March 27, 2009

"Indians" dance in Shriner Circus

Letters, 3/26:  Native act disappointsThe Shriners are great people volunteering to do great things.

That being said, I was very upset to see a Native act in the Shrine Circus this year. The scene is a man on a horse in a costume and war bonnet and some women dancing to some very mocking Native music.

After talking with several local Shriners after the show, I realized they did not see the harm in this act.If you ask my children, they will say it is demeaning without a second thought.

I don’t think the Lincoln Shriners knowingly engaged in racism. After pointing some of these concerns out, they did agree to remove the headdress the man on the horse was wearing in the rest of the shows in Lincoln. Baby steps, I guess.

Items of great spiritual significance to many Native people, such as feathers found in the headdress, are trivialized when improperly used by non-Native people for secular purposes. We would all agree that a man in a priest costume running around sprinkling holy water on the crowd and tossing wafers would be offensive.
As usual, racist and ignorant (same thing?) readers denied the harm of stereotyping and cried "PC":Don wrote on March 26, 2009 3:16 am:

People need to just lighten up and enjoy the humor and fun at circuses. The U.S. has gone way overboard in their political correctness and in being offended at every little thing.

To K. Ross wrote on March 26, 2009 7:26 am:

Every time I read some scathing letter overreacting to cultural differences it makes me take a step back and want to stay away for fear of offending someone. Distancing ourselves doesn't bring on understanding, just paranoia and distrust. I didn't see the act, but have been to the Shriners circus many times where my own sex is wearing shiny and skimpy attire. I have never complained to anyone that it promotes stereotypes. I don't dress like that, but I would imagine that the circus is for fun, suspending belief for a few hours for the purpose of entertainment? Did your ticket read "documentary?"

From everything I have read and the famous artwork, natives did wear headdresses, and the scottish wore kilts what's your point?

Ed H wrote on March 26, 2009 8:34 am:

Actually Scotious i believe Don is saying this is entertainment. Not a historical re-enactment. If we demanded everything we view as entertainment be historically/culturally accurate then it wouldn't be entertainment. Also people realize what they view as entertainment is not representative of a people.

Bill part Chippewa says wrote on March 26, 2009 8:39 am:

....with respect to kris ross.....get over it. The political correctness is amazingly going overboard in this country. I played with Indian costumes, Indian figurines with cowboys, pounded a drum while doing an Indian rain dance and I seem to be just fine today. I didn't even think of this until you brought it up.
Comment:  Not only do the stereotypes sound bad--dancing, mocking music--but look at the context. "Indians" in a circus act! A historical curiosity out of a Wild West show. Parading and performing like trained animals.

Explaining the obvious to these conscious or unconscious racists, I posted a couple of rejoinders:

People have documented the harm of Native stereotypes over and over. Denying the harm because of ignorance doesn't change the evidence that proves the harm.

Actually, Ed, your statement that "people realize what they view as entertainment is not representative" is basically false. Most people think Indians dressed like Plains chiefs, were primitive savages, and barely exist today. They think this because the only "Indians" they see are phony ones like these Shriners.

A few more comments

Some comments I didn't post:

Does "To K. Ross" think no one has ever criticized women in skimpy costumes? That's just plain dumb.

A few Natives did wear headresses. Most didn't then and don't now. The point is that this attire isn't representative of most Indians; it's stereotypical.

"Bill part Chippewa" grew up emulating stupid stereotypes and now is so brainwashed that he doesn't even recognized them. But he thinks he's okay. If ignorance is bliss, Bill must be happy.

For more on the subject, see the Stereotype of the Month contest.


greenriverkate said...

I wish to take exception to anyone, especially whites, trying to duplicate natives. I am old enough to remember the days of "black faced" idiots and at a young age felt it was wrong even then. Would any of you like a black man painting his face white and acting like an idiot. This has nothing to do with political correctiveness. It has to do with respect for another culture, plain and simple. I don't ever try to be someone I am not, OUT OF RESPECT, not fear. I always put myself in their shoes first.

Melvin Martin said...

That the Shriners would stage an event like this is not at all surprising to me given their demographics: they are primarily a group of older, racially ignorant white men who are simply given a free ticket to party a few times a year in various cities.

They can say what they want, do what they want as long as they are allowed to booze and whoop it up in any of the host cities that welcome the Shriner dollar.

Their organization is one of the last remnants of the aged, hardcore American bigots who are at least becoming dinosaurs at a fairly quick rate.