This is long, but so worth the read. Via

Whenever there’s a post suggesting that people who don’t belong to an oppressed group shouldn’t do X, immediately there’s a flood of responses either indignantly saying, “But I should have the right!”, or scuffing their feet on the floor and muttering “Well, I’m just not sure it’s such a big deal.” Fuck that. It’s not your call to make. Sorry that the mere suggestion that someone might infringe on your privilege to “play Indian” is so off-putting to you. And it’s remarkably akin to how people defend racist jokes - because there are worse things one can possibly do, and because their effects feel intangible, they get a pass. Nevermind that withholding a joke - or ditching the “Native-inspired” garb - won’t set you back any.

I mean, let’s run through this:

“I want to wear an ‘Aztec’ patterned feather headband. But my ancestors didn’t personally oppress Native Americans. What’s the problem?”

Centuries of Native Americans - as well as indigenous peoples all over the world - have suffered under dominating entities that tried to extinguish them - both physically (i.e., genocide) and culturally (i.e., the banning of traditional practices, such as the criminalization of the Lakota sun dance for most of the 20th century, residential schools in Canada until the 1970s, and so forth).

So while it’s great that you can walk around feeling like hot shit in your feathered headband, there are many Native Americans still too ashamed or afraid to even discuss their ethnicities or cultures with their children. Many whose songs, languages, ceremonies and skills have been lost by force. Many who are so mired in poverty and depression and addiction and other forms of social strife that *you might have more access to their traditional cultures than they do*.

I’m not going to say that wearing something “inspired” by someone’s perceptions of Native American cultures is immediately and unequivocally wrong, but please consider that it has the potential to be an act of tremendous insensitivity and privilege.

“Fashion is about fun, about pretending to be someone else. Fashion appropriates other cultures all the time. Sure, it’s a stereotype, but what’s wrong with that?”

First, sometimes one person’s “fun” isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. For example, the “fun-ness” of fashion is often lost on foxes. It’s rather like how jokes are “about fun” but can sometimes be at the expense of a vulnerable or stigmatized social group. Secondly, just because the fashion industry does something regularly doesn’t mean it’s right (I can’t believe I’m even typing this). And if fashion needs cultural appropriation to stay interesting, then axe the designers.

Thirdly, there’s a great difference between dressing up as a “stereotypical wizard” and “stereotypical Native American”. Because I fear that the distinction has been lost on a few folks, let me clarify: wizards aren’t real.

Dressing up as “a Native American” furthers the already popular notion that they aren’t real, diverse, complex human beings. There’s a reason that dressing up as a white guy isn’t nearly as effective on Halloween; there’s no homogenous vision of what White Guy looks like. If you’ve developed a homogenous vision of a particular race, enough that you could conceive of a good costume, then just fucking stay home for the evening.

It’s as though the national imagination can concoct either an “indian” regally scalping a cowboy while expertly soothing a notoriously angsty horse, or an alcoholic guy reaping welfare checks and/or the rewards of a reserve casino, and not a fucking thing in between. It might not be the biggest problem facing Native Americans (see next) but must you contribute to it?

“Isn’t this a lesser issue in Native American communities than, say, social and economic strife?”

Different Native Americans - like other types of humans, unsurprisingly - have different reactions to critiques of cultural appropriation. Some feel it’s earning a disproportionate amount of attention (and I’m inclined to agree) - just as some queer activists wish everyone focused more on suicide rates than gay marriage, and some feminists wish everyone focused more on sexual violence than the implications of Disney princesses or Barbie dolls. That doesn’t mean these conversations aren’t valid or significant in their own respect, but it does indicate that there are gaping holes in the public understanding of Native American struggles. We need fuckloads - really, I don’t know any other unit of measurement that would apply - of awareness and action about these issues as well.

To quote the amazing indigenous feminist Jessica Yee, “I’ve also heard a lot of people in the Native community ask why these types of things are getting so much attention when we have real live issues within the community like no running water and extreme poverty going on that people aren’t paying half as much attention to. But when millions of people are watching a supposed “reference” to your culture/ethnicity/race that is totally wrong - there is a bit of erasure of our people to address…”

“I think it’s okay to wear Native-themed garments or accessories as long as you’re respectful about it.”

Respect in this context is great because you can say that you have it without actually taking any concrete action. It’s like, sure, I respect you, but I’m not going lend a hand in your political or social struggles, I’m not going to write to my political representatives or join your protests or support you in any tangible way, I’m just going to learn about your people from books and pat myself on the back. Well, frankly, if your respect were a wedding gift I think most people would return it. Respect is not something you can do by lovingly reflecting on your pair of earrings, it requires a fundamental commitment of equality in your relationship with folks in your community, whether that community is your block or your planet. If you do a Wiki or Google search for “Guswhenta”, you can read about a Haudenosaunee representation of this relationship.

“But what if a Native American made the accessory/garment and sold it to me?”

There’s a difference between handicrafts and regalia. And there’s a difference between regalia and shit you think is regalia. And there’s a difference between supporting Native American trade and buying into the commodification and trendifying of someone’s culture by buying some glorious sweatshop-produced “tribal-style” moccasins at the local mall. If you can’t tell the difference and a Native American vendor hasn’t made the decision easy for you, then make the right choice. Which may not be the most fashionable one.”

- Choppery, a salient commenteer at

Tuesday, June 1, 2010 — 106 notes   ()
  1. carbondinosaur reblogged this from mycultureisnotatrend
  2. mothmonday reblogged this from mycultureisnotatrend
  3. sataqn reblogged this from ponstar
  4. ponstar reblogged this from mycultureisnotatrend
  5. sylvar reblogged this from lookatthishomo and added:
    “If you’ve developed a homogenous vision of a particular race, enough that you could conceive of a good costume, then...
  6. lookatthishomo reblogged this from mycultureisnotatrend
  7. metafragments reblogged this from mycultureisnotatrend
  8. xmasandribena reblogged this from mycultureisnotatrend
  9. blogforkyla reblogged this from mycultureisnotatrend
  10. morningbones reblogged this from mycultureisnotatrend
  11. ornithurae reblogged this from mycultureisnotatrend
  12. moniquill reblogged this from mycultureisnotatrend
  13. mycultureisnotatrend posted this