June 06, 2013

Anthropology students dressed as "Indians"

Joely Proudfit, who happens to be a Native colleague of mine, apparently saw this image on someone's Facebook page. Apparently it was from a party of anthropology students at Cal State University San Marcos, where she works. She reposted it on a public page with an accompanying message and the fireworks began.

As the Director of Native Studies and American Indian Academic Strategic Planning at CSUSM struggling to grow a culturally sensitive and relevant native studies program and curriculum I am disappointed that students from this campus would deem this appropriate.

The fact that anyone would think it is ok to appropriate, stereotype and fetishize American Indian culture is disturbing particularly in light of the efforts American Indians have made at CSUSM.

Vine Deloria, Jr. was a critic of the field of anthropology and provided much evidence to support his criticism. This is why he valued American Indians gearing up for battle in the intellectual arena.

“The problems of Indians have always been ideological rather than social, political or economic ... [I]t is vitally important that the Indian people pick the intellectual arena as the one in which to wage war." --Vine Deloria, Jr.

The actions of these CSUSM graduates sets back the progress this field has made.

His words have never been more significant.

I would encourage these students to return to the CSUSM campus and take a Native Studies course, engage with our American Indian Student Alliance, visit the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center and dialogue with our Office of Tribal Liaison. Perhaps now the powers that be will understand that a Major in Native Studies is required and courses in American Indian studies should be required by all of our students to graduate.

I hope that the entire CSUSM community understands how truly offensive and inexcusable this party was especially in light of recent racist antics by others on campus against the Latino community.

Joely Proudfit, Ph.D.
Director, California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center
Director of Native American Academic Strategic Planning
Director of Native Studies & Associate Professor of Sociology and Native Studies
The basic debate

The commenters on this posting argued various points in depth:Racism will never go away because accusations like this. I am absolutely appalled that a professor would post and make comments about this, as a public figure for such a great organization you should focus on the positive aspects of OUR culture and not point fingers for something as ridiculous as this, and yes i say our culture as more that 50% of the guests here were native american. Stop trying to boost how many "likes" you have with back asswards accusations and maybe well forgive the slander and defamation you posted of YOUR students!

You all need to grow up and think outside of your liberal tree hugging box! It was a celebration, not a holocaust. ARE ANY OF YOU PEOPLE BLEEDING? did we make any remarks or do anything to offend the indian society? NO! Im sure you all have dressed up for halloween. soooo before you go and get all judgmental, maybe you should take a deep breath and really focus on other things you can do with your time!!! use that "ANTH GRAD DEGREE" you worked so hard to get and help out on a reservation or maybe go volunteer at a homeless shelter. GET OFF YOUR HIGH HORSE.

Maybe you guys should spend less time looking up people's facebooks and instagrams and use your time and energy to do something USEFUL towards your program! Such a waste of people's tax dollars to have professors sit on Facebook and bash someone's pictures do what your paid for and grade some papers or donate your extra time to your organization and GROW UP!
Versus:A professor's job is to educate, and clearly many commenters and the idiots in this picture need educating. When you objectify a race of people whether it's through blackface, redface, or any other mockery of identity, you are implicitly participating in their dehumanization and ultimately the oppression of that group of people. What's better--the Golden Rule, or fighting for your right to idiotically objectify a group of people who have endured enough?

I will use Jessica Borders' comment in my FB as an example of how my students should NOT think. Thank you for your limited knowledge not only about history but also about current issues that, certainly, you are reproducing in this forum.

This professor absolutely did the right thing by exposing this cancer. I could a write a book in response to the absolutely ignorant comments by the insensitive commenters on this post, in their feeble attempts to justify cultural appropriation, & in doing so, perpetuate the oppression of Native peoples. These mindsets are a poison in the greater society & contribute to the continued subjugation of Indian Country, as well as the sexual assault of Native women. Guess what, we will NEVER get over it. Continue to fuel our fire until this inferno erupts in your face. We will be idle no more. The difference between you ignorant, insensitive individuals & us is that we have the deepest stake in confronting these oppressive & racist views. Have some respect for the original peoples of the land you walk on.
The legal questionWhether you find the themes of the party offensive or not, you are entitled to your opinion, but I would hope that you have legal representation gearing up to wage war on your account Ms. Proudfit, because those photos are the intellectual property of those who posted them, not public domain.

By not removing these photos you are putting your job, and Cal State San Marcos at risk of a lawsuit for violating the rights of those you are slandering in a public forum.
Versus:Sorry ladies, it's not slander unless its a lie. So what exactly did the professor lie about that you are going to sue her for slander? Good luck on that case. Also, when you post something on a social media account, you really shouldn't be surprised when people see it, comment on it, or share it. If you were that concerned about it, maybe you shouldn't have posted on it. Finally, just because there were so called "Native Americans" were there, doesn't make it okay. That's like me having a Retard party, and inviting my Autistic cousin and then saying "we'll it's okay cuz he's autistic." Really? That's you're logic?The issue's importance

Some back and forth on whether this is worth protesting:"What would it take for people to just listen to what many Native Americans are saying about images such as this?" Hmm...perhaps calm discourse and private instruction rather than threats, intimidation and public ridicule?

How much 'calm discourse' would you be having, Jack, if the same group of people who'd just burned down your house then had a "homeless housefire survivors"-themed party? You throw the "*we* didn't do it" excuse around like you aren't doing it RIGHT NOW. Telling native americans they shouldn't be upset that the people occupying their country thinks it's LOLarious to dress up like stereotypes of them. Public ridicule is exactly what should happen to people who act like asses.

Got hyperbole? Just a guess, your car is covered in bumper-stickers? If you're so fired up about "your cause", why aren't you going after your "real" enemies rather than a bunch of young girls who meant no harm? I'm assuming you've protested in front of the costume store, yes? Sad, mean, and ridiculous.

Jack, if this bores you so much, why are you even here? Considering how head-up you are about the "threats" against these girls and their OH SO TERRIBLE "public shaming" I'm not sure where you think your hyperbole begins and ends? And finally, you know, the rampant genocide, cultural bleaching and subsequent shaming and appropriation of native americans has *actually happened*, is still happening, and you're helping perpetuate it. So that sounds "real" enough to me.
The anthropology connectionLets not forget that the party attendees, who originally posted these pictures to begin with on social media websites, were posting material that was insensitive and disrespectful to the employees and students of CSUSM who are Native American, current and past CSUSM Anthropology students who would not want to be associated with behavior like this that could threaten the validity of their Anthropology degree, and the Native Communities of San Diego County who offer their expertise and services to CSUSM students. If the pictures were removed these issues would still be valid and relevant, and obviously there were potentially some mistakes made by many people who decided to post or repost images to social media sites, so maybe try and move past that and focus on the point of this problem. There is obviously a gross lack of understanding of why this party was wrong and I think previous commenters and the original letter have effectively provided points to explain that.

When you are working in the field of anthropology, pursuing a graduate degree in anthropology, have to list your bachelors degree on applications, and are assessed based on the quality of the program where you obtained your degree, and have dedicated yourself to the discipline this does matter. Specifically it affects the credibility of current and past students at CSUSM when it becomes a public issue. In addition when you are working in the field as an anthropologist and people have negative and misrepresented perspectives of anthropologists because of people doing things like this it matters. These are minor issues compared to how this affects the Native Community though, but maybe people should realize their actions have real consequences on personal, cultural, political, and professional levels. Speaking out on issues in a public forum is important as well because personally I dont feel people that act in this way should represent anthropology because this is everything anthropology isnt. Lets also remember the party attendees labeled the photos in connection with CSUSM and the Anthropology program so once the images were circulated we became associated with the issue.
My take

I responded to some of these issues and others as follows:

Are you serious with the legal threats, people? Reposting and commenting on "private" photos is absolutely covered under the fair-use exception to the Copyright Act. End of story.

"Did we make any remarks or do anything to offend the indian society?" Yes, you stereotyped Indians as primitive people of the past. You did it with the costume itself. No remarks are necessary; the costume itself is objectionable.

Your references to the Indian culture or society only prove the point. You apparently think all Indians are the same. So your comments here reinforce the costume's implicit message. Namely, that Indians are nothing but feather-wearing savages.

You sent this message to party attendees, and anyone who viewed your "private" photo, whether you realized it or not. And you're still sending this message by defending and excusing the photo. The message is that it's okay to stereotype Indians.

To the know-nothings who wondered if Natives are protesting every Halloween costume: No, because there are millions of these costumes. But I've seen activists protest hundreds of similar examples of stereotyping. What does that tell you?

You weren't aware of this long history of protest? Despite being or associating with anthropology students who should know better? Whose fault is that? Stop braying like asses and educate yourself on the subject.

With all the ducking and dodging, I don't think any defender of this photo has addressed the core issues. 1) Is this costume a racial stereotype? 2) Is it okay to stereotype a racial group? Answer yes or no to these questions and then we'll discuss your position.

To the idiots who used the "two wrongs make a right" argument: Seriously? Stereotyping all Italians as gangsters, all Irishmen as drunks, and all Jews as money-grubbers pretty much ended in the 1960s and '70s. A few exceptions don't disprove the rule.

Yet Indians face the same level of racist stereotyping constantly--almost unabated since the Civil Rights era. And you're defending such modern-day minstrel shows.

Is there any way we think "bullying and threatening" (i.e., criticizing) these girls will help our cause? I dunno...is there any way these girls would rethink their offensive behavior without criticism? If so, tell us the way. Tell us how to end stereotypical if not racist "cowboys and Indians" parties permanently and we'll do it.

"Perhaps calm discourse and private instruction rather than threats, intimidation and public ridicule?" Which parts of Joely Proudfit's initial message weren't calm? About the strongest thing she said was that she's disappointed and disturbed. She intentionally held her tongue to reason with you and you reacted like idiots anyway.

If those mild words bother you, you're not open to calm discourse. You're trying to halt the criticism rather than engage with it. Nice try, but no sale.

Sorry, Jack, but censorship never solved anything. If you don't like the criticism, tell the grad students to stop the behavior causing the criticism. In other words, stop blaming the messenger and act on the message.


Summing it up:

1) People can behave like racists without "intending" to cause harm. As always, racism is about the outcome, not the intent.

2) White people don't like to be criticized for acting on their white privilege. When confronted with their bad behavior, they'll excuse, defend, or deny it.

3) Even well-educated anthropology students, who should be the least likely people to exhibit this behavior, can make fools of themselves. That demonstrates how far we have to go, unfortunately.

4) Since I didn't mention the young women's names, and don't know their names for sure, this is not about shaming individuals. It's about educating the masses--everyone who reads this.

5) Perhaps nothing will get stereotype-minded people to change their attitudes. But you can bet they'll think twice before dressing up as Indians again. That alone is an accomplishment.

For more on the subject, see Debauched "Indians" on Caesarian Sunday and Racist "Make Me Indian" App.


Anonymous said...

The big problem with Deloria is that he went head-on into Velikovsky, a practice I now call "brinking". (That is, to associate a fringe theory with anticolonialism, named for Anthony Brink.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for circulating this because all of the posts/images from Facebook have been removed which is a shame because burying the issue does nothing to address it

dmarks said...

Velikovsky??? That is like saying that someone believes the Earth is still flat. I had no idea that the Vine was bearing some truly nutty fruit.

Unknown said...

I belive that the pilgrims are THE FRIST illegal immigrants here!

Anonymous said...

To the person who asked if anyone was bleeding or I anyone was offended-Obviously, people were offended! And, may I add, people can and do bleed on the inside. It's called bullying, by the way. What if someone had a party and everyone was in black-face kind of costumes? Personally, I'm offended! You have set back the progress of those of us that are trying to repair the damage and atone for it. May I ask, Is your head up your rear? Think next time you try to throw a themed party!

Anonymous said...

I know it's a hotbed of debate but just let me say that from a purely male frame of reference: "Shorty's be lookin FINE! Sorry but better this than whatever Lady Gaga's wearing right now.

Anonymous said...

I am glad we have to take Political Science in college. Critical thinking classes, period. As an Anthro major, I get a chance to put it to use from a cultural perspective. From colonization on, Native Americans have been objectified, invalidated, eradicated, lied to, cheated, and basically treated like shit. Such rich mythology and beliefs - and knowledge of the land!! The sooner we stop being ethnocentric and realize that EVERYONE and EVERY CULTURE bring a unique spice to the gumbo, the better. These girls weren't the only ones dressed up at that party. The rebutting gentleman was right on it by addressing the issue, not the girls.

JHinton said...

Excuse me if i'm an uneducated jerk, but how is this post offensive? If a Native-American or aboriginal put on a hockey sweater and took a picture of themselves with poutine and posted this of facebook saying "ololol look I'm Canadian" I wouldn't be remotely offended, or even care. I just don't understand why this is a big deal.

Anonymous said...

Just because you wouldn't be offended doesn't mean that others wouldn't be offended. Not everyone is or feels the same way.
I think it's very hard for some white people to understand how deep racism is ingrained in society and how deeply it hurts those who are and have been subject of it for hundreds of years.

Cristina said...

Think of how the cowboys feel.

Anonymous said...

let me say from a purely male frame of reference: you're an ignorant pig and nobody here cares what gives you a boner.

Anonymous said...

There's another problem, that would have made this situation worse if the girls had thought in this manner. Many people dress up in a "costume" in order to resemble or display some form of a Native trait. But too many people think that these "costumes" are the same thing as historically and spiritually accurate traditional regalia. That is what I truly find absurd.

Anonymous said...

White Canadians have never been oppressed by American Indians. A deep history of oppression and dominance had much to do with what's offensive. This understanding is at the core modern anthropology. Lay people may not understand this concept, but that these students didn't understand this upon obtaining an anthropology degree speaks volumes about that department and is reminiscent of what anthropology hasn't been for over 150 years.

Anonymous said...

Out of context , over the top reactions, political correctness gone crazing . a simple party photo , is used to inflame a debate , that should never had started .

JHinton said...

I'm sorry I'm having trouble understanding you... what exactly would I find offensive about this if I was an Indian American?

Anonymous said...

I care.

Anonymous said...

Seriously? This is offensive? Talk about being overly sensitive. There is literally nothing offensive about what was posted. In no way were natives or native culture being ridiculed. These girls were just dressing up in traditional native garb, because they were at an anthropology party, where probably lots of people were dressed in various ways. Is it offensive to dress as a Roman with a toga? Is it offensive to dress as a knight during medieval times? No. So why is it offensive to dress in traditional North American native style?

It would be discriminatory to dress in ways which would highlight any negative stereotypes about natives. But this particular dress does not highlight any negative stereotypes; rather, it is more of a celebration of native culture, if anything. Yet by suggesting that dressing in such a way is offensive, you are essentially suggesting that there is nothing positive about native culture. The very act of being offended by this is discriminatory in itself. People need to grow up and stop treating natives like oversensitive children, but rather like the human beings they are.

Anonymous said...

I would not recommend any of you who are offended go to a music festival like "Coachella," because there are people wearing head dresses and Native American garb. I am surprised they even use the term "Indian." Because that in itself is racist.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Being an anthropology graduate I am ashamed by this behavior. Seriously? This is the stuff anthropologists try to prevent.

Anonymous said...

JHinton said...
"Excuse me if i'm an uneducated jerk, but how is this post offensive? If a Native-American or aboriginal put on a hockey sweater and took a picture of themselves with poutine and posted this of facebook saying "ololol look I'm Canadian" I wouldn't be remotely offended, or even care. I just don't understand why this is a big deal."

You're joking, right?
The reason it is offensive is because Native Americans were FORCED to dress like white people. Their cultural heritage was violently taken away from them, it's not about them dressing up in a Canadian jersey for Halloween, it's about choice. They never had a choice. You, however have a choice to *not* put on a ridiculous "native" costume and let what remains of their dying culture be conserved in its sacred state. It is called cultural genocide and the fact that you don't think it's offensive tells me you're a privileged white boy who's never encountered racism in his life.
Take your entitlement elsewhere, because yes, you *are* an uneducated jerk.

Rob said...

I think Deloria believed that Native Americans originated here rather than migrating from elsewhere. It was a scientific claim, not a religious one.

Rob said...

The costumes are stereotypical, JHinton. They define Natives as primitive people of the past. And since they're particular to one race, they're racist as well.

Your Canadian example is also stereotypical. But Canadians are a nation, not a race. And Canadians as hockey players is a neutral rather than negative characterization.

More important, Canadians aren't a historically oppressed people. Society isn't using the stereotype to keep them in their place. So your analogy fails for several reasons.

Rob said...

FYI, activists like me have criticized hipsters in headdresses at Coachella and hundreds of other places. If you think this posting is exceptional or even unusual, you're sadly mistaken. Read my near-constant trashing of Native stereotypes to see how often these problems occur.

The issue isn't our feelings: whether we're offended or not. Nor is it the girls' feelings: whether they thought they were hurting anyone or not. The issue is whether the costumes are stereotypical...period. If you can answer that question with a simple yes or no, you'll have it in a nutshell.

Anonymous said...

There's absolutely nothing racist about this. I find your accusations unwarranted and distasteful, and that automatically discredits you.

Rob said...

Because you don't like my arguments, that discredits me? Even though you can't offer a shred of a counterargument? Wow.

Who the hell cares how you feel about this? We've stated why this stunt was wrong. Either address our arguments or admit you can't.