By Georgianna Reilly, LMSW
SJS Staff Writer
This discussion couldn’t come at a better time than right after our Thanksgiving feast here in America. In this article by CNN the author discusses pop culture and the fashion industry’s rocky relationship with Native American tribes and culture. Sparked by several recent transgressions, such as Karlie Kloss hitting the runway in a floor length feather headdress and Gwen Stefani releasing a music video with Native American flare, the author suggests that such use of Native garb can be nothing other than ‘playing Indian’ or in more adult terms Cultural Appropriation. As a kid many of us played Cowboys and Indians, and often these were caricatures of those two groups. Many might grow up knowing this is inappropriate yet even at a larger media level it is still something we do, and make money off of.
The author of this article, and those she interviews, suggests that such actions are Systematic Racism. They ignore the deeper meaning of culture and displays Native culture in a shallow and misrepresented manner:
“The conversation is important, because acts of cultural appropriation are not simply isolated incidents of “hipsters in Navajo panties and pop stars in headdresses,” said Sasha Houston Brown, a member of the Santee Sioux Nation of Nebraska. They are byproducts of “systemic racism” that perpetuate the idea that there’s no such thing as contemporary Native culture.
“Despite what dominant society and mainstream media say, Native culture is a vibrant and living culture. We are not a relic of the past, a theme or a trend, we are not a style or costume, we are not mascots, noble savages or romantic fictional entities,” Brown said in an editorial for the blog Racialious, “Nothing Says Native American Heritage Month Like White Girls in Headdresses.”
This misrepresentation often leaves those of this culture feeling slighted and misunderstood, but there are ways that companies could still ‘honor’ this culture while not making it a parody. The author suggests the willingness and interest of many Native American artists of helping represent their culture accurately and with a historic context with in pop culture and the fashion industry. Therefore, partnerships that promote awareness of Native American history and culture are key. Forming alliances and getting these artists into the mainstream would also help improve Native American culture as it is today. The article goes on to discuss several successful partnerships, as well as other suggestions for improving Native representation in pop culture.
Residual Systemic Racism is something discussed in social work classes to explain subtle racism in policies, programs, and services. To see it brought to light and discussed in the context of Pop culture and fashion is fascinating, as it shows that there is so much more than meets the eye to every facet of our lives. While the Native American culture’s representation in these contexts is one of the most obvious, it is important to remember that other cultures are likely also experiencing cultural appropriate in the mainstream media. To an extent, we could suggest that the increased interest in yoga, meditation, and sari’s for example could reflect the same situation occurring with Asian and Indian cultures. The bottom line isn’t to ignore or ban these instances, but to acknowledge what may rest behind them and come to appreciate them as part of a whole.
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