March 08, 2014

Oklahoma governor's daughter in a headdress

Another day, another headdress controversy. The latest one involves Christina Fallin, daughter Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma.

I believe this website was the first to report it:

Christina Fallin appreciates Native American culture and other beautiful things…

By PatrickHipster Boo Boo strikes again!

Yesterday, Christina Fallin was “overseeing” a photo shoot as part of her new gig as a “marketing consultant” for So6ix magazine. During the shoot, she posted the following photo on Instagram:
Christina Fallin put down her can of black face and decided it would be fun to disrespect and mock Native American culture in a state that has a whole bunch of Native Americans? Yeah, I’m aware. That’s why I sent a screenshot of her ridiculous photo out to our 20,000+ Twitter followers last night.

That’s pretty awful, but on a positive note, at least she wasn’t chugging whiskey or rolling around on the ground mumbling “Tatonka.” I’m sure both crossed her mind. At least she showed some restraint.

After we sent the tweet, people showered the out-of-touch, affluent, attention craving white poser who lacks any self-awareness of the real world with a whole lot of attention. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the “Oh My Gawd, you’re so creative Christinahhhh. I love youuu!” praise that she’s used to receiving from all her hipster friends and So6ix magazine cronies. They were more of the “Hey, you’re an insensitive racist bitch” variety.

Obviously, the negative comments got Christina’s attention. She issued a statement about it this morning, but instead of apologizing, taking responsibility and showing any sort of remorse, she and her boyfriend simply used the pic as an opportunity to promote their awful band and justify the situation with some sort of “holier than thou” philosophical, stoned college student bullshit. It’s one of the most ridiculous, out-of-touch things I’ve ever read.

Check it out:
Fallin and Steven Battles are part of the band Pink Pony. Curiously, someone (Christina herself?) tried to defend Fallin and her "apology" on Pink Pony's Facebook page. Here's a typical exchange:

I'm surprised Fallin left the posting up for six or whatever hours. And engaged with her critics, however poorly.

I was one of those who chimed in with criticism. Eventually, she took down the faux-pology and the critical comments disappeared with it.

Story goes wide

Many people noted the irony of Fallin's wearing an Indian headdress while her mother governs the state formerly known as Indian Territory. For that reason, I think, the story got more coverage than headdress stories usually do. It took off after the Associated Press reported on it:

Daughter of Okla. Governor Defends headdress photo

By Kristi EatonFallin, the daughter of Oklahoma's first female governor, Mary Fallin, made headlines in 2011 after a photo shoot at the governor's mansion. A local magazine focused on 20-somethings posted videos from the session, showing her strolling around the mansion property in avant-garde fashions.

Those videos were removed from the magazine's website after some people said they were distasteful. Christina Fallin issued a statement at that time saying she was thrilled to be a part of the magazine.

The 26-year-old Fallin is currently a marketing consultant for and appears in another local magazine that features fashion trends, health tips and beauty advice. She is also part of a local band that describes itself as "electronic-punk."

In the past few weeks, she's also posted several photos from events with her mother: first one from the State of the State speech at Oklahoma's capitol and others from Washington, D.C., while at the National Governor's Association meeting.

The picture of the headdress quickly drew negative comments on Fallin's social media profiles, many of which were then deleted. Headdresses, historically worn by Native American warriors who received feathers for heroic deeds, are considered sacred items and are still used for some ceremonies.
Daughter of Oklahoma governor causes uproar after posing in Native American headdress

Gov. Mary Fallin is the one who signed away the rights to Baby Veronica, and who won't fund a museum for Oklahoma's Indians. Her daughter has appeared on the campaign trail with her and probably has similar beliefs. If this is the Fallins' attitude toward Indians, it's no wonder some Indians are sorry they supported Mary Fallin.

Natives respond

A couple of critics nailed the problems with the photo and the faux-pology:

I’m a Native American Banned from Commenting on Cultural Appropriation by Pink Pony

By Frances DangerPink Pony issued a statement regarding the photo early this morning, explaining their reasoning behind the usage of the photo. In the press release the band defends the use of the headdress, stating it was done with innocence and respect. There is no apology for the misuse of a sacred Native cultural item and, in fact, the statement dismisses the cultural significance by saying a woman in a headdress is beautiful.

Pink Pony is currently riding a wave of national publicity for this stunt (and a stunt it is). Pink Pony willfully and knowingly appropriated Native culture then silenced, and continues to silence, Native voices when it does not fit their particular narrative of how they wish to be perceived. This is an issue not only of appropriation, but entitlement and institutional racism. Pink Pony feel that they are somehow entitled to use this culture because “pretty” overshadows the very real and very damaging disrespect shown to Native culture and ideals. If Pink Pony truly had respect for Native culture and saw them as people and not as props they would listen to the feedback, accept help to further their education, and issue a heartfelt and appropriate apology. Additionally, banning Natives from the discussion is indicative of their mindset in regards to Natives, i.e. “It’s ok for me to wear your pretty headdress and feel picked on when you don’t take it the right way so you should shut up about it and let me do what I want.” Pretty it up all you want, but marginalizing and silencing Natives regarding issues of their own cultural heritage is nothing short of racism.

There is no room for debate where Pink Pony is concerned. Instead there is their canned press release and condescending and responsibility dodging answers to current comments on their page, stating they don’t see race or gender, which ultimately dismisses and once again marginalizes the culture they are profiting from. It’s like someone gave them a book on how to act during a PR crisis and they chose to do the opposite. I’d laugh if it weren’t so sad.

As usual, Adrienne Keene knocked it out of the park in her Native Appropriations blog:

Dear Christina Fallin[Y]ou see Christina, while a lot of those folks I wrote those letters to came at this from a place of ignorance (which doesn’t excuse it by any means), you knew that putting on that headdress would be controversial. You titled your photo “Appropriate Culturation” which means you are aware of the concept of cultural appropriation, and knew that Native peoples would be hurt by your choice, and you did it anyway.

Then you released your “apology,” an “apology” which never actually apologizes, and instead says this:Growing up in Oklahoma, we have come into contact with Native American culture institutionally our whole lives—something we are eternally grateful for. With age, we feel a deeper and deeper connection to the Native American culture that has surrounded us. Though it may not have been our own, this aesthetic has affected us emotionally in a very real and very meaningful way.And then this line, which is the kicker:Please forgive us if we innocently adorn ourselves with your beautiful things. We do so with the utmost respect. We hold a sincere reverence for and genuine spiritual connection to Native American values.I can’t get over that line. I read it again and again, and can’t believe that you actually think that way of thinking is normal, excusable, and ok.
After a summary of Native history, she continues:Notice the words I keep using here? Forcibly, stripped, prohibited, assimilated. This is not a happy history. This is a history marked by violence and by trauma. So while you may feel “eternally grateful” for your exposure to our cultures, you’re deliberately ignoring your own history if you think your donning of a headdress is “innocent.” Let’s fast forward to 2014. Now “tribal trends” are totally “in.” You can walk into any store in the mall and see “Native” imagery everywhere. As a Native person, when I look at them, I can’t help but remember the not-so-distant past when my people weren’t allowed, by law, to wear these things. It’s such a constant reminder of the colonial power structures still in place. Back in the day, white people had the power to take away our culture, and now they have the power to wear it however they see fit. These are our images, our cultural symbols, yet we are completely powerless to have control over them. It may seem extreme, but the best way I can say it is that your wearing of the headdress is an act of violence that continues the pain of colonization. “Please forgive us if we innocently adorn ourselves with your beautiful things.” The privilege and violence of that statement astounds me. “Please forgive us if we innocently use your beautiful land,” “Please forgive us if we innocently educate your beautiful children,” “Please forgive us if we innocently sexualize your beautiful women.” These actions are not benign.

Comment:  For more on the subject, see Crystle Lightning in a Headdress and Why Hipster Headdresses Aren't Okay.

1 comment:

Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:

Pretty Girl in a Headdress: Cultural Appropriation Gets Ugly

It should come as no surprise to Native folk that non-Natives still feel entitled to appropriate, take, and distort sacred indigenous cultural artifacts and symbols. Indeed, from the time of Columbus to now, such acts of racist entitlement has been accomplished by placing those who have been racialized as not-white outside of the moral community.