February 11, 2009

Teepees and mukluks in store window

Confrontations, Indian Villages, and the start of Black History Month

By Special Correspondent Jessica YeeOkay, so I’ll be honest, my night didn’t really start off too well. Waiting for the streetcar to come so I can go check out the much anticipated photo exhibit for “Prom Night in Mississippi” I see this gem of a display in a popular Queen West shoe store right across the street:

Between debating on going inside to voice my annoyance and offense, or hopping the fast approaching streetcar on this bitterly cold night and making my opinions heard later, I chose to go inside, and become angrier by the second as I make my way over there. Who the hell do they think they are? I’m probably like the tenth person who complained, I mean this is Toronto, for heaven’s sake!
And:Turns out the company making the moccasins, mukluks, and boots on display is called Laurentian Chiefs, and she proceeds to tell me how they are actually from a reserve in Quebec (although I still have yet to confirm all the details of who this company really is).

“So does Laurentian Chiefs mandate the store to put on a display like that?” I continue.

“No, my boss just went out and bought the stuff.” she says.
Comment:  So the store manager created a display that combines Plains chiefs and teepees with fur-lined Inuit mukluks ("a soft boot traditionally made of reindeer skin or sealskin").

People occasionally ask me why I get angry about these seemingly minor stereotypes. Answer: I don't get angry; Jessica Yee gets angry. To me this is no different than a thousand other incidents where Plains Indians are used to represent all Indians. For example, Indian mascots such as the Carpinteria Warriors, the Massasoit statue in Utah, and the "How the West Was Fun" t-shirt.

If I got angry at every instance of stereotyping involving Plains iconography, I'd be in a perpetual stage of rage and I'd never get anything done. Therefore, I don't get angry. I report; you decide.

For more on the subject, see The Basic Indian Stereotypes.

After Yee's store-window encounter, she attended a reception for the documentary Prom Night in Mississippi. Yee asked a race-based question and the producer said, "First of all, I’m not sure why we’re still labeled White. I’m Jewish, and I’m more of an off-white, beige I think."

This led to a fascinating discussion between Yee and people of various ethnicities on Racialicious. Check it out if you're interested.

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