By Ariel Meadow Stallings
Both comments were removed (as per our comment policy on sponsored posts), but we also swapped out the photo.
But the issue of cultural appropriation is huge and important, so I sent this follow-up message to the more articulate of the two commenters:
I'm totally 100% with you on how the hipster trends of cultural appropriation are problematic (it's something we've talked a LOT about on Offbeat Bride), but I'm confused about how a photo of the children reflects this.
So, for starters, we don't know anything about the cultural background of these children—they could be half or a quarter Native. By accusing them of appropriation, there are some serious assumptions being made about people of mixed race backgrounds looking a certain way. For that matter, they could have a non-blood relative or family friend who is Native American who gifted this headdress. We simply have no way of knowing.
That said, even assuming they ARE white and have no personal connections to Native culture, I'm confused at how children involved in imaginative play can be considered hipster-ish cultural appropriation. Children engage in fantasy play all the time, including cultural play like pretending to be everything from Eskimos to French bakers to Aboriginal hunters to Russian spies. By saying these children are somehow guilty of appropriating for fashion or appearance feels like it's suggesting that children are only allowed to play-act their own personal experiences.
Shouldn't we be encouraging children to learn and explore other cultural experiences through play? Where-as status-seeking adults may wear a head-dress out of some sort of ironic fashion statement, it feels like these kids are potentially playing dress up in the same way they would by wearing a sombrero they brought home from a family vacation to Mexico, or a pair of little leiderhosen from Germany. I totally understand the issues of genocide and colonialism—but imaginative play feels like the perfect time to talk to kids about these issues.
Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Again—we're definitely batting for the same team here, but I'm really struggling with the idea that we're now accusing children of being culturally appropriative fashionista hipsters. Help me understand?
For starters, why dismiss the other commenter's question: "Has the kids do hipster blackface as well?" Because you don't like snark? Or poor grammar? That's not much of an excuse.
Dressing up like a 19th-century Indian is exactly like dressing up as 19th-century black slave. They were the norm 150 years ago...yet they're both limited if not false representations of an entire race of people.
You're into kids exploring other times and cultures...so would you let them dress up in blackface as slaves? It's a legitimate question and a simple one to answer. So which is: Yes or no?
If your answer is no, how can it be yes in the case of Natives? The two cases are the same. That you may think they're different is indicative of the problem.
As we've said many times before, the children's race is irrelevant. One, even if they're part or all Native, they're unlikely to belong to the few tribes that wear these headdresses. Two and more important, they're not items meant to be worn by children. If being Native is your excuse, your excuse fails, because Native children wouldn't dress like this.
Eskimo race = spy occupation?
Your comment, "Children engage in fantasy play all the time, including cultural play like pretending to be everything from Eskimos to French bakers to Aboriginal hunters to Russian spies," just shows the depth of the problem.
FYI, Eskimos and Aborigines aren't cultures, they're races. Playacting a race you know nothing about is almost certain to be a farce and a mockery. That's why we've invented pejorative terms--blackface, yellowface, and redface--to describe the practice.
Bakers, hunters, and spies are occupations, not cultures or races. As an example, an "Eskimo" can be anything from a baker to a hunter to a spy also. The fact that you've assigned these occupations to other cultures but assumed an "Eskimo" is self-explanatory is exactly the problem. To you, an Eskimo is a parka-wearing, igloo-building, harpoon-throwing savage--not a doctor or lawyer or any kind of modern person.
You continue, "Shouldn't we be encouraging children to learn and explore other cultural experiences through play?" Perhaps, if they're exploring how today's Native people can be poets or brain surgeons or rocket scientists. But that's not what you have in mind, is it? You're talking about reinforcing racist stereotypes from a couple of centuries ago. There's no "culture" today where Natives dress up like half-naked savages.
And there's no value in pretending to belong to the tiny subset of Natives who dressed like this centuries ago. This is a fantasy of another culture, not an actual culture. You're perpetuating a lie by letting kids act as if this is a true representation of the myriads of Native cultures that once lived across the continent.
The only part you got right is this one: "I'm really struggling with the idea that we're now accusing children of being culturally appropriative fashionista hipsters." "Hipster" isn't the right word for children who innocently ape the adults who stereotype Natives. Adults let them dress this way and surely didn't educate them about why it's problematical. The kids' actions are wrong but it's their parents and teachers who are to blame for it.
Helpful hints for would-be anti-racist, Indigenous Solidarity activists, by Josdadalv
helps make the point visually. These kids are as close to *a* Native culture--remember, there are thousands of these cultures--as this cat is to a deer. Even if the chose the best deer costume available and sincerely believes it represents a deer, it doesn't. It's a joke and an insult to anyone who knows real deer.
For more on the subject, see SF Giants to Ban Headdresses? and Why Pharrell's Headdress Was Wrong.