Actor Jesse Eisenberg is mainly in the news these days because he has been cast to play villain Lex Luthor in an upcoming superhero movie. But Eisenberg is also a writer who has contributed numerous humor pieces to The New Yorker‘s “Shouts and Murmurs” section over the past few years. His latest, “Men and Dancing,” is striking many readers as unfunny, to say the least.
“Men and Dancing” contains four dialogues meant to poke fun at the idea that men are reluctant to dance in public. The first dialogue is between two characters: “Chief” and “Squaw.” Squaw wants Chief to do a “rain dance” to “appease the rain gods” in front of the Tribe because the crops are in need of rain; Chief doesn’t want to, because he is a man and doesn’t want to dance in public.
There are all sorts of problems with this characterization of Native Americans—and there’s a big problem with the use of the word “squaw,” which we thought everyone understood was a racial slur. Aura Bogado makes it plain and simple in her Colorlines piece “Five Racist Ways The New Yorker is Embarrassing Itself.”
Eisenberg’s bit about Natives displays all the enlightenment of a Tintin comic book or an early Popeye cartoon—but those cringe-inducing products of their time were made over 80 years ago. To see The New Yorker print the word “squaw” like it’s just another noun, here in the year 2015, is a reminder that even the smartest guys on the newsstand can still be fairly dumb when it comes to Native stereotyping.
Less than a month ago, The New Yorker published a wonderful vignette about an 18-year-old Native photographer whose images are on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in a celebrated show called “The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky.” In that piece, Shania Rae Hall was identified as “a member of the Blackfeet Nation”—not a “squaw.”