April 22, 2015

Biloxi headdresses are "dignified and proper"?

School mascots: What’s in a name?

By Therese ApelIndian Country Today Media Network published an angry column in which Deloria Many Grey Horses thanks the school for bringing awareness to the objectification of Native Americans in today’s world.

“Dehumanizing of Native Americans is not acceptable,” she said, berating the school for not only the mascot but the fact that the band members wore American Indian headdresses in the parade.

“My struggles in life motivated me to stand up to Biloxi High School. I reposted the article, and a community leader whom I greatly respect encouraged me to call the school to make a complaint,” Many Grey Horses wrote.

Biloxi School District Superintendent Arthur McMillan did not have much to say on the subject.

“Our band represents Biloxi—and not only Biloxi but the Coast and the state—in a very dignified and proper manner. And we’re very proud of them,” he said.
Yes, many many people think Plains headdresses are "dignified and proper." That's why they steal appropriate and wear these headdresses--to look like something they're not. To pretend to be dignified and proper people of another race.

It's called blackface when white people dress up as African Americans. It's called redface when they dress up as Native Americans. Same problem, same offense.

This practice stereotypes all Indians as headdress-wearing savages from the 19th century. It causes racism and ignorance toward today's Indians to flourish. And that causes proven psychological harm.

These Biloxi "Indians" are living proof of this ignorance. They don't know jack about the people they're supposedly honoring.

Even a Biloxi defender sort of gets it:

Biloxi "Indians" mascot offensive? Some Native Americans shout 'Yes!'

By Joe RogersPerhaps the most egregious offense Biloxi stands accused of is historical inaccuracy: The protesters note that headdresses were worn by Plains Indians, not the Biloxi variety.

"So I would suggest to the Biloxi Alumni that if you're talking about honoring or respecting the Biloxi Tribe, please show respect to the actual traditions of the Biloxi Tribe," Ms. Violich/Many Grey Horses exhorts in an article under her byline in the Indian Country publication under the heading, "I Am Not Your Mascot, Biloxi!"

If I were a Biloxi "Indian," that criticism would sting a bit. And I don't know how long the headdresses have been part of the uniform; pictures I've seen from the 1970s show band students in simple headbands, with a few features protruding from the rear.

Perhaps a return to that would appease the protesters. But I doubt it.
Comment:  For more on Biloxi High School, see Indians Protest Biloxi "Indians" and Biloxi Indians Learn They're Offensive.

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