by Guest Contributor Debbie Reese, originally published at American Indians in Children’s Literature
When Harry Reid’s remarks about Obama hit the news yesterday, Michael Steele (head of the Republican Party) said Reid ought to resign. When called out on his own language (Steele said “Honest Injun” on January 4), he said, at first, that he did not to apologize or step down from his own position. Now, he’s issuing the classic “IF” I offended anyone….. (not)apology.
There’s been a lot of spin about both men and what they said. With this post, I focus on the terms “Injun” and “Honest Injun.”
Steel says his use of the phrase was not intended as a racial slur. I imagine a lot of people were surprised to learn that “injun” is derogatory.
Surprised, because, it is, after all, quite common. You can find “Injun” and “Honest Injun” in older books that are widely read today, like:
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – published in 1876, where “evil is embodied in the treacherous figure of Injun Joe,” (p. x of the intro to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Signet Classic book published in 2002) and in the oath used several times by characters.
Seems to me, in my cursory study of the phrase, that it may have been coined by Twain. In the entry on “Injun,” the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists Twain as the first person to use “Injun.” It also lists several other noted writers who used “Honest Injun.” Some are George Bernard Shaw in 1896 and James Joyce (in Ulysses) in 1922. Continue reading