Why Sherman Alexie will ALWAYS be Important; a Reflective Analysis
by Theresa Griffin Kennedy*
This is an opinion piece. It reflects my lived experience, social conditioning, moral compass and understanding of various complex social dynamics. As such, it is also biased. However, you may find it has common sense in it—something we need more in this troubled world – Theresa
Native American people, particularly if they’re your friends prefer being called “Indians.” – T
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Publisher/Editor of https://liveencounters.net nor that of the domain owner.
Part of the reason I grew to love Sherman Alexie’s short stories and poetry, when I began reading him years ago, is because I’d never been exposed to the voice of a literary Native American author before, and his writing is beautiful. Alexie was the first, and certainly the most gifted Indian writer I’d ever read.
Another reason Alexie’s writing impacted me so strongly is because growing up in NW Portland in the 1970s it was “the Indians” who were my first friends, my neighbors and the kids I grew up with and came of age with. When I was teased for playing with Indians by other white kids, I never once thought of not being friends with them. They had been around me for as long as I could remember and it never entered my mind to abandon them. I had been taught that color didn’t determine a person’s worth. My mother told me that, and my father. Skin color was not what made us important, but rather what we had “on the inside” was what mattered. Did we observe The Golden Rule? Were we kind? Did we try to be understanding? Were we compassionate to those with less? This is what I was told and because it was my parents who told me these things, I believed them.
As a white woman who has lost touch with nearly every one of the Indians I grew up with, (most of them are dead now) I saw firsthand what they were dealing with. I saw the alcoholism of their parents and uncles and aunts and older siblings, and cousins. I saw the way some Indian girls tried to become white in an effort to be assimilated into white culture and accepted. I knew about the domestic violence abuse, the beatings, the broken arms, the fractured jaws, black eyes, knocked out teeth—and the occasional murders at Powwows that turned ugly when someone “disrespected” someone else. I knew of the drunken Indian men who abused their families and then wept brokenly as the Central Precinct officers hauled them away, and they begged to die.
I knew of the Indian family who lost their three-year-old daughter to a hit and run driver on NW Thurman Street. The parents had gone into the Beaver Café to drink and left their three small children in a battered station wagon outside. Two hours later the little girl, hungry and in a dirty diaper slipped out of the car, and wandered into the street where she was hit and killed by a driver who was never found. All the white children in the neighborhood rushed around to tell everyone. Some had seen the aftermath, but I hadn’t. I’d been at Wallace Park watching over my little sister. The kids talked about how the mother wailed outside on the sidewalk. We spoke in hushed tones and all agreed it was so sad. They had lost their little girl and she was only three. The two other children were promptly placed in foster homes courtesy of the state of Oregon and Children’s Services Division, and the parents arrested. The only neighborhood children who didn’t’ talk about it were the Indians. They said nothing.
I looked at the blood soaked towel as it lay in the gutter for three days on my way to and from school. I would stop and look down at it blankly, contemplating the tragedy and feeling the bottomless sadness I always felt when I could not for the life of me understand something horrible. I watched as it turned from scarlet red to faded rust before it was finally disposed of by some nameless person with the sense to remove it. This was about 1974, long before the days of Hazmat and accident clean-ups. And I know the sight of that blood soaked towel will always travel with me.
I saw Indian boys and girls with black eyes and arms in casts or slings, walking down the street to the corner store to buy bread or milk for their mothers, trying not to be noticed, looking down, with their long black hair hanging in their faces. I saw the mothers’ of these children stumbling home drunk, numb, trying to contend with the impossible task of caring for children on welfare, while their addictions went unchecked and their older children ran wild.
Despite all the chaos they lived with, the Indians I grew up with welcomed me with open arms. They were always glad to see me. I was quiet, I smiled and I never judged them. Many of them lived across the street in a large rundown apartment complex called The Barker Apartments which was located up and past a dangerous narrow ally. The ally joined two areas of the same NW Portland neighborhood between Thurman and Vaughn Streets with multiple Indian families living at the Barker. They also lived at the notorious Leonard Apartments farther west, north of Thurman Street. Or they lived around our block and all through our general area. We played together from the time some of us were in kindergarten, ran the streets, and rode our bicycles from one end of NW to the other. When Saturday Night Live came out in theaters in 1977 we listened to the song Stayin’ Alive repeatedly on an Indian friend’s tape deck on the front porch of the Barker. We danced frantically to it for hours, trying to imitate the John Travolta disco moves until one of the neighbors yelled over at us to stop just as dusk was approaching. Those were good times. We were kids and still too innocent of the real world not to be happy.
Growing up with my Indian friends taught me a lot about compassion, and silent understanding. The kind of understanding where you know words are of no use and no help because you’re a child and they’re a child and you both know you have no power and can do nothing to change anything.
But most of what I saw in those dim times taught me about the dynamics of racism, shame, silence and ultimately of departure. Indians are good at that. They are good at departure.
I learned how they always sat in the back of the classrooms at Chapman Elementary. They hardly ever spoke, their silence being the one thing you could count on. When the black students who were bussed over from NE were laughing and debating some concept with the Home Room teacher, joking about how they deserved “reparations” my Indian friends remained silent. They never talked about the past or social injustice or what they deserved because of what had happened to them throughout the history of the United States. The teachers largely ignored them and never asked for their opinions. When they didn’t turn in their homework, the teachers didn’t say anything. They were never involved in “group discussion” during English, Writing or Social Studies. The only students who did talk in group discussion were the majority white students, and the small number of black students.
When we had been “good” we were treated to a film several times during the school year in third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades as a reward. The old projector hummed quietly as the images flickered across the tattered pull-down screen. But it was the Indians in the class who would stare at the floor, or hold their chin in their hands, a look of infinite passivity on their beautiful faces. Sometimes they would lay their heads on their arms and gaze over at the dark wall while the Hollywood Western began and then ended, occasionally even falling asleep. Invariably, the cowboys always won, and the Indians always lost.
The hero was a big swaggering white man with a cowboy hat, the love interest a nervous, jittery white woman of repressed sexuality and piles of beautiful auburn hair—the kind of woman who was always eager to reprimand or scold someone for doing the wrong thing, her chest heaving with righteous indignation. And the sympathetic quiet Indian was always just a little slow, never very smart, but always filled with that poetic resignation that film Indians are known for. A beautiful acquiescence to their fate, a vague powerlessness but with that expressed unity with “The great spirit” that somehow made it all okay that they’d had their culture annihilated and their lands stolen. Even then, I knew the Hollywood Westerns were getting it wrong.
Sometimes after the film was over, a white boy or two would imitate an Indian call by flapping their hand over their mouths, vocalizing “woo, woo, woo, woo!” Then they would look back at one of the Indian boys in the back of the classroom and snicker. The teachers never reprimanded them for it and the Indian boys generally never said a word.
The memories of how my Indian friends were treated during those years in the early and middle 1970s will never leave my consciousness. And it was with that perspective that I began reading Sherman Alexie’s wonderful short stories decades later, and his poetry.
Alexie’s main protagonists were often like some of the reasonable older Indians I knew from the neighborhood, the few that there were in Portland at the time. The one’s who knew how to their keep their cool when drunk or buzzed, how to talk to white people in authority, how not to get into trouble with the police, beat or shot. But Alexie also writes about the Indians who will never be like that. The fighters’ and the drunks, the young men of muscles who are missing front teeth, as in the short stories, The Toughest Indian in the World, or Cry, Cry, Cry. Sherman Alexie’s characters are filled with despair and compassion and humor, and you sometimes wonder how effortlessly he spins such tales. Tales that leave you sad and happy, laughing and almost crying at the same time, but often smiling in recognition of the ‘Indianness’ of the characters he describes. And he would know, right? After all, Alexie grew up on the rez, which means he’s different from Indians who didn’t.
Reading his stories I find myself nodding my head a lot—so many of his stories ring true to things I already know. You know these are people he has seen, and known, people who have lived who he’s writing about—Indians who have won and lost in the real world.
Offering a realistic depiction of what it means to be Native American in the modern landscape is important, not only to Native Americans but also to white America, and to America in general as the melting pot that it is and will always be. Reading Alexie’s work, understanding the importance of the oral tradition as it relates to the Native American experience of storytelling, and the level of compassion he demonstrates for the Indians he brings to life is what has the potential to transform the reader. That is what substantive transformative learning is all about. This is when catharsis can really happen, and that is why Alexie’s writing is so important. Because it informs, it enlightens, and it wizens the reader, providing a door into a world they might otherwise never see or visualize.
Reading Alexie’s stories have been like reconnecting with many of the Indians I grew up with, going to their rundown apartments, or houses. Eating with them, watching TV, dancing to the Bee Gee’s, saying hello to their friendly but distant parents who nine times out of ten were chronic alcoholics. Those same parents who gave me the guarded smile that seemed to say—You’re the little white girl who plays with my kids. Yes, you can come in, and would you like a plate of corn beef hash or some jerky and Pepsi? The memories of my childhood and the Indians I grew up with are what I think about when I read Sherman Alexie’s writing.
Now, fast forward to early 2018 when the “Sherman Alexie Sex Scandal” broke and this man was seemingly taken down by a former lover backed up by the sometimes hysterical rage of the unpredictable and extremely volatile #MeToo movement.
I must say first off that the #MeToo movement has been a movement of incredible good that has empowered women and men, allowing them to have a voice and come to terms with the sexual harm and trauma they have experienced by actual predators. However, there have been episodes of women falsely accusing men, even falsely accusing children of misconduct, or of creating false narratives in an effort to garner sympathy and attention. Those situations have impacted the #MeToo movement as well, and those instances need to be honestly acknowledged.
When the Alexie scandal broke, it appeared the #MeToo movement swooped down on this highly regarded writer, author, and award winning poet (and a man of color) with no actual evidence of any concrete wrongdoing. The only wave that did travel the internet during this time was the power of rumor and a wave of personal interpretations on sexual intimacy that frankly seemed to border on slander.
Ultimately, Alexie was publically disgraced and vilified by a former lover with a personal agenda who seemed to make it her mission in life to destroy him. But why? Was it really for the protection of other women as this woman so heroically claims, or were there other reasons? Was this woman, who was so willing to air her pitiable dirty laundry and watch, seemingly delighted, as Alexie’s life spiraled down a path of disgrace, embarrassment and destroyed future publishing opportunities really interested in exposing him because she cares so much about protecting other women? I suggest we all do a very close reading of her public statement and examine her language. We may see that it reveals other dynamics, including something as simple as the timelessness of a sexual grudge.
I was curious when the story first broke, but I felt I needed to reserve judgment on Alexie for the simple reason that I knew there was one important factor concerning Alexie’s accuser: she was a white woman.
I always knew I would write an essay about the scandal, but I needed time to think about it and wait to see if anyone else might perhaps weigh in on things first. No one really has. Though there have been a few minor articles expressing their disappointment that the #MeToo movement was so swift and unforgiving in its treatment of Alexie, nothing like a significant defense has ever been written. I decided recently that I might change that.
The first thing I did was read up on the accuser to discover why she’d launched such a sordid campaign to silence the voice of such an important writer. Why would this woman want to ultimately silence Sherman Alexie? This was a writer of color who has won numerous nationally recognized literary awards, written children’s books, and volunteered his time and money to support non-profit arts education programs for Native youth and for writers in general. He has demonstrated by his actions that he cares about the Native community, so why would his former lover, a white woman, want to destroy that?
I will not name this woman directly, because she is rumored to be “sue happy” and likes to intimidate people by bragging about the scope and power of her family of attorneys. She has demonstrated she enjoys silencing people and threatening the precious American gift of freedom of speech, including Alexie’s freedom of speech. So, for the purposes of this essay I will refer to the woman in question as Tricksie. I believe it is a suitable moniker. I will do a close reading of her statement and analyze her language. I was taught in college and later in graduate school to look at what the subtext of language conveys. I was taught to get to the bottom of what is really being said by looking at keywords, unconscious admissions and the interior presumptions related to the social and cultural conditioning that language reveals.
She begins her statement thusly: “Sherman Alexie and I had been good friends for 15 years when I learned on October 17, 2017 that he had allegedly harassed several women authors.” That’s an odd way to begin a statement about a man who used to be your lover with whom you have an alleged fifteen year history. It lacks believability and has the distinct timbre of someone glossing over quite pertinent personal details and deeply personal motivations, but Tricksie is good with dates, so we have to give her credit for that.
Tricksie then weighs in on whether women lie: “I know from training and experience that women almost never lie about sexual harassment or abuse.” It is apparent that Tricksie is ignoring the reality of false accusations made against men, (particularly men of color) for any number of reasons which are definitely a part of the criminal justice system and happen every year, and which have tarnished the #MeToo movement as well.
The reality is that Tricksie’s statement is riddled with florid declarations and repeated contradictions that seem to illustrate a lack of personal insight or maturity. Instead Tricksie focuses on her family of attorneys and what their glowing credentials may be, along with the fact that she is now an author and essayist. She refers to herself repeatedly as someone who is “ethically” compelled to do what she must. The reader gets the picture, due to her repeated efforts to come across as ethical that she indeed appears to have something to prove in that regard. That was one of the first red flags I noticed in her statement.
Tricksie’s writing seems to be that of an insecure adolescent who is trying desperately to convince the reader of the respectability of her and her allegedly accomplished family. The woman seems to… “Protesteth too much.”
Later, in a series of Tweets Tricksie writes, “Sherman and I were good friends for 15 years. It was a wonderful friendship and I never saw this side of him.” Another odd contradictory statement. Tricksie then mentions, inexplicably, that Alexie has published “27 books in 27 years” stating that no one in the “publishing industry or anywhere for that matter—has publicly defended him.” Not true. There have been several articles written in support of Alexie, including this one.
In a list of eight points, Tricksie comes across like a woman lacking mental and emotional balance. If you read the points, the reader can see an incredible amount of boundary crossing and ignorance of what those boundaries really are in relation to the accepted social contracts most people live by. Tricksie’s statement and her list of points illustrate a woman who enjoys an incredible amount of white privilege—white privilege that she appears to be completely unaware of either possessing and/or of abusing.
At one point Tricksie admits she has emailed Alexie’s wife, Diane, a lovely Native American woman. She essentially explains she has emailed Alexie’s wife to advise her on how to parent she and Alexie’s children. Later Tricksie claims, in response to Alexie’s statement published on his website, that she has never contacted Alexie’s wife on Facebook as Alexie claims. Tricksie says she didn’t even “know” if his wife had a Facebook account. Most women who cheat with a married man, (and Tricksie is an admitted cheater) are obsessive about learning everything they can about the man’s wife, who is generally their biggest rival. That is how the dynamic works. But allow me to respond to all of her eight points here…
In point number one, Tricksie claims she never posted on Alexie’s wife’s Facebook account. Knowing what I know about women who cheat they almost routinely lie about whether or not they contact the wives of the men they are involved with. Because Tricksie is an admitted cheater, the reader may find it difficult to believe any part of this claim.
In point number two, Tricksie boasts that it was she who ended the sexual affair and not Alexie, and boasts that she has the emails to prove it. This seems like a hollow victory and not something to boast about. Once again, one wonders why she ended it. Was she not getting what she wanted from Alexie? What was it that he would not give her? She never discloses why she ends the affair but the reasons tend to be garden variety and predictable. When a husband won’t leave his wife for the “other” woman, often they leave instead.
In point number three Tricksie states she didn’t go to any Alexie readings, then instantly contradicts herself by admitting she had gone to some of his readings. She writes about a photo of one of those readings and tells the reader that Alexie was “leaning” into her. Does that mean anything? Isn’t that standard procedure when we take photos with other people? Her back and forth language, odd interpretations, denials and then admissions comes across as untrustworthy and bizarre.
In point number four Tricksie admits that she was still in contact with Alexie and had even gone so far as to “bring him food” after the affair ended and when his beloved mother died. Why? Is that what ethical women do, when they have ended a relationship? Is that what women do who claim to care about other women, like for example Alexie’s wife? Tricksie writes: “I went to The Shop Agora and bought an enormous amount of baklava, Koulourakia, and Kourembiedes. Years ago, my mom made Alexie baklava and he wrote her a card saying he loved it and asked if he could have more. They wrote back and forth a few times and it was cute. Friends help each other in a crisis. He was in a crisis and I bought him some of his favorite foods. No one really needs a further explanation, right?” Well, maybe if they want to really understand why a woman would continue to have contact with a man when she had recently “ended” the relationship, particularly if this means bringing the food unannounced to his home without his permission or consent, as Alexie claims.
Does this added contact and the intimate details surrounding her mother’s relationship with Alexie really need to come out? Or was that merely a veiled slam directed to his wife? Probably. Moreover, one cannot help but wonder if Tricksie’s mother and Alexie were writing to each other while the affair was going on. Was her mother privy to her affair with a married man? Did her mother act as confidant and mentor while Tricksie was sneaking around and having an affair with a married man with a wife and children at home?
In point number five Tricksie admits she has indeed emailed Alexie’s wife. Tricksie writes: “I didn’t want their kids to get sandbagged by the sexual harassment allegations that were looming.” As a woman who clearly does not care for wives at home, (a form of intense misogyny in itself) was this really Tricksie’s right or place to contact Alexie’s wife and tell her how to parent? Common sense tells us, no, it was not. What it was though, was another violation from a woman who by her example has no concept of boundaries or ethical behavior.
This section of Tricksie’s statement is actually quite sad to read. It’s clear that Tricksie is enjoying the power that comes from white privilege and she aimed that power at a loyal Native American woman simply living her life and doing her best as a wife and mother. That Tricksie felt it was her right to tread on Alexie’s private life by contacting his wife at home is indicative of a woman who does not genuinely care about other women. Tricksie is a woman who cares only about her own needs, wants and desires. It is easy to see, for anyone with life experience in these matters; Tricksie’s intrusion was yet another “other woman” stunt in an attempt to demonstrate to Alexie’s wife that it was actually Tricksie who was really in control of the situation.
Tricksie continues with the oft heard plea that she’s “sorry” and didn’t mean to hurt Alexie’s wife. Tricksie writes: “I apologized for my role in hurting her, said I understood she didn’t like me and that I didn’t blame her, but I asked her to trust me because this was exigent.” (Exigent means pressing or demanding). Tricksie’s words indicate a stunning ignorance and lack of common sense which is also fascinating. Tricksie asks Alexie’s wife, who most probably only wishes to be left alone to “trust” her. Tricksie has had an affair with her husband, yet she asks his wife to “trust” her. Laughable. Tricksie goes on to write: “I wasn’t telling her how to parent. But if I had told Alexie, “Please sit your kids down and talk to them so they don’t hear it on the news or on social media,” I knew he would never, ever do it. I was hoping she would. I emailed her so that she could.”
“…never, ever do it.” Once again the polemic language of an adolescent.
To any woman with children, the arrogance and ignorance of Tricksie’s words in that section of her statement is frankly stunning. To presume Tricksie knows anything about Alexie’s skills as a parent is to presume a great deal, particularly if Tricksie has no children of her own, and therefore no experience. But to presume that she has any authority (in other words her white privilege gives her this authority) to actually influence Alexie’s children, or his wife or their joined ability to parent them—that is the absolute pinnacle in my opinion of narcissistic, egocentric immaturity, grounded as it is in enormous white privilege.
Tricksie goes on to lament that Alexie would “weaponize” her “concern” for [his] children. Once again Tricksie makes Alexie’s and his wife’s children about her. She inserts herself, or attempts to insert herself into their private home and their private life. Once again she jumps a boundary into territory she has no business jumping into. Most people understand this, but apparently Tricksie does not. Her idea that she is in some way entitled to influence either Alexie or his wife underscores her incredible lack of respect for the privacy of other people’s lives. It reveals a complete lack of empathy for women who also happen to be wives. Wives often bear the brunt of hostility as the mother figures they are for competitive “other” women like Tricksie, who are unhappy and unfulfilled in their own lives. The Electra complex, plain and simple.
Tricksie continues to wax philosophical about wanting to “protect” the “identities” of Alexie’s children. I find that part of Tricksie’s statement to be a shameless and disingenuous attempt to promote herself as somehow morally superior, and frankly, the attempt is laughable and transparent. Tricksie never cared about Alexie’s children. If she had she would not have been having sex with their father behind his wife’s back and jeopardizing his marriage and family life.
When Tricksie claims that Alexie’s wife “knew” about the affair, stating also that she had to have known about the other “affairs he had throughout their marriage,” once again Tricksie is attempting to control Alexie’s wife by speaking for her. I find so much of what Tricksie says about Alexie’s wife incredibly offensive because Alexie’s wife is a Native American woman, and no woman, especially a white woman, should ever try to speak for a Native American woman.
Tricksie is trying to gaslight the reader, telling the reader what the wife knew, and therefore that makes it okay somehow that the infidelity occurred in the first place. What Alexie’s wife knew or didn’t know is something Tricksie will never know or understand. Tricksie is presuming and offering her self-serving interpretation to convince the reader that she was not morally complicit in an act of adultery. This is what women who cheat do all the time. It is not complex, it is not genuine; it is garden variety projection and immature wishful thinking.
In point number six, Tricksie mentions Alexie’s public statement about her which he published on his website. It does not make her look good, but it also rings with the reasonableness of truth. After one reads Tricksie’s “statement” and sees, via her incredibly revealing language just how self-absorbed and emotionally immature she appears to be, it’s not hard to see her contacting Alexie’s wife on Facebook or via email or any number of other ways. In point six Tricksie claims that Alexie is attempting to “silence” her, but he is not. He is merely offering a reasonable admission surrounding their affair and when it ended, along with an apology to those people he loves most “deeply.” But he does deny Tricksie’s accusations of sexually harming other women, and he calls her on that.
In point number seven, Tricksie once again attempts to infantilize herself. Instead of accepting responsibly for her role as an active participant in the relationship or in allowing the relationship to occur, she holds Alexie solely responsible for it. She blames him, writing “We’d been friends for 12 years in 2013 when he started flirting with me.” Apparently this flirting was not something she responded to or also engaged in herself. Tricksie goes on to write that Alexie wasn’t just trying to silence her with his published statement and apology but was rather also trying to silence other women from coming forward. But Alexie’s statement does not come across like that. There are no threats, no suggestions of violence of any kind or references to what other people might say or do. None. The tone is honest, conciliatory and forthright. It is a simple statement with a simple and straightforward motivation and message.
I think it’s important to include Alexie’s statement in this essay because anyone has the right to defend themselves from rumors and “anonymous” sources accusing them of any form of serious misconduct. While Tricksie was accusing Alexie of trying to “silence” her, she actually used her family of attorneys to send Alexie a cease and desist letter, threatening a lawsuit if he did not remove his statement from his website. Ultimately Alexie chose to acquiesce to that, probably hoping not to incur more of Tricksie’s obvious wrath. So, while Tricksie claims Alexie is trying to silence her, by defending himself against her accusations, she actually does silence him by use of her family of attorneys. Then Tricksie gloats about the legal victory on her personal website using large size font to illustrate her victory. Hypocritical? The behavior of someone with something to hide? An example of incredible white privilege? It certainly does look like that, doesn’t it?
This is Alexie’s statement. Let’s read it in its entirety:
For Immediate Release
February 28, 2019
Over the years, I have done things that have harmed other people, including those I love most deeply. To those who I have hurt, I genuinely apologize. I am so sorry.
I reject the accusations, insinuations and outright falsehoods made by Litsa Dremousis, who has led charges against me. Ms. Dremousis has portrayed herself as simply being a “friend” of mine. She has withheld from the public the fact that she and I had previously been consenting sexual partners.
Our sexual relationship ended in 2015. But Ms. Dremousis has attended most of my public events in Seattle since then. Without my knowledge or permission, Ms. Dremousis delivered food to my house after I cancelled my 2017 book tour due to emotional trauma.
On October 18, 2017, Ms. Dremousis sent my wife an email in which she informed her of our past relationship, noting that all of our interactions had been consensual. Two weeks later, Ms. Dremousis posted something on my wife’s Facebook page that frightened my wife. Since then, Ms. Dremousis has continually tweeted and spoken in public about my behavior, making accusations based on rumors and hearsay and quoting anonymous sources.
There are women telling the truth about my behavior and I have no recollection of physically or verbally threatening anybody or their careers. That would be completely out of character. I have made poor decisions and I am working hard to become a healthier man who makes healthier decisions.
Again, I apologize to the people I have hurt. I am genuinely sorry.
When reading Alexie’s statement, he acknowledges he has hurt people, and by this, it’s clear to presume he’s referring to incidents of infidelity and how that has impacted his wife and family. He acknowledges this hurt and apologizes to those he has hurt most. But Alexie does denounce Tricksie and her accusations. He defends himself. He has a right to do that as a free American, particularly if he has committed no crimes. After Tricksie dishes, in her statement, about how many affairs Alexie has allegedly had, she goes onto to write that all of these women, (anonymous women as she never names them) have been “extremely kind” to her. She further goes on to state, “because they feel I’ve taken one for the team.” What team? The team of women she professes to want to protect, or the team of women with whom she betrays by sleeping with their spouses? That team?
Are these the same women she feels so strongly about protecting from the sexual harm that might occur if they decide to have consensual sex with a man? Is protecting other women from this manner of “harm” Tricksie’s primary concern, as long as they aren’t the wives of the men she’s cheating with? Tricksie does not name any of the women, but she feels it is her right to make accusations about Alexie’s behavior and that she can sully his name whenever and however she wants. Tricksie feels that she is free to interpret what kind of sexual activity constitutes sexual behavior that is not “sexually harming” to other women and what behavior is sexually harming. She communicates her belief that while she has a right to destroy this man’s professional reputation, he does not have a right to defend himself from her attempts to destroy that professional reputation. Another glaring example of unrestrained white privilege and abject hypocrisy wouldn’t you say?
Tricksie goes on to write that Alexie’s statement and denial of any wrong doing was made because he was only trying to “salvage his career.” She writes this as if he didn’t have a wonderful career to begin with as a bestselling author, compared to for example a writer with no real online presence that has only authored one single book and a handful of online articles?
Tricksie cannot understand that as an Indian man, it may be his life he is trying to save by defending himself. Tricksie cannot seem to understand how much danger she, a white woman, has put Alexie in with her unfounded accusations of “sexually harming” women “authors” and other women, most of whom have never been identified.
Later, Tricksie again uses language that sounds like something one might read in a tiresome 1970s YA novel when she writes: Yes, we had an affair. You know who else had an affair with Alexie? Lots of women.” Tricksie then decides that Alexie being the first to inform the media of the truth of their past relationship is “monumentally stupid.” Was this something she was hoping to keep secret from the public, for fear of how it might make her look? Once again Tricksie bashes the reader over the head with her admirable “ethical” reasons for disclosing her illicit relationship with a married family man (after of course he already spilled the beans) with his public statement. Tricksie writes: “I think he was desperately trying to salvage his career when he made our affair a matter of public record, because it was monumentally stupid. I’d disclosed it to media outlets for ethical reasons. He disclosed it and opened the door to his consensual sex life, as well as to his sexual harassment. I’m not trying to be hurtful here, but he tried to portray me as a home wrecker and I’m not. He wrecked his own home.”
You know who comes across as more believable in all of this? Sherman Alexie.
At no time does Alexie admit to sexual harassment of any kind. At no time in his statement does he attempt to suggest Tricksie is a “home wrecker.” That language comes directly from her. That is her own self-conception and fear. Tricksie tries unsuccessfully to turn it around on Alexie by claiming that he has “wrecked his own home.” From the looks of it, he is still with his beautiful wife Diane, and they are still raising their precious children so Alexie’s home is far from wrecked, though the reader clearly sees that Tricksie would probably love it if it were.
In point number eight, Tricksie attempts to administer the coup de gras. But with a sophisticated reader it falls flat. In the end, Tricksie only exposes herself, revealing her motives, and her small and extremely mean and deceptive character, and the fact that she truly does behave like the classical depiction of the bitter woman scorned. Tricksie writes: “Everything about this story is wrenching. Alexie traumatized an untold number of women. His fans have lost their favorite author. I lost one of my best friends. Presumably his family is reeling. And the man who overcame everything life threw at him—poverty, hydrocephalus, a lisp, a stutter, alcoholism, bipolarity, sexual assault, a brain tumor and a heartbreaking number of deaths—in the end couldn’t overcome himself.’
One of the first things that come to mind is ‘With friends like you, Tricksie, who needs enemies?’ That and the fact that to claim Alexie has “traumatized” an untold number of women is indeed a real stretch.
In that final statement, the reader sees Tricksie for who she really is; an incredibly, and stunningly cruel and hypocritical person who is probably constitutionally incapable of being honest or truthful about anything. Tricksie comes across as a self-promoting part-time writer trying to salvage her career of the one book. Not only does Tricksie amazingly list every one of Alexie’s challenges and personal issues, an unbelievably cruel act, but she also claims that all of his “fans” have abandoned him. Her woman scorned persona really comes out full force in that final paragraph.
To the assertion that Alexie has lost his fans, I say not by a long shot Tricksie. Not by a long shot.
The only other women to “come forward” regarding Alexie and his supposed “sexually harming” behavior were three other women who frankly don’t come across as particularly believable either. These were women who could have gained a lot by their involvement with Alexie and by spending time with him and befriending him. They clearly had their own agendas in how he could benefit them. One article describes it thusly: “The women reported behavior ranging from inappropriate comments both in private and in pubic, to flirting that veered suddenly into sexual territory, unwanted sexual advances and consensual sexual relations that ended abruptly.” The trouble with this type of behavior is that it falls strictly into the she said/he said territory. And is flirting the same as committing a crime?
In reviewing this “scandal” I thought a lot about the history of false accusations made against men of color. And as history tells us, accusations by white women include underage boys of color as well. I considered how men of color have died or been imprisoned for decades based on a white woman’s false accusations of sexual assault or misconduct. I considered how that dynamic should never be trivialized. History shows us that this is something that has happened repeatedly and men of color have paid with their lives for it.
In the hysteria following the Alexie story becoming public, I kept thinking back to how Alexie’s perspective in his writing had given me comfort and solace, remembering the Indian friends I had lost. I thought about how Alexie had given voice to those vanished Indians. This says noting of the comfort and solace Alexie has provided millions of Native American’s directly because he writes about the Native American experience with such honesty and genuine empathy.
Alexie has given a voice to Indians in a way that no one other writer can. I considered the huge cost of losing him as a voice for Native Americans and how and why that would be so wrong. That’s part of the reason I decided to pen this essay. I don’t know Alexie. I’ve never met or communicated with him in any way, but as someone who has some understanding regarding how Indians often choose to depart, I felt someone ought to defend Sherman Alexie. Someone ought to provide some manner of perspective on these complex social issues.
The Indians in Alexie’s books were the same Indians I grew up with who disappeared, one by one falling victim to all the old evils of the world: wine, drugs, rage, despair, and of course the knives and the guns that Indians always have. I thought back to how Alexie had given those Indians from my childhood and teen year’s names and descriptions. I thought back to how he validated their existence by creating them, and bringing them to life for me on the pages of his many books.
I thought about the enormous gift of Alexie’s writing first and foremost. I knew that this was a writer whose work would always be important; no matter how many women he had had consensual sex with, or flirted with after readings, or in university settings, or whether or how he had departed from those women after intimacy. I knew this was a writer whose work should be valued on its own merit, without judgment of his personal life, without the ultimate ignorance of censorship, without the vindictiveness of a particular white woman, Tricksie, who could not possibly understand his current responses to a drama she created—whose presumptions and very language prove her lack of comprehension about such powerful dynamics.
The compassion that comes from Alexie’s inner core is expressed, as a writer, in every story he’s written, in every sentence, in every word. It is unmistakable. That compassion didn’t seem at all compatible with the monster that Alexie was being portrayed as by Tricksie and of course the bloodthirsty white media she was happily feeding blood to, to enact her revenge.
Sherman Alexie was being compared to Harvey Weinstein!
Comparing the gentle and nonviolent Alexie to a known rapist and predator told me volumes about the people who would characterize him as such. It told me volumes about Tricksie and why she would try to destroy his life by pushing forward her sordid campaign based on gossip, innuendo, and her own personal hunger for revenge.
Despite the complete and noticeable absence of any manner of investigation or due process, the hysteria of the #MeToo movement spearheaded the attack on Sherman Alexie. But the attack had far more in it than just the anger of some random white woman from Washington with whom he had had consensual sex. There was much more in this attack.
There was racism.
What we had on our hands was an “uppity” Indian and the resulting rage that he had committed a long held sin against white America. What was his crime? Sherman Alexie had sexual relations with white women and had been cavalier about it.
Part of the hysteria surrounding the Sherman Alexie scandal, in my opinion, hearkens back to the institutionalized racism that men of color contend with every day from white society when they break the unspoken “sexual” rules that people don’t like to talk about. The patriarchal nature of these sexual rules can be enforced by white women as effectively as they are by white men. Alexie had tasted the forbidden-fruit of sexually possessing a white woman. Was that Alexie’s real crime? That he had simply slept around a bit, intoxicated as he was on the wave of his literary successes? I believe it was. But sleeping around is not a crime. Is it forgivable? Absolutely, it is!
What we must ask ourselves as a country is simple: have we become a society who endorses female promiscuity as “empowerment” and “sexual experimentation,” while passionately denouncing “slut shaming” but then turns around and attempts to shame male promiscuity as somehow different or morally wrong? Are we expecting women to be less responsible for their sexual behavior and men to be more responsible for theirs? Is that what is happening in America right now? Is male promiscuity “sexually harming” women, but female promiscuity is not sexually harming men? It certainly is food for thought and deserves further discussion down the road.
The consequences of these double standards were expressed to Alexie in no uncertain terms. When a man of color, an Indian man, has sexual relations with a white woman and becomes cavalier about it, he runs the risk of inciting that woman’s egotistical desire for revenge, particularly if he doesn’t give her what she most wants—a more committed relationship or marriage, perhaps? The women’s’ false pride and ego fuel the rumor mill and the media, and the white woman has the advantage of being believed over him.
Why? Because she is white and he is not. That is how white supremacy works, and that in a nutshell was the primary dynamic at play in the Sherman Alexie Sex Scandal.
Tricksie, who tried to take down Alexie based on some alleged communications with 10-20 women, (who continue to remain nameless) has shown herself, by her own revealing language to be an unreliable person of questionable veracity and questionable character. Instead of providing some background on her relationship with Alexie, Tricksie hid that information for a long while, and began her public statement with an odd declaration. Several women had contacted her apparently out of the blue, she claimed, but despite a fifteen year “friendship” she chose to throw Alexie, her “friend” under the proverbial bus immediately rather than trust her longtime friend or hear his side of the story.
The likely reason Tricksie went on the attack is simply because she had a sexual grudge. Tricksie has made it known that she ended the affair, and she has “the emails to prove it” but why did she end the affair? Was it because she felt ashamed at any pain she may have caused Alexie’s wife, or his children? Probably not. Was Alexie’s wife only an object to be manipulated? Were the children with whom Tricksie had no contact, only props? Are we really to believe Tricksie wants to protect other women, when she treats women the way she treated Alexie’s wife, Diane? By violating their marriage? By having illicit sex with her husband?
Or was Tricksie’s attack on Alexie motivated because he would not give her what she wanted? How many women interested in married men want them to leave their wives? I’ll tell you; too many to count. Tricksie admitted she carried on an extramarital affair with a married family man, so clearly she is capable of engaging in deception. In other words, she knows how to lie, to her friends, to her family, and most importantly, to herself. Should we believe a woman like this, based on her own admitted unethical behavior?
As a woman with experience in these matters, having battled other women types myself while married with a child, I know the pattern all too well. I know about women afflicted with the Electra complex and how they seem to really enjoy taking Daddy from Mommy. I know that compelling the Hubby to leave Wifey is part and parcel of that dynamic, and when Hubby doesn’t deliver “other” women often decide to get even. Just like Tricksie did.
It is what women like this live for. It is what makes them feel alive. The control. The Power of deception, the rush of illicit adultery—of messing with other women’s lives and getting away with it.
I’ve also learned “other” women are almost always pathological liars who try to demonize the man they’ve carried on with and make themselves out to be the victim, when in fact some of them are the actually the sexual aggressors. They refuse to take responsibility for their own bad choices or the ways they trespass into the lives of the wives they objectify, violate, scorn, and ridicule—as the hated mother figures they are trying to dominate and gain mastery over.
Tricksie is a Washington writer with a modestly visited Facebook page with only 568 “likes.” She is the author of one book and a handful of short essays published with forgettable online websites. She is certainly not a literary powerhouse and not at all in the same league as Sherman Alexie or any number of other more prolific authors from the Pacific Northwest.
In her often “Revised Statement about Sherman Alexie” Tricksie maintains that he was the bad guy who “wrecked his own home” despite her willingness to engage in a longstanding affair with him. She infantilizes herself as not being responsible for choosing to engage in a sexual relationship with a married man with a wife and children at home.
Tricksie’s online statement, (the title amazingly in size 30 font) is a guilty pleasure to read for any experienced writer, as it contradicts itself in statement after statement. She attempts to demonize Alexie, while portraying the women she has contacted, and herself as solely one dimensional victims deserving of sympathy, but not responsible for their own actions in becoming involved with a married man.
When I read the second paragraph of her statement, I almost laughed: “The next day, I emailed Alexie and confronted him. I was direct, asked him what happened and why, and told him he must stop. I noted that despite his being in therapy for years, he clearly wasn’t getting the help he needed. I severed the friendship. He didn’t reply.”
Let’s give that section a close reading shall we? She confronts him, asks what happened, and why. She tells him he must stop. That in itself means she has already convicted him. He is guilty in her mind, even before he can debate the allegations. She fronts him out as being in “in therapy” and condescendingly declares he isn’t getting the “help” he needs. Isn’t that called Mental Health Shaming? She “severs” the friendship and yet is surprised when he doesn’t reply? Amazing.
Tricksie’s writing is an example of highly disordered and illogical thinking. When I read that second paragraph, the following paragraphs, (coupled with her immature and lackluster writing skills) were not surprising to me. She writes about numerous women who accuse Alexie of misconduct, but never names them. She provides no in-text links to many of the allegations she makes in her written statement (in an effort to provide nuance) but provides an exciting countdown to how and when Alexie slowly began his departure from social media.
Tricksie seems perplexed at this departure… “…I wrote what I knew to be true. By then I’d surmised that if Alexie hadn’t sexually harassed the women in question, he simply would have replied to me back in October and said, “No, I didn’t. What are you talking about?.”
What Tricksie fails to realize is how Indians from the rez contend with confrontation. They certainly do not approach it the way a white woman would raised in the city in a white world and with the benefit of white privilege. When I read that portion of Tricksie’s statement, I saw how little this woman actually understands Indians and how they react to conflict. I saw how little she understands their unique patterns of departure.
Presuming Indians should fight, as other people might fight was the red flag for me. Her reasoning, her responses were that of a typical white woman unaware of the intricacies of Native American culture. Blissfully, completely and innocently unaware of how Indians respond to conflict, accusations, or the assignment of blame.
What we do know about Sherman Alexie is that he has never been arrested for a violent crime. He has never been connected with violence of any kind. He has never been accused of sexual assault or of any form of violence against women or children, or even other men. Even Tricksie, his most vocal accuser admits she never saw that “side” of him but rather had a “wonderful friendship” with him before she ended the affair for an undisclosed reason she never at any time honestly elaborates upon.
We know Sherman Alexie has committed no person to person crimes. Ever. Allegations of sexual harassment by nameless women who won’t identify themselves must be taken with a huge grain of salt because the reality is those rumors originated from a woman with an agenda; a disgruntled former lover who is no saint herself, and quite familiar with the self-serving uses of deception.
We further know that Alexie grew up on a Spokane reservation and likely internalized many of the cultural norms particular to Indian life on a reservation, norms that are quite different from social or cultural norms in a white household in an urban white setting. Those norms may include a suspicion of police, a suspicion of white people, and the knowledge that when things get hot, sometimes it’s better to just walk way. Whether you’re guilty or not, sometimes it’s best to just depart. And that’s what he did. Alexie removed his social media information, including a popular fan page from Facebook. Did he do this because he was guilty of any of the things he’s been accused of?
In my opinion no, he did not. He did those things simply because he knew that no amount of denial would matter in the whole white world. In the whole white world he would still be guilty. He would be guilty because he’s Indian.
In the court of public opinion, and particularly with the #MeToo movement, Alexie would be guilty no matter how he protested that he did not “sexually harm” women with whom he flirted or had consensual sexual relationships that may have ended abruptly. Because what mattered was not that he had had sex with women in his capacity as a bestselling author, (they do it all the time and it’s generally not an issue if they’re white) what mattered was that he was an American Indian man who had had sex with white women.
Probably the clearest example of the innate and naturally expressed racism by Tricksie was when she compared Alexie to a gorilla. In print and on her own website. I found that reference distasteful, ignorant and incredibly racist. She wrote: “When he pursued me during my engagement. I in no way felt endangered. When I told him to knock it off, he did. I had to repeat it to him again months later. While I now see this as boundary-crossing, at the time it seemed more like Alexie behaving like the proverbial 800 pound gorilla I sometimes joked he could be.”
I find Tricksie’s reference to Sherman Alexie as a “gorilla” to be extremely revealing about the white privilege she enjoys and her casual ease comparing a man of color, an American Indian, to a primate. Further, Tricksie’s use of the keywords “boundary-crossing” is only used only in how she is impacted. At no time does she reflect on her own “boundary-crossing” behavior in the harassment she directed toward his wife, or the presumption that she had any reasonable authority to explain to a married couple how to parent their own children. It’s an interesting dichotomy and again quite revealing regarding Tricksie’s obvious lack of empathy, the uses of her language and of course the white privilege that echoes like a cacophony of French horns throughout her entire ill-conceived statement.
When I was growing up, my Indian friends would talk about the reservations they were from. How some of them had grown up there, but had to move to Portland from places like Spokane and Pocatello and Coeur d’Alene when it came time to start school. Many had father’s who were not with them and often they had to go to the reservations over the summer to be with their extended families. More often than not they hated it and couldn’t wait to get back to Portland. Their lives on the reservations were never far from their minds. But reservation Indians are different from Indians raised in the city since day one. They learn things: Silence, avoidance, denial of self, and of course departure.
There were times when I was at Chapman, when another kid, usually a white kid, usually a white boy, would pick on an Indian boy. Sometimes a slap-fight might break out, or a disagreement in the classroom. When it happened and the teacher came to investigate what the commotion was, the Indian boy would fall silent. They would not defend themselves. It used to really upset me. It made me so angry and I became desperate to tell the teacher what really happened. If I didn’t say something, the Indian boy would be blamed for something he didn’t do. That meant a trip to the principal’s office or maybe even a suspension. I think back to one such incident:
“Why didn’t you say anything? Why didn’t you defend yourself?”
“It don’t matter. Theresa, it don’t matter.”
“But you didn’t start it, HE did!”
“Why didn’t you defend yourself, then?”
“That’s what we got you around for.”
And then the sly smile and it would be over. I would shake my head in frustration, but no amount of protesting would change something I could not possibly comprehend—the way and the reasons behind why Indians depart.
If Alexie’s accuser had grown up with Indians the way I did, she might know some of these things. But Tricksie didn’t grow up with Indians and she has no more understanding of Indian departure than many white people do.
Another thing I should probably mention is that I am a feminist. I am a white woman and I am fifty three years old. This is what a feminist looks like. Like me, for good or for bad. But I am not the kind of feminist who despises men. I am not the kind of feminist who feels men do not enjoy the same rights to defend themselves against any form of accusation, whatever it may be, just as women do.
Despite being raped in 1979 when I was thirteen-years-old, and molested at ages four and eleven, despite growing up the seventh of nine Irish Catholic children, and struggling through extreme poverty, despite seeing chaos and brutality nearly my whole life as inflicted by men, I still feel love and affection for the many good men in this world, including my husband, and many others.
And I can understand two opposing viewpoints at the same time. Sometimes that is what is needed in the world today. To look at all the angles presented in a given situation, attempt to analyze them and then come to your best and most informed conclusion.
Native Americans or Indians as they often prefer being called are disproportionately killed by police in situations where deadly force is not needed. The number has increased from thirteen killed in 2015, to twenty four in 2016, to eighteen in 2017. They are truly the forgotten minority when it comes to police shootings, addiction, mental illness, extreme poverty and the heartache of the suicide that continues to devastate the Native American population.
When mental health interventions are needed at a reservation, or in urban settings, the police are called instead and Native Americans die. They also die due to overt and covert racism and how that racism is expressed. Sherman Alexie understands this on a visceral level. He has to, given his history. And I think Alexie also understands white privilege and exactly how toxic that can be in a way he never did before, thanks in large part to Tricksie, a woman he probably wishes he had never laid eyes on.
When a Native American man is accused of something, particularly if it is of a sexual nature, the danger to that man is triple because of his color, than if he were a white man. This double standard is perfectly illustrated when you look at what happened to Sherman Alexie and compare that to the countless photographs of Joe Biden, a white man, touching, kissing, and man handling numerous women and girls. Biden is currently defended as only being “affectionate” in these countless photos, showing how he places his hands on many women and girls who seem visibly uncomfortable with his aggressive displays of entitlement and ownership of those women and girls.
But Alexie who merely had consensual sex or flirted with white women is hung out to dry by the accusations of a former lover with an axe to grind. The white media then turns on him, and reports on the stories of past honors and awards being rescinded, and how his books are being tossed out of libraries across the country and out of bookstores with his critics telling people to stop reading him. And somehow that’s okay. Had Alexie been white, would he have experienced what he did? Or would he have been defended, in much the same way Joe Biden is being defended? Where is the equity in that disparity? Can you tell me?
When Alexie posted his apology on his website, he might as well have said he was apologizing for sleeping with white women. Because as far as I’m concerned that will always be what this was ever about. He slept around with a few white women. He was cavalier about it, and sometimes he departed abruptly. And one of those white women, Tricksie, wanted revenge. And she got it. At least for a while. But real writing skills and a real gift for writing has a way of not being squelched by vindictiveness, jealousy or the small motivations of small minded people.
It has a way of not dying while we live.
What is important is Alexie’s body of work. It is important because of what it represents and who it has the power to touch and to impact. What is not important is whether or not Alexie had consensual sex with white women, or who or how many women he may have flirted with, or made passes at. What is not important are the censors of the world, or the angry misandry of unfulfilled women who are bitter and resentful for whatever reason.
Ultimately those kinds of destructive people will not prevail when a writer has a true and rare gift, in the way that Alexie does.
Alexie’s body of work stands alone and it will continue to stand alone, as more important even than the man himself. Because long after his flesh is gone, Sherman Alexie’s writing will still be with us. We will all benefit from reading his stories. We will know the world more intimately; we will love our neighbor more fully. We will love the American Indians he shows us, preserving a snapshot of time within a book and moving us to empathy, moving us to love.
Sherman Alexie has not “lost” his fans. Far from it. And time will prove this. Let it begin now. Right now. Sherman Alexie said it best and I reiterate his words here…
“All I owe the world is my art.”
*Theresa Griffin Kennedy is an author, poet and writer of creative nonfiction, and fiction. She is an activist who fights for social change through writing as a social act. Kennedy paints abstract with mixed media and is educated as a creative writing instructor and writing coach. She is the author of three books, Murder and Scandal in Prohibition Portland, 2016, Blue Reverie in Smoke: Poetry 2001-2016, and a book of fiction Burnside Field Lizard and Selected Stories, 2018. She works as chief editor of the Indie Publishing Company, Oregon Greystone Press, and publishes other Portland authors including her husband writer and author, Don DuPay. Her next book, her first novel, Talionic Night in Portland will be published in 2019, and her fifth book The Lost Restaurants of Portland will be published by The History Press in 2020. She resides in Portland Oregon where she continues to write and be published.
© Theresa Griffen Kennedy