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Sociology

Reading One

Americans want to have everything sanitized – no smells, not even the good, natural man-and-woman smell. Take away the smell from under the armpits and from you skin. Rub it out, and then spray or dab some non-human odor on yourself (stuff you can spend a lot of money on – perhaps $10 or more per ounce – so you know it has to smell good). “B.O.,” bad breath, “Intimate Female Odor Spray” – I see it all on television. Soon you will breed people who do not have body openings.

I think that white people are so afraid of the world they created that they do not want to see feel smell, or hear it. The feeling of rain and snow on your face, being numbed by an icy wind and thawing out before a smoking fire, coming out of a hot sweat bath and plunging into a cold stream – these things make you feel alive, but you do not want them anymore. Living in boxes that shut out the heat of the summer and the chill of the winter, living inside a body that no longer has a scent, hearing the noise from the stereo instead of listening to the sounds of nature, watching some actor on TV having a make-believe experience when you no longer experience anything for yourself, eating food that does not have any taste – that is your way. It’s no good.

The food you eat, you treat it like you bodies, take out all the nature part, the taste, the smell, and the roughness, then put in the artificial color and flavor. Raw liver, raw kidney – that is what we old-fashioned full-bloods like to get our teeth into. In the old days, we used to eat the guts of the buffalo, making a contest of it. Two opposite ends, starting chewing toward the middle, seeing who can get there first – that is eating. Those buffalo guts, full of half-fermented, half digested grass and herbs, you did not need any pills and vitamins when you swallowed those. Use the bitterness of gall for flavoring, not refined salt or sugar. Wasna – meat, kidney fat, and berries all pounded together – a lump of that sweet wasna kept a man going for a whole day. That was food, and that had the power. Not the stuff you give us today; powdered milk, dehydrated eggs, pasteurized butter, chickens that are all drumsticks or all breast; there
is no bird left there.

You do not want the bird. You do not have the courage to kill honestly – cut off the chicken’s head, pluck it, and gut it – no, you do not want this anymore. So it all comes in a neat plastic bag, all cut up, ready to eat, with no taste and no guilt. As far as you mink and seal coats, you do not want to know about the blood and pain which went into making them. Your idea of war – sit in an airplane, way above the clouds, press a button, drop the bombs, and never look below the clouds – that is the odorless, guiltless, sanitized way.
From John (Fire) Lame Deer, Lame Deer Seeker of Visions, 1972, New York, NY: Washington Square Press, pp 110-111.

Reading Two
“Don’t buy anything from a filthy Jew,” said Ilse as she read to Hans from one of his storybooks. “Remember, my child, what Mother has told you.”
Sitting next to Ilse on the living room couch, Hans clapped.
“Did you like that, Hans?” said Ilse, hugging him.
“You read very well, Ilse,” I said, smiling at her over my glass of cognac. “Doesn’t she real well, Marta?”
“Yes,” she said, knitting. “Read Daddy the first part, Ilse, the part you read to me while I was fixing dinner.”
Ilse flipped through the pages, a pensive look on her face. The Christmas wreaths filled the room with the scent of pine. The shiny paper of the wrapped packages piled under the tree reflected the fire’s light. The red sweater Marta was making covered her knees, and she rested her hands atop it. Hans, wearing his pajamas, waited patiently beside Ilse, his small hands folded on his leg. Ilse stopped turning the pages and smiled.

The German is a proud man,
A worker and a fighter.
The German is a proud man,
Beautiful and brave.
The German is a proud man
Who hates the dirty Jew.
And here is a Jew, as all can see.
The vilest man that’ll ever be.

“That’s very good, Ilse,” I said.
“She didn’t understand what evile ‘vile’ was,” said Marta, “until I explained it to her.”
“Do you want to see the picture, Hans?”
Ilse leaned toward him and held the open book in front of him.
“Here’s the beautiful German.”
Hans clapped his hands.
“And here’s the filthy Jew.”
From Sherri Szeman, The Kommandant’s Mistress, 1993, New York, NY: Harper Perennial, pp 21-22.
Questions for Unit One Assignment

1. Why is the perspective of the actors important?
2. How do their social locations explain certain aspects of human behavior and assumptions about the readings?
3. What would happen if these readings are taken out of context?
4. How does the sociological perspective of this 80-year old Sioux on a reservation and German children in World War II living next to a concentration camp take into account social location? Would you eat raw buffalo guts? Would you read this particular book to your children?
5. How would you describe you social location? How has it influenced your life?

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Category: Sample Questions