Open Letter to the Pocahotties: The annotated version

In Uncategorized by Adrienne K.79 Comments


Photo on 2013-10-08 at 20.30 #2

As part of my Halloween series, I’d like to try something a little different. The last couple of days, my 2011 post, “Open Letter to the Pocahotties and Indian Warriors this Halloween,” has started to make the rounds again. The first time I posted it, it caused such a firestorm I had to shut down comments (after it hit something like 500), and I even had to write a follow up post clarifying and confronting some of my own hesitancies with the post. I read it now, two years later, and my reaction is a little different–I stand by my words, and am still very confused as to how this particular post still stirs so much vitrol and hate toward me as a person. It’s started up again, which apparently is now an annual tradition. Here are a couple of the more benign samples from twitter–I actually got called the c-word by one troll today over the post–if you’re interested.

So I thought I’d re-post the original letter, with some annotations and commentary, and let’s figure out together what it is about my language that causes white folks to get real, real mad and defensive, shall we? Yes, I guess I’m performing a rhetorical analysis, on myself. I’m writing a dissertation right now, remember? I’m in crazy academic mode and I can’t get out. Original post in block quotes, thoughts below each.


Dear Person that decided to dress up as an Indian for Halloween,

Ok, pretty basic start. Notice it doesn’t say “white person,” it doesn’t say “racist person,” just person.

I was going to write you an eloquent and well-reasoned post today about all the reasons why it’s not ok to dress up as a Native person for Halloween–talk about the history of “playing Indian” in our country, point to the dangers of stereotyping and placing of Native peoples as mythical, historical creatures, give you some articles to read, hope that I could change your mind by dazzling you with my wit and reason–but I can’t. I can’t, because I know you won’t listen, and I’m getting so tired of trying to get through to you.

That’s 100% honest. The person that decided to dress up as an Indian probably isn’t going to listen to me. But those links actually *go* places. Places where you can read about why this is wrong. Where you can educate yourself. So if you read that paragraph and were like “oh crap, I don’t know any of this”–maybe now it’s time for you to click those. I’ll wait.

I just read the comments on this post at Bitch Magazine, a conversation replicated all over the internet when people of color are trying to make a plea to not dress up as racist characters on Halloween. I felt my chest tighten and tears well up in my eyes, because even with Kjerstin’s well researched and well cited post, people like you are so caught up in their own privilege, they can’t see how much this affects and hurts their classmates, neighbors and friends.

Again, this is actually what happened. I read that post at Bitch and got so frustrated and sad in my office. It’s really, really hard to hear all of the same arguments over and over and over and feel the actual weight of being silenced–because if people were listening, then it wouldn’t be the same mountain to climb every. damn. year. But oh sh*t, I used the word “racist” and the word “privilege”–this is where it starts to go downhill for people. People shut. down. when they hear those two words, especially in the same paragraph. I’ve learned that through the years. I really am pretty sparse with the use of “racist” on the blog, despite the fact that everything I write about on here is racism. Just had to get that out there. But remember the context where I’m writing this post. I was tired, I was sad, I was frustrated. I didn’t feel like dealing with the usual tone-down-don’t-scare-people-off editing I often do. Did you know I do that? Cause I do. Also, notice that I’m appealing to your emotion right now in this paragraph of the post. I’m asking you to think about your classmates, neighbors, and friends. Real people. I don’t know if that scared people too?

I already know how our conversation would go. I’ll ask you to please not dress up as a bastardized version of my culture for Halloween, and you’ll reply that it’s “just for fun” and I should “get over it.” You’ll tell me that you “weren’t doing it to be offensive” and that “everyone knows real Native Americans don’t dress like this.” You’ll say that you have a “right” to dress up as “whatever you damn well please.” You’ll remind me about how you’re “Irish” and the “Irish we’re oppressed too.” Or you’ll say you’re “German”, and you “don’t get offended by people in Lederhosen.”

The most hilarious and ironic part of the response to this post is that I got every single one of these phrases, pretty much verbatim, in the comments. It was like folks didn’t even actually *read* the post, just got to the part where I said “racist” and “privilege” in the same sentence and skipped to the comments. You’re not original. Hate to break it to you. And I don’t see why that unoriginality isn’t seen as a problem to the people who repeat these phrases over and over.

But you don’t understand what it feels like to be me. I am a Native person. You are (most likely) a white person. You walk through life everyday never having the fear of someone mis-representing your people and your culture. You don’t have to worry about the vast majority of your people living in poverty, struggling with alcoholism, domestic violence, hunger, and unemployment caused by 500+ years of colonialism and federal policies aimed at erasing your existence. You don’t walk through life everyday feeling invisible, because the only images the public sees of you are fictionalized stereotypes that don’t represent who you are at all. You don’t know what it’s like to care about something so deeply and know at your core that it’s so wrong, and have others in positions of power dismiss you like you’re some sort of over-sensitive freak.

Ok, this is where sh*t hits the fan. You guys. 1) Anywhere in this paragraph does it say that *all* white people don’t know any sort of struggle? no. 2) Anywhere in this paragraph does it say that all white people are evil? no. But that seems to be the take-away for a lot of folks. I am relating my experiences as a Native person. I DO walk through life everyday fearing the moment when I turn a corner and am confronted with an egregious stereotype of my people. I AM 100% guaranteed every. single. day. to see a mis-representation of my culture. I DO worry about the majority of my people struggling–real struggle–everyday, and I know that the root cause of all of that struggle is colonialism. That’s not an exaggeration. The current state of Native peoples is a direct and ongoing result of colonialism. Colonization by white people. I didn’t realize that was such a remarkable fact to people. But it is a fact–one that’s not actually open for debate. And, ok,  I’ll concede with the last line that you as a non-Native person can conceivably care very deeply about something and have others in power dismiss you.

I’ll also concede that using the rhetorical strategy of “you don’t know,” while possibly effective at making a bid for your emotions, is also probably the wrong way to do it, because it causes people to immediately say “you don’t know me! you don’t know what I feel and think!”–you’re right. I don’t know you. But I do know my experience.

You are in a position of power. You might not know it, but you are. Simply because of the color of your skin, you have been afforded opportunities and privilege, because our country was built on a foundation of white supremacy. That’s probably a concept that’s too much for you to handle right now, when all you wanted to do was dress up as a PocaHottie for Halloween, but it’s true.

This again, is where we dig deeper into the words that make a lot of white folks lose their sh*t. I can’t unpack the whole world of white supremacy and privilege in a couple of paragraphs, so I’ll just scratch the surface here. I first would like to take another moment to remind all of you readers that I, too, have white privilege. I don’t hide it. I’ve got light skin and light eyes and 90% of people would look at me and say “oh hey, look, a white person.” So lemme talk to you, white-ish person to white person. Just because someone points out our privilege, and points out that we get benefits because of it, does not mean 1. That we didn’t “deserve” any accolade, opportunity, or accomplishment we’ve received. 2. That we should feel guilty for our privilege 3. That we are racist, bad people. All it means is that we need to stop and think about how messed up it is that we live in a society that was founded on the backs of black and brown folks and how unfair it is to all of us that we still live in that society, and then? *Do* something about it.

So when I’m telling you as the reader in this paragraph that you are in a position of power simply because you’re white, I’m not saying you haven’t worked hard, I’m not saying you haven’t struggled, I’m not saying that there aren’t white people who are in desperate and shitty situations right this very moment. I’m saying that white people, in general, are the people with all the power in our society, and that we live in a society that–generally–favors those with white skin. Yes, we’ve got a black president, but he’s also half white (ha). But really, think about it. And how did white people get that power? Through attempting to eradicate Native Americans (to gain resources) and enslaving Black Americans (to make money from those resources). Again, these are facts. I’m not making this up right now. This is a simple history lesson. But again,to reiterate, am I saying you are a very bad person simply because you are white? No.

I am not in a position of power. Native people are not in positions of power. By dressing up as a fake Indian, you are asserting your power over us, and continuing to oppress us. That should worry you.

This is the part where readers are confronted with the results of that privilege we’re talking about. “Oh sheeit, I’ve got this power I didn’t ask for and now you’re telling me that it’s oppressing people?!?” And yes, I mentioned I have white privilege, but I’m also a Native person, so I’ve got this complicated privilege/non privilege thing going on. It’s messy. But that’s an aside.

People usually have a couple of reactions when confronted with these facts of privilege/oppression. 1. They get super defensive, back to the “you don’t know me! How DARE you say I’m oppressing someone! You don’t know the *intentions* behind my costume choice! My ancestors weren’t even HERE during the founding of the country. That was 500 years ago, why can’t you just get over it!” which, judging by the mail and comments I get, is the top response. But more ideally, 2. They get super uncomfortable, and say “yeah, that does worry me. crap. I feel embarrassed that I’ve gone through my life not even realizing this is a problem. Omg, what do I do now?!” Now, it’s so super easy what you do once you have this realization. YOU DON’T DRESS LIKE AN INDIAN FOR HALLOWEEN. That’s it. That’s all I’m asking for. Seriously. It’s so easy. You just don’t. dress. up. like. an. Indian. In this post, I’m not asking you to become a social justice anti-racist warrior, I’m literally just asking you to not dress up as a fake “Native American.” See, solving oppression is so easy!

But don’t tell me that you’re oppressed too, or don’t you dare come back and tell me your “great grandmother was a Cherokee Princess” and that somehow makes it ok. Do you live in a system that is actively taking your children away without just cause? Do you have to look at the TV on weekends and see sports teams with mascots named after racial slurs of your people? I doubt it.

Ok, another area where readers can and do “tone police” me. I *know* white people have intersections of oppression too. Trans* folks, non-Christian folks, women, on and on, but that still doesn’t mean you can dress up like an Indian an it’s ok. Other POC, this goes for you too. You do not get a free pass because you deal with the effects of white supremacy too. I see lots and lots of images of other POC playing Indian–it is seriously not ok. But the “I’m oppressed too!” and Cherokee princess comments are ones I also get all the time, and was trying to head it off.

Last night I sat with a group of Native undergraduates to discuss their thoughts and ideas about the costume issue, and hearing the comments they face on a daily basis broke my heart. They take the time each year to send out an email called “We are not a costume” to the undergraduate student body–an email that has become known as the “whiny newsletter” to their entitled classmates. They take the time to educate and put themselves out there, only to be shot down by those that refuse to think critically about their choices.Your choices are adversely affecting their college experiences, and that’s hard for me to take without a fight.

Not much to add here. I feel like I can take the heat–this blog is a choice. I know what I’m getting into. But when you’re 18-20 years old and just want to be accepted on your college campus, that’s different. I feel fiercely protective over those kiddos. They don’t deserve that hate just because they dare ask to be respected. So I stand by this.

The most frustrating part to me is, there are so many other things you can dress up as for Halloween. You can be a freaking sexy scrabble board for goodness sake. But why does your fun have to come at the expense of my well-being? Is your night of drunken revelry really worth subjugating an entire group of people? I just can’t understand, how after hearing, first-hand, that your choice is hurtful to another human being, you’re able to continue to celebrate with your braids and plastic tomahawk.

This is still the question I have every year. Seriously. There are so. many. costume. choices. I don’t understand how you can be like, “yes! Indian!” and then hear firsthand from a real Indian (that’s me) that it’s a bad idea and hurtful, and still be like, “yes! Indian!” That goes back to the privilege convo. It’s not the privilege that’s a problem, it’s how you deal with it. So, if you read this post and thought “oh damn, this was a bad idea” and threw away the costume? Congrats. You’re on your way. But if you dismiss it and still galavant around in your costume? Congrats. You’re complacent in the system that benefits from the oppression of Native peoples. And now you have no excuse, because I *told* you. That takes some real privilege, to be able to dismiss an entire group of people like that.

So I know you probably didn’t even read this letter, I know you’ve probably already bought and paid for your Indian costume, and that this weekend you’ll be sucking down jungle juice from a red solo cup as your feathers wilt and warpaint runs. I know you’re going to scoff at my over-sensitivity. But I’m telling you, from the bottom of my heart, that you’re hurting me. And I would hope that would be enough.


Adrienne K.

That imagery of the red solo cup and the wilting feathers and running warpaint was pretty good, right? *pats self on back* Thank you, thank you. (I’m kidding)

I’m not sure if this exercise made anyone feel any better, besides maybe me? But I do think it’s really interesting how confronting and dismantling privilege causes people to react in such violent ways. It’s something I’ve seen over and over in my posts, in teaching critical race theory at my school, and in my interactions with fellow grad students. In all honesty, I think that struggle with the privilege conversation is really one that holds us back in having real discussions aboout race. And if you’re reading this, and are thinking, “wow, this is something I really need to learn more about”–learn. Google. That’s what I use. I’m not being facetious here, I’m saying there are amazing resources online. But I want you to learn for yourself, because POC can’t always be the ones to do it. I’ve been learning/writing about these issues for 3+ years now, and I’m still just barely learning the language and words to talk about all of this. I still get uncomfortable and feel like I don’t know enough, and I’m by no means an expert. So I want those of you who are new to all this to start on that journey too. I found this great quote when I was poking around tonight, and I wanted to share:

I’m going to make you work for you education just like I have worked my whole life. In order to truly decolonize your mind, it can’t be handed to you in questions answered by someone else. You must observe, you must feel dissonance, you must feel hurt, but it will be worth it.

So Happy-Almost-Halloween. I welcome your resources in the comments, as well as your awesome non-racist costume ideas.


Original Post: Open Letter to the PocaHotties and Indian Warriors This Halloween
Follow up Post: Let’s Debrief What Happened with Halloween
Other Halloween Posts: The one stop for all your “Indian costumes are racist” needs!

  • This was brilliant, not offensive, and other people’s failure to have compassion beyond their own narrow view scope is not your fault. You said it well, succinctly and honestly. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it not uphold colonialist, racist, imperial values over empathy and compassion for other human beings.

  • IntractableLion

    Started reading the blog because I saw the 2011 version when it made the rounds again last Halloween. One good post can have lot of positive echoes — thanks for the update :) The thing that bugs me is the “it’s not disrespectful, we’re honoring your people.” If that’s true, why don’t Native people dress up as “Natives” for Halloween? Oh right, because the costumes consist of horrible stereotypes and generalizations.

    As an aside, I am a “whitish” guy with a Native great grandmother — it can actually happen, despite its popularity as one of the default bogus-white-responses. My ggm and her husband died in the 1906 SF quake, and their infant children were raised by their uncles — who were so ashamed they blacked out the names in the family tree at the back of the bible and refused to tell the kids their mother’s name. Because of this, I don’t know her name or her tribe, and every ancestor of mine since then has had the societal benefit of “whiteness” — I recognize that this prevents me from claiming an authentic Native identity or experience, but her complete erasure and the attitudes that led to it are worth fighting whenever they arise (keep up the good work!). I try to stay true to my fractional heritage by being a good “whitish” ally (and maybe one of these days I’ll run a gel and compare phenotypes for clues).

  • irkdesu

    This was a great post, I’ll share it as much as I can.

  • Maggie

    I appreciate this post, not because I am native or a person of color, but because I think it is so incredibly horrific that in 2013, there are still people who believe it is okay to dress up in racist costumes and pretend that it’s okay and because I am always hoping for the day when everyone (and I mean mostly white people) can treat each other with the respect, kindness, dignity and justice that all human beings deserve.

  • Lena RH

    I am with you. A 100%. I often wanna curl up in a ball and cry or blow everything/everyone up, but I keep trying, and I wanna thank you for you never stop trying either. I’ll share this post, again, like I shared the previous one and many others you wrote.

  • Madeleine

    First off, I think your post (both the original and this one) are awesome. You are honest and articulate about why these costumes are a problem, and you’re funny too. I’m not in the habit of apologizing for other people. but I am sorry that there are so many people out there who are missing the point of your post, and continue to justify being racist because it’s something they just want to do to have fun, or it’s a team they love etc. “Yeah, OK, I’ve heard it’s racist but I’m not racist and I kinda just wanna dress up as an Indian and cheer on the Redskins” is a pretty fucking terrible argument if you as me.
    My question for you, is how do you feel about costumes referencing a specific native character…I’m talking about Pocahontas. Obviously Pocahontas does not represent what a native woman is, nor is she a positive cultural representation, but if someone dresses up as her would you see it as again furthering stereotypes and oppression, or simply going as a character that has both good and bad qualities, and also happens to be native. I’m curious because my friends and I are probably going with a Disney theme this year, and though I am not going as Pocahontas, I don’t want people to take her inclusion as a costume in the group as negative when the intent is to simply go as Disney characters. (and yes I know that Disney characters are flawed in many ways…I’ll probably go as Belle and I recognize the concerns over he being a representation of women and especially women who suffer abusive relationships. and I recognize that my intent to go as a Disney character because I (for better or for worse) have fond memories of the movies is NOT an OK justification if that costume is perceived as hurtful and oppressive. That’s why I’m asking for your thoughts!)

    • Building on the Pocahontas question. Are there different rules for kids? As in, if a little girl loves Pocahontas, as a parent am I supposed to discourage that?

      My (non-asian) niece dressed as Mulan last year. Part of me cringed at the yellowface (I’m half-asian) and part of me liked that she chose the Mulan of all the princess options.

    • Madeleine

      Thanks for all the great discussion everybody, I appreciate the non-hostile feedback!!
      As for the question about kids costumes…I think it would be a great idea if parents educated their children about the real history and context behind a movie. If you’re child wants to dress up as Pocahontas I don’t think that’s necessarily terrible, especially if you can use it as a gateway to teach that child about native culture and foster a healthy respect for different groups of people. I loved Pocahontas as a kid for her strength and love of nature, but as an adult I am able to recognize the stereotypes she represents and continue to learn ways I can support and respect our native peoples.

    • Brandon G.

      I’m not sure if you realize this… But you actually – by dressing as Belle and recognizing the significance (by your own expression) of the meanings behind it, only to dress the part anyways, shows that you are perpetrating the same “fucking terrible argument”. I am not poking fun at you, just showing the contradiction.

  • Privilege is all too often invisible to the privileged. It is wonderful to read a graceful reminder of that.

  • joybuzzard

    It’s a cause worth fighting. Europeans have allowed our own cultures, our pre-Christian religious icons and local customs and traditions to be trivialized and become costumes and jokes, to the point where those cultures only exist as a kind of historical footnote or a context for the costumes and jokes. The pre-Christian Nordic personification of nature’s strongest force, also our war-god, wears a red cape and runs around with a genetically modified human who is his equal, and I’m ridiculed for the fact that this bothers me. Don’t let that happen to your culture.

  • This post helped me so much. Thank you. Thank you for saying “I don’t have all the answers but I’m going to keep trying.” Earlier tonight I felt like giving up….. I’m a grad student at the University of Wisconsin and I just got home from our grad employees’ union meeting where we were trying to come up with strategies to fight back against this guy: We don’t have all the answers yet but God dammit I’m going to keep trying.

  • Diana Kontsevaia

    Great post! On a similar note, can we talk about how Halloween costumes and Halloween celebrations in general (once you get past the age of 12 it seems) are generally derogatory to women? (Note that the costumes you showed in the post are all quite revealing.) Not that that’s news, but the post just made me think of that. That’s a similar instance of “cultural/structural oppression” that you’re describing. Perpetuating “sexy” female stereotypes with Halloween costumes can be just as powerful and harmful as perpetuating cultural stereotypes.

    • hereinWA

      Except that in that case, the women do it to themselves. No one makes them dress as a sexy cop, nurse, etc….

  • Bernadette Anderson

    I’m gonna dress up in a leather and and use a fake pink war bonnet and carry some fake feathers, this year, yep. The funny thing is if I was at home everyone would just laugh and make a joke outta it, because I am shuswap. My argument is if 1 can do it and people just get a laugh out of it, why can’t a white person or some one of another race do it?? What if I dressed up as tonto because I think his cool? and maybe I will want to learn the real facts about him, or what if some one dressed up as Pocahontas and they wanted to learn more about her??? We have to stop being so negative about things, because maybe we are deterring people from wanted to learn the truth of our past???

    • Lydy Nickerson

      Um, Romans were kind of the conquerors, you know? Dressing up as the privileged is dramatically different than dressing up as the oppressed. Not to mention that there aren’t actually, any Romans left in the world. They’re rather historical. (Italians, very similar but not quite the same.) It seems to me that you are failing to make some useful distinctions, here.

      • jemand2

        the same for the vikings… but given the history of the gypsies, much less so. I’d think that wouldn’t be a good costume idea either.

        • hereinWA

          Not to mention Vikings aren’t a race, nor are Romans, they’re still caucasians.

          • Caddy

            I cannot count the times I have had to say this and it saddens me:
            The Roma have been discriminated against for all of modern history and the use of the word “gypsy” is racist. The “gypsy queen” is just as common as the Pocahottie costumes and makes me cringe just as much.

            Please folks when dressing up this year just don’t do cultural costumes. With all the great animals, ghosts, ghoolies and the like why bother putting together a discriminatory costume?

          • VanIslWatcher

            Are you serious? Vikings and Romans aren’t separate races because they’re all “caucasians”? Talk about racist.

            • Kora Kaos

              Lol right. My boyfriend is Caucasian because is is from the Caucasus region. That is between Russia, Asia, and the Middle East.

    • Phoenix di Corvo

      HA… i had been thinking of a way to relate to her… trying to find a path to empathy about this situation… and i thought “does it piss me off when people dress as vikings? no… does it piss me off when people dress as mobsters? no…”

      These are stereotypes i’ve encountered in my life…
      “oh you’re Sicilian, hahaha better not make you mad or you’ll have me whacked”
      *eye roll*
      “oh Norwegian, huh? were your ancestors vikings?”
      yeah actually, they most likely were if you go back far enough…

      but i guess seeing as neither vikings nor mobsters have a history of being marginalized or oppressed i can’t really relate… so maybe that’s why it’s not offensive… i mean when they get it wrong i’m just embarrassed for them… when they dress as a Native American princess and get it wrong that’s also an embarrassment… but also a painful reminder of the marginalization…

  • Zoran

    I read your article (both the original and this annotation) carefully. Both the current and original are nothing more than mere opinion pieces. You do not present research, you do not present any original thought, and merely add a voice to the chorus of discontent that is ever present in any race, culture, or group whom represent some visible minority within North American culture. I would wager to say that any anger and negative reaction to your original article would come from the fact that you are sending out a bleeding-heart emotional appeal to those who are just as numbed and indolent as you present your own culture to be. A stand can be made without using generalization (which your article is rife with), and without a sound of self-pity (which your original article reeks of, and had you bothered to actually present an academic document instead of idle emotional musings, you’d have realized or learnt or would have otherwise become informed that psychologically your article and stance would generate much aversion). Thus, you shared your opinion, on a stage which was open to the world, yet in a manner which dictates very clearly your lack of understanding of the subtle nuances, of the lines of division that cross society, and said world, contextually on both a macro and micro scale and scope. What did you present that is different, or that stands up to logical debate? What did you state to actually incite intelligent thought? You chose to speak to the uneducated, the ignorant, and in turn, deconstructed your own words because you received uneducated and ignorant replies.I applaud your efforts to bring light and prosperity to your culture. By drawing attention to the quote above, by clearly and resonantly indicating that your ineptitude, your mental enslavement, and all that you hold to angst are the result of the actions of others, for this is what you are essentially at the core of your opinion alluding to (while even drawing a quote from a hate-all-white-but-its-satire-so-its-ok fellow, and jumping on the “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” bandwagon), you do not present the content of your article as something robust nor respective or understanding of the nuances of our socio-political system, and ultimately, ineffective. I do not condone profanity nor extreme response to it, but one would not be surprised as to why the ignorant would reply to it in the mannerisms apparent.

    • It is ironic that this comment is based on opinion, cites no research, and goes so far as to generalize (“bleeding hearts”).

      • Zoran

        Did you actually read my reply, or simply get offended because I stated the obvious, and that did not seem to align with your own interpretation? The “Open letter to the Pocahotties” is, at its’ core an emotional appeal.

        • pitbullgirl1965

          And what is wrong with that? It’s emotional for the OP because it effects her. What is your motive for coming here?
          I’m not being sarcastic, I’m curious. Are you here to learn?

          • Zoran

            Yes indeed here to learn and absorb alternative points of view. This was forwarded to me by a colleague, for the simple purpose of an interesting article, and an uncommon (at least in my world) illustration of racial issues.

            There is nothing “wrong” with the emotional nature of the article, and it is these emotions I am attempting to rationalize. However, the author very clearly herself illustrated the dismissive nature of the typical reply as uttered by those whom are on the receiving end of this emotional plea…

    • apihtawikosisan

      I think this is my favourite comment. So many words to deliver the very simple message “la la la I’m not listening”. The attempt to sound intelligent is particularly heart-warming.

      • Zoran

        I’m sorry someone found offence immediately. In my opinion, there is much in the written article that is worth discussing. I am not summarily dismissing a single word.

        The paragraph alluding to the “dangers of stereotyping and placing of Native peoples as mythical, historical creatures” I found of particular interest, as to truthfully make such an assertion, there are questions of statistics and mass psychology that should be answered first. I am listening to the message under these words, but appealing to her penmanship with a comment about delivery.

        This is only one evocative phrase used, and there are many more.

        But thank you both nonetheless for your knee-jerk comments.

        • apihtawikosisan

          Oh spare us the pretence that you are interested in anything but stroking your own ego here. Your patronising, overly verbose and content free blatherings are clearly very interesting to yourself…perhaps you need your own blog then?

          • Zoran

            From the article: ” I felt my chest tighten and tears well up in my eyes”…I suppose on this blog, this passes as content.

            Please, allow your anger and your spite to show through, allow that to define you, as your replies have thus far. Allow yourself to bear witness to the historical injustices that continue to plague you and your people today. Allow not yourself to consider an alternative to anger, to summary judgement of the global society far larger than you, and allow not yourself to think that perhaps reaching out to the uninformed majority as the only way towards change. I hope that your approach will be effective.

            My own take: unfortunately, people and their pains are transient and temporal, ideas are less so. I would suggest, as many of my background have had to, to amalgamate, use education and means available to us to spread the seeds of the idea we wish to flourish. The most effective way to spread your agenda is to do so using the very means of the ideology you are trying to break down.

            • apihtawikosisan

              Please continue being a patronising douchebag. It’s very endearing. In fact, it has motivated me so much that I ran out and got a degree in Education and one in Law so that I could live up to your standards. Oh wait. Condescending jackasses like yourself really had nothing to with it. Thank you for your faux concern about how we indigenous peoples engage in resurgence. I can only pray that one day you will shower us with your praise and affirmation. Sure hope you don’t fall off that high horse you’re perched on, lecturing us poor dumb native folks about how we can talk em heap better.

              • Zoran

                If all you’re interested in is a circle-jerk for your ideas, you should have said so from the start.

                I live in a place where my background and the maternal language I speak are every day demonized, where I’m the one who was chosen as the scapegoat for the “greater good” of a society. I do not claim to understand your trials, I only attempted to relate, and share an opinion, aggressive though it may have been, and an appreciation for the writing, looking at it for what it was. Perhaps it was best not to attempt to engage into conversation with an entity (you personally) so easily and openly hostile. Or perhaps with your words and temperament you’ll spend the rest of your life merely cementing the misconceptions others’ already have of you.

                Maybe you should take your own advice, look into those degrees, and drop the inferiority complex. Not everyone’s out to disagree for the sake of disagreement but perhaps to encourage discussion.

                • Zoran

                  I understand the emotional battering resulting from one being ostracized by the “accepted social norms”, if you will. This is not the point I am trying to make. I do not think that if ones’ intent is to fight the status quo, to truly induce change in manner and thought of others, that one would be effective in that aim by pointing out a victim mentality, as there is very little there for those on the onslaught to relate to. Second, by blatantly drawing lines in the proverbial sand you effectively join and aid in the ostracizing of your ideas.

                  I am not native to North America. I come from a long-standing tradition and culture, one whom has found itself the target of American demonizing, bombing, misrepresentation in media and other forms of social information. I understand the offence the author takes very well in a misrepresentation of their history and culture, their very persona even. I would feel the same if I saw some random dressed up in an ethnic costume from my region, slaughtering people or some such nonsense. However, part of me would be surprised that notice was even taken, and that somehow we’d “made it” into pop culture.

                  I am reminded of a slightly ironic (given the context) quote by Krishnamurti:

                  “WHEN you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.”

    • Carrie

      Please read this research on the topic –

      As well as this statement from the American Psychological Association –

      …if you really are interested in scientific evidence on the topic, a simple Google search will give additional resources.

  • Elli Elliott

    Thank you for your post and your rhetorical analysis. As a child I was raised on the romance of the “Indian wannabe” culture, including Camp Fire Girls, church camps with native or native-imitation names, and childhood “Indians and Indians” play. (None of us would choose to be the cowboys/girls.) As a young child in Washington, the most exciting part of the annual parade was the native people riding on horseback in traditional dress. Later in Montana, we attended events on the Crow nation and had some interactions with native people, but the gulf was wide and deep. I know that our dress up play in the 50’s and 60’s was disrespectful even though it was never joking or mocking. It was one of many, many aspects of the cluelessness of privilege. I can’t undo it now, but I can encourage another generation to be respectful. I’m glad to see that happening in my own family, even though it’s baby steps.

    I very much appreciate the availability of essays like yours and what’s becoming a great array of native voices on many topics on the internet and in public life. More face-to-face interaction is happening, too, and it’s welcome. My hope is that we who are privileged can listen and learn and change and narrow that gulf to figure out how to forge a future that restores and renews life here. The problem is that I can’t have all my cherished privileges if this is going to happen. My life has to change, of course, and this is something that we who are privileged must struggle with.

    Giving up a Halloween costumes and offensive team mascots is such a little thing. It ought to be easy. Yet maybe there is an instinctive understanding that this is the tip of the iceberg. Once we acknowledge that native people are still here and continuing to create your own cultures and that as native people you have a right to object to the use of your images of for our entertainment — then what else do we have to acknowledge? We have to admit that we dwell on stolen ground, that nothing we own really belongs to us, that at the very, very minimal least we need to be grateful for the privilege of living on this earth. I live in a beautiful place on Crow territory — territory no longer inhabited by Crow people. My gain is the Crow people’s loss, even if I didn’t create this fact. While I work with others here to learn gratitude and to nurture communication and to forge some ceremonial restoration, I am grateful for your essay and for others who value the privileged enough to speak to us, however difficult the words may be.

  • Adrian

    Thank you, Adrienne, for your courage, sincerity and great
    modeling of positive critical introspection.

  • Myheartisnorth

    I hear you. I hear your struggles. Will I ever truly understand? No, because I don’t live it but I try to empathize and take actions to not perpetuate racism. But my question is, where can we go from here? I believe it is with education. I am a home educator and I try my best to teach my children about all cultures of the world. They are very young now so I try to leave the out the dark details until a time when they can properly understand. FOr now they are still wide-eyed innocent and impressionable, non-judging and all-loving. my greatest hope is that they never loose that and become jaded by the world. We are taking our time covering the globe in our studies. Reading literature that showcase different cultures to open their eyes and minds to the world around them. When we read a book set in Japan for example, we look at where the country is on the map, eat sushi (maybe on the floor), look up the alphabet and learn to spell our own names using the characters, we listen to music and- maybe my kids’ FAVOURITE part- we learn about traditional dress and make our own makeshift kimonos. So, you can see where I’m going with this right? In a few months we will read a book about the Canadian Arctic (the book I am probably most excited about as I am from the Northwest Territories). I plan to make take this opportunity to teach them about First Nations culture. WE will probably make inukshuks, learn the First Nations’ names of places around us, go to the museum, read legends and visit the market on the reservation nearby. I know this will only give a glimpse of the culture to my children who are themselves a fraction Metis. But it is a part they are SO excited to learn about. When it was Aborigonal day we talked about their heritage and they loved it! We made a teepee in our backyard and had a cook-out over the fire. My kids even tried to tell people in the grocery store about how they were Metis! lol. When we study traditional dress I will take out my handmade sealskin muklucks, beaded mitts and parka. I even have the small ones that I used to wear as a kid. Will I be perpetuating racist steriotypes by doing this or teaching my children a love for a culture and their ancestry? In turn when it is cold outside and I wear my beautiful handmade parka vs. synthetic one, am I being another white Irish girl in a cosutme or am I showcasing the artwork and love I have for a culture I grew up surrounded by? In my hometown white girls wear traditionaly inspired jewelry and clothing all the time which is supporting local artisans and in my mind bringing pride to the indigenous culture. AM I way wrong here?! If so, what can be done?

    • thepragmatist

      Coming from an area that was colonised later (and I would call it genocide, myself) I do NOT think it is wrong to wear the art work of the people here. I support local artists. When I buy these items, I am supporting the culture. These are not rip off items made in China in sweat shops. These are items valued at or above a living wage and it is the artist who controls production and pricing. So all around, I can’t see an ethical dilemma there.

      When I burn the sage an elder gave me or attend a spiritual ceremony and practice the culture, I am not showing disrespect, because this culture has become part of who I am as a person, too. No, I will not understand cultural genocide, being of the dominant culture, in the same way. I understand my own privilege. I am not obsequious however, I am permitted to enjoy and connect with what feels like meaning to ME provided it’s with respect.

      My aunt was given a beautiful talking stick as a gift from a Chief for her wedding. I was given a beautiful carving of an eagle as a house warming present. No way is that disrespectful, and that artist is well-known, well-paid, and enjoys his work.

      My family has been in this country long enough that we are of the land, so many centuries and intermingling that there is really nothing but who we are, we are OF this land, too. I will teach my son all about the culture that surrounds us (our town sits on reserve land and the language is still living, which can’t be say for many languages now)… but, I won’t even have to, because it is still in so many ways the culture of the land we live on. We share it. Every municipal event is opened with the Chief and the Mayor, side by side, and with traditional welcoming dances.

      So, I think I relate and I would absolutely do the same as you are when my son is old enough.

  • disqus_PHx9HR9zq6

    You’re reallllllly not dressing up as a single real person if you’re being “Pocahontas.” I mean, somewhere out there in the world might be a history geek who’s actually dressed as Pocahontas, but the rest of the “Pocahontas”es out there are dressed up as one specific incarnation of a big ol’ mass of stereotype, as drawn from a Disney animator’s richly colonized imagination.

    • Zoran

      This assertion is completely bogus. To imply that one fictional character, borne of a time and place where the entire world existed on the social acceptance (misguided as that may be) of characterization (different from stereotyping) is representative of the entire spectrum of native oppression is completely neglecting the context of media diffusion throughout the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s (the time where most of these stories were stolen by Disney), and why they became “popular” in the first place.

      To pose a different question, would dressing up in a stylistic representation of a particular wardrobe or dress style, one taking influences from Native American visual cues, would that still be racist?

      I am curious as to your answer to the above. Before you state “no”, please consider that modern western society can be said to misrepresent pretty much any instance of influence that makes it into social or mass media, to some degree or another, and is hardly seen as anything more than a satirical style exercise, with very little substance. At least from the perspectives of legitimate academia.

      • hereinWA

        While Disney’s VERSION of Pocahontas was ‘fictional’, Pocahontas was a
        real person, and one of my ancestors. That whole ‘tale’ is a lie, and I
        think children should know the truth, like that he was arrogant, his
        own men hated him, and that was just one of at least THREE stories he
        told of daughters of prominent men being so enamoured of him, they saved
        his life from their fathers. Pocahontas/Matoaka/Rebecca heard his
        story, and when she met him at some party in London, she turned her back
        to him. Then fled the party. Retelling of this lie is another slap in
        the face to Native people, and dressing as her ‘character’ does nothing
        to dispel this lie. Children should be taught the truth.

  • Leigh

    Thank you. This was a good read. Once I got over my Canadian, Indians are from India, native/first nations/aboriginal peoples, words issue.
    I am curious, with out a real answer, about the dressing as real people. Dressing not as Mammy, but as Harriet Tubman, as it were.

  • Kasey

    I suspect she meant ‘was’ referring to that time in her life (which was long ago, hence past tense), not in history. Got too real? Would you leave your child in a place that people hated her? Just wow. That’s all I’ve got.

    • Leslie Jay

      When I grew up, African Americans were very hated, yet my parents and many others did not have the means to leave the country. And they shouldn’t have had to with how much free labor our people had invested in it. So there was no choice but to raise your children in a place where people hated them.

  • Kasey

    I’m going to show my ignorance here, but sometimes people dress as things they love and respect. Is that not a possibility? Does it have to be an insult?

    • Stacy Genobles

      I don’t think the vast majority of people pick out Halloween costumes INTENDING to be disrespectful or hurtful towards others culture. BUT once someone has very politely been asked not to dress up in an Indian costume (or any other costume that can be construed as demeaning, such as Samurai costumes being worn with yellowface makeup) then I don’t understand how they can still claim ignorance. If you’re given a polite request NOT to wear something, don’t wear it.
      When I was a little girl, I wanted to wear the Princess Jasmine costume more than anything. My father wouldn’t let me because it was inappropriate on several levels. A 7 year old should not be walking around New York City wearing harem pants and a top that bares her midriff. It was also culturally inappropriate for me to dress up as an Arabian princess (although as a kid, I didn’t immediately realize Jasmine was from a different race. I noticed only that she had dark hair like me and wanted to grow my hair longer so I could style it the same way. Again, my father told me not to wear that style.) He did end up explaining to me that “Agrabah” was a fictional city, most likely based on the real world location of “Baghdad, Iraq”. My family was Jewish, and he told me that Iraq’s population was primarily Muslim, and that there have been and still are religious tension between Muslims and Jews. But he stressed that does not automatically make Muslims the bad guys, nor does that mean a little girl can’t like or admire a fictional character who was Muslim, and it doesn’t mean that I couldn’t talk to kids who went to the mosque instead of the synagogue or befriend them. It just meant that I was not Muslim, and shouldn’t dress in a way that might be appropriating or insulting their culture.
      I didn’t ever wear the Disney Princess costume, instead I wore a kitty cat costume that year. It was modest, it was cute, it was practical, and a good compromise, and it led to some thoughtful discussion with my father. I might not have appreciated his judgement at first, but I listened and learned to respect his wishes as well as the feelings of our Muslim neighbors.
      The costume I’m wearing this year is a “sexy police officer” because it appealed to my husband, who picked out a “prison” outfit to compliment the theme. Yes, I could have chosen an outfit with a longer skirt but we live in a warmer climate now and I wanted to wear something cute and flirtatious since I am going to party with my hubby. If I see somebody wearing a costume that seems racially offensive, I will try to explain to them why in the future they should choice a different outfit and maybe they will listen. I would even provide the link to this blog post, since it contains a great deal of information about the subject.

      • thepragmatist

        Right on. I had similar conversations with my mother growing up, especially over highly gendered costumes.

  • Leslie Jay

    I ask this respectfully: How do you feel about the privilege and benefits that you inherited from the sins of others (which are much more recent than millennia ago) whereas so many of those sinned against are not able to come by those privileges and benefits so easily and probably never will catch up in that department?

    • PoetryInNoise

      As a small business owner in a field where I have much interaction with the First Nations community, I ask what would you have me do? Should I forego my own advantage for the baggage of the past. Or, should I use my position, as I do, to provide opportunity? Real career opportunity — not minimum wage crap. Moreover, colour blind opportunity. There is real gratitude that I hire, promote, even fire, based on ability… based on the individual. There are things of the past that we should not… must not… ever forget. Ironically, the only way to move forward is, in our everyday interactions, to forget them, to put them behind us.

      • Leslie Jay

        It is interesting that I asked you how you *feel* and you in turn asked me what would I have you *do.* I wasn’t implying that you should be doing anything. I was only curious as to how things feel from your perspective. I think honoring feelings and perspectives is part of the moving forward process. Moving forward can also involve hearing each other out, honoring our positions and engaging in change that does not, as you agree, ignore people’s histories and worldviews. It is true that we cannot see through each other’s eyes, but we can look at each other as whole beings, each with a valid voice. Some people still bear the wounds of history and therefore need to undergo a healing process before they can truly lay the past to rest. Unfortunately, we have situations where fresh wounds are inflicted and the voices of those wounded are often considered irrelevant or annoying, I see you as a whole being doing your part in the moving forward and healing process. Your role is an important one, but so also is the role of the author of this open letter and my role as well. I believe we can find common ground.

  • Corrine Stenman

    I’d like to print this and discuss it with a UU Young Adult group this weekend. May I?

  • WarrenOsborn

    My response is to share with you folks a poem I wrote several years ago for a Union School Board meeting here in Tulsa OK on the similar topic of schools using Indians as mascots. You might be interested to know that after all witnesses had testified, the board chairman read from a PRE-PREPARED statement that the Union School District would be keeping their Redskins mascot name. Here’s my poem “I Am not a Mascot”:















  • Elektra

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. I’d like to try to give you a
    thoughtful reply. I am a white woman. I read about half the post
    thinking that there was no way that it applied to me because I don’t
    wear racist costumes, and then I realized that it might. You see, I
    design costumes in my free time, but usually they have no theme. The
    costume I was planning on wearing at Halloween, however, was inspired by
    middle eastern and central asian clothing. (I read a book about the
    history of Uzbekistan and it inspired me) The problem comes in with the
    aspects of the costume that are drawn from belly dance. It definitely
    isn’t your typical I-dream-of-genie costume, but it’s belly dance
    inspired, insofar as I used some patterns and notions in a tribal fusion
    style. So I guess now I have a question for myself: I can see how your
    standard belly dance costume would be in the problematic category, so
    is my outfit problematic by extension? I guess this opens onto a larger
    question: where is the line between wearing something from another
    culture in an innocuous way, and wearing something from another culture
    in an offensive way? I don’t think my costume represents a stereotype,
    but it definitely appropriates another culture in some way. I guess
    I’ll have to spend some more time thinking about this before Halloween
    rolls around.

    • PrairiefireOriginal

      I’d love it if someone can answer this question thoughtfully. I have the same question. FWIW, my ethnic background is entirely Northern European (as far as I know), and my ancestors were among those who arrived in what is now Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania while this continent was still populated mainly by natives. I would feel terribly constrained if I could not experiment with and ‘visit’ any other cultures. My life is richer for being able to cook and serve food from other cultures, listen to music from other cultures, study other culture’s religions, etc. etc.

      I think I understand the sensitivities of those who are not endowed with a dominant culture’s privileges, and anyone who can’t see the problems with costumes like Pocahottie is too dumb to bother with. But beyond the milieu of ridiculous Halloween costumes, I harbor misgivings about forcing anyone, including people of the dominant culture, to avoid experiencing–even adopting–other cultures’ food, dress, music, etc. Recently, Miley Cyrus (sp?) received a lot of criticism for ‘twerking’ in public on the basis that she is white and twerking belongs to the black urban culture. The accusation was that she was ‘stealing’ dance moves that belong to people less privileged than she. Well, maybe. But if the dominant culture rigorously and persistently honors such prohibitions, won’t that enforce the marginalization of other cultures for even longer? How do we get from where we are (divided and ranked) to where we want to be (unified and mutually respectful) without a certain amount of cross-cultural exchanges in which people of the dominant culture participate?
      Guest’s planned Halloween costume–the Middle Eastern/Asian belly dancer–is a good starting point for discussion. I would love to see her create a fairly realistic homage to that costume/dance, and be able to start good conversations at her Halloween party.

  • John Eichinger

    Okay, I get it, opt for a mature signifier to use as the basis for democratic equanimity. i.e. no dirty excuse to be seductive, no getting your significant other penetrated, nice. 😉

  • Tiria

    I have no idea what’s so hard to understand about, “Don’t dress up as someone from a marginalized culture, because doing so furthers their marginalization.”

    Honestly, how can that be so confusing?

    • Brandon G.

      Ha-ha. I share in your thoughts!

  • Agnes

    I am a Native American who hosts a weekly Native radio program in Northern California. Last year I finally had it with the indian halloween costumes and when I went to the halloween party at our local community center I decided to go as the scariest person I know of. A white tea party woman………. Yes I put on a blond wig and painted my face white. People told me I was scary looking. I told them to look in the mirror. It also got a lot of laughs. And a whole lot more sh*t…………

  • Lydy Nickerson

    So, honestly, that was very interesting. In a lot of ways, it’s not really targeted towards me. I don’t usually dress up for Halloween, and have no children, so the temptation to dress up as Pochahottie, even if I at 51 could carry it off, is pretty small. At the same time, this isn’t an issue I’d ever thought about, before. While the specific doesn’t really apply, in general, this is an interesting window into my privilege that I hadn’t seen, before. Thank you.

  • Jen Scaffidi

    Hey there,

    I just wanted to say thank you for this post. The existence of racist Halloween costumes hadn’t really penetrated my (admittedly white-privileged) mind, so your experience isn’t something I’d ever fully considered. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    Am I the type of person to consider dressing up as a PocaHottie? I don’t know. Probably not, because the “Halloween as an excuse to dress provocatively” thing makes me feel weird, and also because I like Halloween costumes that keep me warm. But if the idea was going to occur to me in the future, you’ve definitely killed it in advance. You’ve also planted a little flag here, next to all the other little flags in my mind, that help remind me to keep an eye out for oppression and the rampant jerkery that can result from unchecked privilege.

    A few years ago, lots of people in my smallish, mostly white community were throwing “Gansta Parties.” I remember feeling really uncomfortable, but it never occurred to me to put the idea in a racial context. I remember thinking, “This mocks a subculture that I don’t understand, and it feels wrong.” So also thanks for helping me fully understand that scenario too.

    Happy Halloween!

  • Lynn

    Adrienne, just want to share that I came across your writing after already coming to know my own white privilege, but! there was a point at which I wouldn’t have understood the problem with a Native American costume, and the work of others did change my mind. I learned something. Now I would never do something so thoughtless, and I share my learning with others from a similar background. There was a point at which I didn’t know better because, growing up white and privileged in America, no one teaches you better. But I did learn and change, and so my point it is: haters will hate, but keep at it. Your writing and work matter and it does change minds. Too often those of us who hear you just think, “Hm, ok. I get that. I’ll do better,” and we move on, leaving you and others with just the entitled people who feel the need to “correct” or silence you. But know that for every hateful comment, there are people out there who are learning from you. I now turn to your blog as a resource, thinking that if I’m unsure whether something is appropriate I should turn to the person who owns that experience and hear what they have to say. Thx for this resource.

  • CactusLady

    Something I noticed in the old thread was a link to that old Annenberg poll that said only 9% of Natives were hurt/offended by the name of the Washington football team. I couldn’t understand why it was being used to *justify* stereotypes. Even if the number were accurate…if I knew something I was doing that (this part is important) I did not *need* to be doing could, for good reason, be hurting ONE IN TEN PEOPLE out of a certain group, that’s actually a big enough number to look for an alternative, I think. Would a person who doesn’t like the thesis of this article be cool with unnecessarily hurting the feelings of one in ten of their friends? Not using these costumes and team names will not cause us to experience any harm, fellow white people. It really won’t. We’ll be okay! And we’ll stop hurting the feelings of real-life human beings for no good cause! It sounds like a win to me!

    • hereinWA

      That poll is now famous for it’s lack of a wide polling pool. Basically, what it comes down to, again, is white privilege, and, “I want what I want, I don’t care if it hurts someone, let alone an entire race”. Many of the Natives who don’t find it offensive are generally what would be termed ‘apples’–assimilated, colonialized, don’t care about their own people, displaced from their own culture.

  • hereinWA

    Then again, had anyone ever told you any better?

  • Abby


  • makalove

    You were doing the best with what you had. Your intentions were pure and driven by the very human need for love. You know now – all the original post, or this one, asks is “now that you know, please don’t do it.”

  • psych1

    I agree with this article completely. I get uncomfortable when I see “hipsters in headdresses” which clearly they have not earned the right to wear, etc. Or the “sexy Pocahontas” style costumes, ugh. Yet I found myself in the awkward position recently of having a white person offended by a samba headdress I was wearing as part of a costume, calling it a “war bonnet” (if someone reading this doesn’t know what a samba style headdress looks like, think Brazilian carnival, or Vegas showgirls, rhinestones and such). Is this a sort of grey territory that I’m not aware of, or did this person who was offended just have no idea what a war bonnet looks like? I’m not even talking “Mardi Gras Indian” style, I’m talking about something that doesn’t really look “Native American” at all, aside from maybe the fact that it also has feathers in it. Which is maybe a whole ‘nother level of frustration for Native Americans, I don’t know. And maybe Brazilians are offended by non-Brazilians dressing up for Carnival, which is a legitimate concern I now have in retrospect – can a Brazilian help me with this? Anyways, I’m also reminded of people calling me “Pocahontas” when I wear Fair Isle sweaters, which is just…huh? WHY ARE WHITE PEOPLE SO CONFUSED? I guess I could probably answer my own question and say that we’ve seen so many bastardized versions of supposedly “Native” regalia that we don’t know what it really looks like anymore?

    • thepragmatist

      Well, there’s cultural synergy and then there’s appropriation. I am sitting here wearing a sweater that certainly has some influence from Southwestern Indian culture (not sure if Indians in the USA want to be called First Nations or what), but I don’t really think it was intentional when designed. I think it just looked pretty. There is a short road from a designer bringing together different influences and elements into a piece and then out and out appropriation by a non-FN person of the cultural expression of FN and then the mass marketing of such, for example, in the case of Hopi blankets and so on being made by non-Hopi and sold on Hopi land as authentic, to the point where Hopi could not sell their goods for a reasonable price (to support themselves) because they were undermined by the influx of cheap, knock offs. That’s appropriation to me. I have no idea about whether or not Brazilians are offended by Carnival. Isn’t that the epitome of a culturally synergistic event arising from a number of cultures mixing together and producing a very unique cultural experience? Who gets to say when the line is crossed?

      • psych1

        Thank you for your reply! The cheap knock-offs of Native designs labeled as authentic is really troubling, I agree. And yeah, that was always my understanding of Carnival in Brazil, that’s its a very inclusive thing from a culture with multiple influences. So I was surprised at the offense a (probably well-meaning) caucasian took with the Brazilian headdress. Re: a sweater with a “south-western” style design on it, I don’t THINK that’s offensive in the way a headdress is because it doesn’t have the same spiritual meanings or taboos associated with it, and it’s more of an appreciation for or homage to traditional craft (as long as it’s not exactly copying something, or marked as authentic), …but I could be wrong.

  • thepragmatist

    I think if the characters are based on racial stereotypes, it’s a no brainer myself. (All white and red-headed… although I am Metis)… I would not dress as a Disney character in the first place because of the subjugation of their labour force in making the costumes and toy lines and just in general. I would not dress in Disney because of the glorification of the Princess-Waiting-On-Rescue; nor could I imagine dressing as Pocohontas, because she is a representation of colonialism itself. There are so many characters to dress up as and people, animals, and all kinds of things to be for Hallowe’en, is it so hard to just not do it? Just don’t! Just say no to the racist, sexist, anti-labour Disney costumes. They’re multiple levels of no. LOL.

  • VanIslWatcher

    The thing is, we so-called “white people” (I think “White” is offensive because it groups a vastly diverse group of people together; like calling every indigenous tribe on earth “Red” people and assuming they share a culture)… most of us don’t have a relationship with our traditional heritage. If you’re of Scandinavian blood and have Viking heritage, you think that’s kinda cool; but your family has mostly likely been long assimilated into dominant society. Therefore, “white” people, especially those in North America, don’t really have a culture outside of the dominant culture. They have lost their culture, their traditional language, stories, and songs in favour of adopting dominant culture. My own mother tells us the reason we don’t speak Italian is because when her parents emigrated to Canada from Italy, they were ashamed of their culture and wanted badly for their children to fit in with dominant society. So when the person who wrote this pleads with “us” to understand where she’s coming from, by essentially saying, “How would you like it if we mocked your oppressed people and culture?” “We” would answer, “Meh.” We have no attachment to our culture because it doesn’t feel like ours. We’re participants, not partners in this culture. I laughed at the Native person who dressed as a white person for Halloween. I thought it was hilarious and clever. Not offended at all. Of course, there is white privilege. Although that is changing. We will always have classes and privilege, it just won’t be white people anymore. It’ll be someone else.

    As for the costumes, I do see where you’re coming from. I also see a different perspective which, I fear, if I were to even voice it would be in one ear and out the other with a pre-prepared rebuttal formed on years of practice fighting battles against oppressors. So all I want to say is that sometimes, things aren’t what you think. Sometimes, when you’ve thought about things in all their subtitles and come at it from all sorts of academic angles using social theory and complex power structure systems, you may just overthink it. I’m a strong believer in Native Rights to this land that is North America. Personally I wish the colonial settlers would have just kept church and state out and had immigrants assimilate into the culture of the natives. From what I hear from Elders and their oral histories in this area, they say that things were relatively fine with the traders but it was when church and state came that oppression and genocide shortly followed. From my personal communities, I see cultural appropriation of native culture in so many ways. They are lost white people with no cultural connections of their own, and they’re drawn to things like vision quests and traditional songs and drumming. But it’s so cringeworthy because it’s out of context and not theirs to practice. Halloween costumes can be forms of flattery in comparison to what I witness.

    Now that you know I’m not a white racist wannabe native, I do want to say that I don’t think Halloween costumes are cultural appropriate, playing indian, or any form of dominance over a culture. As a child I’ve been both Pocahontas and a Gypsy for Halloween, along with being a Mermaid, Panda, Pebbles from the Flintstones, and other cartoon characters. For each and every costume, it was because I admired the person or character. And, having grown up with white privilege and a single-mom going to university, we had the internet early on. My mom Googled (well, actually, Dogpiled, or Altavista’d, or something like that) Pocahontas, printed out her real photographs, and told me the real story of her life. I still dressed like the Disney character, even having understood the real story, because I wanted to emulate her in real life by using the image in the form most notable (Disney). I was a Gypsy because I was fascinated by belly dancing and the traditional dress I saw at a cultural fair (I know, the term Gypsy is racist, but there’s a difference between Roma and Gypsy. Romany people are people living now, in modern times, in an impoverished state, while a Gypsy is Esmerelda in the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It’s like how an Indian is someone with a feather in their hair and a buckskin dress while a Native, Aboriginal, Indigenous, First Nation, or Native American is a modern person whose heritage comes from their ancestors who were ‘indians’). My friend who lives on Res told me to stop calling her all these PC names that white people make up. “I’m a fuckin’ Indian” is what she said.

    Anyway my honest opinion is that Native people need to stand side by side with white people to defend their territory, land, and resources from the state. It’s a good thing that Pocahontas costumes are still out there, so that the memory of our colonial history is not erased and forgotten. When white people are not allowed to do something, like call “Christmas” “Christmas”, they get very angry and are less likely to support whoever is infringing their freedom. Why not use the costumes as a catapult into issues around Native history, oppression, sovereignty, culture, and use it to create a better understanding and bridge between cultures? Banning something (not that that’s what your suggesting) or telling people not to do something is not going to work. A friend of mine dressed as Jesus on Halloween. He wore a thorny crown, bloodied sheets as robes, and walked around “nailed” to a cross. He did this is a very Christian hick town, and he’s a gothic atheist who hates religion. Even though his intentions were based on hatred and not ignorance, the Christians I spoke to said that they didn’t think it was tasteful, and it made them offended, but that they also acknowledge his freedom to do what he wanted. So basically I just want to say that in one way this is not as complex as you’re making it out to be. And in another way, it’s more complex than you’re thinking. Makes sense, right? HA.

    • Brandon G.

      Very forthright and thought provoking. I would like to offer on simple concept. Holocaust is a horrible thing for any group of people. The examples you offered with Vikings, and Italians – while seeming to make sense only scratch the surface. Yes groups of different kinds of whites dealt with oppression in this country. But – and a this is a huge but, none of them faced a 500 year systematic physical, emotional, and spiritual genocide.

      Perhaps, if we venture into the darker parts of this nation’s memory, we might just find the reason Indian people feel trauma. And in doing so, we might find the reason that Halloween costumes evoke those traumas, or reminders if you will.

  • PrairiefireOriginal

    Thanks, Ryan, for that link. I appreciate Ms. Uwujaren’s patient, non-judgmental attitude and the fact that she acknowledged it’s hard to draw a “thin straight line” demarcating cultural appropriation as we are all “gorging on Chipotle burritos, doing yoga, and popping sushi into our mouths.” She did a good job seeing the debate about cultural appropriation through the eyes of people who feel like me.

    After reading her blog post and these comments, I will probably be a little more hesitant in the future to adopt any styles or practices that have not already been widely adopted by white folks like me—at least outside the privacy of my own home. But only reluctantly.

    I still believe that prohibiting anyone from doing anything more than ‘respectfully visiting’ practices of marginalized subcultures only reinforces that marginalization, when we should instead be working toward a day when no one is marginalized. I’m not averse to assimilation: my own ancestry contains Normans, Angles, Saxons, Celts, Picts, Scots, Gaels, and more. These subcultures — once separate, even hostile — assimilated each other, and I’m the better for that. I hope my kids and grandkids have the benefit of learning from cultures now marginalized in addition to whatever I pass along to them.

    A few of the things Ms. Uwujaren wrote make me a bit sad. Before I go any farther in explaining, I ask anyone reading this comment to call to mind the fact that every person is fully legitimate and fully deserving of dignity, respect, and self-determination, regardless of whether others around us recognize that. Human worthiness is innate; it is not granted or assigned by the culture that surrounds us.

    Now, look at Uwujaren’s point about ethnic clothes and hair styles being considered ‘unprofessional’ and the fact that minorities are forced—they do not choose—to wear business clothing if they want economic success in the dominant culture.

    Have you ever met even one man of any ethnicity who wears a tie for any reason other than social or business necessity? One woman of any ethnicity who wears panty hose and office pumps for comfort or self-expression? Do I feel even a tinge of cultural identity when I look at my own office wardrobe? (I do not.) Would most of the clothes in my closet right now be considered unprofessional if I wore them to the office? (They would.) Would any of my ancestors—mostly farmers and workers–look at my office wardrobe and recognize any of those clothes as having anything to do with the culture they passed down to me? (They would not.)

    God only knows—I don’t—how those un-functional, uncomfortable costumes came to be emblematic of professionalism. But what makes me sad is the difference between Ms. Uwujaren’s and my reaction when we wear them instead of the clothing we would prefer. When she wears ‘professional’ clothes, she attributes her discomfort to the fact that she is of a different ethnic background than the dominant culture, and sees the clothes of her own preference as being “stigmatized as unprofessional.” When I wear ‘professional’ clothes, I attribute my discomfort to the fact that humans have silly cultural practices, and I give little thought to the fact that my preferred plaid flannel or blue chambray shirts would get me disrespected, even ejected, if I wore them to the office.

    Remembering that both she and I are equally deserving of dignity, respect, and self-determination regardless of whether the clothes of our personal preferences are accepted in the workplace, I’m saddened by that difference between her reaction to that situation and mine.

    I also think she painted with too broad a brush when she wrote that when people of non-dominant subcultures adopt “the clothing, food, or slang of other cultures,” they are doing it because they are forced to in order to survive, while people of the dominant culture adopt new (to them) clothing, food, and slang simply by “taking” them.

    That’s far too much of a generalization—humans freely adopt and share much more than we are either ‘forced’ to adopt or ‘take’ cultural practices that are new to us. I recognize that non-dominant cultures have to adopt a few dominant-culture practices in order to survive in the dominant culture (I’d put language at the top of that list–see Pygmalion for that ‘discussion’), but I believe that most people adopt dominant-culture practices simply because the practices are good, fun, or rewarding in some other way. No one has been forced to adopt, for example, the practices of putting up Christmas trees (German); reading Shakespeare (English); playing video games (Japanese, mostly, I think, I’m not sure); wearing denim jeans (western American); or using electric guitars (Midwestern American).

    Remembering that every human is fully and equally deserving of dignity, respect, and self-determination, I perceive that people of both dominant and non-dominant cultures are making—and are fully entitled to make—lots of choices of their own free will, and to me it feels disrespectful to assume otherwise.

    Also, with very, very few exceptions, no one is “taking” anything from anyone when they adopt an appealing or functional cultural practice. (The exception would be something like spear fishing in Wisconsin’s north woods, where a resource is truly limited.) If I smudge my new house before I move in because I love the smell of sage from my childhood in the Snake River Valley and because I sense the ritual’s cleansing value in my bones—I am not taking anything from anyone. Not a soul on this planet has lost anything or been reduced in any way by my adoption of this practice. Similarly, you can criticize Miley Cyrus all you want for her display at the VMAs, but her performance took nothing from anyone. When it was complete, the twerk had been performed one more time than it should have been, but no one else had any fewer twerks available to them than they had before Miley took the stage.

    When my African-American neighbors take up tennis or when my stepson and his garage band decide to play blues rather than country western, it’s insulting if I assume either are doing it because they feel forced to. And I would be petty, even bigoted, if I resented either for ‘taking’ something from a culture that’s not ‘theirs.’

  • Kora Kaos

    There are plenty of alternatives. Of course, I live in Hollywood, where you can buy absolutely any kind of costume you want any day of the year, but don’t tell me that your city is totally bereft of covering costumes.

    Maybe perpetuating slut-shaming is just as bad; have you thought of that? I appreciate a chance to dress sexy. I will appreciate a day when people will not shame me for embracing my sex, an integral part of my human experience. Do you not think that your puritanism is just as oppressive as the media which makes us think we should all be photoshopped drawings? I enjoy wearing not only sexy clothing, and feeling powerful therein, but also attending the occasional function in which some or all of us are skyclad. Whether we fit the idea of beauty or not. Go figure.

    • Kora – to start with, let the record state that I am HUGELY in favor of nudity, opposed to slut-shaming, and generally a fan of wearing whatever the hell you want. I’ve been to skyclad rituals, and I’ve taken my toddler to nudist/naturist resorts.

      But I hate, haaaaate, “sexy” Halloween costumes – not necessarily any individual costume, and certainly not the women who wear them, but the prevalence of these costumes and what they say about our culture.

      If a woman wants to take advantage of the “anything goes” mentality of Halloween to embrace and display her sexiness, more power to her. Go her. But that’s not what we’re objecting to. We’re objecting to the fact that “sexy” costumes are aggressively marketed to women (and little girls.) We’re objecting to the fact that the line of demarcation between men’s costumes and women’s costumes is, 90% of the time, how sexualized the costumes are. (Fireman vs. Sexy Firegirl; Policeman vs. Sexy Policegirl; Cookie Monster vs., I swear I am not making this up, Sexy Cookie Monster. Ugh.)

      Yes, non-sexy costumes exist. But the “sexy” ones (I keep putting it in quotes because it refers to a very narrow definition of sexiness, and not one that I personally find very appealing, but to each their own) are far, FAR more common, more available, more heavily advertised, more in-your-face. The message is being sent loud and clear that our worth as women is tied to our sexiness, and ONLY to our sexiness. When we dress up as a fantasy, we are only allowed or expected to fantasize about being extra-super sexy.

      I am glad, very glad, that women who feel like they can’t always be as sexual as they would like have the option to let loose on Halloween. That is fantastic. But when companies make that the only option, or even just the most prominent and most encouraged, pushed, supported option, that’s not really freedom – that’s just another form of pressure to become what someone else wants you to be.

      • Kora Kaos

        Fair enough! I understand that better. I don’t think “sexy” should be the most encouraged option- after all, it is a holiday intended to connect with and/or repel those on the other side of the veil. Not necessarily make everyone sexy, if they are not into that (or are too immature for that).

        Some days, I want to wear a head scarf, because I don’t want people to look at me. Other days, I want to wear a see-through mesh bra and a strap-on with an inverted pentagram painted on my forehead, a la Baphomet or someone similar.

  • Tumblrina

    Here, here. I as a Scot would also like people to stop wearing kilts when you’re not fucking Scottish, and tartan in general. I find it grossly offensive people coming over to my country, buying all the tat from tourist shops, wearing kilts like they own the place and waxing lyrical about how they’re Scottish on their uncle’s side or whatever. Where you born in Scotland? No. Were you raised in Scotland? No. If I told you to “Wheesht yer greetin, ya glaikit wee boabie” would you know what that meant? No. You don’t understand the quaich, nor a ceilidh, you don’t give a fuck about our rally for independence, and yet you feel entitled to waltz around wearing my national heritage, (kilts, plaids and the tartans) because your great something or other may have once been near there on holiday.

    As a practicing pagan and witch, I also get incredibly offended by pretty much everyone in Western culture prostituting my religious holidays for commercial gains and amusement. Easter, Halloween, Christmas, Solstice, it’s my fucking system of beliefs and culture. Don’t use it as an excuse to dress up in costumes, go out and party and get drunk.

  • Brandon G.

    That was a very thoughtful post in 2011, as is your “self analysis”. It is important to remember that – and I say this all of the time, white people are the children of the colonists. We must ask ourselves, do they all believe “That the only good Indian is a dead Indian”? Of course not. Therefore, they are not all evil racists. However, their white power and privilege (to which you expressed) affords them a certain dose of amnesia. Once the fog of ignorance lifts, only to reveal guilt and shame, anger naturally ensues. That is blow back that you are running into. Perhaps you are starting your journey in the middle.

    I would venture to say that it may be fruitless to ask the willfully blind to see past the six inches in front of their faces. I have seen your interviews, and agree with much of how you represent us. Obviously you know that one Indian cannot speak for all of us, this is contrary to how “real Indians” conduct themselves. Be that as it may, I think that the light you attempt to shine on these issues is of the majority opinion of most of us. That being said, my concern is in the minority opinion of Indian Country.

    There are brothers and sisters that take no offense to Halloween costumes, the Redskins, the “Merciless Indian Savages” passage in this Country’s founding document, etc. That’s an issue that should be fixed first and foremost. As I am sure you must be aware of by now, some of our people are so colonized that they are no longer Indian people. (There is a deeper concept to Full Bloods and Mixed Bloods) They are fully assimilated. They worship Jesus, money, and all the other ills of the colonized society. Being an Indian person reaches far past the physical presence of Indian DNA “Distinguished Native Ancestry”. Being an Indian means being aware of and practicing our spiritual connection to Earth, and all that is around her. From that base, we find our ancestors, our ways of government, and ultimately the contrasts of being and Indian vs. the nons. There is a huge difference. That is something our people all have in common. Historical facts help win arguments, but a spiritual base is how we heal, reveal, and save our own people. That is being Indian, and the cultivation of that awareness in Indian Country can create solidarity, and therefore, can bring a much louder voice to what you are so steadfast in trying correct.

    Thank you for listening.