I never feel so oppressed as a Native American woman than on days meant for mass-scale celebration. Holidays, in particular, are cesspools teeming with the ignorant, the misguided, and the bigots. All those well-intentioned people wanting to “honor” my culture by giving crappy plastic toys to “poor” reservation children (without offering genuine solutions or acknowledging generational PTSD of events like the Wounded Knee Massacre or the hanging of the Dakota 38), or dressing their kids up in paper headdresses to showcase a totally false dramatization of the First Welfare Line. I’m thinking specifically of Christmas and Thanksgiving here, but even holidays like Independence Day and, of course, Columbus Day make me feel like less of person because I can’t fully partake in the shenanigans. “Yay! Most of my ancestors were completely WIPED OUT by colonialism! Pass the explosives!”
Or pass the candy. Today – Halloween – is the one day each year the nation’s indigenous populations double or triple in number thanks to feather-heavy and over-sexualized (or hyper-masculine) costumes. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, then you know I’ve used the past several weeks to post and re-post anything and everything anti-ethnic costuming. Redface, Blackface, and everything in between: It’s not cool, people. Stop.
This isn’t about being PC. It’s about respecting POC, our cultures and heritage, our struggles and our successes. There’s really no “right” or respectful way to pull off these kinds of costumes, folks. Your good intentions mean absolutely nothing to my 5-year-old daughter, who is bombarded with the message that hers is a culture of sexy woodland sprites. They mean nothing to this lovely lady, either.
What did these strong, beautiful young Lakota girls, and other youth like them ever do to deserve your concept of honor? They are the next generation of Native people still trying to survive. Their ancestors were purposefully and systematically wiped out physically and spiritually for hundreds of years. And today? Have you seen our rates of alcoholism/youth suicide/poverty/diabetes/domestic violence/rape/etc.? Let’s add your objectifying gaze and wardrobe to the pile.
To be clear: Your crappy imported strip of polyester fringe does not honor my Lakota ancestors. Show honor by supporting our causes, or pick up a book (this is what I’m reading now – FAB!), watch a documentary, listen to our young people, or visit our communities and buy goods made and sold by Natives. Otherwise, STFU. Honor doesn’t come with you appropriating our image for the sake of entertainment. You know what that does for us? It sets us back decades in the eyes of the world. Because how can we be human beings if we’re constantly subjected to the whims of those seeking to be amused?
We are not your fashion accessory, your mascot, or your white-washed history lesson on sharing. Respect us by respecting our boundaries. Native-themed Halloween costumes cross the line. Appropriators beware: You’ll be called out, shamed, and seen as racist.
Still have questions? Here is a great resource to help you figure out whether you should rethink your costume. Remember, Native Americans are living, breathing people. Vampires are not. Dressing up as a sexy nurse or cop may offend some nurses (and, you know, women in general), but since professions and careers (and monsters) don’t actually count as a demographic race category, your argument that the Halloween Police are going to ruin it for EVERYONE will not be added to the discussion. Being asked not to be racist doesn’t mean you can’t have fun dressed as a vampire. Or Harry Potter (my costume the last 8 or 9 years).
Have fun, be safe, and be respectful. Check the mirror and check your privilege before heading out to trick or treat.
Follow up: Exactly .345 seconds after I published this blog, someone shared THIS on Facebook and I fell in love. #truth