Sunday, April 27, 2014

Fallin Fail, Part Tvklo (2)

Last month, I wrote about the daughter of Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin's disrespect to Natives. The following anonymous comment was left on that post:

"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."
Perhaps it's just my cynicism, but I assume by the fact that the comment was left anonymously, coupled by the condescending tone, that the purpose was just to be argumentative. However, the false assumptions contained therein are things that I hear parroted quite often, so I felt compelled to address them.

First of all, I won't go into the fact that xenophobia, racism, and segregation, while related and often rooted in common causes, are, in fact, not synonymous; nor are they historical methods for fighting cultural appropriation. To say that they are is to misunderstand what cultural appropriation is, in the first place. Racism & xenophobia have often resulted in segregation, to prevent the equality and intermingling of races, not cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is stealing from, and bastardizing, elements of another culture. So, you see, the attempted argument in the first "choice" is foundationally fallacious & logically invalid. In reality, it's a diversionary attempt to dismiss the viewpoints of those who speak out, because it's easier to do so than to face the cognitive dissonance of acknowledging that many of the things that we are accustomed to are actually racist microaggressions. I understand the impulse...just don't expect me to buy into it, or shy away from pointing it out.

As for the second "choice" Anonymous laid out, it, too, is based on faulty assumptions. First of all, traditional gender roles with any given Native society isn't necessarily "out of line in social justice terms". I assume the suggestion is that a headdress being only for males is somehow sexist. However, that there are many layers to why this is a fallacy.

First of all, it is superimposing a value system upon another culture to which is has no valuable or relevant application. Western feminism plays no role in Native cultures. While most Native cultures have (or historically had) prescribed gender roles, to distill the idea down to a simple binary whereas you can extrapolate judgments is to overly simplify & misunderstand. Many tribes believed in Two-Spirit individuals, for example, which requires the rejection of a simple binary understanding of gender. Early missionaries to my tribe recorded their shock at seeing some individuals who were genetically male dressing & living 'as woman'. So there seems to be some persistence of the western idea that sex & gender are synonymous that often clouds peoples' understanding on this.

Secondly, even if we choose to look at it through a lens of binary gender definitions, the fact remains that such headdresses are not solely within the male domain. As Johnnie Jae, of Native Max Magazine, reminded me, there are women who have earned the right to wear the headdress, such as "Minnie Hollow Wood, who fought with the men against the calvary at Little Big Horn, and more recently Chief Theresa Spence as well as other First Nation female chieftains." Therefore, the last "choice" that the commenter left us with is, in fact, not valid, either.

Let's momentarily leave the concept of cultural appropriation as a whole and focus exclusively on that of the headdress. These are not part of my culture, so I have consulted with many people from those cultures, over the years. The refrain that I hear is the sacred nature of them. They must be earned. If someone wears one without earning it, even if they are from within that nation, it is sacrilege.

Since I choose to be a respectful person, I don't deliberately take sacred or exalted objects from other cultures and bastardize, trivialize, or appropriate them. Whether those things are valuable is determined by the culture they belong to, not by me. It really isn't terribly complicated.

As for the young Ms. Fallin, yesterday, she decided to show continued disrespect to the Native community.
Her band posted to their FB, early in the day that they would be appearing in "full regalia" at the Norman Music Festival that night. The backlash was immediate & a protest, led by a local musician, was formulated. Pink Pony attempted to have the protestors removed by security.

Fallin appeared onstage in a shawl with sheep on it. I can only assume that is a reference to the fact that many of her supporters were referring to those that spoke out about her headdress photo as "sheep", claiming that we were outraged  in the name of political correctness, rather than independent thought. Personally, I find their attempts at emotional manipulation and inciting outrage to be juvenile & indicative of their true character.

You see, many people defended Ms. Fallin the first time around. Perhaps she didn't know any better. Now, though, she no longer have naivety to hide behind. Not only did she receive critique, but she also received genuine education. In fact, a woman for the lodge that I participate in, extended an offer for Ms. Fallin to attend a sweat with us and to learn more about/from Native women.

She is clearly not interested in learning about, nor respecting, Natives. Her conduct last night was openly mocking & ignorance is no longer a defense. The first time can be a mistake, the second is malice.

EONM issued a press release about Fallin's performance, please read it. However, I want to go a step further than calling "upon the Riverwind Casino, Blackwatch Studios and Christina Fallin and Governor Mary Fallin to apologize for this direct attack affront to Native American concerns regarding the misuse of our culture and purposeful insult to Native Americans in general." I would like a statement from the Chickasaw Nation, either supporting or denouncing the behavior of Ms. Fallin, as they are not only the owners of the sponsoring casino, but also of the property where the original incident occurred. They need to make it clear where they stand.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, yes, and yes. The arguments that Anonymous made didn't even make sense and demonstrated such of lack of understanding regarding not just Native cultures but the basics of what cultural appropriation is that I would likely have simply ignored the questions as ignorant. Your responses are right on point. As for Pink Pony - their own words have discredited them. They claimed to love and respect Native cultures and our "beautiful things." They don't love Native cultures, they just want to use them for their own financial gain. They are acting like young children who were called out for bad behavior - having public tantrums that amount to a kid yelling "don't tell me what to do." It's disappointing, but not surprising. These days I am more surprised when someone is respectful and sincerely apologetic. But those surprises are wonderful ones.