Indian names

From someone who should know, this theory about the Jody Brown “Indian” Family:

They started several years ago with this name and it just stuck. “Indian” is what separates their ministry in people’s minds from others like: The Allan Harris Family, The Beene Family, The Collingsworth Family, The Duvall Family, The Lewis Family, The Sammy Glass Family, The Sons Family, and many, many more. (Those I named were just those from the schedule portion of the Singing News.) Also take into account that it is their heritage, of which they are very proud of. One highlight that compliments the “Indian” adjective is that they do regularly sing classic hymns in their native tongue. If it’s not broke why fix it?

Fair enough. In fact, this seems pretty satisfying as an explanation, and/but it doesn’t really dissuade me from my initial inclination that “Indian” has a slightly exotic appeal among white, middle class, mostly southern, often rural sg audiences that are likely to take a shine to domesticated difference (”Indian” is the Brown’s hook, to be crass, though that is my interpretation and not any implication that the Browns think of it that way; indeed, I have no reason to doubt they are anything but proud of their heritage and eager to talk, sing, and otherwise share its traditions and place in their lives). And of course there’s not anything necessarily wrong with that (that is, there isn’t anything inherently “broke” about doing things this way). Full disclosure though? I confess to being a tad queasy about it all … too much history of minstrelsy and black-face debasements in our collective past for my taste (at least the Browns don’t do promotional shoots in full tribal regalia as the Klaudts often did; that would be too much cognitive dissonance for me). But I’m fully prepared for this hang-up to say more about me than anything or anyone else (or maybe I’m just a queasy kinda guy; for instance, I still feel unsure how to respond when the group with the one-armed piano player takes the stage). In fact, just last week I heard a presentation from a scholar of minority literature talking about just this very queasiness that white Anglo-European cultures tend to have when Native American Indians occupy a hybrid position between two worlds. “The Jody Brown Indian Family” captures that hybridity well, at once asserting their indigenous heritage and claiming the prerogatives of someone as American as the Happy Goodman Family (come to think of it, I guess you could torture my argument a bit and insist that if I take issue with “Indian” in the Brown Family name I should take issue with “Happy” in the Goodman Family name, but we’ll let that go for now). I’ll have to be reductive, but essentially the scholar argued that much of the uneasiness that whites imagine to arise when indigenous or minority cultures begin to assimilate into dominant culture is not automatically a contradiction for Indians themselves, that the whites are as much projecting their own anxieties as they are discovering a cultural paradox. Native traditions tend to stress holistic integration of human life into a wider world of earth and wildlife and spiritual spheres so that adopting new cultural traditions or habits does not have to be an abdication of native values. What individualistic white culture may interpret as selling out an Indian might experience as an absorption of the prismatic variety of life. I don’t think I’d want to take that thesis too far, because I easily can imagine points after which this kind of thinking could be abused or used to create manipulative forms of domination, but it did fascinate me inasmuch as it a offered a theoretical restatement of the Christian doctrine of being one in the body of Christ whether Jew or Gentile etc.

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