Paris Hilton as a "Sexy Indian": The Halloween Fallout Begins

In Halloween, Indian costumes, Paris Hilton by Adrienne K.19 Comments

(image source–there are like 40 more pictures if you’re curious)
These pictures of Paris Hilton at the Playboy Halloween Party have been making the rounds on the internets today. Jezebel put the photo up with a “ZOMG RACISMZ” headline–but no follow up or further information, so in typical Jezebel commenter fashion, the comments have descended into crazy. Check them out if you want to get pissed off (as per usual). 

I (noticeably) didn’t do a big “Halloween Post”, though I can say that I probably started one about 200 times. Every time I would open up my browser to get started, and click on costume pages like this one, I would get overwhelmed, upset, and start to feel physically ill. So I’d stop. The sheer enormity of the task seemed too much to tackle in a 250-500 word post. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about it constantly, and wishing I could easily put into words how frustrating it is to see non-Natives gallivanting around in fake Indian attire.
So as the Halloween pictures start popping up on your Facebook feeds and twitpics–feel free to send them over (I’ll block out faces, don’t worry), or if you have stories or encounters with treat-o-treaters dressed as “Indians” and want to share how you felt or dealt with it, please don’t hesitate to comment or write. Let’s put some personal narratives to the “abstract” ideas about why dressing in redface is wrong. 
Though I was quiet on the issue, others were not. Here are some other bloggers’ takes on the Native costume debacle: (Note: I don’t agree with everything in all of these posts, but it’s interesting to see multiple approaches to the same issue)
If you have any others I might have missed, let me know. Now I’d like to end with something that I think sums up perfectly my disgust and disappointment with all the Native costumes this Halloween, from Paris herself:

Yes Paris, I’m grossed out too.

and for all the Jezebel commenters wandering over, read this please: But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?

(Thanks Liza and everyone else who sent this over!)
  • I was very surprised by the dearth of racist Halloween costume posts this year–most of the ones I found were from several years ago–but I guess everyone’s sick of writing the same “stop dressing up as other races, it’s racist” post every year. But it made searching for links to throw at people bragging about their plans to dress “as an Indian” for Halloween really difficult, as I only really came up with a handful, especially posts from Native authors. The most frustrating part being how it didn’t make A SINGLE PERSON pause and think “hm, maybe this is a bad idea.” Their line of thinking seemed to be “Well it’s not like any Natives are gonna see it to get offended so who cares,” or “I asked all my white friends and they didn’t see why it was racist,” or “I’m 1/256th Cherokee princess descended directly from Pocahontas and I think you’re just being too PC.” This year was so frustrating.

    Luckily I did not have any little kid “Indian” (or Mexican, or Antoine Dodson, or “Eskimo”, etc) trick-or-treaters this year, just fairies and dragons and ladybugs and one adorable boy dressed as a pirate robot with a cardboard box on his head. It only seemed to be the adults who wanted to play Native. Ugh…

  • I was going to tip you this, but its pretty obvious. I just cant BELIEVE that she, a somone famous with all her assistants and shit hasnt occurred to her that YOU CANT WEAR THAT FOR HALLOWEEN, RETARD

  • to the girl in the sexy squaw outfit I saw crossing boylston st. I yelled “Fuck you and your choice to mock 500+ cultures into a dirivative that was inspired by the same people who systematically committed acts of genocide against them.”

  • @bree Ha! You Bostonians are far more articulate than we New Yorkers!

  • why is this shit acceptable?! why is it socially acceptable to “impersonate” a group you have a very narrow understanding about? i fucking hate being in the u.s. in october and november because all the so-called holidays represent white supremacy to the fullest! not as if they wouldn’t still go on if i were gone, but it seriously sickens me to be around all this madness! besides indigenous folks are objectified via mascots all the damn time so how different are these so-called holidays from every other day!

  • @torgana … from upstate. And lived a year in the city, learned to talk fast in washington heights. The verbosity comes from faaaaaaaaaaaar to much time working at a university :)

  • I think the only way that Paris Hilton’s costume would be funny to me would be if she was diagnosed with smallpox the next day.

  • AJC

    I’ve always pitied Paris, but now she’s given me a reason to loathe her.

    @Digital Kahuna… nice call on the small pox joke! Primative biochemical warefare is always good for a laugh. Could you please think up some hilarious gas chamber references for chanakuh time?

  • Sorry if this has been brought up before, I am new to this blog (it’s great, by the way!), but one of the things that all of these ‘racist halloween costume’ articles I have read has me thinking it…what is the line between “dressing up as another race” and simply wearing a style of clothing that is typically only worn by another race? For example I lived in India for a short time, and worked with people from several different (mostly East Asian and European) countries. While we were all living there, some of the non-Indian women I worked with would buy Punjabi suits, the typical Indian women’s dress in the region where we lived, and wear them like regular clothing. I guess this could be comparable to a non-Native American buying some sort of authentic Native American clothing from an aboriginal handicraft store and wearing it on any old day, rather than on Halloween. Is this considered racist behavior? If you put on a clothing from another culture, are you reducing that culture to just “dress up fun”, or are there situations where this is acceptable? Or is it only unacceptable if the clothing has religious, symbolic or spiritual significance? If someone can answer my questions I would really appreciate it because I am really having trouble seeing the lines here.

    Again, I’m really sorry if this has been brought up, but I would rather avoid dressing like a racist in the future, especially since I plan to do more work overseas and will likely be surrounded by different cultures’ fashions for some time.

  • Justine, two things to keep in mind are that a) yes religious or significant ritual clothing is a HUGE FUCKIN’ NO NO if you aren’t from the culture (something that comes up on this blog is that “war bonnets” are actually something that have a lot of cultural meaning, and just wearing ’em out on the town when you have done nothing to earn them from the tribes which have them, is fucked up) b), at least in the case of most first nations/native tribes in the north americas, there isn’t really “authentic” everyday clothing that isn’t basically pretty similar to what non-native folks wear. I mean by all means if you’re living on a reservation and notice that all the cool folks have a certain pair of jeans, go for it, but if it isn’t like the scenario you described where you’re living in the culture, don’t try.
    I’d say it’s one thing to be living amongst and with folks from a culture, shopping at the same clothing stores they shop at, and seeing it as real fashion that surrounds you, and going to a special shop that sells clothes/jewelry that no one in the community actually wears on a day-to-day basis and wearing that as though it’s normal to do so (and normal/ok for you as a non-community member). One is an acknowledgment of a shared cultural experience (even if you aren’t totally part of it), the other is the coopting of a history and the use of a manufactured cultural experience.

  • I am always amazed …

    What is ok to wear that is authentically “Native American.” Go to reservation, stop at the gas station/mini mart/ post office. Anything you see people wearing while working… A OK to wear.

    If you dont live near or have no access to a reservation, wander by the nearest urban indian center. Most large cities have them. Look at the people who work at the center and are actively filing or working on computers or chasing around kids or tutoring. Anything they are wearing A OK to wear.

    If you can’t or are unwilling to do that kind of homework, just don’t wear “authentic American Indian”

    American Indians don’t have a equivalant to a Punjabi suit. The closest to that is “business casual” aka Khakis and a polo shirt.

    *head desk*

  • Folks, before we skewer Justine, I think she’s merely asking for our perspective of where we think the line is.

    I think there are, for me, 4 lines.

    1) I live in Northern Maine but I don’t belong to any of the local tribes. The Aroostook Band of Micmacs were having a Bear Feast. As part of the invitation they listed appropriate attire for people who wanted to participate. If I choose to participate I need to follow the dress code. They also had some requests for those who would just observe – these were mostly pertaining to modesty. Following their dress code – OK. Wear whatever I want even if they’ve asked me not to – NOT OK. Going out & putting together my own version of “authentic” Micmac ceremonial garb – NOT OK. Wearing my own Oglala Lakota traditional ceremonial regalia – OK only if it adheres to the dress code for participants & ONLY if approved in advance by the elder performing the ceremony.

    2) My job requires travel worldwide, including some to the Middle East. Contacting the place I will be working/staying in advance & finding out what is considered acceptable or unacceptable attire for that culture then adapting my own wardrobe to meet those cultural standards – OK. Supplementing my daily wardrobe by buying everyday clothes locally that meet those cultural standards – OK.

    3) I decide to go on vacation in Laos, a country in Southeast Asia. I want to look authentic like one of the locals when I arrive so I buy complete GEISHA costumes to wear every day complete with getas & kimono & wig & make-up – NOT OK. Geishas are Japanese, not Laotian & even if I was going to Japan, the average Japanese person doesn’t dress as a geisha everyday unless they are a geisha.

    4) Here’s the controversial one & I’m sure my opinion will not jive with other peoples. It’s HALLOWEEN. Dressing as a fairy, elf, alien lifeform, animal, or a famous fictional character – OK. Dressing as a Celtic warrior, Viking, Samurai, Zulu warrior, Scotsman, or a pre-assimilation Native American – NOT OK!
    UNLESS I am a direct descendant of these people & am ACTIVELY involved in the culture. If my great-great-great-great grandmother’s 2nd cousin was a “Scottish Princess” then me dressing as a Scotsman/woman is still me doing drag for someone else’s cultural heritage & is not OK. But if I’m an active participant in the Highland Games, march in local parades with a drum & pipe band, visit my grandmother in Glasgow every Christmas, & decide I want to get my plaid on for Halloween – that’s my own damn business & no one should be telling me I can’t. If it’s disrespectful or taboo then my own people can deal with me.
    Ditto for religious figures. Little Mary Methodist has no business dressing up as Vishnu or Kali but if a Hindu wants to that’s their business & any broken taboos can be addressed by their fellow Hindus.


  • You lost me at “wearing a headdress is just like wearing blackface.”

    No. It isn’t.

    You know what’s just like wearing blackface? Wearing redface. Now that would be some solid racism to post on your retarded blog about.

  • Thanks everyone,
    Sorry for sounding like an idiot with the “authentic native american clothing” thing, it was really just an attempt to relate my question to the subject of this blog. My question was really more in reference to what is ok in terms of wearing garments from other cultures in general. I know that what people from within a culture find offensive will always change depending on the garment and the culture, but I wanted to find out if there were many people who considered the act of wearing clothing from another culture to be cultural appropriation or racist as a rule.
    Seeing your replies, I will stick with what I have always done, which is look at context.

  • I’m amazed at someone pulling a direct quote from a page where said direct quote doesn’t exist! It’s like troll magic: “you said what I say you said even though you didn’t say it anywhere here.” Wow, 10 out of 10 on the jackass-meter, my friend!

    Also, quit it with the able-ist slurs.

    We won’t even get into how one can do “blackface” or “redface” without actually painting zir face (what with histories of oppression and stereotyping), ’cause that might be too much for your brain to process since it requires actual analytical skills and the ability to understand nuance.

  • Honestly, i don’t think anyone’s racist to want to be another race for Halloween if its all respectively done. Everyone who I saw dress as an Indian (Native American), Chinese, Japanese, Tribal, etc. Its not intentional until you’re spurting out slurs, or dress to mock..All these girls were dress to be beautiful. I myself being Native American, Spanish, and Filipino only believe this is flattering. Only the fact that these people wearing these costumes are historically inaccurate on details or ignorant of some of their history facts is what makes a lot of people angry. People do need to lighten up, and stop focusing on the negative associations of culture, and just focus on embracing that other people are interested on other cultures

  • Hey thanks for posting my blog on your site! :) I didn’t write another one this year, because I am saving up for thanksgiving!

  • @Carole J: I think most people get that a lot of folks who do this are not TRYING to be racist, but you got to understand matey that racism isn’t just about intents, or even always about individual actions, but its a system of white privelege.

    Indigenous folk have had their culture, something precious to them systematically dismantled and screwed up by colonial peoples with horrific results. When people dress this way without any thought as to why they do it (and remember halloween is about monsters), they perpetrate harmful stereotypes and take away the precious right to self determine and self represent.

    It doesn’t always seem imediately obvious to us white folks, because ‘our’ culture is not under threat, but for folks who have had their whole cultural world stolen away from them, this is really important stuff.

    I mean, its probably OK to dress up in faux German Garb for Oktoberfest, because frankly the Germans are not being oppressed by anyone, and as a culture have exported the tradition and given the OK for non germans to participate.

    But indigenous people where never consulted on this process, gain nothing from it, but cop the dire consequences of being marginalized as some sort of cultural oddity.

    It IS great that your interested in other cultures. Wonderful, there are riches to explore. But listen to indigenous people when they tell you the parameters of whats acceptable and what is not. Its not hard, you just have to listen and show respect.

  • @Duckmonster
    As a white person I would appreciate you not deciding that racism is “a system of white privelege” Personally, I find that a bit racist. I’ve just learned about the racial costume issues today. I have always loved Native American costumes (the ones with more coverage) because as a child I wanted to essentially be Native American. I understand what Carole J. said because that’s where I was when I first started reading about the whole issue. I totally understand the problem with the costumes now and will not make the mistake of furthering the misunderstanding. However, it is neither correct nor appropriate for you to decide that racism is a white thing or that it’s okay for German’s to be mocked as beer maids. German Americans experienced plenty of oppression during WWII and I frequently hear German and Nazi used synonymously. Every racial group has experienced and participated in oppression and racism. Pain is pain and oppression is oppression. It feels very inappropriate and wrong to quantify and compare one group’s pain to another’s.