By Benjamin Sutton
“Disrespectful,” wrote Theo Van Nest alongside a link to the Scumbags & Superstars page in the “Native American and American Indian Issues” Facebook group. “These people won’t respond to my emails. They delete my comments.”
Though comments criticizing the disrespectful use of Native American iconography have indeed been deleted from the Scumbags & Superstars Facebook page, its administrator—the store’s founder and co-owner, George Rosa—posted a rambling and often contradictory statement in an attempt to justify the design.
“I wanted something very easily recognizable and very ‘American’,” Rosa wrote. “I have strong views about American politics and wanted something that was militant and defiant. I added the headdress to the skull to symbolize death and tyranny. And I chose a German WWII skull. I think the juxtaposition of the two is very powerful.”
Though most responses to the explanation on the Scumbags & Superstars Facebook page express support for the store, one, by Chris Cobb, takes issue. “That is the dumbest explanation I ever [sic] heard,” he wrote. “Just because you have some sort of hipster mash-up explanation does not mean you have the right to perpetuate racist images.”
Second, no one will recognize the skull as a German one. To most people, it'll look like a dead Indian.
Third and most important, the headdress "symbolizes death and tyranny"? And the skull with the headdress is "militant and defiant"? These claims are vague to the point of meaninglessness.
If Rosa could define his terms precisely, he'd still be wrong. A headdress doesn't symbolize anything except a tribe's reverence for its leader. Rosa doesn't get to make up meanings for the images he's appropriated.
And whatever meaning he invents, the headdress is still stereotypical. It still perpetuates a one-dimensional view of Indians as primitive people of the past. It's wrong for that reason.
For more on the subject, see "Dreamcatcher and Skull" Clothing Line and Kanye's T-Shirts Feature Indian Skulls.