May 02, 2014

Fallin defends headdress, "sheep" shawl

In a rare occurrence, someone accused of racism and stereotyping against Natives answered questions from a Native journalist. In this case, it was Christina Fallin, the governor's daughter in a headdress. I've highlighted a key exchange below:

Christina Fallin, in Her Own Words: 'I'm Tired of the Misinformation'

By Wilhelm MurgIn retrospect, you have any regrets about that photo with the headdress? And are you worried about this controversy derailing the career of your band? It has certainly been a distraction from your music.

If I had known it would incite hate and division, I would have avoided posting it, but I was and still am genuine about my appreciation of Native American culture and I was in no way meaning to disrespect it or offend people. Our band is something we do for fun and as a creative release. We do not sell our music. Music is a fun hobby.

What do you think about all of this now that you have my side of the story?

I understand what you are saying, and the debate over cultural appropriation is many shades of gray rather than simply black and white, but I don't know that you've said anything that will change the minds of our readers. I understand that you are unapologetic because you feel you have done nothing wrong, but there are a lot of people out there who will still feel hurt. I "get" that you were in a photo shoot, you put something on, and had your picture taken, and that started spiraling out of control, but you come across as not caring that people "chose" to be offended by it--and I don't know that being offended is always a choice.

You don't think they'll care that I didn't do a war dance nor wear a Native American styled shawl? Because that's the issue that brought us together here today. I never want to hurt anyone’s feelings intentionally and I was not trying to hurt people’s feelings intentionally by posting a picture with the headdress; that's my point. I am very genuine about the connection I feel to Oklahoma and Native American culture. For the people who were genuinely hurt, I am sorry because that was never my intention. I also wasn't in a photo shoot--that was someone else's photo shoot that I was present at.

Thanks for clearing up the bit about the photo shoot. I don't know if you've said you were sorry before, but if you did, it never seemed to get in the articles.

Well I don't typically talk to anyone--typically it's best to remain less detailed and let it ride out, but I'm tired of all of the misinformation. No one takes the time like you did today to genuinely retrieve information.
Comment:  Murg did a good job, especially if he didn't have time to prepare and went in cold. But still, he didn't get Fallin to answer a few key questions. Here's what I might've asked:

  • You keep talking about "offense," but to many people, this a matter of right and wrong. As with wearing a soldier's medals, running a stop sign, or hitting a dog, you don't wear a Plains headdress...period. Not if you're non-Native, and especially not if you're a non-Native woman.

    Do you understand that Natives consider this a violation of their culture? That they consider it a crime akin to theft, not merely an "offense" that hurt someone's feelings?

  • First you said that "people who are looking to be offended will always be offended." Eventually you said that "for the people who were genuinely hurt, I am sorry." These are somewhat contradictory statements, so which is it? Do you think people were genuinely hurt, or were they "choosing" to be offended for some reason other than anguish?

    In other words, were their feelings real or not, in your opinion?

  • If you're admitting some people were genuinely hurt, what took you so long to acknowledge their feelings? You spent the first day of the controversy ignoring their feelings and defending yourself on Facebook. You spent another couple of weeks not acknowledging their feelings and not saying you were sorry. Do you understand why many people think you're not sincere, that you don't really care? Because your actions were exactly like those of someone who isn't at all sorry for doing something wrong.

  • You keep saying how you love and respect "Native culture." What examples can you give of your alleged admiration? Have you visited tribes, read books and articles about them, or what?

    Are you aware that there are many Native cultures, not just one? That most of them don't wear headdresses? That a Plains headdress doesn't represent Oklahoma's tribes? That the headdress is an extremely common stereotype with literally millions of examples?

    By your own admission, you've never heard of "cultural appropriation" or "regalia"--two common concepts among Natives. What exactly do you know about Natives, if anything? What's the difference between you and every ignorant American who thinks "Native culture" is a teepee and a headdress?

  • Your "regalia" comment is especially telling. Natives told you wearing regalia was wrong when they first saw the photo. Did you look up the word then? No.

    Given that fact, how can you possibly argue that you care about Natives or their culture(s)? You didn't learn the simple concept of regalia or listen to them when they explained it. Instead, you told them off, thumbed your nose at them. You asserted that your wishes trumped their concerns. Do you understand how that came across as the epitome of white privilege and arrogance?

  • Who's the sheep?

  • You say you wore the "sheep" shawl to send a message about "yellow journalism"? Did you expect journalists who weren't at the concert to somehow get the message? How, exactly?

    Who are some of these yellow journalists and what facts did they get wrong? From what you've said in this interview, most of the criticism you've received was apt. Give us some examples of mistakes made by journalists covering this story.

    I trust you're not referring to a trivial detail like someone giving you the headdress vs. your choosing it on your own. Because that's irrelevant. The issue is how you didn't listen when Natives asked you to take down the photo. If you had done that immediately, the controversy would've gone away then.

  • You were waving your "sheep" shawl in the face of Native protesters at the concert--but we're supposed to believe you weren't sending them a message? You called someone "sheep" and your critics were directly in front of you...but you thought they'd understand you were criticizing someone else? How did you expect them to reach that counterintuitive conclusion?

    At the very least, you were insensitive to the protesters' feelings, right? Because people who see a message waved at them rightly assume it's for them. Do you at least admit they made an obvious and understandable connection that you were too self-absorbed and clueless to get?

  • Do you still have nothing to say about your friend Wayne Coyne taunting the protesters in your audience? Posting a photo of a dog in a headdress? Firing his drummer for criticizing you?

    You say you care about Native feelings. Whether you're responsible for Coyne's actions or not, tell us how you feel about them. Was he right or wrong to mock Natives in person and on Instagram?

    If you're not willing to criticize him, why shouldn't Natives assume that you support him? Again, the issue is how much you care about Natives. If you care at all, you'll stand up for them and denounce Coyne's actions.

  • Fallin blind to privilege

    A commenter on this posting sums up the problems with Fallin's responses pretty well:There is the thought that people should judge slowly...but it's hard for marginalized minority groups to do that because we've endured plenty of insensitivity, insults and racist comments, knowingly or unknowingly offensive statements. It's good to see what Ms. Fallin's viewpoint is because she exposes herself as young and certainly uninformed for a person of her age...." As it was a beautiful picture, it rapidly got a lot of 'likes,' but it also got a lot of #culturalappropriation tags--I didn't even know what that meant and had to look it up. I don't live my life worrying about things like cultural appropriation--that's why I didn't know," she says...and that's the problem with white or majority privilege. it's great that she doesn't have to be accountable for her lack of clear communication, but if you're on the other side, it's not so great to endure ignorance or offensiveness, whether it was unknowingly or least she states that she is sorry for those who were offended rather than the politician's apology of "if anyone was offended." The other problem here is that she is an artist, and art is also about communication...she was not communicating clearly what her intentions were. You can't hide behind the artistic ideals and obfuscate issues under the guise of art. Assuming that she really meant no ill will, then she has some major blindspots in not seeing the optics of what her actions were and how that would be received by those who took offense.About the only point I'll concede to Fallin is that she did receive more protests than the equally offensive Cher. I'm not sure why.

    I posted some items about Cher in my blog and on Facebook and Twitter. As far as I'm concerned, all wrongdoers in this area are equally wrong. But most people ignored my postings.

    I can only surmise the different response is due to Fallin's youth, her claim of respecting Natives, and her obvious lack of remorse. Cher's been doing this for 40 years and the setting is a concert where showmanship is prized. People may think she's too old and set in her ways to change.

    The Village People and Ted Nugent also have misused headdresses and also have received less criticism than Fallin. My response is that Cher and the others deserve more criticism, not that Fallin deserves less. Plenty of people in her position--Karlie Kloss, Gwen Stefani, Heidi Klum, et al.--have received similar criticism, and rightly so.

    So Fallin made one or two good points. Other than that, it's like Murg said. None of her arguments will change anyone's minds. That's because her arguments have huge holes, as noted above.

    For more on Christina Fallin, see Drummer Fired for Criticizing Fallin and Christina Fallin Calls Natives "Sheep."

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