August 26, 2012

Ecko's "Weekend Warrior" line

Adrienne Keene writes about another example of a skull in headdress in her Native Appropriations blog. A company called Ecko apparently sells a line of "Weekend Warrior" clothing with the skull logo.

Ecko's "Weekend Warrior" Line and Headdressed Skulls EverywhereYesterday my BFF and biggest fan Marj texted me this image from the Ecko outlet in Washington. I believe my exact response was "OMG wtf?!?!" Notice at the bottom the tagline is "Party your face off." Yeah, not offensive at all.Let's break it down. Clearly this is problematic on many levels. Beyond the usual arguments against the hipster headdress, there's something deeper here. I don't think anyone can argue with the fact that skulls are associated with death. So if you put a skull with a headdress, the first jump I make is to "dead Indian"--just me? I don't think anyone can go for the "honoring" argument here (although I won't be surprised if they try). This, to me, is playing into the narratives of Indians existing only in the past, or Indians are extinct, or Indians were brave warriors who no longer exist today. It also, like all the Plains Indian stereotypes, solidifies the one-dimensional "warrior" image that doesn't represent the hundreds and hundreds of tribal nations still around today.Keene quotes James Branum, whom I also quoted in my posting. She continues:I think those major take away points--"The only good Indian is a dead Indian," the continued celebration of only dead or stereotypical Indian imagery, the ongoing fight over Native remains in museums and educational institutions, and the overall sacredness of human remains (and headdresses) in our communities--are exactly spot on. This trend is symptomatic of an overall disrespect of Native peoples and cultures, as well as a convenient amnesia of the genocide of Native peoples in this country. As with most of the images on this blog, one shirt in isolation may not be a problem. But when you start to peel back the layers and see how deep these issues run, and how ubiquitous these images are, you begin to realize the depth of the problem. This isn't a one-off shirt in a window. This is a lens into how Native people are viewed in the United States.Ecko responds

Ecko "Weekend Warrior" Update: "the intentions of the Weekend Warrior line were never to be racist, but to be fun."On Thursday I posted about Ecko Unltd's disturbing "Weekend Warrior" line featuring headdresses on skulls, and tied it into a larger trend featuring similar images. A reader went over to the Ecko FB page and posted a link to my blog post, as well as another link that shows adorable Native kiddos talking about mascots and stereotyping. Ecko's response?"Hi , the intentions of the Weekend Warrior line were never to be racist, but to be fun and take a look at youth culture in 2012. It's highlighting the melting pot of cultures that now make up our wonderful culture. Email me at if you wish to continue this discussion."I normally don't get fired up enough after 5pm to blog, but this pisses me off. Guys, don't worry, it's not racist because the "intentions...were never to be racist"! DUH. Who the heck besides maybe some white-supremacist or crazy anti-Obama hate group sets out to make something intentionally racist? If Mark Ecko sat in a room and was like "Hey designers, I think it would be really great this season if we did something intentionally racist towards Native Americans," then we'd have a bigger issue on our hands.

Dudes, just because you didn't *mean* to do something racist doesn't excuse you from the consequences of your actions. I feel like I say this a lot on the blog. I will now draw an example from one of my favorite pieces of writing on the internet--"Intent: It's Effing Magic"--if you got all drunk and hopped behind the wheel of a car and killed a pedestrian, does it matter if you didn't intend to kill them? Absolutely not. You made decisions that led to an outcome that you'll have to deal with, regardless of if you're actually a good person who just made an incredibly stupid mistake. Now don't freak out and think I'm trying to draw an even comparison between these two events. I'm trying to make a point. Actions have consequences, regardless of intent.

But let's also talk about the other parts of this response. So we've established they didn't intend to be racist. Great. But instead of racist, it was supposed to be "fun"! This reminds me a lot of the Spirit Hoods and Yay Life Tribe convos we had a while back. Tucker, the "chief" of the Yay Life Tribe said, in the quote that started it all, "You guys are amazing. You are taking a product that actually adds happiness to the world and make it come off as some jab at native americans." Right, it's our fault. It makes us out to be the overly-sensitive party poopers who are ruining something that is SO awesome, and how DARE we take offense when it was supposed to be light-hearted and fun. That, my friends, is some colonizer gaslighting right there. That's a means of asserting power, even if subconsciously. If I, a member of the group being depicted in your "fun" clothing line, take offense to it, it. is. offensive.

Then it continues. The line wanted to "take a look at youth culture in 2012. It's highlighting the melting pot of cultures that now make up our wonderful culture." The celebration of the myth of the melting pot always gets me. Melting pot requires assimilation. Melting pot requires that cultures give up their individual characteristics for the benefit of a broader unifying "culture" (which is why some multi-cultural educators now push for the metaphor of a "salad bowl"), which is how colonialism works. We've had plenty of that assimilation stuff, and it didn't work out too well. But that's an aside. The other subtext is that Native people aren't included in this "wonderful culture" you speak of. Because you're "highlighting" dead Indians. Not live ones. There is not a highlighting of the current contributions of Native peoples--just a reminder that Indians are extinct in your eyes.

So apologies to the poor social media intern at Ecko that I just eviscerated, but after over two years of blogging about these issues, it just gets frustrating to see the same, tired, offensive responses to Native peoples' objections to being portrayed in stereotypical and demeaning ways that make light of sacred traditions and practices.
Comment:  Ecko's melting-pot argument is especially stupid. What's the skull in the headdress supposed to be melting with? What are the other cultures represented in this singular image of a dead Indian?

If Ecko wants to show a melting pot, how about a skull wearing a cowboy hat? Or a dead president's wig? Along with some live blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Indians? That would show its diversity of cultures and also use a hipper-than-thou skull. But the dead component of the Ecko "stew" would be a white man, not an Indian.

I don't know how this image would work, since Ecko's logo has only one figure, not several. Which is why Ecko's argument is a laugher. There's no multicultural stew here, only a stereotype.

Ecko's hipster message

What Ecko is really saying is, "We're using a dead Indian to show we're not totally members of the middle class. We're not white, boring, and predictable. The skull in a headdress proves we're ethnic...tribal...multicultural!"

Never mind that this is the same reason used by centuries of conquerors and colonizers. For instance, the original Boston Tea Party. "We're not just a group of white people protesting tea tariffs," they might've said. "No, we're Indians! We represent a wild, free, and savage challenge to authority!"

Three hundred years later, youngsters who think they're being original are dressing as Indians too. They're wearing headdresses, or t-shirts with headdresses, to prove they're hip, not square. It's all so transparently obvious--like a child who yells "no!" at its parents. Rebels without a cause...ho-hum.

For more on fashion (mis)appropriations, see Open Letter to Urban Outfitters and Indian Skulls in Headdresses.


dmarks said...

I guess, since I am not a woman, Jimmy Choo sounds to me like a type of chewing gum.

Anonymous said...

I just sent an email to them expressing my disgust. Wouldn't it be great if an email campaign could get going? Elizabeth