April 27, 2010

Why hipster headdresses aren't okay

Adrienne Keene of the Native Appropriations blog explains what's wrong with all the people wearing Indian headdresses:

But Why Can't I Wear a Hipster Headdress?So why can't I wear it?

  • Headdresses promote stereotyping of Native cultures.

    The image of a warbonnet and warpaint wearing Indian is one that has been created perpetuated by Hollywood and only bears minimal resemblance to traditional regalia of Plains tribes. It furthers the stereotype that Native peoples are one monolithic culture, when in fact there are 500+ distinct tribes with their own cultures.

  • Headdresses, feathers, and warbonnets have deep spiritual significance.

    The wearing of feathers and warbonnets in Native communities is not a fashion choice. Eagle feathers are presented as symbols of honor and respect and have to be earned. Some communities give them to children when they become adults through special ceremonies, others present the feathers as a way of commemorating an act or event of deep significance.

  • It's just like wearing blackface.

    "Playing Indian" has a long history in the United States, all the way back to those original tea partiers in Boston, and in no way is it better than minstrel shows or dressing up in blackface. Like my first point said, you're stereotyping and collapsing distinct cultures, and in doing so, you're asserting your power over them.
  • Adrienne also addresses some common counterarguments, such as: "It's just for fun," "I'm honoring Natives," and "it's intended to be ironic." I especially like her answer on the "Don't you have anything better to do?" argument:What about the bigger issues in Indian Country? Poverty, suicide rates, lack of resources, disease, etc? Aren't those more important that hipster headdresses?

    Yes, absolutely. But, I'll paraphrase Jess Yee in this post, and say these are very real issues and challenges in our communities, but when the only images of Natives that Americans see are incorrect, and place Natives in the historic past, it erases our current presence, and makes it impossible for the current issues to exist in the collective American consciousness. Our cultures and lives are something that only exist in movies or in the past, not today. So it's a cycle, and in order to break that cycle, we need to question and interrogate the stereotypes and images that erase our current presence--while we simultaneously tackle the pressing issues in Indian Country. They're closely linked, and at least this is a place to start.
    Comment:  Stereotypes make it impossible "for the current issues to exist in the collective American consciousness." Bingo!

    As I've said many times, all these things are linked in the minds of many Americans. They oppose tribal sovereignty, think Indians get too many handouts, don't want to hear about America's genocidal history, and love their mascots and headdresses. If you dismiss Indians as figments of the imagination, you don't have to think about climate change, budget cuts, or artifact theft and how these things affect real people.

    For more on wannabes wearing headdresses, see

    Indian headdresses at Coachella
    Swedish "chief" dances with tomahawk
    Coyote headdress and other tribal fashions
    Exploitation upsets Mardi Gras exploiters
    Kesha in headdress and warpaint

    For more on what's wrong with this, see What's So Wrong About Kesha? and The Harm of Native Stereotyping:  Facts and Evidence.

    1 comment:

    m. said...

    'If you dismiss Indians as figments of the imagination, you don't have to think about climate change, budget cuts, or artifact theft and how these things affect real people.'

    Yup. Figments of their imagination, or just of the past. I live in the Bay Area of California. Hipsters (all white and Asian, some black) abound and they are literally *drowning* in their own privilege. It's disgusting. Sometimes it's funny to call them out by making a lighthearted but cutting remark if you get caught in a herd of headdresses/moccasins/jewelry and watch as they become increasingly uncomfortable when they find out there ARE, in fact, Indians that live in cities (or that still exist, I guess), but there's been times I've heard or witnessed them pulling the old "I'm part Native American" song-and-dance routine...IN FRONT of Indians. (It's like a knee-jerk response for racist nons, I've noticed.) In their minds the general idea is this: "We can get away with this, it's not like getting caught in a black neighborhood with our faces painted. And that group of people walking by mad dogging us while we're having a time in our tribal attire are just a bunch of jealous Mexicans!" I wish we had the same 'power' over them that other folks of color have: these people would feel like idiots (or at least, really uncomfortable) if they walked by a Chinese person while dressed in a way that imitates or mocks Chinese people. If an urban Indian is present, they remain comfortable in their outfits/with their actions because it's assumed the person is East Asian, Hispanic...anything but Native.