Last night as I was strolling Instagram I came upon a beautiful photo of a black woman dressed in what she described as a Pocahontas/Tribal-inspired look for Halloween. She had several photos and video clips, and all of the comments on the photos were of black women praising her artistry. So before I continue let me be clear: This woman’s makeup skills are, without question, extraordinary. She’s great at what she does. It is also clear that her heart was in the right place and she did not intend to offend Native Americans with her costume.
The woman asked me to remove the photo, so I will not include it here. But here is one like it:
Now, this ain’t about her, personally. What struck me, however, was the fact that in all the comments on this girl’s video, I could not find a single instance wherein somebody opted to inform her of the highly offensive nature of her getup.
So I took the photo to my personal Facebook group, and was again, surprised to read the comments from some members:
Native American women in the group responded to these opinions, stating that indeed, dressing or imitating their cultural garb, albeit well-intentioned, for Halloween, is offensive to their community:
One reddit user explained it best:
Native here (Wampanoag). It has more to do with the types of “regalia” that are worn. The iconic feather headdress is reserved for a specific cultural purpose. If a native decided to go as a native for Halloween, you would not see them wearing that headdress. In fact, regalia often consists of many pieces. Each has a meaning.
A good metaphor: An atheist with no knowledge of religion whatsoever walks into the Vatican wearing the pope’s hat. He doesn’t know the meaning behind the hat, definitely isn’t seen as “worthy” by the followers of said religion, and to top it all off he took something that people have molded their lives around and simplified it as if it were just another daily lulz for them.
It didn’t matter, though. The ladies stuck by their belief that because they mean no offense, no offense should be taken. I even attempted to give a brief history lesson on what actually happened to the real Pocahontas. I tried to explain that Pocahontas was essentially kidnapped, raped, “married” to her captor, and died at the age of 21. I further explained that her people were decimated. It didn’t matter. Women of color, refused to accept that respecting someone else’s culture, religion, and beliefs, transcends their own personal feelings.
Let us not forget, last year Black women collectively praised this black mother for “reading a cashier for filth,” when said cashier mistook traditional African attire for a Halloween costume. Now it seems that these same women have a hard time understanding the very same respect should be paid to the Native American community:
Now it may seem as though I’m calling out black women, so I want to be clear: I am calling out black women. And the reason is simple: we should know better. The term “cultural appropriation” is hot on the tongues of almost all modern black women. When we see images of the Kardashians rocking our styles and making it “cool,” but doing absolutely nothing for the black community, we are pissed. Yet, we have no issue when the very same acts are being committed against Native Americans? It boggles the mind.
Every. Single. Year we see folks disrespecting the Native American community by dressing in their tribal gear because they think it’s pretty. Ripping off their culture because it’s cool, but never once speaking in defense of these people when they are harmed. And they have been harmed and continue to be harmed.
What’s also interesting to note is that the arguments of those unwilling to accept that this act is offensive has always been about how the offenders feel. “But, I love Native American culture,” they protest. Bear in mind, what they often think they know of Native American culture is what’s been fed to them by Hollywood. They even go so far as to provide examples of their own alleged Native American heritage as evidence of their right to throw on a Native American costume. While these people may indeed have some Native American DNA, when was the last time any of them visited a reservation? Protested in support of Native American rights? Learned about their sacred customs? Participated in a Powwow? Furthermore, their African heritage, no doubt, far outnumbers their Native American DNA, so why not throw on some traditional African garb for Halloween? Why not tap into that culture for Halloween?
I think the reason is simple: While there is an increase in Black pride as of late, many of us still fetishize Native Americans. Therefore, to have some Native American DNA, no matter how small, is worn as a badge of honor. And we are honored, not for the love of the Native American people, their strength, their resilience, but simply because we think they are pretty. We have no interest in them outside of their aesthetic value. *cough cough, Kardashians, cough cough.*
I’ve rarely interacted with Native American people. I am not a scholar of Native American studies, but as a black woman, a native woman in my own right, it is not hard for me to respect someone else’s culture.
If we can understand why this is harmful:
How hard is it to understand that this is likewise offensive?
We have GOT to do better!