Last night I received my first Twitter suspension. I also had some friends on Facebook give me flak regarding the tone of my responses that led to the suspension.
All of my replies were in response to Tweets that came up when I searched “Native American Costume” in Twitter… and was appalled.
The reason I commented enough to get reported and suspended is that dressing up as a Native American or First Nations person for Halloween is inherently racist. It perpetuates stereotypes. It also trivializes and homogenizes various, cultures, tribes and the injustices they have suffered.
It is also socially acceptable.
Our society accepts racism against Native Americans and the approval of Native American costumes compared with the instant condemnation of other ethnic costumes is evidence of this much larger issue.
But what do I mean by this?
Dressing up as Latino stereotypes for a school rally day?
The Wider Society Says: CONTROVERSIAL! RACIST! UNACCEPTABLE!
Dressing up as a stereotypical Asian man?
The Wider Society Says: CONTROVERSIAL! RACIST! UNACCEPTABLE!
Dressing up in blackface?
The Wider Society Says: CONTROVERSIAL! RACIST! UNACCEPTABLE!
Yet all of this…
(All of the above pictures with sources were taken from Twitter tweets that occurred within an hour last night. I have to note that it was shocking to me that so many ethnic minorities wore these costumes.)
The Wider Society Says: Totally cool. They are honoring Native Americans…they are just having fun…these people claim Native American ancestry…these are not racist costumes…so its okay…
I guess the Civil Rights Movement was only for certain groups and racism only counts against some minorities but not all.
Society as a whole does not condemn these outfits and they are even considered fashionable at the moment. While all hell breaks loose over other racist costumes, these tend to go without notice to the point that many consider it a legitimate or even fashionable option. Seriously, even progressive websites listing racist costumes conspicuously forget Native American costumes. I honestly did not attend a Halloween party yesterday because if I ran into a well-educated white and affluent peer of mine dressed as a Native American I do not know what I would do.
But what do Native Americans think of these costumes?
While the people whose costumes I commented on offered the normal array of defenses and justifications, I wondered what actual Native Americans thought of these costumes.
Native Appropriations has written a number of articles about why these costumes are racist and various appeals to discontinue them. (One, two, three and four posts actually.)
David Treuer wrote a succinct article on the appropriation of Native American culture, stereotypes and myths about Native American culture that Native American people are supposed to fit, and how this has been a common thread throughout U.S. history.
The 1491s have done videos that have highlighted the double-standards with both their content and the reaction to their content.
I do not believe most people who wear these costumes are malicious in their intent. I honestly think many people would have the same attitude and questions as the women above did in the last video.
We all have blind spots and if one was raised in the mainstream U.S. society I would argue one is pre-conditioned to ignore and be dismissive of Native Americans. What we did to them is a dark part of our history that we gloss over and choose to remember only in myth and stereotype because the brutality and evil of what we have done and continue to do is horrendous.
However, malicious or not, pre-conditioned or not, people who wear these costumes are participating in socially accepted racism.
These costumes are racist because they make a mockery of traditional Native American regalia, which often have spiritual and personal meaning.
These costumes are racist because they are based on stereotypes, not reality.
These costumes are racist because (especially for the female costumes) they contribute to the sexualization of Native American women. Native American women are 10 times more likely than white women to be victims of sexual assault. Part of this reason is that they are seen as inherently “rapeable” by the dominant society and sadly often even within their own society due to their sexualization and fetishization which these costumes contribute to.
Perhaps most importantly, these costumes are racist because they are worn by people who live on what was originally Native American land. Physical and cultural genocide and countless injustices were used to take possession of these lands. Making a mockery of the culture that has suffered so much so our comfortable 1st world existence is rather uncaring and ignorant.
In short, to accept these costumes, but not black face costumes, or slave costumes, or costumes of Latinos, or Asians, or Middle Easterners, or White people is inconsistent and represents a double standard. This double-standard points to the larger issue of socially acceptable racism against Native Americans present in our society.
So stop it.
Couldn’t agree more!
I couldn’t disagree more. I don’t think any of this is offensive, and you and others like you are making something out of nothing. I don’t see allot of Irish folks like myself moaning about racism. Whenever you bring racism into the discussion its only because you are too dumb to identify a real problem. Seriously, get some real problems.
Well said, friend!!
Hope it’s cool that I used your picture. It was just too perfect for this post.
1) You’re right.
2) It is NOT true that it’s always culturally unacceptable for other groups. Such things become culturally unacceptable over time – I’m not sure why. But (e.g.) dressing up as a stereotypical Frenchmen, complete with chapeau and silly mustache would probably not raise an eyebrow. Ten years from now, it suddenly might.
Would you also find it offensive to dress as a SPECIFIC Native American – say, Pocahantas or Geronomo? I’m not challenging you, I’m curious. Such things really ARE more arbitrary than many people realize.
I think part of the problem is that Native Americans have been so persecuted, which makes the costuming seem more like mockery than it otherwise might.
Ignatz, it is true that it is unacceptable to dress in mimicry of a culture and these notions shift over time. For example dressing in Blackface or Redface was commonly accepted in the entertainment industry for centuries, however now it is seen as a major racist offense to do this.
Some might claim that there are costumes that connect to other cultures. These too reinforce stereotypes as they are based off of them. While I do not think many would flip out in someone dressed as Frenchman, the French also were not brutally colonized for the last five hundred years and currently represent the most under-served, at-risk demographic in the 1st world. Native Americans have. So it really does come down to your last point.
Dressing up as a people that we have been treating horrendously for five hundred years adds insult to injury. It turns once sacred things into a “cute” costume or a fun way to dress for a night. It is like the majority culture posturing, intentionally or intentional, over the minority culture.
I do not believe in Halloween, because I am a Christian. However, I believe that the historical significance of Halloween was a special witches night and that the idea was to ward off evil spirits via a scary looking jack-o-lantern. So I assume that the idea at Halloween would be to dress as frightening as possible. How are culturally inspired outfits of any kind supposed to adhere to this medieval custom? Obviously they are not scary.
I’m pretty sure most people that dress up for Halloween do not intentionally do so to participate in the original reasons for Halloween or to encourage or participate in any sort of dark spiritual powers. It has become yet another chance for fun and revelry. Culturally based costumes are just that, culturally based costumes. They are costumes worn for fun that are based off of cultural stereotypes.
Reblogged this on Panicpony and commented:
Way to go twitter! Suspending someone for calling out racism …..classy…….
I could have been more tactful and still confronted the issue but I regret nothing.
Nor should you!!!
Reblogged this on TRC summer IN MAINE and commented:
Great account of how Halloween choices can be a huge problem.
Coming from a Native American woman I totlly agree with your blog. I am sorry for your troubles in defending this issue. People are so small minded. By the way, anyone who ever dressed in a Native American costume, obviously has never seen genuine Native regalia…the cheap junk they wear can not even come close to looking like a native American, so let them look like fools!
My “troubles” in posting this are insignificant compared with the reality faced by many in the wake of colonialism. Thank you for your support though as it is appreciated!
Ok. I find the ones that are sexually oriented as far as the Indian Costumes go are offensive. This is not at all who they were.
I do not find the other costumes offensive, but then I am not full Indian. I do know that Indians find it offensive when white man try to tell their stories and the old Natives, shamans, find it offensive for white man to take up the shield of shamanism, or to write books about their spirituality. Because if you are not one, then cannot know the inner workings of the Native American Spirit.
I still would not call a halt to girls, or women wearing the attire as we know it….of course it is not the traditional regalia…they wouldn’t want to wear that trick-or-treating or partying anyway. Would they? I think it would limit their ability to get around easily.
The costumes people wear are based on stereotypes. If they attempted to wear traditional regalia it might prove impractical and it would be a violation of the regalia. Costumes based on stereotypes or costumes that were somehow traditional would still be problematic to me as none of these aspects of Native American culture were designed to be worn as a costume by settlers who took Native American land. Least of all were they designed for on a night out on the town, for trick-or-treating, or for a drunken Halloween party.
Your points are all well made and taken. I had a fellow student ask in class – are there even any Native American’s around any more? I was speechless!!!! How First Nation People’s have been made SO invisible is shocking to me. In class instructors always make reference to the Holocaust as being one of the most devastating events against a single group of people – yet still today the urgent social needs and rights of Native American’s are being trampled upon. As a sociology major when looking at the numbers of social, health, economic etc etc devastation nothing compares to the devastation of this group !
Yes, Native American/First Nations groups are the most under-served, at-risk, marginalized and impoverished demographics in the U.S. Reservations are often the Third-World-In-The-First-World. These are not the results of some moral defect in Native Americans but the crushing cost of colonialism that has been paid by others for our benefit. We need to think more about this issue, these injustices and what it means for us today.
Ignatz: French isn’t a race. It’s a nationality. There are black french people, Asian french people, etc. However, it is a stereotype and not very creative, but I’m not sure it does the same kind of harm (french people have their own country, are not oppressed daily, and are not the objects of systematic racism), .
Hi, my friend linked me to your post about this issue. I agree with you wholeheartedly, and as a Sociology PhD candidate with a focus on race/ethnicity, I appreciate your insights. Something I thought might be useful for you and others reading this post, is an article that a friend of mine wrote a few years ago about this: Mueller, Jennifer C., Danielle Dirks, and Leslie Houts Picca. 2007. “Unmasking Racism: Halloween Costuming and Engagement of the Racial Other.” Qualitative Sociology 30:315-335. Let me know if you would like a copy of it (it doesn’t look like I can post a copy of it here, and usually you have to either have university access or journal access) and I can send it to you.
I can most likely get a copy through my university. Thanks for the resource!
No problem 🙂
I just don’t understand why so many people will fight to defend their right to continue such offensive behaviour! At one time I might have been one of those who sought to honour First Nations peoples by wearing a costume (probably a less-slutty version though). Now, knowing that even a small number of FN people feel less than “honoured”, I wouldn’t do so. All the arguments against the costumes and such have been intelligent, well researched and well presented. The fervent defence of this behaviour is considerably less so. It’s embarrassing. Sadly, anyone speaking out is going to get backlash, but eventually the tide will turn.
People tend to not want to change. And we always assume that what we know or grow up with is the way things are. I do not think too many people think critically about race (or other issues that do not seem pertinent to them) unless it is forced upon them for some reason.
I hope people dig their heels in less and open their minds more. I hope the same is true for me.
political correctness can be carried to extremes until everything is politically incorrect,wherever you want to look depending on your point of view and how you have been socialized racism seems to be so apparent to all of you.. give everyone a break ,halloween is just a fantasy day and nothing is meant as a political
or racist comment on our society.
It is true that political correctness can be carried to far. A few years ago I probably would have thought similar things about this post. I would have suggested to someone who wrote this blog that they need to “lighten up.”
However, I fear this dismissive attitude is too often used as a way for those from the dominant society to continue in racist and ignorant practices without entering into a conversation.
Halloween might just be a “fantasy” day but the realities in NA communities today and the history of injustices suffered by NA communities is not a “fantasy.” To dress up as them with total disregard for these issues is not acceptable. Period. One’s “point of view” on the matter is not really the issue.
one’s point of view is the issue! we can’t undue any injustices done to any ethnic group but we don’t need to keep raking the coals over something that happened a long time ago. do u even know any native americans?Where i live there are few but all are welcomed as a contributing part of our melting pot society, whether the melting was welcomed or not.
1) One’s point of view is not the issue.
2) We cannot undo what has happened but we can make amends and pay attention to our history so past injustices do not simply repeat, which they currently are.
3) I get that we should not beat a dead horse but I do not even think this is a horse main stream society has paid attention to for decades. What I mean by that is most U.S. citizens are conditioned to ignore Native American issues and do not pay attention to any of the horrible history we need to address and work through together as a society.
4) I have a number of Native American friends in real life, many more Native American acquaintances and contacts online (via Facebook and Twitter) and have spent time on a Native American reservation.
All of them who have commented on this issue have suggested it is racist and demeaning to dress up like them.
5) Native Americans were not invited optionally into the American melting pot. Several U.S. policies since the Indian wars have been systematic efforts to wipe out, disempower, divide and dismantle Native American tribes, culture and sovereignty at the threat of force and death.
They still face similar sophisticated efforts at the same thing.
“By focusing on hurt feelings, discomfort, or anger provoked in people instead of focusing on the moral transgression or underlying mistake, political correctness is discredited. On the scale of societal importance, feelings are way lower than morals. Taking offense is deemed petty. As soon as we made political correctness a game of feelings, we allowed people to diminish, laugh at, or become angry about anyone who takes offense. We allowed people to stop caring about political correctness, and thus, to stop caring about the problems which inspired it.”
I took this quote from another freshly pressed post regarding political correctness. Just to give credit it’s here http://queerguesscode.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/why-you-shouldnt-be-politically-correct/ It’s very germaine to this discussion. As far as I can tell the author of “Speak Faithfully” is focusing on moral transgression when he talks about these costumes as offensive. You are focusing on someone’s personal feelings which really don’t matter and that applies to both the offender and all the people who have the potential to be offended or not to be offended. In other words, another argument people like to make is that because I have a Black friend who’s not offended by Blackface that means I’m not being offensive in dressing up as Blackface. Really? Explain that complex reasoning. Explain how your friends opinion is somehow more valuable than another Black person’s opinion. Exactly, you can’t. The appeal to personal feelings falls apart at the slightest bit of reasoning. Does a slavedriver’s opinion of slavery matter to whether it’s a moral transgression or not? And please don’t accuse me of false equivalency. The same principle applies and if you try to make that argument it’s a cop out.
It is why such people like Heart Hays is sending wrong messages to non Natives out there. She dresses like these people.
yep its wrong that white people wanna dress up as us on halloween, u DO NOT know what my lakota ancestors had to go thru. *smdh*
Thanks for the post. With people using public platforms such as your site, the ignorance about all things Aboriginal will be less. People who dress up as “Indians” at Halloween for the most part do not have a clue. Thanks for not being discouraged! Keep on doing what you are doing – it matters! “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito…” African Proverb
I recently saw George Lopez do a comedy routine on HBO, I believe.
He commented, POINT BLANK, “Nobody cares about the Indians.”
Which is basically true of what mainstream culture decided decades ago.
Great job! Thank you for sticking to your guns! Even though I am around this thinking EVERYDAY, I stay encouraged to be involved with diversity and inclusion on many levels.
It is not alright to just accept what the “average” person thinks is alright because they were tought that at home or school, etc. But it’s also not ok to lower to that strandard and be just as intolerant and rude….you have shown to rise above that, and I am proud of you for doing so.
I come from a family who has quite alot history in my tribe…. but as much as It burns my ears to have people call me an “Indian Princess “, I honor my beautiful mother and kindly inform them of what that really means. ALL women should be tought to be kind, forgiving,gracious, humble, etc.
Traditionally, Native women were ALWAYS tought that in the home. Does that mean that whenever someone choses to ignore our info we pass on, do we then get arrogant? No, it doesn’t. Two wrongs do not make a right. We need not be Emily Post , 🙂 but we also don’t just accept it and move on, sweeping it under the rug. You’ve done a fine job 🙂 and I’m glad I stumbled on to your words !~ Aho
Thanks for your kind words and encouragement!
Reblogged this on Deep Green Resistance Great Basin.
Thank you for this! As the spouse of a Cree man and the mom to a Cree child this is an important post. Will be sharing.
Amazing post!! I can’t believe you had your account suspended.
I am Anishinaabe from Rama and Atikameksheng First Nations and the ancestors went through a lot to preserve our art, ceremonies and regalias, and these so-called costumes totally mock those struggles, especially because the people who are wearing them don’t even know that! My uncles are all artists and I wish if non-Natives had a true appreciation for it like they say they do that they would at least buy authentic art from someone who deserves it.
Exactly. If you are going to buy regalia, you might as buy authentic regalia so that you send money into an impoverished community.
Wider society thinks mimicking any culture is alright, culture appropriation is enshrined in the notion that you cannot own particular designs of clothing or ornamentation. I would be more careful about analyzing particular communities of people and lumping cultural perceptions of them together because, frankly, you have no idea.
As someone of indigenous-moroccan and arabic descent, people make terrible and unfounded assumptions about things they don’t know and their ignorance leads to racist acts. It’s fine that you are pointing out a serious problem with cultural appropriation and racism but don’t assume one community get’s the brunt of it and not another.
Andrea Smith, in her book Conquest, talked about the dominant culture’s assumption that it has a right to know about and understand and ultimately own the designs, clothing and symbols of another culture as a sign of colonial oppression. Appropriation is part of colonial conquest.
Additionally you are right that we should not lump cultural perceptions of people together. There are over 500 Native American tribes with many differences in regards to language, culture, dress and custom. “Indian Costumes” are always just based on stereotypes, in turn based on Westerns, in turn based on myth, imagination and stereotypes. 😦
I would never assume that Native Americans alone receive the brunt of racism. What I am pointing out is how in mainstream society this is tolerated far more than when racism is targeted at other ethnic minorities.
Native Americans are treated as invisible non-persons. This is why a rallying cry is often simply, “We are still here.”
I hear what you are saying on this, especially in light of what the Native Americans, those are born of the blood, have had to go through in the stories of our histories. Unlike the girl above, who is quite beautiful by the way, from the inside out….but unlike her, I would find no insult intended in painting on a black face if I were on a team that had that color as their symbolism. Black is black, there should be no shame in being black; I faced this problem with one of my own black friends years ago who was struggling with her color, and being black in a white world. I told her that she should hold her head high because each culture has their beauty, and that there is a depth of soul to the blacks that most of us have not even touched. That would be considered racist simply because it would be said that I am, or have singled the blacks, as a race or culture out. Here in America, we do not have our own thousand year culture built up; our culture is built on the many cultures and races and nationalities that we have brought into our land…cultures that we have incorporated and copied….and then we cast down those who are sharing it with us?
Each culture has their unique ways of haring this human experience….each culture, each race has a specialness that they have brought to us and shared. Why should you feel shame or put down because we as a people might want to dress or do something to symbolize that uniqueness that you have shared with us?
I am not belittling here the fact that some of the people of these cultures and races might or do feel ostracized or put down, but, like the girl above in the video said about perspectives….
what if we changed our perspective on this. I will share mine.
Instead of seeing this as a putdown, begin to see it as a compliment. Those who wear these costumes are keeping those styles alive, at least the memory of. No shame. Encourage them to dress in the old styles to help us remember what you once were before you lost your right to be that.
What I would think is the most abrasive is that as a Native Indian…and you are Indian, no matter what the is called that you walk upon…you are Native to this Earth and as our sky brothers and sisters. Instead of seeking to blend in as white american, find ways to keep that Nativity alive in yourself. When you see a person dressed at Halloween as an Indian, even if, in your eyes they do not know how to wear it…smile, raise your hand to them and pronounce HO!
And then ask yourself…is it saying something that you wear your american better then they wear their Indian?
Just food for thought
actually, concerning my black friend…I think I chewed into her pretty good. coming from a background with lots of singers and music, and spending so much time in Mississippi around black people, and attending their pentecostal churches (much to the chagrin of the rest of my relatives, and finding out later that I had actually put my life on the line a few times by my unawareness, or turning my eye to the fact that this was unacceptable), but being around their music, I envied their ability to find notes and rhythm in the music that most of cannot even hear….even trying to copy those notes while singing with them…I just couldn’t find them! Who could be ashamed of being one who carries that kind of hearing…of sound in their souls?
That is what I told her…it’s been a long time. Friend, I hope you have not lost that sight.
no. One more thing….I have been thinking about this. Always did because I have seen only a few really black people, as far as color goes…right? Chocolate colored, coffee, brown, tan, yellow with a bit of grey or brown or black…but very few black.
And see if you can follow this with me; I love black…the color I mean. When I wear it it feels as though I am wearing the potential for every color in the rainbow to come out. When I sing, when I harmonize, or when others have, or…when I listen to good harmony, it has always been the same to me as colors. In fact, when I am painting and get lost, I go to good harmonics to bring some of my colors back to sight…
so, what I am saying, black is colorful. It should be celebrated as such.
Black as a color in fashion is great.
Celebrating black culture and affirming its beautiful parts is great.
However, dressing up in blackace, which was what white persons used to do in mockery of black people and culture, is racist. It is simply not acceptable this side of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow and the present day use of the “justice” system.
Dressing up as black and then portraying them intentionally in a slutty way is not acceptable. I am not going to jump in on the band wagon to stop people from dressing up @ halloween, and I do not think that they should have laws against who the people can or cannot dress up as…freedom of speech thing you know, unless they are coming into peoples homes and spying and badgering with their speech and spreading a persons life across the waves….but then this signifies trespassing, whether it be mental or physical trespassing, doesn’t make any difference…..for instance if I were to go to my bed and spend a night in tears or something because my Mom has just died, or because for whatever personal reason I am hurting inside and then get online a few minutes later and out of the blue find all kinds of posts making fun of crying or tears or….what ever it was I was doing through the night, then I know that somebody has been using the waves and choosing my personal life to broadcast….this is unacceptable. It is either the system that has taken hold and control of those people or it is the people taking advantage of the systems gaming system and going where they have no right being and using that info for their own little personal pleasure and gain.
Dressing in costume as far as attire is one thing…how a peoples dress, their styles and type of clothing is something that people choose; the color of their skin is not. I can see why a black person might be offended by this. I am not going to ‘fight’ you on this…and I do not see why you would be suspended for speaking out against it. I’ve said much worse things on my posts, calling these people out on it in the same belligerence that they have used on me when I have said that they have no right into my private moments and into my home or car, and I have never been suspended for it, but then, I don’t do tweet either.
Again, as far as the painting up as a black person, a couple of things come to mind.
putting on a black face;
Do you know the story about the man back in the 60’s, wasn’t it? who put on make up, or painted himself black in order to see what it was like to be that color.
I am not looking it up right now because I am working on something else, but there is a book about it, and a movie, an old one.
I’ve just made a movie for my family and it has a song that would very much be considered racist. It’s a blue grass song and the guy is telling a story about how his dad used to stand his old guitar in a corner and then tell him not to touch it. And then dad would tell the boy to not go down cross the old rail road tracks where those poor black people lived….the boy, according to the story took this to mean that his dad didn’t want him to learn how to sing with rhythm and harmony, because that is what those poor black people do….it was all about the music in this story.. It is not, and if is is at all it is more so against the whites for not having soul to their music.
Why do you think it was called soul music? are their no soul brothers and sisters left out there anymore? See, their once was a time when some of the blacks I knew would be able to listen to this story about not going and hanging out with the poor black folk across the railroad track.
The sub point of the story is that daddy knew, when he told the boy not to go down there that this is exactly what the boy would do….just ‘cuz he wasn’t s’posed to….just like the reason that he put his guitar in a corner and tol’ his boy to don’t touch that guitar. He wanted his kid to learn and to want to learn so what better way then to tell him not to…have things changed much these days I wonder.
The main point of the story is that a white man just can’t ham-bone, a special clapping technique that requires a lot of coordination and rhythm that black people used to use and a white person just couldn’t do it like the black people, and nobody could do it like a Poor black person. Why? Why Poor black people? Because they got soul…
How do you think you get ‘soul’? It comes from hard times….really hard times at some points in people’s lives, but it is more than that…it is just something that blacks were born with.
So yes, I can see perhaps why the blacks of today might be offended for the sake of their parentage, but they were not there either. How do the old, I mean the really old, poor black folk, or those who have been there, feel if they listened to this song now?
I would just say to them sit down and shut up (if I knew them well) and listen to the words and then tell me they ain’t true? And funny as hell. or, to be more politically correct, funny as all get out. And the black people back at the time when this man was growing up knew this.
So, my question is this…could dressing up black give us more of an understanding as to what it is like to be black in a white world?
Like I said, costumes are a cultures choose, the color of our skin is not. So you do what you gotta do. Are those cultures still being raped today simply because the white man or other cultures do not like who they are? Or is that in the past? Do we make the black man or woman look worse and less then us by our donning their appearance, or do we pay them a compliment by taking on their appearance?
racist or not what the hell have native americans got to do with Halloween? unless they are dead zombie ones or vampire ones…
They’re claiming that anyone who dresses as another culture is being racist. Native Americans are just the ones driving the current shove against people having any fun. But it counts for a lot of things. Geisha are off the list because they’re Japanese, Veterans are off the list because… I dunno why, they’re just special I guess, that you can’t dress up as a soldier. Native Americans are on the list because every last rock is sacred to them, so dressing up as one of them is instantly an insult regardless of the style/intent. Nuns are off the list because how dare you insult the Catholic Church.
Its the PC Police making their list and checking it twenty times, because if you’re having fun, you’re doing something wrong.
I do not think Native Americans and others not wanting their culture to be used as costumes are out to stop people from having fun.
You know who were real kill joys? The U.S. soldiers who killed villages of Native Americans, mutilated the bodies, and then rode back into town with applause after they had adorned their uniforms with the female genitalia cut off slaughtered Native American women.
Do you really think a culture that has suffered that, and countless other injustices, is simply out to stop people from having fun, by speaking out against these costumes?
Nice high horse you’ve ridden in on. Let me ride in on one of my own. My peoples (the two of them) were BOTH victims of stereotyping, racial terror campaigns, victimized systematically, and genocide marks both their histories. But when I see icons of those peoples in a Halloween store, I don’t puff up my chest and expect everyone to cry themselves to sleep in my honor because something bad once happened to my Grandfather.
You can list off about any people on the planet, and I can tell you how they have been victimized at some point in history. But feel free to open up the killjoy floodgates so you don’t have to leap down from that excessively tall horse.
Speaking out against a costume does nothing to stop the victimization of a culture, in the past or the present. In fact, plenty of people are bound to take you *less* seriously if you focus your vision on something so low on the totem pole. The kid at my door in the headdress is not insulting native americans, he’s playing dress up for some fun, and thats got zero to do with history or insults. (That, and those native americans weren’t innocent daisies when the US soldiers got there. Or do you like pretending they didn’t do killing of their own, even wiping out entire neighboring tribes in, yes, GENOCIDAL campaigns. Nobody ever wants to talk about those wars when talking about offenses.) Now how about you reply to the *point* I actually made, which was far broader than just native american issues?
1) It is correct that if you go far back enough (or just look around the world today) you can see many atrocities that should not be ignored. I have never claimed Native Americans were the only victims of genocide or injustices. I did not say it was okay to dress up as other races. I specifically commented on how Asian, Black, Middle Eastern, and yes even derogatory White (in the link I provided) stereotypes are also bad.
However, as someone who is half-dutch I would not be offended if someone dressed up in wooden shoes and old Dutch garb. While this may also be a stereotype the history of the Dutch is one that is of the colonizer and one that has melded into the dominant society we currently inhabit. While a Dutch person might find it insensitive, it is not loaded with the last five hundred years of injustices that dressing up as a Native American would be, or loaded with the history of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, etc. that dressing up in Blackface would be.
2) While you might think costumes are fun and not offensive, I disagree. I think its part of a much larger cultural phenomenon that should be addressed.You might think speaking out against racist costumes is trivial. I do not. In my post I was pointing out how this is part of the wider socially acceptable racism towards Native Americans that includes many things and the general ambivalence towards Native Americans that is the status quo in the dominant society.
3) I do not romanticize Native American communities pre-contact. There was warfare and there was bloodshed. Nowhere have I denied this. However, for centuries Native American communities existed without the problems and challenges that came with contact.
4) What was your point? That PC police are making everything not fun and it should not go too far? Let me ask you, when the “right” of one person to “have fun” conflicts with the right of an ethnic group to not be mocked and stereotyped, where do you draw the line? Who gets to decide what is offensive?
My thought is we should ask the people slighted and favor in their opinion rather than the dominant culture and the status quo. If we just stuck with the majority of what the status quo was regarding what is offensive and what is not, we would be perpetually stuck in the 1950s.
“Let me ask you, when the “right” of one person to “have fun” conflicts with the right of an ethnic group to not be mocked and stereotyped, where do you draw the line? Who gets to decide what is offensive?”
And herein lies the rub. You do NOT have the RIGHT to NOT be offended. Not yelling caps, just emphasising. People have the right to express themselves in the USA, its a fundamental right actually. You do not have to like it, accept it, or do it yourself, but you do NOT have the right to stomp all over someone for doing it regardless. Being offended is not enough. I understand the drive for betterment in our culture, believe me I do. But picking and choosing what is “ok” and what is “not ok” based on who was victimized when is subjective at best, and it ends up being little more than a personal opinion. Would I dress up as a NA and start hooping a rain dance? Probably not. But I have *no* right to tell someone else not to do it just because I think it is offensive/unwise.
So fight your battle. Be the PC Police. Just don’t expect a fullscale response simply on the basis “but its offensive!!!” It’s simply not enough.
good points in your post.. why make such a big deal out of a holiday designed for weird people who like to play dress -up?
I feel like I am pointing out the fact that it is a big deal but people do not think it is.
We can say “It’s just for fun” all we want. But that does not mean it is not racist or offensive.
Minstrel shows were also “just for fun,” and were just as accepted in their day. Today we would look at these things as demeaning towards African-Americans, slavery and the racially based injustices in our day.
I think, in time, we may come to think of the socially acceptable racism towards Native Americans as just as unjust and wrong. But it will start with people pointing it out.
actually space cadet he does have the right to express his offense….that’s the right to express himself in response to how other people express themselves…it’s kinda enshrined in our Constitution as freedom of speech. Only the government can forcefully take away your freedom of expression and that’s merely because they have the necessary force behind them to do it, not because of any right. Not the author. Not me. Not you Not anyone. You do realize you are telling him that he can’t respond to people who he disagrees with, thereby telling him he can’t have freedom of expression. You do realize, to use your terminology, that you are stomping all over him for what you perceive as him stomping over people he disagrees with. Suddenly having a strong opinion and disagreeing with people over an issue means your compelling them or stomping over them? Get over yourself. There’s no high horse here. Just basic reasoning.
so in a sense you are right he does not have the right to be offended. But who claims a right to be offended? Certainly not the author. I mean that just sounds absurd. Offense doesn’t originate from a right to be offended. So why would anyone claim that as a defense or reasoning for their taking offense to something? What you are arguing is not his right to be offended. You are arguing his right to express his offense in response to other people, an argument for which you have no basis.
I mean look at the responses to him on twitter. It’s those people who are stomping, who can’t fathom someone having and expressing an alternative viewpoint from their own without getting personally offended and feeling the need to lash out with rude and anti-intellectual responses. None of their arguments even logically make sense and are so predictable that they can be given the heading “Generic responses to Someone Accusing Someone else of Racism” People fear criticism. I have news for these people. Dialogue can get uncomfortable. It can get contentious. That is no reason to tell some one to essentially shut up or go screw yourself or curse them out or be rude or misrepresent what they have said. Look at how courteous the author has been in these comments. Look at how he reasons and he responds to everyone’s points clearly and without assassinating their character. That’s dialogue. That’s what sorely lacks in terms of conversations about race in this country. And that’s because once people run out of good reasoning, they resort to rationalizations, repeating the same thing over and over again, and a number of other defense mechanisms essentially meant to stop dialogue. Essentially, that is one of the ways in which propaganda works. Now they certainly the have the right to respond in whatever way they please because of freedom of expression But that doesn’t mean their reasoning is sound. That doesn’t mean that their opinions are defensible, and that is what anyone is the author is arguing.
I like your way of thinking. I like your reasoning. I like your willingness to stand for your beliefs. It does give good open view to a new perspective.
I’m always up for hearing people out and expressing their beliefs. While they may not be convincing to me I am always open to being wrong. I have been wrong too many times in the past.
Not sure if you have read it, but Thomas King’s book _The Truth About Stories_ confronts this idea of visual representation as identity, particularly in terms of Native American culture. It’s a terrific read.
Thanks for the heads up.
I think its interesting that people are claiming your account was suspended for talking about racism, when you openly admit your “tone” could have been less aggressive. Did you curse at people? Call them names? Get uncivilized? They don’t suspend accounts for random discussions about racism, they suspend accounts for people being genuinely offensive, which you probably were. The topic doesn’t matter in that case where your *behavior* was found wanting.
That, and this PC stuff has gotta stop somewhere. Literally anything can be offensive to some person. Bunch of killjoys making a silly costume with no harmful intent into a huge statement. You may not find certain costumes acceptable, but who the hay are YOU to tell anyone not to do something that only a couple years ago you may have done yourself? Hypocrites shouldn’t talk.
I never claimed the suspension was unjust but I think a few people were irked by the fact that Twitter is fine with people linking pictures of themselves in their racist costumes and when I called them out on it I was reported.
PC stuff does have limits. I agree that even I feel that sometimes it borders on the absurd. That being said, the minority groups and cultures in our multicultural society should be advocated for and defended as they should not be minimized, marginalized or mocked for just not being a white.
If I went in a Native American or racist costume and then criticized it, then I would be a hypocrite.
Encouraging people to consider changing their path and mind as I have over the last several years is just being honest.
You were “irked” because people in costumes were left alone and you were targeted. Perhaps you should take that as a clue? Who are you to even tell others what is or isn’t racist? To be racist implies *intent,* most people in costumes have zero intent. The costumes aren’t reported because its just people having fun. PC people just hate that, but its a simple fact.
You help PC “stuff” border on the absurd by insisting people are all racists just because they wear a costume you wouldn’t. Then you come at me with comments about US soldiers killing off native americans, as if thats the entire story and nobody should dare question your opinion because hey, this bad thing once happened to these people. Bad things happened to pretty much everybody, even those US soldiers you just put down (for doing what pretty much every successful culture on the planet in that time normally did, take land, kill natives. That was the norm back then, not some unique aspect of just US soldiers).
My point is, mainly… you can do what you think is best, and other people will do the same. And who is ANYONE to stick their nose in someone elses business for a silly costume choice? You don’t know their perspective or thoughts, yet they’re instantly “racist,” and thats nonsense.
1) Twitter is just an extension of the dominant society. I was not surprised it did not crack down on these costumes or comments (and I never really expect them to) because of freedom of speech and the fact that the dominant society accepts these costumes as “just for fun” and not racist.
2) It is not about wearing a costume I would not. This post was not just about personal preference or offense, it was about how these costumes are inherently racist, irregardless of intent, thought, context, etc. In my post I listed a number of reason of my own and I provided the words of Native Americans themselves that are representative of what I have heard from others. If you do not think these costumes are racist, tell me, precisely, why these concerns are unfounded.
3) “you can do what you think is best, and other people will do the same. And who is ANYONE to stick their nose in someone elses business for a silly costume choice?”
I am so glad the vast majority of people in this world who have changed it for the better did not have this attitude.
“I am so glad the vast majority of people in this world who have changed it for the better did not have this attitude.”
A pointless insult that does not address what I asked. You have no idea who I am, what my “attitude” is, or what I’ve fought for culturally speaking, and trying to insult me on that basis is pointless. Answer the question. Who are YOU to tell other people what they can and can’t express, based on nothing more than your perception of offense?
There’s a reason flag burning is legal in the USA. It isn’t because it isn’t offensive, but because it is expression. Would you or I do it? SHOULD we do it? Those are subjectiive, personal questions we can’t answer for one another. If I burned a flag and you were offended, sure, tell people you’re offended. But don’t expect flag burning to end based only on your offense.
I’m curious why you haven’t responded to my latest comments, Kevin.
Never fear! I will respond but I have not been able to read them yet.
I just started a new job, moved, am finishing up two classes at UoP and am applying for PhD programs this week so things went haywire.
Wow, you’re a busy one! Good luck in all your endeavors. 🙂
1) I do not think one blog will end socially acceptable racism towards Native Americans or end Native American costumes being sold. I think it is a first step towards pointing out the problem underlying the behavior.
2) People have the right to hold and express views that offend others. However, there are certain things that are not socially acceptable regardless of their legality.
Example: If a politician was calling black people “N*ggers” left and right, this might be legal but it would not be tolerated.
You act like I am attempting to make it illegal to wear these costumes. I am just telling people it is racist to do so and hoping that we see a day where it is *not* socially acceptable.
3) Racism and offense are closely related. Both are socially conditioned and constructed in many ways.
Personally, I believe it is fair to call someone participating in socially acceptable racism a racist regardless of their intent or level of awareness. Ignorance is not an excuse any more than “I was drunk/high” can be used to escape responsibility for one’s actions. Even if you are racist/offensive on accident, you were still racist and offensive.
Are these people lynching Native Americans? No. Do you have to murder someone to be racist against them? No.
4) “I have *no* right to tell someone else not to do it just because I think it is offensive/unwise.”
So people have the right to be offensive but other people do not have the right to tell them to stop? This seems to be a double-standard. You can be offensive, but you cannot speak out against it?
5) I do not think I was making a baseless attack against you. My point was if you say “Good luck, nothing will change!” That attitude breeds quietism and acquiescence, not progressive change.
6) I have discussed race at length in other posts (http://wp.me/pVYH7-rX) and expressed my belief that the real problem is not just a racial divide but colonialism http://wp.me/pVYH7-uM).
Not to be long winded, but I’d like to make a finer point that might help you see where I’m coming from. You’re talking about “offense” a LOT. Thats fine, lets talk about whats offensive. Have that conversation. But this article and the comments throw in “racism” as if its the SAME, and its not. I grew up in the Bible Belt, KKK territory, I know the face of racism. I probably was one until I left and started learning better (thoough I never did anything shameful, thankfully). Having had that experience, I see a lot of people like you talking about offense and racism as if they’re the same thing. They’re just not. To be offended is a consequence of life. To be racist is to have *intent*, that broiling bitter hate that simmers and drives a persons actions. Without the intent, your entire argument sums up into “I’m offended, don’t do that again.” Where you run into problems with people being free to express, as you yourself have noted elsewhere here.
But it comes down to that point. Being racist is offensive, but being offensive is not always racist. Wearing offensive costumes of another culture is not racist if your *intent* is not to harm that culture. Two people can wear the exact same costume, one a racist and one just a person in a costume they liked, and you CANNOT tell the difference just by looking at what they’re wearing.
So if you want to have this conversation, and the racist conversation, great! Lets do that. But don’t pretend that just because someone doesn’t AGREE with you, or because they wear a costume you wouldn’t, that they have “attitude,” or that they support racist actions. Thats a short sighted perspective on it that doesn’t come even close to the real problem that is the racial divide.
i am so impressed with this post and how you are responding to the differing, and i would say ignorant or willingly blind, viewpoints that are also being expressed. kudos to you!
Dear Kevin ~ I found my way here after reading a bit over at Native Appropriations (the blog & then also the facebook page). I’m just sitting here in tears for all the times I overlooked Native issues. As I posted over at N.A. – the high school I went to, our mascot was “the Redskins” (Which I never gave a second thought about EVEN AFTER it was brought to the school administration’s attention that local Native tribe members found it highly offensive – I was one of many who voted to keep our mascot rather than change it to “The Cardinals” – and as far as I know to this day they still have not yet changed it and that was almost 15 years ago?!) and I did in fact one year dress up as Pocahontas (I was a young teen, the Disney movie had just come out and I was totally in love with her, I actually used to take my Pocahontas doll to school with me and revel in brushing her long flowing black hair even during class). My ignorance of course does not justify the years of entrenched racism (that in retrospect I have no doubt unwittingly spread to my kids). So I promise you this: I will do all that I can from this point forward to educate others and spread awareness of your culture’s issues and problems, and to eliminate racism where I see it (STARTING with my own family), because ultimately? We’re all human, and we all deserve the same respect. ❤ Love and peace to you good sir and thank you for writing this piece. ❤
I’m glad that you are one of many people who has woken up to these issues even though they do not directly impact you. As noted in some of my other writings I was totally unconcerned with NA issues and NA history…until I visited a reservation. We all have blind spots and at times act out of ignorance but we are still responsible. Let’s all work towards educating each other, and moving forward with open minds and open hearts, especially when it comes to interacting with people and cultures that are not our own.
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My younger brother and I won a Halloween costume contest dressed as NAs. It never crossed my mind that this was racist until reading the article… plus now that I am in my twenties I have noticed a lot of unsavory observations about African Americans that I can’t remember from childhood. I don’t really think my family has hats itself for anybody, but there is still plenty of vestiges of racist steriotyping (my family mostly originates from around Ironton in southern Ohio).
I meant to say hate not hats.
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Obviously you need to look up the definition of racism,which is the belief some races are superior to others.Dressing up like another race does not suggest they are inferior,unless it is done in a derogatory fashion.True it may be in insensitive or even stereotyping,but that doesn’t mean it is racist.
The technical definition of racism offered in the Miriam-Webster’s dictionary does in fact talk mostly about notions that deal with racial superiority. However, the definition of racism is debated and in flux as the very definition of race is also debated.
I personally consider racism to be an umbrella term that encompasses any form of discrimination, injustice, disrespect, prejudice, etc. that stems from or revolves around an issue of race, and contains explicit, implicit, subtle, or assumed notions of racial superiority.
When someone dresses up as a caricature or stereotype of another culture there is an assumption of racial superiority. One is saying, “Your culture is a joke to me, and my culture/race is superior enough to mock it.” When a mockery of sacred regalia crops up in sexy costumes, completely devoid of any understanding of their original importance, use, or purpose, that tends to be offensive.
wow what an over-analyzed, overdone, over-thought thread… btw most of those “NA” costumes are so ridiculously stupid looking and so far off from traditional regalia you can’t even tell those wearing them are supposed to be Natives. I have never seen anyone in my ENTIRE LIFE dress up in “blackface.” There’s ONE I mean ONE photo floating around online of some college boy in Blackface and this thread implies there’s some epidemic problem of white kids dressing in Blackface. Get some sleep, dude it’s not that bad, really it’s not… don’t give yourself an ulcer worrying about this…
Thanks for reading my post and sharing your criticisms. I should respond to a few of them.
“wow what an over-analyzed, overdone, over-thought thread…”
Welcome to my blog.
“btw most of those “NA” costumes are so ridiculously stupid looking and so far off from traditional regalia you can’t even tell those wearing them are supposed to be Natives.”
All of the pictures I lniked can clearly be seen as peolpe going for an Indian costume. This is also clarified when people expressly state “This is my Indian costume for this year.” The fact that they are so off is not an excuse, but part pf why appropriations are offensive. They are based off caricature, mockery, stereotypes and Hollywood. They in no way are accurate to the regalia and are worn/used without any knowledge or understanding of the spiritual/cultural significance of that regalia. This is done on top of a history riddled with genocide. It is equivalent to a German wearing a costume based on Jewish stereotypes (large nose, prayr shawls, bag of money, etc.) to a party.
“I have never seen anyone in my ENTIRE LIFE dress up in ‘blackface.’ There’s ONE I mean ONE photo floating around online of some college boy in Blackface and this thread implies there’s some epidemic problem of white kids dressing in Blackface.”
Take five seconds and access the internet. It may not be an epidemic but just because you have not seen it in person does not mean it is real. In a few minutes last night, just searching Twitter these are some of the stories that cropped up.
These are all stories that broke within the last three months.
“Get some sleep, dude it’s not that bad, really it’s not… don’t give yourself an ulcer worrying about this…”
It is inadvisable to tell minorities what not to be offended at and what is not racist. If you are a white person, that is doubly true.
Appreciate your work. Cited you in my TED talk:
Thanks so much! I am encouraged that I would be cited in similar work. Good job on the talk as well!
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Good on you, Kevin!
I am primarily of Irish ancestry, and I am lucky to have been to that beautiful land, but I also have roots with the Cherokee and Blackfoot tribes, African-American and several more major roots. I am proud of all of my ancestry, and I also become offended by such stereotypes.
Racism against the Irish, and encouragement of stereotypes is quite prevalent as well and I understand your outrage.
The 1491s are super anti black for that video. Why do non black poc think it is okay to co opt black people’s struggles. Blackface is super popular worldwide. And how are they going to say that anti black racism doesn’t exist? Anti black racism is the basis of white supremacy. The 1491s are trash and if you watched this video and thought nothing was wrong with this you’re trash too.
Thanks for bringing this up. The 1491’s use of blackface was certainly controversial, that being said I do not think they ever said that anti-black racism doesn’t exist unless you are referencing something else they said somewhere else.
In their response video they basically said that anti black racism is a redundant statement. I am really tired of non black poc that try to tell people what is and isn’t anti black racism. They still haven’t acknowledged that what they did was wrong. This is the reason why I treat non black poc like white people.
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