October 26, 2013

Kanye's t-shirts feature Indian skulls

Kanye West's Tour T-Shirts Feature Indian Skull, Confederate FlagHip hop star Kanye West has begun his Yeezus tour, and photos of the merchandise being offered to concertgoers have inspired outrage and befuddlement.

As revealed at Complex.com, the goods include t-shirts emblazoned with a skeleton wearing a feather headdress or "war bonnet" associated with Plains Indian tribes. Other provocative imagery includes the Confederate flag.

The art is by Wes Lang, whose work is informed by the Grateful Dead and tattoo culture, and uses skeletons and skulls in various forms, including wearing Indian regalia--visit his blog to see numerous examples.

At Complex.com, some commenters are voicing their disapproval of the Native/skull image--here's what reader Schon Duncan says:

Fuck that racist Indian shit. As a Native American, seeing a skeleton with a headdress on is just plain disrespectful and it reinforces the idea that Natives are a thing of the past. Fuck that. We're still here and don't need this from someone who claims to understand the struggle of oppression.
Kanye West’s Yeezus Album Art is Racist

By Danielle MillerCultural appropriation of Native culture occurs frequently in pop culture as acts of shock value or just out of plain, insensitive, ignorance. Those in privilege don’t have to deal with their own identity being questioned or defined by the mainstream frequently. So it’s easy to see why they feel so justified in disrespecting other cultures. It seems these disgusting acts have become a rite of passage for those in privilege. Whether intentional or unintentional it’s obvious there are subconscious micro aggressions and acts of conquest taking place.

The phrases “kill the Indian save the man,” and “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” were justifications for genocide. Clearly when an image depicts a dead Indian, it alludes to these mantras. Privileged groups are the ones most frequently perpetuating these mantras through imagery such as the skull and headdress, and with such a mantra this image becomes even more problematic than typical displays of cultural appropriation. While the popular mainstream is not literally expressing these quotes they are still expressing these sentiments through metaphors and micro aggressions of cultural appropriation. Their actions result in literal consequences in Native Americans lives, such as systemic oppression, institutional racism, erasing of culture and other blatant displays of racism and disrespect.
Kanye West Continues to Profit From Genocidal Historical Trauma

By Danielle MillerMSNBC and other sources have quoted Kanye: “The Confederate flag represented slavery in a way,” he said. “That’s my abstract take on what I know about it, right? So I made the song ‘New Slaves’ so I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It’s my flag now, now what you going to do?”

Kanye chose to address his use of the confederate flag and completely ignore his disrespect of Native peoples. He continues to disrespect by ignoring Native and profiting from exploitation. He probably knows his merchandise is unethical so he will continue to ignore the issue as if it doesn’t exist. This doesn’t make him any less guilty of perpetuating racism. While he “reclaims” the confederate flag, he cannot do the same with Native American identity. What we “will do” is continue to address Kanye and let him know that he does not own our identities or our struggles. He will not profit from our oppression and historical trauma without being held accountable for his actions. We are taking sovereignty over our image, we will continue to address celebrities and anyone who has intentions to exploit, oppress or demean us.
Comment:  The "God Wants You" message is unclear but creepy. God wants a dead Indian? So the white man can take his "proper" place as conqueror of America? What's an interpretation that doesn't involve Indians dying?

For more on the subject, see Indian Skulls in Headdresses and T-Shirt Shows Skull in Headdress.

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