December 05, 2011

Duke's "Pilgrims and Indians" party

Pi Kapp party fuels anger

By Nicole DanielsOn Nov. 19, I was looking forward to attending a party that Pi Kappa Phi was hosting that night on Central Campus. That is, until my friend nonchalantly texted me that the event’s theme was “Pilgrims and Indians.”

The following is an excerpt from the fraternity’s email invitation: “In 1621 some crazy pilgrims had a pretty brutal harvest. Word on the street was they didn’t have enough food for half the bros in Plymouth. Then some hot natives came along with some extra food. … On Saturday, the brothers of Pi Kappa Phi will be honoring that party spirit. There will be a cornucopia of treats in our modern-day teepee. Tap into your inner pocahotness, wear a few feathers and party like you don’t care if you survive the winter.”

At first, I refused to attend an event that sounded so derogatory toward Native Americans. The fraternity took on a terrible history of colonialism and genocide and turned it into a sexy party theme. The language in their invitation (“hot natives” and “pocahotness”) sexualizes the Native American race. Having learned the theme just hours before the party, it was too late for me to try and stop it. I ultimately decided that if I was going to criticize this party, I had to see it for myself.

It was very disheartening to find my own friends there, dressed in outfits that epitomized an insensitive caricature of Native Americans. Hordes of my peers had faces covered in “war paint” and wore rainbow-colored feathers on their heads. The makeup and costumes I saw were both completely inaccurate and disrespectful. Headdresses and feathers have profound spiritual significance to Native Americans, and mimicking them is extremely offensive. A massive teepee stood outside the party, serving as a photo op for the obnoxiously dressed guests to pose with. Notably, teepees are specific to tribes in the Great Plains and never even existed in Plymouth, Mass. This incorrect and stereotypical dwelling endorsed the misconception that Native Americans have a monolithic culture. It undermined the reality that there are many tribes with diverse and intricate ways of life. If students want to celebrate “giving thanks” and unity, they should not mock and belittle an important part of our community.

This party was bigoted and racist, and such an event would never be tolerated if other races were involved.
The Jezebel blog added some snarky comments:

Duke Brodudes Invite ‘Pochahotness’ to Attend Pilgrims and Indians Themed PartyFor some, college learning comes in the form of classroom work, book reading, and late nights at the library. For others, it comes in the form of four years of public stupidity followed by confusion as to why people think you're acting like a dickbag. The Duke University fraternity behind a recent Pilgrims and Indians themed party seems to fall into the latter category.And:In spite of her hesitation regarding the party's theme, [Daniels] attended anyway, and felt even more grossed out when she saw the costumes her fellow students were wearing. Based on her description, they sound like something from the cover of an indie rock album— white kids in feather headdresses, war paint, and faux buckskin, drinking firewater. Except they were smiling and taking shots rather than staring off into a big glowing triangle on the horizon.Comment:  Are these "Poca-lame-ass" parties happening more often? Or are they just getting reported more often? The latter, I hope.

We've heard all the weak-to-nonexistent arguments for and the inevitable rebuttals against this kind of party. So there's no need to restate the obvious: that dressing up as faux Indians is stereotypical if not racist.

For more on the subject, see:

PEACE PARTY political cartoon:  costumes
"Pilgrims & Indians Theme Party" canceled
Russell Brand as an "Indian savage"
"PocaHotAss" party canceled
"Trail of Tears" Halloween costume
Racist costumes = white privilege
"We're a Culture, Not a Costume"

Below:  College-aged idiots having fun pretending to be savage Indians.

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