You can imagine my consternation when, upon arriving at a lovely cottage for the weekend, I was confronted by this:
Displayed with pride at the foot of the stairs. In the living room.
After pulling the metaphoric arrow out of my heart, I said to another guest, “I will be up in the night to give this abomination a decent burial off the north dock.”
She-who-will-remain-nameless, gave me an odd look. “Why? she said. “It’s cute.”
The world might be changing and rearranging, but judging from the reticence of the Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins, and the Atlanta Braves to change their names, Native appropriation is still alive and kicking. Celebrities sport headdresses and Sexy Indian girl is still considered a go-to Halloween costume among many young women. Most people don’t seem to know or care why these things are considered offensive by Native Americans.
The cottage owners were of a certain generation that would be shocked to hear they were racist. They’d be confounded to know I was appalled and saddened by their “folk art.” My guess is, they thought they were in some way honouring the “noble red man” that their settler colonial ancestors killed off to own the land their cottage stood upon. They would not have felt comfortable appropriating Jewish culture by putting a statue of a guy wearing a Yamaka standing with a Torah at the foot of their stairs, so why an “Indian” with crossed arms, sheathed knife, wolf tooth necklace, and buffalo skull at his feet? Why, in the age of political correctness, is it still acceptable to grandstand a “noble Indian” as folk art in one’s living room?
Because this goes beyond “political correctness,” as Barbara Munson points out over at over at Indians.org She writes: “A history of systematic genocide has decimated over 95% of the indigenous population of the Americas. Stereotypes, ignorance, silent inaction and even naive innocence damage and destroy individual lives and whole cultures. Racism kills.”
“You might say <dismissive phrase>, but these issues of representation matter. They matter because Indigenous peoples were slated for extinction with the arrival of colonists, and in order to obtain the land and the resources, Native peoples had to be removed from the land. We were <violent verb, past tense> and <violent verb, past tense>, and in order to justify this, we had to be painted as <negative adjective>, <negative adjective>, and <negative adjective>. Your cultural appropriation just continues that process, continuing to erase our current existence and disrespect our cultural heritage. We are <positive adjective>, <positive adjective> communities, and deserve to be treated with respect.”
So if you’ve got an old Pocohontas costume lying around, are thinking of doing the tomahawk chop at a Braves game, or hanging an eagle feather from your rear view mirror, remember, cultural appropriation is not cute. It doesn’t represent something admirable. It’s racism.Share: