Archives For September 2011

It’s been a few months since I posted a “Random Appropriation of the Day”–things that use Native imagery/names/references that are just totally random and don’t necessarily necessitate (necessarily necessitate? ha. I’m leaving it.) an entire wordy post. These “Random Appropriations” are simply to point out how ubiquitous the use of Native imagery is in our everyday lives, and to question products that we might not even pause and think about. So, a weird one for today:

Product description:
Pow Wow Lip Scrub – 3474 – Vegan – 20g – £4.75
Popping candy to polish your pout this Christmas!
Helen’s been trying to figure out a way to use popping candy in more of our inventions – and why not, it’s such good fun! So here it is: a delicious, bright green popping candy lip scrub. Scrub and buff your lips this winter with our exfoliating spinach powder, goji berry and caffeine powder lip buffer. It’s sure to make you as strong as Popeye and look as beautiful as Olive Oil!

Then, according to tipster Megan:

“There is also a video that briefly explains the reasoning behind the name which has since been made private, but as far as my memory serves me the gist is “pow wow is the Native American word for a gathering, and we do that a lot at Christmas’. Quite where the lip scrub comes into it I have no idea. I am at a loss at what any of this has to do with a non-existent, monolithic, Native American culture.”

It appears that the product has been taken down completely–several websites display a “product not found.” So perhaps they wised up and decided they should call it something that actually, oh, describes the product? Like “Popeye Power Lip Scrub”? (I should go work for Lush…)

Anyway, random, right?

(Thanks Megan!) 

Yesterday, UC Berkeley’s College Republicans Chapter decided to have an “Affirmative Action Bakesale” to protest a new bill that has been introduced into the CA legistlature that would reverse parts of Prop 209, which in 1996 banned the use of race as a factor in admissions decisions in the UC system.

The premise of the bake sale is not new, and has definitely been used on other college campuses. The basic idea is that there is different pricing for different racial groups, as follows:

White: $2.00
Asian: $1.50
Latino: $1.00
Black: $.75
Native American: $.25
$.25 discount for women

The pricing implies that standards are lower for non-whites and women, and that the (poor, innocent!) White males are just royally screwed by the whole system. But you know what I see from that pricing? I GET FREE SNACKS. (I joke, I joke)

I’ll let the illustrious Tim Wise breakdown why this is so stupid (as if you needed an explanation):

Tim Wise, author of the book “White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son,” calls the bake sale a “sarcastic and rather smarmy slap at people of color.”
“There are a lot of ways to make a point about your disagreement with affirmative action,”

“I get the joke,” he continued. “How very original. It’s been done for 15 years. The point that I think needs to be made … is that by the time anyone steps on a college campus … there has already been 12- to 13-years of institutionalized affirmative action for white folks, that is to say, racially embedded inequality, which has benefited those of us who are white. And it’s only at the point of college admissions that these folks seem to get concerned with color consciousness.”

So we’re clear why this was a silly publicity stunt. But what about those girls in the picture above wearing headdresses? They decided to be “cute” and pretend to be Native American women and get free cookies.

You can hear from them in their own words at this video here. But the gist of what they say is:

“This bake sale trivializes the issue of affirmative action, so we thought to show our opinion of the bake sale, we would trivialize their opinion.”

Um, that doesn’t even make sense. At all. In the words of my friend Kayla (a Native UC Berkeley student):

Even if anti-bake sale, [this] makes no sense to me, since the next logical step ought to have been “maybe we ought not to trivialize Native American (women) with stereotypical headdresses”

Amen.  Basically this whole thing was a big mess, and got far more attention than it deserved. There were several counter-protests, and even a table selling “Magical Costco Muffins” with different prices for Muggles and Wizards, but the bottom line is that, clearly, the College Republicans of UC Berkeley have no grasp of historical context, current systems of institutional racism and inequality, or their own blinding privilege.

(Thanks MK, Kayla, Caroline, and Olga!)

Sociological Images, one of my favorite blogs and a large inspiration for this here bloggy blog, keeps a running post of “race themed” parties on college campuses. Recently, they re-posted it because there was a big bruhaha in Canada over some boys and girls completely painting themselves black to “honor” a Jamaican sprinter, which you can see in the picture above.

 Visceral reaction, right? We all instantly cringe, and shake our heads, wondering, “what the eff were they thinking?!” Blackface, in our society, is an ultimate taboo. We know it’s wrong, though most folks probably can’t verbalize why other than to shout “THAT’S RACIST!”–More on that in a minute.

In addition to several examples of blackface at campus parties, SocImages also has some examples of students dressing up as stereotypical “Mexicans,” that I’m sure we all can agree are equally offensive:

As I scrolled down the list, however, I couldn’t help but think, “Wait, where are the Cowboy and Indians parties?”

Let’s look at some examples, all pulled from the first page of a google images search for “Cowboys and Indians Party.” These were not hard to find. Most were posted with pride–”look at my sweet-a** costume, bro!” They can’t be found on the websites of CNN or even the local newspaper. There were no bloggers calling for public apologies. In our society, this practice, completely akin to the images above, is accepted, condoned, and normal:

From the poster: “My friend Adam had a Cowboys & Indians themed party on Saturday night. Buddy and I picked up some stuff from Party City and a fabric store and made some pretty sweet Indian gear. The party was a lot of fun and there are more pics up on facebook if you’re interested.”
Caption: “7:40 p.m. There were cowboys and Indians everywhere…”
 This girl even made a nice collage for us! (/sarcasm)
“The Lambda Chi’s had a cowboy & indian party last night. I had so much fun.”
And then my personal favorite…
Which, irony of all ironies, comes from a photo gallery of folks in the peace corps, in Zambia.
So, why is it, that we as a society have deemed it “totes ok” to dress up in redface, but not blackface, or brownface? The explanation is long, and the practice of playing Indian goes all the way back to the Boston Tea Party, where the colonists dressed up as Indians without the benefit of PBR or ironic mustaches. 
According to Philip Deloria, who literally wrote the book on Playing Indian, the colonists used the racial drag as a way to assert their individuality and differentiate themselves from the British, creating a new “American” identity in the process:

“There is this simultaneous embracing of Indians, which allows Americans to  make claims of American identity. But at the same time, in order to make a  real physical nation, they have to dispossess those Indians”

This led to policies of Indian removal in the 1830′s, and the attempts to physically erase and assimilate Indigenous peoples. For “Americans” to lay claim to “their” nation, they had to get rid of the original inhabitants of “their land’. Throughout US history, donning redface has shifted and symbolized any number of movements, from rebellion to peace activism. But “real” Indians are always left out of the narrative. Americans are far too obsessed with their commodified and imagined images of “the Indian” to be concerned with true authenticity.

So how does this compare with blackface? In the words of scholar Kimberly Tallbear, “Black and White became a race binary, while White appropriated Red.”

Scholars and historians argue that blackface was about creating a white identity that existed in contrast to Black slaves, and asserting power over Black Americans by relegating blackness to defined, extremely stereotypical character tropes. This was done through minstral shows, where whites painted their faces with black paint to perform.

Blackface was about creating an identity in opposition (a binary of Black vs White), while playing Indian was about absorbing “Indianness” into a national identity and narrative.

However, playing Indian still relegates Native peoples to stereotypical character tropes. The images above show one “image” of an Indian–the feathers, the fringe, the warpaint, the braids. Indians are sexy maidens, fierce warriors, peace-loving environmentalists, all holding up their hand to say “How.” These characters were solidified through early cinema, where Westerns all seemed to include the helpless Indian maiden and the evil Indian warrior–all played by non-Native actors, of course–and continue through to today (see: oh, every post on this blog).

So, it’s clear there are large similarities between blackface and playing Indian–both are intentional acts that draw upon stereotypes and a racist history to enact whiteness–but our Nation has created a narrative in which blackface=racist, while redface=normal.

Does that make it ok to play Indian or host a cowboys and Indians theme party? Absolutely not. It just goes to show how deeply the erasure of Native peoples runs. Just because our national narrative and history has somehow normalized the phenomenon does not excuse its roots in the process of systematic erasure of the First Peoples from our homelands.

Bottom line: Blackface=dressing up in a stereotypical costume of a race that is not your own, drawing upon a history of racism and inequality. Playing Indian=dressing up in a stereotypical costume of a race that is not your own, drawing upon a history of racism and inequality. Clear enough for you?

Sociological Images: Race-Themed Events at Colleges 
Native News Online: Philip Deloria on Playing Indian
Wikipedia: Blackface
Theodore Allen: On Roediger’s “Wages of Whiteness” 

But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?
Harvard’s Conquistabros and Navajo’s theme party
Playing Indian at Stanford Powwow
When Non-Native Participation in Powwows Goes Terribly Wrong

Editorial Note: I know I’ve extremely over-simplified a lot of this, and I don’t purport to be an expert in the history of blackface or playing Indian, so please, feel free to disagree or point to other resources in the comments!

A search for “Cherokee” on the Urban Outfitters website reveals 1 result. A search for “Tribal”: 15. A search for “Native”: 10. “Indian”: 2. But Navajo? 24 products have Navajo in the name alone.

This post started as a massive Urban Outfitters take-down, I spent an hour or so last week scrolling through the pages of the website, and adding anything to my cart that was “Native inspired” or had a tribal name in the description. I got through JUST the women’s clothes and accessories (no mens or apartment), and had 58 items in my cart. So, then, like any good researcher, I began to code my cart for emergent themes, and the one that jumped out far above the rest? Urban Outfitters is obsessed with Navajos.

I want to show you some examples, and then talk a little about the issues with using tribal names in products that are decidedly not-. Finally, I want to share what the Navajo Nation in particular is doing about it, and the action they’ve taken is pretty cool.

Without further ado, some of the “Navajo” products to grace the pages of Urban:

From the basic:

To the totally random:
The Antiquated:
And, finally, the totally offensive:
Of course, there are many more if you head over to the site and search “Navajo”.
So what’s inherently wrong with using Navajo in product names? And what can tribal nations do about it?
First of all, these products represent a stereotype of “southwest” Native cultures. The designs are loosely based on Navajo rug designs (maybe?) or Pendleton designs, but aren’t representations that are chosen by the tribe or truly representative of Navajo culture. Associating a sovereign Nation of hundreds of thousands of people witl a flask or women’s underwear isn’t exactly honoring. 
Additionally, it’s more than likely that Urban chose “Navajo” for the international recognition–to most of the world Navajo (and Cherokee)= American Indian  (my Jamaican friend didn’t even know there were other tribes in the US until she met me). This conflation of Navajo with “generic Indian” contributes to the further erasure of the distinct tribes and cultures in the US and solidifies the idea that there is only one “Native” culture, represented by plains feathers and southwest designs.
Navajo has taken a bold step, and actually holds trademarks for 12 derivatives of “Navajo”, three of which I’m citing below:
 2061748: NAVAJO Sportswear; namely, slacks, shorts, skirts and jeans.

2237848: NAVAJO Clothing; namely, tops, vests, shirts, sport shorts, polo shirts, golf shirts, * jackets, * T-shirts and sweat shirts.

3602907: NAVAJO  Online retail store services; namely, on-line ordering services in the field of clothing—specifically, men’s and women’s sportswear, namely, jeans, tops, shirts, sport shorts, polo shirts, golf shirts, T-shirts and sweatshirts.

I’m no law expert, but it feels like the products above might be violating the trademarks? 
A few months ago, they Navajo Nation Attorney General actually sent a cease and desist letter to Urban Outfitters, and there are some great quotes from the letter (I’ll try and post it in full in another post):

Your corporation’s use of Navajo will cause confusion in the market and society concerning the source or origin of your corporation’s products. Consumers will incorrectly believe that the Nation has licensed, approved, or authorized your corporation’s use of the Navajo name and trademarks for its products – when the Nation has not – or that your corporation’s use of Navajo is an extension of the Nation’s family of trademarks – which it is not.  This is bound to cause confusion, mistake, or deception with respect to the source or origin of your goods. This undermines the character and uniqueness of the Nation’s long-standing distinctive Navajo name and trademarks, which—because of its false connection with the Nation—dilutes and tarnishes the name and trademarks.  Accordingly, please immediately cease and desist using the Navajo name and trademark with your products. 

As a Nation with a distinguished legacy and unmistakable contemporary presence, the Nation is committed to retaining this distinction and preventing inaccuracy and confusion in society and the market  The Nation must maintain distinctiveness and clarity of valid association with its government, its institutions, its entities, its people, and their products in commerce.When an entity attempts to falsely associate its products with the Nation and its products, the Nation does not regard this as benign or trivial.  TheNation remains firmly committed to the cancellation of all marks that attempt to falsely associate with the institution, its entities, its people or its products. Accordingly, immediately cease and desist using Navajo withyour products.

I haven’t heard what the response was from Urban, if any, but I think it is a bold and positive choice for the tribe to take matters into their own hands and push back on instances of misrepresentation and cultural appropriation.

What do you think? Should tribes go the route of Navajo and trademark their tribal names? Do you think this will be an avenue for positive change or just mean tribal courts will be mired in lawsuits, taking away time from other important tribal business?

(Thanks Marj, Brian, and Aza!)

Today the National Museum of the American Indian in DC is hosting a panel discussion entitled Quantum Leap: Does “Indian Blood” Still Matter?

The panel is 2-4:30pm (EST), and will be web-casted here. If you want some background, Dennis Zotigh posted an article yesterday to give some of the basic history and start the conversation, it’s definitely worth a read.

I’ll be watching, and attempting to live-tweet over at the Native Approps twitter (@NativeApprops), and then tomorrow I’ll probably post a summary/discussion on the blog.

I’m interested to hear the current “academic” perspective on the issue, and interested to see if the discussion goes outside of the typical dichotomous conversation on Blood Quantum (i.e. one side saying “it’s good!” and the other “it’s bad!”), clearly it’s a lot more complicated. The panelists all come from the academic world (and there are two Stanford affiliates–go Card!), so it’ll be interesting to see how the conversation flows:

Welcome and Opening Remarks
Gabrielle Tayac, national Museum of the American Indian

The Meanings of “Indian Blood”: Perspectives on Race and Identity
Eva Marie Garroutte, Boston College

The Consequences of Blood Quantum Policy for Federal Recognition
Malinda Maynor Lowery, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

A Sociological Look at Blood Quantum
C. Matthew snipp, stanford University

From Blood to DNA, from “Tribe” to “Race” in Tribal Citizenship
Kimberly Tallbear, University of California, Berkeley

Question and Answer Session
Gabrielle Tayac, moderator

For more information about the panel and panelists, check out the NMAI website here. If you’re in Boston and want to watch it, we’re hosting a viewing at the Harvard University Native American Program–email me for more details.

NMAI Events page on the panel
NMAI webcast page
Will current blood quantum membership requirements make American Indians extinct? 
Native Appropriations Twitter (for the live tweet feed…hopefully)

Happy Wednesday everyone! I have a couple of fun Native videos that have been making the rounds on the internets that I thought I would share.

First up, the latest video from the 1491s–the Native sketch comedy group that brought us the Wolfpack auditions, Day in the Life of a Powwow MC, as well as the gorgeous poem Geronimo E-KIA, and many more–simply entitled “hunting”:

Next, a great satire/parody of cultural appropriation in the fashion world (that is probably a little too true to life in some instances). Filmmaker Daniella Pineda sent it over with this quick back story:

This is a new video I made about a fictitious actress who starts her own “Native American Fashion line.” I live in Brooklyn so like I’m bombarded with drunk white hipster girls dancing around with headdresses. Also this past summer urban outfitters and top shop were pushing this hard. So I made this video.

“…or a happy trail of tears!” haha. Love it.


youtube links:
“Hunting”: a Short Film by the 1491′s
DW Diaz’s new fashion line: Genocide Chic

(Thanks Ryan and Daniella!)

Oh, (Miss) Canada.

September 12, 2011 — 19 Comments

So, apparently, Miss Universe Canada Chelsae Duroche decided it would be appropriate to wear a headdress for the “National Dress” portion of the competition. Her stereotypical stoic Indian pose is helpful too.

From what I can find, I don’t think Chelsae is Native. But honestly, that wouldn’t have mattered. That’s a straight-up costume shop headdress right there.

UPDATE: “Miss Canada considers her First Nations-inspired cocktail dress a work of art. Her official website describes it as “A Homage to Haida—Its People & Art.”” Dear Chelsae, Haida don’t wear headdresses like that.

The sad thing is, she had an opportunity to do something cool. Look at her dress (once she moved the cigar store Indian arms):

Her dress is a stylized Northwest Coast design (which, again, way to combine distinct cultures–Plains headdress with NW coast dress?). Here would have been an awesome opportunity to use a Native designer to make the dress, and showcase a part of Canada’s “culture” appropriately. Much like Ashley Callingbull (Miss Universe Canada 2010) did in a pageant a few years back, wearing a beautiful dress by Danita Strawberry:

and then another gorgeous dress by a Native designer, Angela DeMontigny:

But this controversy isn’t new. Back in 2008, Miss Universe Canada wore this delightful get-up:

um, yeah. Clearly a very culturally sensitive event.

But guys, can we PLEASE talk about what Miss USA wore?

What. The. Eff.

But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?

(Thanks Rob, Sloane, and Ann!)