Ethnic Drag Queens: Red-Faced in Red Face

“Who knows better what a man desires to see in a woman, than a female impersonator?”

Now, before I start getting an unwanted sort of fan mail, let me say that I am paraphrasing a comment I recall being attributed to the late Japanese playwright Yukio Mishima, a fascinating figure who spoke from experience on this topic. Mishima’s point, of course, was that insight into one’s fantasies is most likely to be found in someone who is a lot like you, and who thus may entertain similar fantasies (even if they play a decidedly different role in them).

This observation explains not only Mishima’s distant relationship with his wife, (and the lyrics of the Kink’s song Lola), but also the career of Ward Churchill.

As you probably already know, Ward Churchill is a tenured poseur at the University of Colorado. A professor of ethnic grievance and Native American studies, Mr. Churchill claimed to be an American Indian, a combat veteran, an artist creating original Native American paintings, an author of scholarly writings on Indian grievances, and a militaristic self-appointed leader of “his” people.

In reality, Ward Churchill is a delusional white boy from Urbana, Ill., who never saw combat, created his “art” by scanning and colorizing other people’s photographs and sketches, is accused of plagiarizing some of his scholarly writings, and has made a life’s work out of denying, defaming and defrauding his actual people.

We would have never known any of this, except that Churchill made the mistake of attempting to become significant, by carrying his self-loathing war against America outside the world of Academia following September 11th. The 3,000 people that were massacred on that day deserved to die, he said, because of America’s accumulated crimes against ethnic minorities–like him. The people in the twin towers were “little Eichmanns”, being (in his mind) just like the Gestapo leader who helped kill millions in concentration camps.

This is exactly the sort of thing that Americans love to hear from those who are paid to educate their youth in a taxpayer-funded public university. Mr. Churchill thus got quite a bit of attention from lots of angry palefaces who couldn’t see how a stockbroker or a secretary was equivalent to the head of the Nazi mass murder units. Such attention initially delighted Mr. Churchill, but as he soon found out, those with skeletons in their closet probably shouldn’t put their wigwam on the “parade of homes.” All sorts of people have since come forward to reveal the sordid truth about the red-faced racial impersonator. Of course, the University of Colorado has no plans to fire him — he has tenure. What’s a little fraud compared to that? Everybody pads his resum???? ©, right?

In the aftermath of the debacle, quite a few people asked just how, exactly, a white man without a Ph.D. could so successfully defraud a university that it would appoint him a tenured professor of Native American Studies without even a full review of his academic record or his having the requisite teaching experience.

The answer is simple: Having walked a mile in their penny loafers, the white-bread Mr. Churchill knew what a leftist white man’s fantasy of the perfect Native American was. Combative, guilt-mongering, intellectual in a passable way. He had survived being forced to fight in the white man’s war against the yellow man, then become involved in ethnic identity politics in the sixties, and gone on to posture as a sort of native Malcolm X, pushing all the right buttons while struggling against historical injustice. Plus he’s got long black hair and wears a lot of beads. He knew how to fulfill a liberal’s expectation of an idealized Indian just as totally as Mishima’s female impersonators knew how to fulfill his expectations of the idealized geisha girl. As we all learned in elementary school, it takes one to know one.

Mr. Churchill is not unique, either. The left has a long history of picking up ethnic trannies and taking them home to meet Mama. Ah, where to begin? How about the “litter Indian”? Being a child in the seventies, I remember him well: long black hair, beads, in tune with nature and wearing feathers and buckskins. In public service ads, he walked across the former Eden that had been taken from his people so unjustly so long ago and gazed at the cans, bottles, cups, bags, old tires and junk that covered the landscape. Everywhere he came upon litter and debris suffocating the land and choking the waters. Finally, heartbroken, he turned and looked into the camera so we could see a single tear roll majestically down his tanned cheek. The commercial aired for years, well into my childhood. I bought it — probably more than most.

Being very young and from a mother that actually has a little Cherokee blood, I was really ready to believe that I had some special tie with the eagle and the chipmunk. I was so mad at litter and Columbus that I could have slapped my Daddy just for being pure white; but that would have been another war that the white man would have quickly won through superior firepower. This standard white boy fantasy was the Indian as high priest of an ancient environmentalist religion that had man in peaceful spiritual harmony with vermin and weeds and such–until the white man brought Bibles and liquor and coal-fired Oldsmobiles to run over the buffalo.

The Indian in the commercial, “Iron Eyes Cody”, became a pop figure and made a career out of being the crying Indian until shortly before he died in 1999. That’s when we learned that the crying Indian was an Italian guy from Louisiana named Espera “Oscar” DeCorti, who found work as a character actor easier to come by when he showed up as Iron Eyes Cody, which is a real Indian name isn’t it? Call it the “Crying (Indian) Game.”

Then there is Chief Seattle, who blessed the founding of either Starbucks or some city in Washington State, I believe. Chief Seattle made a great speech that is one of the foundations of the “I wish I was an Indian so I could use every part of the buffalo” branch of environmentalism. Just the other day, the smoke-belching ancient Volvo that crawled through Boston traffic just ahead of me sported the most famous quote from this speech on one of it’s many righteous bumper stickers: “The Earth does not belong to us; we belong to the Earth.”

The speech is full of great stuff like that — which seems custom-made to appeal to white folks who can’t wait to think globally and act locally, if only with the bumper of a cyanide-producing salt-covered ’83 Volvo. That could be because the speech was written in 1971, by a white guy named Ted Perry as part of the script for an eco-Indian movie produced by the Southern Baptist Convention. Chief Ted “Southern WASP” Perry’s speech is featured in Al Gore’s thriller Earth in the Balance, attributed to the real Chief Seattle, who never said : “How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land?” or “We are part of the Earth and it is part of us” or “the Earth is our mother” or “Man did not weave the web of life — he is merely a strand in it” or even “visit Mac Johnson’s webpage and click on the advertisements so that he can afford to buy a buffalo burger and use every part of it.”

My favorite “lady in red,” however is The Education of Little Tree. This book is the autobiography of a really real Indian boy named Forrest Carter who learns so much about nature and life after being sent to live with his old-style Cherokee grandparents way back up in the Smoky Mountains and thereafter becoming “Little Tree”. A best seller in the seventies, it has enjoyed periodic comebacks ever since then, being especially popular in the early 1990s. Little Tree’s education is a shining example of everything the white man just knows he could learn from an Indian, if he could just meet one (preferably one with long black hair and lots of beads). This could be because it was written by a white man; “Forrest Carter” being the pen name of Asa Carter, a segregationist speechwriter for former Alabama Gov. George Wallace.

Say whatever else you will about Southerners, but you’ve got to admit we can really do Indian drag. Also, I must note that I hesitated to lump “Forrest” Carter in with Churchill and the others, since Carter had real literary talent, being the author of two books that became the classic Clint Eastwood movie The Outlaw Josey Wales. Of course, Watch for Me on the Mountain may be his finest novel, telling as it does the story of Geronimo — as only a fellow Indian could tell it. Truthfully, I recommend it. I read it straight through in a single night it was so good. It’s exactly what I thought Geronimo would be!

In the sort of comedy one can see only on C-SPAN, Ward Churchill gave a speech last February to his supporters in the ethnic grievance field in which he said among many, many other things: “I come from an actual community and I have responsibilities to that community.” What he did not tell us, however, was that his “community” was the ethnic equivalent of the drag queens in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert — feathered headdresses and all.

Well I’m not dumb, but I can’t understand why he walks like a shaman but talks like (white) man??¢â???¬ ¦ Wardla! W-w-w-w-wardla!