May 18, 2010

Indian headdresses in Bay to Breakers run

Plenty of "Indians" and Equal Opportunity Racism: Bay to Breakers 2010Bay to Breakers is an annual San Francisco Bay Area tradition, now in its 99th year. Technically it's a 12k race, starting downtown (the bay) and ending at the beach (the breakers). I don't know the exact history, or how it has (d)evolved through the years, but I can tell you it is now one part serious road race, and about 100 parts drunken costumed debauchery.

Early Sunday morning I positioned myself on the side of the road, ready to capture what I figured would be a few rogue headdresses. I quickly spotted one, then another, and another...and before I knew it, I had to stop because there were just too many and it was getting redundant. My album on my computer has 53 pictures, and that was in about the course of an hour and a half. Yikes.
Comment:  Obviously I need to get out more. The hipster headdress phenomenon is worse than I thought.

If this surge is indeed happening, I'm not sure what's causing it. But I'll speculate that every example of socially-accepted stereotyping--The Dudesons, South Park, the Mardi Gras Indians, Kesha, et al.--makes it safer and "cooler" to appropriate Native culture yourself. "Everyone else is doing it," idiots think, "so it must be okay. I want to be hip, so I'll pretend to be an Indian too."

The effects of this are obvious--to me, at least. When everyone can be an "Indian," it threatens whatever makes Native cultures special and unique. Indians rightly fear becoming even more like cavemen and pirates--i.e., cartoon characters from the past--than they are now.

Imagine Native children trying to assert their identity while surrounded by hipsters in headdresses. "You're Indians?" the hipsters might say. "We're Indians too!" A typical child would hide in embarrassment and shame. Who wants to be associated with capering clowns in phony Plains costumes?

In short, this is what happens when we let Native stereotyping run rampant. Hence the need for vigilance against the problem.

For more on the subject, see White Girls Play Indian at Powwow and Indian Headdresses at Coachella.

Below:  "We're rough 'n' tough like primitive savages! We're wild and out of control! How cool is that?!"


Red said...

Just did my first 12k of the year last weekend after not running all year. OUCH.
I have heard a lot about Bay to breakers... mostly that it is super fun and that it is a must do event if you are in Northern California.

m. said...

I work in SF, and I had to witness these racist clowns parading around. It hurts, it angers...but people will never care.