Saturday, March 8, 2014

The governor's daughter in chicken feathers

In case you've been living under a rock & haven't heard the couple of days ago, Christina Fallin, daughter of the Oklahoma governor posted a photo of herself wearing a feathered headdress.
Several people have asked me to write about it, but I had been avoiding it. I originally planned to just leave my contribution to the conversation with the simple act of tweeting the instagram link, so that others could be aware and act accordingly. However, I found that my TL began blowing up about the issue. Soon, my FB was full of people not only sharing their own thoughts about the photo, but also sending me link and PMing me, asking for comments. I found myself tweeting much more about the issue, than I had planned. Eventually, it became clear that I wasn't doing a very good job of not blasting my opinion about Ms. Fallin's behavior all over social media.
To be perfectly honest, the reason that I was trying to not put myself out there on this one is simple. This is the governor's daughter. The Oklahoma legal community is a small one & my work is pretty demanding about not putting things out there that may reflect badly on the firm. However, as the controversy built, and I saw people in the legal community, whom I used to respect, throwing out statements about how people are being overly sensitive and should just "get over it" (yes, an attorney actually used that phrase. smh). In a conversation with a friend, though, he reminded me that "it's our duty" to stand up. Our elders resisted and survived much before us. We have it easy in comparison. However, if we don't do what we can to eliminate the more subtle forms of racism that continue, we risk going backwards & our future generations inheriting something much worse. So, I decided to go ahead & write about it. Being an advocate for Indian Country is part of what got me my job. So, hopefully, that'll be enough justification for my statements against the governor's daughter to not cause me too much trouble.
So...onto the real issue.
I cannot begin to count how many time I have heard "there are more important things to worry about." Here's the reality. Indian Country faces some serious issues & we will never be able to make significant progress in those issues, as long as people in the larger society still sees us as caricatures & feels that this sort of open mockery is acceptable.
This is not a liberal vs. conservative issue. It is not about political correctness or about people being overly sensitive. This is also not something that is insignificant or that should be unceremoniously dismissed. This sort of marginalization has a real impact on societal attitudes & perpetuates institutionalized racism.
It's quite simple, really. Children see cultural appropriation in popular culture & learn that it is acceptable. These representations reinforce racist stereotypes. Do I really have to connect the dots in crayon for you from that point?
It shouldn't be hard to see how the objectification and hypersexualization of Native women (think "maiden" Halloween costumes & such) contributes that the formation of attitudes towards Native women, which translates to higher rates of violence & sexual aggression against Native women. It's Sociology 101, really. Apply the same sort of logical thought process to other forms of cultural appropriation & stereotypes & it's not difficult to see why this is a serious issue.
I think that's what bothers me so much in these debates. People seem to have trouble separating fact from opinion. So, let's start there...
  • Not all Native Nations wear feathered headdresses. There are hundreds of tribes, each with their own culture.
  • Native Nations that do use headdresses hold them in high regard & have specific traditions surrounding them.
  • Taking sacred/traditional objects of another culture & wearing them, as Christina Fallin did, is a form of cultural appropriation. 
  • Cultural appropriation and stereotypical representations in popular culture shape the attitudes of children who grow up seeing them & cause documented harm to children from the targeted group.
  • Whether or not you are personally offended by the cultural appropriation is a matter of opinion.
So here's my opinion, based on the facts:
Cultural appropriation, as what Christina Fallin did, is a racist microagression that perpetuates stereotypes within popular culture, and serves to continue the resulting forms of institutionalized racism. My children do not deserve the racism that they receive from their peers, who's only tangible exposure to Native culture is comprised of representations such as in the Ms. Fallin debacle.
Furthermore, I completely concur with Adrienne, at Native Appropriations, when she concluded that Ms. Fallin's "appropriate culturation" play on words indicated that she knew exactly what she was doing, but just felt privileged to do it.
I also take issue with people referring to the statement that Christina Fallin issued as an "apology". She defended what she did. She filled it with sentimental nonsense. And she basically said "get over it". There was no apology. There wasn't anything remotely resembling an apology. If you haven't seen it, here's the statement:
The Native Appropriations article said it so well:
"But the thing that keeps bothering me is that we’re expected, as community members, to have perfectly reasoned, calm, point-by-point rebuttals to your image and words. The burden of proof is on us, not you. Why can’t we, as the cultures you’re 'respecting' simply say 'no'? Why do we have to defend and fight and write 1400 words about why, and then listen while others mock our pain and hurt as being “overly sensitive”? Why can’t you show us respect by just listening to us when we say, 'Hey Christina, that headdress? It’s not for you to wear.'”

My friend, Joy made an excellent point when she stated: "Mary Fallin's daughter released a statement Fallin's Statement Regarding Headdress-   'A woman in a headdress is a beautiful thing.'  But, despite the beauty of the photograph -which I would argue is largely due to skilled editing and color.   If Miss Fallin were wearing a red beret or a cowboy hat the photo would be as beautiful."

In a previous blog post, she made the following statement, speaking about mascots, but the points are just as applicable here:
"A moment to reflect on the issue of the use of the Native Imagery in mascots. Naming your athletic team 'Redskin' or 'Indian' seems to be a widely "accepted" racial slur which his so ingrained in our culture that many people refuse to acknowledge it as an insult to the Native people's culture they are utilizing.  These Gentlemen who are representing our state  flags in their Native dress, do not deserve having their warbonnets dishonored by the secularism represented within mascots.  The use of Native symbolism within sports culture is an attack on Native tradition, ceremony and religion, no matter how long it has been happening within mainstream American Culture.  There is meaning in their dress, the meaning may be compared to the dress worn by a priest or a soldier.  What matters is it holds meaning that goes beyond the superficial and secular.  The hashtag #NotYourMascot and #NotYourTonto on Twitter represent Native voices speaking out against the commodification and misappropriation of Native culture."

In all honesty, I wasn't surprised to see this sort of behavior from out governor's daughter. The governor has demonstrated her attitude towards Natives quite clearly & Indian Country knows that she is no ally. So, it was no shock to see that her offspring holds this short of attitude towards Natives.

The bottom line of this whole debacle, and the many others like it is this: check your privilege. Cries of oversensitivity have become the go to argument of the privileged when they have no real foundation for their views, other than protecting the status quo. If you think that this sort of cultural appropriation is acceptable, despite the negative impacts, then stand up for that. However, don't try to dismiss those of us that are willing to stand up to social injustice by calling it political correctness and oversensitivity. The "get over it" argument serves only to highlight the lack of foundation for your argument.


  1. Given the Warbonnet is a MALE headdress, you have two choices here.

    Call it cultural appropriation, the fight against which used to have other names (xenophobia, segregation and racism, to name just a few). And before you freak out I ask you: Since when is stating that it's okay for you to wear/do something because of your race/ethnic background but it isn't okay for someone of a different race/ethnic background NOT racist?

    Or... You can say it's strictly a MALE privilege to wear such a headdress and then be out of line in social justice terms.

    But I doubt you will actually address either of my points, because frankly you don't really have a clean way out of this. Other than, perhaps, admitting it isn't that big a deal in the first place.

    1. You comments have been addressed in the following post:

  2. I have missed you! lol and just wanted to pop in! Roon63 aka Anne Ofalam (mom to 7 now) your fire and love are both above the norm! making you ABnormal, my NDN friend! ♥