August 07, 2010

"Eskimo Sisters" in Indian headdresses

Accosted by racist costumes

Expressing displeasure with something no one else has a problem with means revealing yourself as "the other."

By Kartina Richardson
Saturday night I went to the Wooly Fair art festival in Providence, Rhode Island.

I walked into a the first art gallery I came to and looked around. There, standing behind a table selling cupcakes, were two young white women wearing large Indian feather headdresses. Their cheeks and noses were streaked with red paint. They were laughing and talking and drinking beers. Everyone was having a good time. No one appeared offended, except for me.

I understood why the headdresses seemed like an attractive accessory. People want something closer to the ethereal and the spiritual. To look ethnic and feel closer to nature. But is their whim to play earthy mystic for a night greater than mine to enjoy an evening without feeling accosted by racist costume?

I stepped outside. I was nauseous. Not due to anger or anxiety, though they were present, but because I was suddenly and immediately alone. I was the different one.

I was tempted to clue these women in to their offense, but I also wanted to enjoy the rest of my night. Expressing displeasure with something no one else has a problem with means revealing yourself as "the other." You ruin everyone's good time and open yourself to ridicule. Because I'm not immune to this yet, I also ruin my own day. The anger and anxiety takes hours to fade.

I turned around and noticed a sign on the wall bearing the gallery's name "The Eskimo Sisters." It accompanied a framed page from a children's book with a sketch of a little cartoon "Eskimo" girl. Whatttt? I looked closer. Was this some slang I'd never heard of? I grabbed my friend's fancy phone and googled: according to the internet the term Eskimo Sisters refers to "two women that have slept with the same man." Isn't that adorable? I then searched for the gallery and found their Facebook page. This was their profile image. It looks like the owners of the gallery love romanticizing ethnic and indigenous people. Objectifying and exoticizing them for the sake of cuteness.

This was amazing. It was like these women had taken everything racist from my childhood and balled it up and turned it into an art gallery!
Comment:  In addition to the problems Richardson notes, the owners are misrepresenting Inuit culture. Portraying it as savage or uncivilized. Tying it in with fantasy creatures such as magical unicorns. And implying that Natives are the same whether they're in parkas or headdresses.

Note also Richardson's reaction. This is how people feel when they've endured a childhood filled with thousands of stereotypes. I'm sick and tired of people who haven't endured this constant barrage of negativity talking as if they could handle it better. Until you've gone through it, you don't and can't know.

For more on hipster headdresses, see Indian Wannabes = Celebrity Wannabes and Why Hipster Headdreses Aren't Okay. For more on Eskimos, see Eskimos:  The Ultimate Aborigines.

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