DIY Headdress from Bright Young Things

July 23, 2010 — 43 Comments
(via Ecouterre)

I read a fair amount of fashion blogs, but only recently did I discover the fabulous story and photos over at The Uniform Project. The designer of the now-famous little black dress featured on the site is Eliza Starbuck, who apparently is launching a new line called “Bright Young Things.”

To commemorate the launch, she offered up this project on the blog Ecouterre, “guaranteed to turn heads”. Yes friends, you can now make your very own hipster headdress.

The post offers step-by-step instructions, and I found it hilariously ironic that either Starbuck or Ecoterre reminds you to “just be sure to choose cruelty-free feathers (faux, vintage, or found), rather than pluck the plumage of some hapless bird.” Definitely, worry about the birds, but not the people you may be offending (They are a sustainable fashion site, though, so I’m not totally surprised about the bird reminder).

That’s one weird trend I’ve been noticing with some of the hipster-headdress wearers–many of them are quick to jump on other causes, environmental sustainability, relief for Africa, etc, hinting at some sort of solidarity with those fighting for what’s right…yet they clamp down on the headdress and staunchly defend their “right” to wear it. If someone of a marginalized group tells you, to your face, that what you’re doing is hurtful and offensive, how can you, as an “activist,” still wear it? I don’t get it. But that’s just one of my personal pet peeves with the whole thing.

(via Ecouterre)

A commenter named Margo posted the first comment on the site (thanks!), linking to my hipster headdress manifesto and my culture is not a trend, to which Starbuck responded:

E. Starbuck: @Margo,thank you for the reminder. I think EVERYONE is aware of stereotypes and what is and isn’t “PC” at this point in time. A handmade headdress (and not the dime store “cowboys and indians” plastic version) is sacred to anyone who wears it and certainly to anyone who makes it.

and then an E.J. Starbuck commented on my hipster headdress post:

I think this point of view is painfully old-fashioned. The Internet has created a melting pot of Ancient, Present, Past, and Future cultures from all around the world. And at this point, everyone is fully aware of what stereotypes are and what “PC” is, and going on about them is only going to perpetuate them. Practice sacred culture, don’t preach it. Making efforts to keep sacred cultures segregated and separated in the name of respect and cultural preservation maybe honorable, but it is quite impossible and impractical. If that were the way, then the spirit of the Native American culture would be long dead, and we know that isn’t true, it’s just evolved. Everyone is connected and everyone is mixed, this is a new tribe of people. A handmade headdress (and not the dime store “cowboys and indians” plastic version) is sacred to anyone who wears it and certainly to anyone who makes it. To limit that sacred experience to Native Americans when people from every part of the planet have been using feathers as decorations on their heads all throughout history is just wrong.

So this is a new argument to me–that creating the headdress yourself makes it “sacred”?

I’ll turn this one over to you, readers, since I want some more voices than just my own on this issue. Thoughts? 

Ecouterre:  Make a DIY Feathered Headdress by Eliza Starbuck of Bright Young Things

Earlier: But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress? (for the full breakdown)

(Thanks Amy and Margo!)

Adrienne K.

Posts

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18331250467392439675 Sayeh

    ” If that were the way, then the spirit of the Native American culture would be long dead, and we know that isn’t true, it’s just evolved. ”
    is Starbuck saying that the only reason the native culture is alive is because people have appropriated it?

    how is it logical to reiterate that “EVERYONE” know what’s PC and stereotypical as some sort of justification for being un-PC and stereotypical? awareness of the negative impact of ones behavior while continuing to engage in and justify it is almost worse than accidental ignorance. Starbuck’s whole point reeks of defeatist “don’t bother resisting, just assimilate” ignorance.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07629184868926828678 Colin

    One generally doesn’t make sacred objects out of nylon, faux feathers, and fake leather on an old copy of the Brooklyn Rail. If that were the case, then I spent most of second grade making sacred objects out of macaroni and construction paper. Maybe I should get out my Bedazzler and make some sacred rhinestone jeans

    It’s interesting how she position herself as a savior of native culture. Clearly, if not for hipsters and sports mascots, “the spirit of the Native American culture would be long dead.”

    And, generally speaking, most ceremonies involving spiritually or culturally significant clothing (e.g. headdresses, yarmulkes, mitres, even green berets) don’t end with “Enjoy your new wings!” That’s called cosplay.

    (I would also like to know where on the internet cultures from the future are hiding, and can I borrow their time machine?)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01280855346640567949 Amy

    I can get on board with her line of reasoning to a certain point – particularly where she notes that the use of feathers as decoration is a cross-cultural phenomenon, and as such isn’t limited to the Native American tribal sphere.

    Where I think she gets it wrong (and, frankly, where her argument becomes offensive), however, is saying that because, like, “everyone has used feathers so it makes it okay, okay?” it is okay to appropriate a very specific mode of sacred tribal regalia.

    I’m white, and I’ve been known to stick a flower or feather in my hair, which I do think is okay because I’m not trying to imitate a tribal style, nor would my feathered fascinator ever be mistaken for a tribal headdress… if there were any chance that it could be, I would not wear it. Even before coming across this site I never would have thought it okay to don a war bonnet, diy or otherwise.

    Also, I take serious umbrage with the idea that anything that one makes is sacred to oneself and thus not appropriation/violation of a specific culture’s sacred dress. I think this belies a particularly western, particularly white, sense of entitlement. Indigenous spiritual regalia, whether from a Native American tribe or an Amazonian tribe, has to be earned in one way or another – in some cases, through years of training, fasting, ceremony, and testing. Going to the craft store and buying some feathers, cruelty free or otherwise, does not in my book equate to having earned the right to wear it. I’m tired of “I want to” being equated to “I have the right”.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11592135980458005047 Naturalist Charlie

    Then there’s the wonderful inference that all Native Americans are the same and there is one single ‘Native American Culture’ in which this type of headdresses are ‘sacred’. Kind of like saying the kilt is traditional dress for everyone in Europe.

  • http://sanguinity.dreamwidth.org/ sanguinity

    Because a feathered headdress is not something you make for yourself because you think you deserve one. It’s something you earn from your community, one feather at a time. That’s why.

    Also, if she’s so intent on saving Native cultures, she can begin by asking Native people how she can help, instead of just declaring that stuff she feels like doing anyway must OF COURSE be helpful.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04310239386507062248 Marshall B.

    These arguements sound alot like the ones my sister made about the band she likes, Neon Indian (she was at Bonaroo when those shirtless girls jumped on stage). Her arguement was that, to her, the “indian” represented a back-to-nature unity kind of message, and the “neon” is the more electric culture, so neon indian is a melding of “hippie” and “hipster.” (oversimplifying her explanation, but you get the idea). ANYWAY- the arguement with Bright Young Things seems to be that they are emulating and respecting the ideals of native americans by making a head dress- but what does that even mean? what do they know about native culture, dress, or values? It seems to me like it is instead a new way to create a native “mascot.” in the past, sports teams essentialized the “war-like” stereotype of native americans, now hipsters are essentializing and stereotyping what they understand to be the peaceful/unity with nature stereotype.

    As someone who only recently became interested in native american history (i’m an American history major who thus far has concentrated more on the history of slavery), I can’t say for sure what a respectable way to emulate and draw inspriation from native art and ideas. I think we live in a melting pot and our histories and experiences have informed eachother’s to create a cultural exchange- for example, I grew up listening to bluegrass on my dad’s knee, heavily influenced by the sounds of the banjo, an instrument that came from Africa.
    But where does inspiration end and appropriation begin? if it offensive for me to wear a head dress (no arguements there!) what does it mean if I wear FUBU or Baby Phat (i’m as white as the sand on the beach) or dred my hair? Isn’t this a similar form of appropriation and essentialization- narrowing down the “black experience” to music/clothing and ignoring the years of oprression and struggle that has created it.

    But to sum up, I don’t get the sense from any of these defenses that the people wearing head dresses really UNDERSTAND native culture but rather have a rosy-hued patinaed version of it and identify it as “counter culture” to the mainstream white society. To say that they are paying homage is to imply that they understand what they are paying homage to- do they even KNOW any native americans?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16346692850655294992 salixmirabilis

    So this is a new argument to me–that creating the headdress yourself makes it “sacred”?

    Sure–if you happen to be a goddess. :P

    More seriously, though, it makes sense that Hipster Headdress Hunnies would be in favor of sustainability, “helping Africa,” saving the whales, etc. The Earth doesn’t talk back when you try to help it, the Earth never says, “Actually, what works better for me is if you just stay away.” They look for Causes that allow them to have their cake and eat it too.

    In a world where white people had not ripped other cultures to shreds without apology for centuries and never done a thing to make up for it, maybe, maybe we could think about being “post-racial.” Until then, there is a flipside of white privilege, and that flipside is, white people who want to have a conscience don’t get to keep stealing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05622605735563327108 Tashina

    I love the comment on the DIY post by KatieKim telling Margo to “Chill the F out”. What, was Margo harshing her mellow?
    Way to prove a point about the oppression of natives and their culture there KatieKim.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01478763837213733775 Rob

    The claim that everyone knows Native stereotypes is a joke. I wouldn’t be surprised if people are more ignorant now than they were 50+ years ago, when TV shows and comic books presented some semi-authentic Indians.

    I’ll bet good money that Starbuck couldn’t have told you what was wrong with hipster headdresses before reading your posting. Really, has anyone ever said, “I know all the arguments but still disagree with them”?

    I don’t think many cultures wear feathers in a fan-shaped chief’s headdress. I’d say that’s largely confined to the North American plains and a few other locations in the Americas.

  • http://marchioness.wordpress.com/ marchioness

    So “the internet” is the reason behind our post-racialness nowadays? I wasn’t aware we’d already moved on from toting Obama as the first black president (and simultaneously forgetting that he’s black because white people are totes colorblind and that’s totes a compliment!) to prove that racism is all gone.

    That second bit sounds suspiciously like blaming the conversation about race for racism, which, as Tim Wise so aptly puts it, is like blaming your speedometer for the ticket you just got. Talking about how something is racist does not make that thing racist; if language worked like that, I’d talk all about my seven-figure Swiss bank account and the awesome wine & dine I’m having with Michael Shanks tonight.

    And no, waltzing into a country, killing the native populations and taking the bits of their culture you think are pretty and mashing them all up into a monolithic entity is not “honoring” them. Yes, folks from all over the world have used (and still use) feathers as fashion accessories because they come in all sorts of colors and shapes and sizes, but this project is not putting a feather on a hairclip – this is recreating a very specific cultural artifact without an understanding of its meaning, despite the protests of those whose heritage you are co-opting.

  • http://theblacktongue.wordpress.com/ blacksteve

    “If that were the way, then the spirit of the Native American culture would be long dead, and we know that isn’t true, it’s just evolved.”

    First of all, “Native American culture” is a problematic phrase. This person is conglomerating various distinct cultures and acting as if they are all one culture, which is certainly not the case. This is one of the main problems with the hipster headdress craze. They wear the headdresses and think that they are respecting/honoring all Native Americans. That’s like wearing a shirt with an Egyptian pyramid on it and saying, “I’m honoring all Africans.” However, the headdress case is worse because the hipsters don’t even know what culture they are representing. At least this hypothetical person wearing the Egyptian shirt knows that it is Egyptian.

    “A handmade headdress (and not the dime store “cowboys and indians” plastic version) is sacred to anyone who wears it and certainly to anyone who makes it.”

    This is hilarious. This person seems to think that hipsters highly value the things they buy. What nonsense. Because they are striving to maintain an “ironic image,” everything they purchase to is tainted with that desire to be ironic. Thus, even if a hipster has good intentions (as most of them probably do) and really wants to honor Indigenous Americans, when this hipster buys a headdress to uphold an ironic aesthetic, those good intentions are lost.

    Furthermore, I love the irony of the use of the word, “sacred.” The hipsters that buy these customized headdresses do find them to be sacred. When a hipster buys and then wears a customized headdress, he/she is saying, “Look at my purchasing power, my dedication to fashion, my dedication to animal rights (cruelty-free feathers), etc. These things are sacred to me.” Because hipsters are in this perpetual competition to be the most ironic, everything that they acquire to “win” this competition becomes a commodity. It seems paradoxical, but when sacredness is commodified into an ironic sacredness, it is no longer sacred.

    Incidentally, I was at an Urban Outfitters (for the first and probably last time. Way too overpriced) a few months ago and I noticed that they had a few books for sale. One of the books was Catcher in the Rye. Now I love that book, but when I saw it in that store, I was saddened because I knew that for people that buy that book from that store, the book is just an accessory, not a work of art. That’s essentially what’s going on with the headdress. However, it is exponentially worse because representations of people and their cultures are at stake.

    Sorry about the long ass comment.

  • http://theblacktongue.wordpress.com/ theblacktongue

    “If that were the way, then the spirit of the Native American culture would be long dead, and we know that isn’t true, it’s just evolved.”

    First of all, “Native American culture” is a problematic phrase. This person is conglomerating various distinct cultures and acting as if they are all one culture, which is certainly not the case. This is one of the main problems with the hipster headdress craze. They wear the headdresses and think that they are respecting/honoring all Native Americans. That’s like wearing a shirt with an Egyptian pyramid on it and saying, “I’m honoring all Africans.” However, the headdress case is worse because the hipsters don’t even know what culture they are representing. At least this hypothetical person wearing the Egyptian shirt knows that it is Egyptian.

    “A handmade headdress (and not the dime store “cowboys and indians” plastic version) is sacred to anyone who wears it and certainly to anyone who makes it.”

    This is hilarious. This person seems to think that hipsters highly value the things they buy. What nonsense. Because they are striving to maintain an “ironic image,” everything they purchase to is tainted with that desire to be ironic. Thus, even if a hipster has good intentions (as most of them probably do) and really wants to honor Indigenous Americans, when this hipster buys a headdress to uphold an ironic aesthetic, those good intentions are lost.

    Furthermore, I love the irony of the use of the word, “sacred.” The hipsters that buy these customized headdresses do find them to be sacred. When a hipster buys and then wears a customized headdress, he/she is saying, “Look at my purchasing power, my dedication to fashion, my dedication to animal rights (cruelty-free feathers), etc. These things are sacred to me.” Because hipsters are in this perpetual competition to be the most ironic, everything that they acquire to “win” this competition becomes a commodity. It seems paradoxical, but when sacredness is commodified into an ironic sacredness, it is no longer sacred.

  • http://theblacktongue.wordpress.com/ theblacktongue

    Incidentally, I was at an Urban Outfitters (for the first and probably last time. Way too overpriced) a few months ago and I noticed that they had a few books for sale. One of the books was Catcher in the Rye. Now I love that book, but when I saw it in that store, I was saddened because I knew that for people that buy that book from that store, the book is just an accessory, not a work of art. That’s essentially what’s going on with the headdress. However, the headdress craze is exponentially worse because cultures and people are at stake.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18025364041303878332 Jessie

    “The spirit of the Native American culture would be dead [without us white people to perpetuate it, you know, because that's our burden].”
    She just makes me furious with her idiocy. Does she even understand what she wrote? So flippantly dismissing a critique of the ideas (or lack of ideas) behind what she does. I guess it’s not “in” right now to be disturbed by the use of a religion that white men tried to wipe out.
    How’s about you let the Native peoples decide how to treat their religion and sacred objects, Eliza?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14328347379621837240 Anishinaabekwe

    E.J. Starbuck says — “If that were the way, then the spirit of the Native American culture would be long dead, and we know that isn’t true, it’s just evolved. Everyone is connected and everyone is mixed, this is a new tribe of people.”

    Again, new age folk thinking that Native folk like appropriation of their culture. It is not a new tribe of people. Tribes on Turtle Island are just beginning and are in a process to reclaim a lot of their cultural traditions, lifeways, language and heal. Then the white hipsters swoop in and think they are doing us a favor. I am mixed, Anishinaabe/Ojibway and European but I do not claim to know everything about my Anishinaabe/Ojibway culture. I have been learning about my culture since I was a child. Reclaiming pieces of my heritage that my Dad and ancestors had to hide. I am actively involved and work in the Native community. I would never claim to know everything. But, I will definitely stop someone when they are appropriating my culture and traditions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18025364041303878332 Jessie

    Also, couldn’t these hipster morons pick an ancient (preferably European) culture that is actually extinct? You know, like the Celts or Picts or Vikings–didn’t these cultures have some kind of feather uses that the hipsters could actually claim as part of their own ethnic background while also reinventing it? That would be culturally sensitive.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16129210217777837909 delux

    “Practice sacred culture, don’t preach it.”

    I’m always fascinated by how much more these types of folks know what is best for native people, than native people themselvse.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11962230588950968738 TheDeviantE

    Ugh. So Starbuck’s entire screed is obviously offensive, but I just can’t stop fuming about “painfully old-fashioned.” What the FUCK! That’s just so painfully out-of-touch-with-reality. I’m literally splutteringly mad that ze came to leave such a fucking privileged asshole comment on your blog. I can’t even really parse how terrible zir quote was. Terrible.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09713053717542293866 WazKanGi

    Anger aside, isn’t this the kind of deflective comment you would expect from someone who supports appropriation? What else would you say when confronted about the opinion that stealing the sacred out of belief systems is acceptable behavior? At this point, do you even care if your behavior is acceptable? no. He, just as many “hipsters”, is trying to challenge belief systems. He would probably “I’m having fun, so why aren’t you? Why can’t you just let me have my fun?” It’s like culture rape. Sorry. I had to say it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16346692850655294992 salixmirabilis

    He, just as many “hipsters”, is trying to challenge belief systems.

    Why is the one belief system they don’t want to challenge, the one that says “I am entitled to do whatever I want”?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16129210217777837909 delux

    Now I’m just waiting for someone, perhaps even Starbuck herself, to wear one of these sacred DIY headdresses to a powwow…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09713053717542293866 WazKanGi

    @salixmirabilis… I wish that they would challenge that belief system. I think that might limit the idea of “I’m having fun, so why aren’t you”. If they were to successfully challenge entitlement then it would take away their “fun”. Life is tough and you don’t need to offend people to be “edgy”. Having fun at the expense of others is actually kind of sick. It’s like the lady that got attacked by a buffalo after throwing something at it in Yellowstone. If you’re intentionally trying to provoke someone by challenging their belief system, then you should understand when people react to your behavior. At least be honest with the fact that you are trying to piss people off with the idea that “nothing is sacred anymore” instead of deflecting by using the argument that non-native use of native cultural practices has kept native culture alive. That’s just bull. Native people keep it alive because the culture/religion is tied with the people and the land, and even native people aren’t always entitled to their own cultural knowledge. We have to earn it. The only way it is kept alive is by carefully preserving it within our own people who won’t abuse the privilege and sell out for fashion fun. You’re not making your hipster headdress with prayer for ceremonial usage…you’re making it so you can wear it and get drunk at a party while other people talk about how ironicly cool you are by not being cool. Let’s just be real here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02522855893144658781 Charlie

    you know, on the plus side hipsters have pretty low fad attention span so we can all look forwards to when they forget about this and go back to zombies or robots or whatever (hopefully something non-real that won’t offend people!)

    Also, RE: Also, if she’s so intent on saving Native cultures, she can begin by asking Native people how she can help, instead of just declaring that stuff she feels like doing anyway must OF COURSE be helpful.

    I actually think that would be a really good subject of a blog post. Aside from not doing stupid stuff, what CAN non-Native American people do to be supportive? I know one person can not answer that for all of the cultures here. However, as someone who struggled with my identity as a teenager who did not feel like in any way a part of ‘white person culture’, I probably DID appropriate stuff in a way that could have hurt the feelings of others, unintentionally. I think thoughts on places to appreciate and learn about past and PRESENT Native American culture from within these cultural groups, rather than the media.

    As for my actions when I was younger… I am a white male who grew up in the suburbs in a very loving family but never felt in any way an attraction or connection to ‘American culture’… I think it is important to remember that some of these people appropriating Native American stereotypes are not doing so flippantly, but in fact are just searching for an alternative to a culture that doesn’t work for everyone and honestly, could probably USE some major changes. Not that you are doing this on this site, but I worry that some people might feel that they are just told to ‘act like a white person’ when as we all know a lot of ‘white person culture’ has involved being an asshole, or much worse. Appropriating Native American culture, especially misinterpreted like this, is not the answer but I do feel that we should guide these people to finding their own way, not going back to ‘being white people’. ALL human ethnic groups were much closer to the Earth and had a much more earth-connected spirituality long ago. I think in my case, the key was recognizing that you don’t have to be or emulate a Native American to do this… because it is in all of our backgrounds somewhere. After realizing that, I kind of got over it – and I also realized that there were plenty of other white people who didn’t like the status quo either.

    Anyway, just a few thoughts. Not intended to be critical of this blog at all as I think it is a good and really important one, and also, I don’t think what I said above about ‘some white people’ applies to the douchey hipster headdress above or the ignorant letter that person wrote.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08183686721305419157 Kelly Hogaboom

    I’m a white lady invested in anti-racist readings, and I understand and empathize liberals/”progressives” who consider themselves activists or “on the side of the good” often feel defensive when they’re called out – however gently or aggressively – on appropriation. They don’t want to be caught with their pants down or look like assholes. They don’t want to redact previous actions because it’s embarrassing. It’s hard on the ego for many to say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’d never thought of it that way. What can I do differently?” (or better yet, READ a few things online, digest, read some more, then make up one’s own mind with a better background). Unfortunately in their defensiveness or (small- or large-scale) humiliation they then stop listening to marginalized voices and reify harmful behaviors.

    There are so many things one can make that are “sacred” or have deep personal spiritual meaning. If you’ve found something you’ve participated in causes offense or steps on other people’s toes – especially if you’ve found you were ignorant of other culture’s histories – halting your behavior is the correct choice, and making amends if you can. Especially when those people have gone through enough crappy treatment and have gone through the work of writing essays on WHY the behavior is problematic, the least we can do is apologize and finding a new avenue of expression. Just as the English language is full of many new words we can use instead of problematic ones with painful connotations to our fellow citizens, our minds and hearts and brains and community provide us with many creative endeavors we can claim as our own and as “sacred”. I am not so unoriginal the only way I can experience personal meaning is to co-opt others work.

    I’ve also think it is so interesting that many in a privileged group who consider themselves Progressive don’t want to ever have to pay a price, ever, for legacies of oppression, racism, misogyny, ableism, etc. So in other words although these so-called Progressives will claim, Oh, it was so horrible this happened to a culture, or it’s so icky that oppressions still exist (especially institutional ones), and I recognize other people have histories fraught with stereotypes I cannot possibly understand what it is like to live with daily stereotypes – Me, personally, Nice Person Who is Also A Good Person, should NEVER HAVE TO GIVE ANYTHING UP, personally.

    And of course: no, you don’t. There is no headdress police. Don’t bother giving it up – unless you don’t care about, you know, the feelings of lots of other Human Beings.

    [...]

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08183686721305419157 Kelly Hogaboom

    [...]

    For me it was a lightbulb moment to realize that as a white woman I would occasionally have to give something up, or even despite the fact I am basically a good person I may be hated on just for my race and my (obtuse or well-intentioned) choices or my nationality. This sucks, but this is the legacy of racism and oppression and it’s not for POC to pay alone. Now that I know I’m a part of a larger world than my own existence, I can move forward and try to do good work.

    My mom and I have argued about the headdress thing (recently in fact). She also draws the line at the idea a headdress would be forbidden (or a bad idea) and claims “Look, I respect Native cultures and if I wanted to make a headdress I’d be *honoring* them!” Interestingly enough (or not) she like many others does not lift a finger to go seek out more information from more activists who’ve steeped themselves in these issues and have valuable insights and often a body of work. If they were genuine about doing this work, they wouldn’t be afraid to look deeper and confront their (often reflexive, and ingrained, and sometimes rather subtle) racist actions.

    Also, if she’s so intent on saving Native cultures, she can begin by asking Native people how she can help, instead of just declaring that stuff she feels like doing anyway must OF COURSE be helpful.

    Well-put.

  • http://openid.aol.com/Tristessai Tristessa

    If she really cares about “Native culture” then why doesn’t she come to Pine Ridge and help out with building some much needed homes? How about donating dozens of backpacks for the kids about to start school? How about donating some propane tanks in the winter time for those who live without heat? I can think of a 100 things off the top of my head right now. They only want to romanticize first nations people. They don’t want to see the ugly side of things on the rez or what it’s truly like to have nothing. They think they are doing a big favor? Amazing. They would not last one week in the dead of winter on the rez. But go on ahead and wear the head dress and pretend you’re doing something hip and cool for the ndns.

  • http://staticnonsense.wordpress.com/ staticnonsense

    “Also, couldn’t these hipster morons pick an ancient (preferably European) culture that is actually extinct? You know, like the Celts or Picts or Vikings–didn’t these cultures have some kind of feather uses that the hipsters could actually claim as part of their own ethnic background while also reinventing it? That would be culturally sensitive.”

    Problem – the Celts aren’t extinct either. The Gael don’t appreciate the appropriation of their culture either. The suggestion to advert their attention to appropriate a different culture (one that is already appropriated on a regular basis because they’re seen as dead) simply because you do not know that they are alive is a bad idea. It doesn’t address the actual issue of the privilege and appropriation, it just diverts their attention to a different source. One that you think cannot fight back.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11592135980458005047 Naturalist Charlie

    Hey, I’m part Viking, and part Celt!

    Sadly I do not know as much about these cultures as I should, though that was a long time ago.

    In any event… Tristessa, I think it would be really good if you elaborated more. I think no one likes to be ‘called out’ for being racist or ignorant, but I think a really good strategy is to say ‘hey, it seems like you are interested in Native American cultures, did you know that not only are these cultures still intact, but they still face racism and in fact many die in the winter due to lack of sufficient heating, here’s something you can do to help!’ I have often commented that it is interesting how many in our country are very concerned with Tibet but don’t seem to realize that there are oppressed autonomous cultures within our country as well that we need to also acknowledge and work for. Anyway, this blog is good, it has made me think about a lot of stuff, keep up the good work and I look forwards to hearing your thoughts on my posts, if you have any.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11592135980458005047 Naturalist Charlie

    meaning that it was a long time ago that my ancestors were linked to those cultures, not that they are necessarily gone.

  • http://kissmyassterisk.livejournal.com/ kissmyassterisk

    @delux

    That’s actually a really common behaviour among governments and large ruling bodies. It’s called paternalism, and it is one of the tools of oppression wielded against people of colour and other marginalized bodies. For these ruling bodies it is perfectly alright to assume that, for instance, all black people are child-like and ignorant, unable to make decisions for themselves and in need of a guiding hand to prevent them doing harm to themselves and their fellow POC. This was often used as a justification for slavery, but it is still in use today, telling us that women need a man in their lives to keep them safe and take them in hand, that disabled people need to be relegated to specific times and places, that people of colour need to be guided by white people because if you leave them to sort things for themselves they’ll all turn into welfare queens and will murder each other.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03183928953765458393 Kelly

    Thank you, staticnonsense! You took the words right out of my mouth. We Celts, Picts and Germanic peoples are not dead, and our cultures get inappropriately co-opted pretty often, too. Jessie… take note!

    But, back to the main issue: I’m married to a Native man who is enrolled in his father’s tribe, and connected closely with his mother’s tribe.

    He has been fighting this battle against ignorance since childhood. Here are a few of his experiences: protesting that making toilet paper roll totem poles in kindergarten is not appropriate for little Navajo children (or little Caucasian children for that matter); going to court to keep from being forced to cut his hair in order to play football; explaining to a college junior that a Kansas tribe living not 40 miles from that young man never did live in tipis and certainly did not in the year 2000.

    I cannot tell you how offensive I, as a Celtic person married to a Native person, find this headdress to be. A feather worn in that fashion is an honor bestowed for an act of valor, whether in war or in some other act on behalf of the people. This is akin to wearing your grandfather’s Congressional Medal of Honor or Purple Heart as a scarf pin because it looks cute with your New Year’s eve outfit. That should honor Grandpa’s memory, shouldn’t it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09328355522766563031 Ichael

    “This is akin to wearing your grandfather’s Congressional Medal of Honor or Purple Heart as a scarf pin because it looks cute with your New Year’s eve outfit. That should honor Grandpa’s memory, shouldn’t it?”

    You lost me there. I think that would be a nice touch. If someone notices it, you can then have a discussion about it and your grandpa and its importance to you. I don’t think it is inherently bad to do something that someone else might be offended by as long as you’re prepared to deal with the consequences and the conversation. I’m going to play devil’s advocate and say I do think people are too easily offended. Maybe I’m going to be attacked for that, do what you must, but this is life and these are multiple generations and cultures that don’t understand each other we’re talking about. I don’t think everything has to be in a big glass box on the wall. This is life and we should be interacting. I have been listening to the discussion about the headdress issue and will continue to listen, I’m still not convinced in either direction. But let me throw this out there, and I’m just spit-balling here cause I haven’t thought it out yet, but what about gay marriage… just because Christians are “offended” by the appropriation of their heterosexual marriage that is a “sacred” ritual reserved for certain specific relationships, does that mean that gays should respect their heritage and not marry one another? Someone can hold something as sacred for themselves, they get to decide that, but that doesn’t mean no one else can experiment with it to see what it is like or hold dearly to themselves. I can see several arguments against the gay marriage thing (it’s a legal standing (which is a long conversation) but its also a religious ceremony for many) etc etc, but I think the point should be considered for argument’s sake.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09328355522766563031 Ichael

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00159207658347474610 Katherine

    i think this is all a little ridiculous. i’m catholic, and i don’t really care if lady gaga paints a cross on her crotch. you can wear whatever you want; if someone finds it offensive, then they shouldn’t look.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08705672876556960419 e

    The difference being that the catholic faith is in a position of cultural dominance and so appropriating its imagery takes on a different flavor. Wearing a hipster headdress is not the same as mocking a institution of power.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15482712909346143043 reptilegrrl

    Ichael, with regard to your comment about marriage, your comparison is no good because you are in fact mistaken regarding the provenance of marriage (which isn’t surprising, given that most people are these days.)

    Marriage has not, historically speaking, been a religious ritual. Throughout most of history, marriage has been a business agreement, what we would think of as a contract between two families or two people.

    So, the claim that marriage is being “appropriated” from Christians has no basis in fact. Sadly, though, fundamentalist Christians have claimed so often and so loudly that they “own” marriage, the most people have no idea that it’s not true. It should be obvious to anyone who thinks about it for a second that Christianity is only about 2000 years old, whereas marriage as an institution is much older.

    Sorry, your comparison does not stand, because it is based on a falsehood promoted by people with a political agenda.

    Moving on, I think you’ve also lost the point of the discussion. The point is not “one shouldn’t engage in appropriation because it offends people.” The point is “one shouldn’t engage in appropriation because it *hurts* people, it perpetuates racism, it is participation in the subjugation of Native people.” That’s a long way from “offense”. (And, just as an aside, to touch on your false comparison: same-sex marriages do not hurt or subjugate heterosexual people in any way.) The fact that people are offended is not the end result of appropriation, it is a symptom that those in privilege should take into account.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12623215565673008494 B

    Ichael, additionally, re: gay marriage, it does not hurt hipsters in any real and practical way to not be able to wear headdresses. It does hurt people when they can’t marry their chosen life partner, due to social stigmas and not being granted a number of legal rights without having a legal marriage.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12623215565673008494 B

    I’m still thinking about this, but I think I disagree with Kelly and staticnonsense. I don’t think the co-opting or appropriation of Celtic culture is really comparable to the Native appropriations discussed on this blog. After all, people of Celtic descent are white/caucasian, which means that they are currently part of a privilege group in a way that people of Native descent are often not.

    I think reptilegrrl’s comments are relevant here: “The point is not “one shouldn’t engage in appropriation because it offends people.” The point is “one shouldn’t engage in appropriation because it *hurts* people, it perpetuates racism, it is participation in the subjugation of Native people.”

    And racism against, or subjugation of Celtic peoples is, as far as I can tell, now completely non-existent in America. (I am less certain that this is true in in Europe.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07094893585913178810 Kayleigh

    The degree to which the hipster headdress has taken off is quite mind-boggling.

    B » Either something is cultural appropriation or it isn’t, and the fact that Celtic people are white doesn’t make it less problematic.

    Jessie » As someone actively working to resuscitate a traditional European religion, no. The problem with pre-Christian cultures is that ornamentation often has religious or philosophical meanings (unless we’re talking about war helmets, which are just practical), and wearing them would be equally insulting unless they participated in the modern revival(s) or had ancestors from the ancient culture(s). We have problems already with some (but not all) Wiccans (although that’s more of a deity appropriation problem once you get outside of traditional Celtic religion), and I would rather not see hipsters join the mix.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05210936853920525091 Eireann

    I’ve been reading back through your archives and just got to this post. Thank you for all your eloquence–and also just the collection of things here.

    I wondered if you’d seen this, on the Uniform Project’s site:

    http://theuniformprojectblog.com/designer-collaborations/goto-show

    Bizarre.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14888937558045824559 Maia

    @ Charlie

    I know this is late, but I hope you see this. You raise a good point about not feeling connected to white culture. A large part of this is that most European immigrants to the U.S. by and large gave up/were forced to give up their various cultures in order reap the benefits of being “white.” European cultures are not somehow less vibrant or meaningful than Native/Black/other people of color’s cultures, they are just seen as less exotic. Rather than appropriating the cultures of other people in your search for an alternative to mainstream white culture, however, you could try learning more about your *own* culture(s).

    That would be my suggestion, at least.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00612950889549668702 Anna

    Really late to this party, but I agree strongly with those who disagree with Jessie’s suggestion that it would be more “culturally sensitive” to appropriate from Celts and similar indigenous European cultures, because obviously they’re extinct. (Just like Native Americans, amirite?)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12623215565673008494 B

    Just came back to look at this post after a while, and I’m going to stand by what I said earlier, Kayleigh.

    Context matters A LOT, in my opinion. It’s why I think it’s completely horrid and offensive for white people to use the n-word, but if black people choose to do so, that’s their business. Or why if rape survivors choose to make dark humor rape jokes, again, that’s their business, but non-rape-survivors should never ever attempt this.

    (I know these situations are not exactly analogous, but my point is just that context matters.)

    So, yes, I think WHO’s doing the appropriating and in what cultural context has a lot to do with how much actual harm it does.