October 27, 2011

Racist costumes = white privilege

Adrienne Keene writes to all the people "playing Indian" these days: the hipsters and pop stars in headdresses, the ignorant party-goers in Halloween costumes, et al.

Open Letter to the PocaHotties and Indian Warriors this HalloweenI just read the comments on this post at Bitch Magazine, a conversation replicated all over the internet when people of color are trying to make a plea to not dress up as racist characters on Halloween. I felt my chest tighten and tears well up in my eyes, because even with Kjerstin's well researched and well cited post, people like you are so caught up in their own privilege, they can't see how much this affects and hurts their classmates, neighbors and friends.

I already know how our conversation would go. I'll ask you to please not dress up as a bastardized version of my culture for Halloween, and you'll reply that it's "just for fun" and I should "get over it." You'll tell me that you "weren't doing it to be offensive" and that "everyone knows real Native Americans don't dress like this." You'll say that you have a "right" to dress up as "whatever you damn well please." You'll remind me about how you're "Irish" and the "Irish we're oppressed too." Or you'll say you're "German", and you "don't get offended by people in Lederhosen."

But you don't understand what it feels like to be me. I am a Native person. You are (most likely) a white person. You walk through life everyday never having the fear of someone mis-representing your people and your culture. You don't have to worry about the vast majority of your people living in poverty, struggling with alcoholism, domestic violence, hunger, and unemployment caused by 500+ years of colonialism and federal policies aimed at erasing your existence. You don't walk through life everyday feeling invisible, because the only images the public sees of you are fictionalized stereotypes that don't represent who you are at all. You don't know what it's like to care about something so deeply and know at your core that it's so wrong, and have others in positions of power dismiss you like you're some sort of over-sensitive freak.

You are in a position of power. You might not know it, but you are. Simply because of the color of your skin, you have been afforded opportunities and privilege, because our country was built on a foundation of white supremacy. That's probably a concept that's too much for you to handle right now, when all you wanted to do was dress up as a PocaHottie for Halloween, but it's true.

I am not in a position of power. Native people are not in positions of power. By dressing up as a fake Indian, you are asserting your power over us, and continuing to oppress us. That should worry you.

But don't tell me that you're oppressed too, or don't you dare come back and tell me your "great grandmother was a Cherokee Princess" and that somehow makes it ok. Do you live in a system that is actively taking your children away without just cause? Do you have to look at the TV on weekends and see sports teams with mascots named after racial slurs of your people? I doubt it.

Last night I sat with a group of Native undergraduates to discuss their thoughts and ideas about the costume issue, and hearing the comments they face on a daily basis broke my heart. They take the time each year to send out an email called "We are not a costume" to the undergraduate student body--an email that has become known as the "whiny newsletter" to their entitled classmates. They take the time to educate and put themselves out there, only to be shot down by those that refuse to think critically about their choices.Your choices are adversely affecting their college experiences, and that's hard for me to take without a fight.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Fake Indians in West Hollywood and We're a Culture, Not a Costume."


dmarks said...

I wonder if non-whites (Blacks, Hispanics, etc) are less likely to wear this ridiculous costumes, or not?

If it is all the same, then this one would be white, black, hispanic, etc privilege.

Anonymous said...

I am amused that this article appears at the top of the page, right next to an avatar of Rob dressed up in Mexican stereotypes.

Shadow Wolf said...

I'll be dressing up as Gen. George A. Custer for Halloween. Complete with white cowboy boots, fake yosmite sam mustache, white cowboy hat etc. Except one thing, the main gist is the blood dots on my white vest. Should anyone ask who I am--I simply say that I'm Gen. George A. Custer.

Anonymous said...

The guys look stupid. The girls look Rule 34-ish. I mean, maybe someone somewhere thinks it's sexy, but for the rest of us, it's just something to laugh at and enjoy the Schadenfreude of knowing we don't have that fetish.

dmarks: All I know is, Malcolm X said the house Negro is the one who wants to save Massa's house because he promised the house Negro a warm place if he puts out the fire.

What I mean is, just look at Ivan van Sertima. The fact that he has a racial theory about pre-Columbian America that isn't "whites at bottom, blacks at top" like we often see in Afrocentrism but rather "whites at top, Indians at bottom" which looks so familiar, shows that racism isn't as color-coded for your convenience as you might think.

Shadow Wolf: Are you including the giant phallus from the videogame? (With cactus needles in it, of course. Custer's Revenge is one of those things everyone's heard about but nobody plays. It's the "Agony in Pink" of videogames.)

dmarks said...

Anon: Malcolm X's statement was a racist statement about blacks. Not sure if you agreed with it or not.

Rob said...

I posted the picture of me dressed as a Mexican bandito intentionally, of course. It shows my folks weren't immune to stereotypical thoughts back in 1961 or 1962, when the photo was taken.