May 11, 2009

"Go Native" party was an honor?

In "Go Native" at the Visionary Village, a reader named Love Shopper explained the much-maligned party's intent:Keep in mind that it's currently trendy to wear "tribal"-influenced clothing (whether it's influenced by the art and sacred symbols of indigenous tribes in Africa, Tibet, Nepal, China, Thailand, Australian Aborigines or Native Americans). This mixing and matching and blending of music, art, and cultures is done with the intent of honoring and admiring these cultures, and learning more about them, not with an intent of demeaning them.My response:

As always, intent is one thing and results another. In case you haven't heard, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. (Yes, I just made that up.)

How were the attendees supposed to learn something valid about tribal cultures? If there was an educational component to this party, I must've missed it. Please elucidate.

Were the attendees supposed to learn that the four designated tribes are unrepresentative of Native cultures as a whole? Were they supposed to criticize each other's phony Native costumes? ("Your leathers and feathers are inauthentic." "No, yours are.") Or what, exactly?

Really, I'm curious. Tell us how the organizers planned to educate the attendees.

You talked about mixing and matching tribal cultures. Setting aside whether that's a good idea, your images and concepts referred only to Native American cultures. If you seriously believed people would dress in indigenous Asian or European costumes, I'd say your expectations were unrealistic. I'm guessing most people thought they should dress as tribal "savages" from the Americas or Africa.

If someone had come in a three-piece suit to represent a tribal lawyer appearing before the US Supreme Court, would you have applauded him for "getting" the tribal motif? Or would you have said, "Um, no, that's not what we had in mind"? The latter, I'm pretty sure.

Let's get real

The "honoring" argument in these cases is thin to the point of nonexistence. As far as I can tell, there was no educational component to this party. There were no "live" tribal people to actually honor. The attendees were "honoring" their shallow, stereotypical notion of Natives, not real Natives.

The only "honors" here were the four room names, the Native costumes, and the skull on the poster. This is about the same as "honoring" blacks with a map of Africa, a shrunken head, and a leopard-skin robe. I trust this analogy makes the lack of honor clear.

If you ask me, the organizers' "Go Native" theme was the equivalent of "Walk on the Wild Side." In common parlance, that's what "go native" means: to shed the trappings of civilization and return to a more uncivilized or "natural" state. Nothing about the party suggested respect for Native leaders, cultures, or achievements. It was all about pretending to be primitive, not honoring Natives.

Next time you want to "honor" Natives, here's an idea. Dress in regular clothes but have Natives provide the food and entertainment. Ask people to name three Native achievements before admitting them. Hand out fliers or sign up people for Native causes. Give a Visionary Village award to an outstanding local Native. Etc.

It's not that hard to think of genuine ways to honor Natives. Next time, try.

Below:  (Mis)educating people about tribal cultures.


Unknown said...

I have this dream of one day getting a bunch of "family" together and showing up at various ethnic pride parades dressed in stereotypical garments, but then I wonder if anyone but us would get it...

dmarks said...

This honors indiginous peoples no more than the "Survivor" TV show honors them with its various faux tribal trappings.