October 24, 2013

Native regrets "Naughty Native" costume

I regret my “Naughty Native” Halloween costume

As a Native American woman, I thought my stereotypical costume was subversive. Now I know I was wrong

By Elissa Washuta
I grabbed a kit of face paint and completed the look with the gaudiest headdress on the rack, a floppy, trailing rainbow of fake feathers. The night of the party, I applied the paint in two lines on each cheek, one red and one blue. Stuffed into my fake buckskins, wearing the false headdress of the wrong gender, I was a short-haired, Technicolor monstrosity.

At the party, I tried to explain what my costume was all about, but it never came out right. “I’m dressed as a sorority girl at a Cowboys and Indians party,” I’d say, or, “I’m dressed as a white girl in a Pocahontas costume.” Confused, my friends responded, “But aren’t you just dressed in a Pocahontas costume?”
And:After years of teaching American Indian Studies at the university level, including classes on Hollywood’s twisting of the world’s conception of Indianness, I have become deeply ashamed of my night in costume. The iconic Indian maiden—slender, servile and ready to be defiled under her fitted dress—is a rotten fantasy that spoils too many people’s understanding of actual indigenous womanhood. In her sexed-up dress, the maiden becomes the spoils of war. By donning my own fake feathers, I subverted nothing. Instead, I excused Halloween racism, inviting anyone who met me to do the same—after all, they’d met an Indian girl who wore a headdress and everything. I know my ancestors saw my get-up, and I don’t think they found me clever.

Every Halloween, the campus population is peppered with people in costumes, their buy-in levels ranging from cat ears on a headband to a floor-length Jedi robe paired with an expensive-looking lightsaber. My students have their heads on straighter than I did, and I’ve never seen one of them dressed in one of the “Noble Warrior,” “Hot on the Trail,” “Pocahottie,” “Tribal Trouble,” “Sexy Tonto” or “Pow! Wow!” costumes I’ve seen for sale online. I hope that when the students step off campus, drop their books, peel off their university sweats and hoodies, and prepare for their night of spooky revelry, they remember that they’re on Duwamish and Suquamish land.
Comment:  For more on Halloween costumes, see University Bans Offensive Halloween Costumes and Can Indian Costumes Be Educational?

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