“Indian Costumes” are HURTFUL.
Dressing up in redface is hurtful. Wearing ‘war paint’ is hurtful. Dressing up as another race by wearing terribly stereotypical caricatures of what you think that race looks like is not appropriate. When you dress up like this and take photos like this it adds one more images to the ponderous pile of this shit that creates the pervasive cultural notion that this is what people should think of when they hear ‘Native American’ , and IT HURTS REAL NATIVE AMERICAN PEOPLE. It creates, in the minds of the people that see you dressed like that, a stereotype - a caricature of what Native people do/should look like that erases us in reality and removes us from their perception of the modern world. It turns ‘Native American’ into someone wearing beads and headbands and feathers and face paint. It turns an ethnic, racial identity into a costume.
It is racism.
When you only speak about Native American people in the past tense, in certain contexts. When you only mention us as pertains to White history. When you depict us in stereotypical ways. That is how racist thought is cemented in your mind and the minds of others.
I am tired of cultural appropriation.
I am tired of having to constantly be an educator of people who largely don’t want to be educated who get self-righteously angry (And refuse to learn. And continue to be angry) when they’re confronted. I am tired of being -hurt- by racism. I am tired of people who claim that they love and admire ‘Native American Culture’ but in fact know fuck all about Pan-Indian culture or the fact that ‘Native American’ is a blanket term for hundreds of hugely disparate indigenous nations across two continents and that we do NOT have just one culture.
And before you argue that folks who dress this way don’t MEAN to be racist or that they’re just having fun, before your many white allies rally around to tell me how wrong I am and what a good person you are and how you are not a racist…know this:
Racism is not in your intent.
Your intent is immaterial in how racist your actions are.
This isn’t about you BEING a racist. It’s about you DOING A THING that is racist.
Your intent doesn’t change it. Your ignorance of its meaning doesn’t change it. It’s got nothing to do with you as a person and everything to do with the meaning of your action in the context of sociocultural history.
If you think that dressing up as a stereotype is somehow ‘celebrating’ anyone’s culture, that speaks to some really problematic shit in how you’ve been educated, what you’ve been exposed to, what you think you know about what Native Americans are and what we look like. And while it’s not your fault that the culture of your upbringing has handed you that shit on a silver platter and said ‘eat it’, and not your fault that you did eat it without knowing better, it’s still bullshit and it’s still hurtful. You have the Internet at your disposal. You can become educated as to what Native Americans really are like and what we really are about and why not only is that outfit that you put on not remotely like anything legitimately Native American - but that you CAN’T make a costume that’s legitimately Native American. Because we don’t all look alike. Because we’re people.
Let’s go back in time. Let’s go back to my kindergarten class where kids are doing that stupid hand-over-mouth ‘woo woo’ war cry shit at me. Let’s go back to elementary school, watching Peter Pan at the end of the year and getting reprimanded when I walk out of the room to sit in the hall during the ‘What makes the red man red’ song because I can’t fucking explain to the teacher why it makes me want to cry. Let’s go back to my girlscout troop, where one of the leaders is quoting that movie and saying ‘SQUAW GETTUM FIREWOOD!’ and getting huffy and offended when called out on it by my mother. Let’s go back to my middle school chorus that’s singing Colors of the Wind and listen to all the resultant comments from my classmates AND TEACHERS. Let’s go back to when I was fourteen years old and a car full of college-aged white guys drove by shouting ‘FUCK YEAH, POCAHOTNESS’ and making sexual gestures at me. Let’s go back to last year, when a coworker asked me why I was asking for a personal day and checked ‘Religious Observance’ when she knows I’m not a Christian- I told her it was for a powwow, and she wanted to come. I told her it wasn’t open to the public and she said ‘Then why even have one.’
Then why even have one?
THEN WHY EVEN HAVE ONE?
Let’s talk about the fact that NDN women are 3.5 times more likely to be raped. And that we are raped by a non-Native man in 86% of cases. 70% of the time, our rapist is white.
When people dress like this, they perpetuate stereotypes about native people, AND THEY UPHOLD AND COSIGN ALL THAT SHIT.