rowdy or the other bullies who pick on him.
"'Okay Arnold,' Dodge said. 'Where did you learn this fact? On the reservation? Yes, we all know there is so much amazing science on the reservation.'"
While the reservation does not have the best educational resources, Mr. Dodge uses Junior's ethnicity and home environment against him in order to dismiss the point he is trying to make. This is a common technique that people in positions of power use to subjugate others. Mr. Dodge knows that Junior does not have access to the same level of education as many of his classmates, but instead of trying to help Junior succeed, Mr. Dodge uses this information to belittle Junior. However, it is likely that Mr. Dodge is relying on his position of power to assert himself, because he does not want a student whom he sees as inherently inferior to publicly prove him wrong. Therefore, Mr. Dodge is more interested in preserving his pride and maintaining his pre-established stereotypes about Indians than helping a student improve.
"'Anorexics are anorexic all the time,' she says. 'I'm only bulemic when I throw up.'
Wow. SHE SOUNDS JUST LIKE MY DAD!"
(Cartoon shows Junior's father saying, 'I'm only an alcoholic when I get drunk.')
When Junior hears Penelope talk about her eating disorder, he realizes that she sounds like Junior's father when he talks about his alcohol addiction. This is an important turning point for Junior, who has been feeling like his upbringing is a barrier between him and his new affluent classmates. However, in this instance, Junior is actually able to give Penelope the emotional support that she needs because of his experiences with alcoholism on the reservation, which shows him that perhaps he is not quite so different from the other Reardan kids.
"'I'm sick of Indian guys who treat white women like bowling trophies.'"
In his response to Junior's email that he is in love with a white girl, Rowdy argues that Indians, as well as other men of color, see white women as the pinnacle of beauty; white women are prizes to be won simply because of their skin color. Traditionally ethnocentric cultures (like popular American culture) view light skin tone as superior to dark skin tones - and the media often justifies this hierarchy. Over time, some people of color internalize this belief, which is why Rowdy is criticizing Junior's pursuit of Penelope - he thinks Junior sees her as a status symbol.
"I knew that two or three of those Indians might now have eaten breakfast that morning.
No food in the house.
I knew that seven or eight of those Indians lived with drunken mothers and fathers.
I knew that one of those Indians had a father who dealt crack and meth.
I knew two of those Indians had fathers in prison.
I knew that none of them were going to college. Not one of them.
And I knew that Rowdy's father was probably going to beat the crap out of him for losing the game."
Junior is jubilant after leading the Reardan basketball team to victory over Wellpinit. However, he is struck with shame once he realizes that by playing for Reardan, he is no longer the underdog. Junior and his teammates have bright futures ahead of them, yet Junior alone knows what the Wellpinit players' lives are like. He suddenly feels a heavy weight of responsibility; for Reardan, this was only a basketball game - but for the Wellpinit kids, there was much more at stake. They could have used the confidence and pride that comes with a major upset, and Junior feels guilty that his aggressive vendetta against Rowdy has prevented him from seeing that.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Questions and Answers
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Junior tries out for the Reardan basketball team after his father encourages him to dream big. Reardan will be playing Wellpinit in the first game of the season. As the Reardan bus approaches the reservation school, the Indians throw rocks at...
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