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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Appropriation vs. Appreciation - What is Cultural Appropriation? What's the Big Deal?

Native American imagery in Pop Culture

Why Seventeen Magazine in 1973 Was Different than What is Seen Today
We're talking about two different but obviously related types of appropriation here. The "Hipster Headdress" kind involves taking a sacred item of regalia out of context and using it as a fashion statement, because it "looks cool." What you might call the Urban Outfitters kind is about using the identity of a people to sell products that they didn't create or endorse. Pick your poison -- whether it's abusing someone's sacred symbols or cheapening someone's cultural identity, all in the name of fashion and commerce, both practices ought to stop.

But Elle UK really screwed up good with its Pharrell Williams cover last week. It's mystifying that a magazine about fashion and (apparently sometimes) music could be so unaware of appropriation issues surrounding feather headdresses; seems nobody was paying attention to the foulups of Victoria's Secret, Paul Frank Industries, Germany's Next Top Model, and Alessandra Ambrosio; and the music-aficionado editors who wrangled Pharrell hadn't ever noticed the backlash against No Doubt, Outkast, Emerson Windy and the rest.
In Fashion
When it comes to wearing or designing fashion based on other cultures, it’s hard to know if you’re being tacky, cool, or offensive. The dangers of cultural appropriation go beyond offending people, appropriation continues patterns of disempowering groups that are already marginalized. Looks shouldn’t be THAT important. Ideally, we can feel cute while empowering people with what we wear.“THAT’S RAD, BUT HOW CAN I TELL IF I’M APPROPRIATING?”Well, before you put on that bindi, kimono, “street wear” or adorn yourself with cornrows, a headdress or turban, here’s some easy questions to ask yourself:

#1. What culture does this style reference, and what is my relation to that culture?
#2. Why are you wearing it?
OKAY, YOU MIGHT GET A PASS: “It is part of a cultural event I am a part of or invited to.” (Examples: celebrating a marriage or holiday)
#3. Who made the product, and who's selling it?
#4. How accurate/respectful is it to the source?

4 Ways To Honor Native Americans Without Appropriating Our Culture

Chilliwack woman takes a stand against racism
The young mom was standing in a grocery line with her 20-month-old daughter Layla. She was exhausted, as moms of toddlers tend to be, and was doing everything she could to hold her daughter at bay while they waited to pay for their groceries.
A grandmotherly woman standing in front of Peters turned and started cooing at Layla, playing peak-a-boo with her, asking questions, anything to help distract the curious toddler from pulling chocolate bars off the shelves.
One aisle over, another mom of First Nations descent stood with her child, the same age and seeming curiosity as Layla.
Peters, a knowing smile on her face, looked up at the woman still playing with her daughter, about to laugh that she wasn't the only one.
Instead, she faced a cold stare. The friendly grandmother was gone.
"They just shouldn't fucking breed," she hissed.

Is anything sacred left to us?
As a dismal result of this extirpation, it’s a fact that nearly all our original dances, songs, ceremonies,  religion, and arts have been eradicated, marginalized, and sanitized. Some tribes have lost their spoken languages. It is no wonder that tribes fight fiercely to protect what little is left of these sacred cultures and traditions. In my opinion, this is the main reason why non-Indians and “Wannabe” Indians have typically not been welcomed or encouraged when they assert their presence in tribal events. There are tribes that even strictly prohibit “other Indians” from participation in certain events and ceremonies. This earns my utmost respect and understanding.

Meanwhile, the whole “not Indian, can’t dance” theme has been turning over in my mind for 6 months now. I reflect on today’s powwows which are far removed from what they originally were, and I seriously question if there is anything sacred left to us. Today at many modern contest powwows, the dancers/participants submit to a scheduled, rules-and-regulations choreographed event which typically involves large sums of money; tradition and culture is secondary. I personally see nothing wrong with non-Indians participating in dancing at powwows as long as they are doing it with sincere intent and respect. It takes a lot of gumption for a non-Indian to enter the dance arbor; I’ve seen some laughed at and belittled while others are treated with the same respect as Indians. There are many people in European countries that hold their own versions of powwows complete with grand entries and contest dancing. I was astounded to learn that some were wearing authentic regalia. It was both humorous and disconcerting. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they are emulating the powwow out of respect and admiration. Still, it’s disquieting to see it displayed on YouTube videos because it’s such a familiar experience of yet another taking of our people’s traditional ways.

Excuse Me, That’s My Beadwork!
We’ve heard the story time and time again in Indian country: Stolen beadwork, stolen eagle feathers, even entire outfits stolen. Since my family just had this unfortunate experience, it must be a sign to talk about it.

Native American “Black Face” Equivalent

We are supposed to be having a particularly earnest conversation with each other (and ourselves) this autumn about whether the continuing use of the nickname "Redskins" for Washington's professional football team perpetuates stereotypes against Native Americans. Of course it does. If you want to better understand why,  if you want to better appreciate the enormity of the problem, if you want a sense of the challenge American Indians face as they seek to fight back against these hoary symbols, watch this clip from Saturday's "College Gameday" on ESPN.

This unseemly episode is the result of two traditions. The first has to do with Florida State University, which has taken the nickname "Seminoles" from the Native American tribe with a long and unfortunate history in Florida. The university's tradition, since 1978 anyway, is to have a man, dressed up like a tribal "chief" named Osceola (né William Powell), ride out atop a horse named "Renegade" onto Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee before home games and throw a flaming spear into the ground at midfield while the crowd goes wild. Here is the list of "Osceolas" (and "Renegades") over the years.

The second tradition has to do with ESPN and this particular show. Each week, Lee Corso, a nationally known college football commentator, dons the garb of the team he is picking to win the feature game of the weekend. Sometimes, Corso wears a mascot head. Sometimes he dresses up. The college kids eat it up. It's great fun and great for the show's ratings. On Saturday, Corso, an alum of FSU, happened to pick his alma mater to beat Clemson (which FSU did, by a lot), which is why he was dressed up like Osceola. (Update: I don't mean to suggest this is the first time he has done this. Here is how he did it last year)