Welcome back to the third installment of what is shaping up to be an ongoing series on racism and stereotyping — brought to you by the not-very-nice people at MTV and The Dudesons in America.
Surprise, surprise…the comments on my first Dudesons blog have been flying in lately. Flying in, but blocked by the administrative comment approval feature — because most of them have been hateful, far off-topic, and, not too surprisingly, long-winded racist diatribes. Hey, I wholeheartedly believe in free speech. But just because you CAN say it, doesn’t mean you SHOULD, and it definitely doesn’t mean I’m going to allow you to use my blog as a forum for hatred and illiterate rants. So sorry.
Sheesh. A lot of people are angry about this. Are they angry that we’re protesting an offensive and racist television episode?? No. They’re angry because they STILL DON’T GET IT. This is the basic, watered-down gist of the more recent comments: “How dare you accuse our beloved Dudesons of racism and stereotyping! They’d never! What’s so racist and stereotypical about it all, anyway?”
So, there it is. If anyone is to expend another breath or keyboard stroke attempting to persuade the nay-sayers and fence-sitters out there that The Dudesons in America episode entitled “Cowboys & Findians” is in fact racist, perpetuates negative and false stereotypes, and that it distorts and misappropriates Native American culture and spirituality, perhaps it’s time to clear up some of those common misconceptions, as well as provide a little bit of education to the general and sadly uninformed public.
Oh, and for those of you who already know better, my apologies in advance. Bear with me while I take a brief time-out for a little NDN 101. Idiots of the world…class is in session.
The Complete Idiots Guide to Native Americans
MYTH: All Native Americans and Native American Nations are basically the same.
FACT: You’re an idiot. Every one of the many tribes in the United States, Canada, South America and Central America is inherently different. (Yes, Norman and Beatrice, they are all Native Americans, too.) There were (and are) differences in languages, traditions, customs, spiritual beliefs and practices, traditional stories that have been passed down, where they lived, how they lived, what they ate, what type of dwelling they lived in, and…well, you get the idea. Different people. Sort of like how people in France are different from people in Russia. Or how people in Arizona are different from…well…Arizona has now set itself apart from pretty much everyone. The closest comparison I can think of for the current state of Arizona is Nazi Germany…but that’s another blog.
MYTH: Headdresses, war bonnets, and fringed and/or heavily-beaded, store-bought and/or store-rented “native-styled” clothing, including fringed and cleavage-bearing mini-dresses paired with fringed stiletto go-go boots, are perfectly acceptable attire for a non-Native to wear: (a) at a pow wow, (b) to a costume party, (c) on Halloween, or (d) during the taping of a moronic television episode.
FACT: You’re an idiot. Traditional clothing and regalia should only be worn by Native Americans. The reason for this is simple: they are not costumes or for playing dress-up games. Regalia is set aside and worn only for sacred or otherwise special gatherings. Some regalia is considered especially sacred, and is purified by smudging. For a people whose culture and traditions were taken away from them by force, wearing traditional clothing and regalia in today’s times is not only a continuing aspect of Native American tradition and culture, but an important way of preserving and passing down those traditions to the next generation, as well as a way of instilling and maintaining Native Pride. Bottom line: DON’T DO IT. EVER.
MYTH: It’s perfectly okay if I adopt Native American spiritual practices and combine them with a few others, such as New Age/Wicca and create a brand new religion of my own.
FACT: Technically, it’s “okay,” since the Constitution and I both guarantee and respect your right to freedom of religion. But just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. I won’t call you an idiot for this one — but you should tread very, very carefully here. Most Native Americans won’t mind at all that you want to smudge your house with sage or cedar, or that you wear a turquoise fetish around your neck. But if you do adopt any aspect of Native spirituality, be sure to adopt the practice correctly and with respect, and give credit where credit is due when someone asks why you’re doing it. An easy to remember analogy about picking and choosing spiritual practices: Roman Catholics consider the Eucharist (the blessed and consecrated communion wafer and wine) to be the most sacred aspect of the Catholic Mass and the Catholic faith. To a Catholic, the Eucharist doesn’t just represent the body and blood of Christ, it BECOMES the body and blood of Christ upon the consecration by a priest. So if you were to decide to use your own version of the Eucharist in your own spiritual practices, by taking saltine crackers, blessing them yourself, and then charging people for the privilege of receiving your blessed saltines in your backyard church, you should expect a whole lot of criticism from devout Catholics. And guess what: Native Americans are no less protective of or devout in their own beliefs. And while we are on the subject of those blessed saltines, never charge money for something spiritual or sacred. If you’re foolish enough to want to run a sweat lodge in your backyard, that’s your business. But do so for free — and at your own risk — and don’t try to pass yourself off as a representative or member of any Native American tribe. And for crying out loud, please do stop calling yourself a medicine man/woman or a shaman. You do not simply wake up one morning and decide to declare yourself a medicine man…unless you happen to be an idiot. (And p-freaking-s, there is no such thing as a shaman in Native American tradition. Look it up. Google is free, you know.)
MYTH: Native American dance consists of hopping up and down in a circle, while clapping a hand over one’s mouth yelling “woo-woo-woo-woo-woo-woo-woo.” It’s called The Indian Dance. Everyone knows that.
FACT: You’re an idiot. Native American dance and song is many things, at many different times, but it is always, ultimately, sacred and significant. It is storytelling, celebration, ceremony, ritual, and prayer to the Creator. So while you are woo-woo-woo’ing and hopping up and down like an idiot, you are mocking Native Americans, their culture and their spirituality. Which is really no different than walking into your local Roman Catholic Church and beginning to sing at the top of your lungs, changing the lyrics to a sacred hymn to suit your own purposes, while washing your dirty socks in the holy water.
MYTH: No one will mind if I pretend to be Native American. I’m sure any Native American would be honored and flattered by that. I don’t mean any disrespect by it — I’m just very interested in Native culture and traditions and want to be a part of it all. I’m not hurting anyone with my little white lies, am I?
FACT: You’re an idiot. Few things piss off a Native American more than a non-Native trying to pass themselves off as a Native. There are more egregious things out there, but it ranks right up there in the Top Ten. You know how annoying it is when a rich white kid from the suburbs decides one fine morning that he wants to be a black gangster? Yeah, it’s a little bit like that. But worse. A lot worse. (There are a number of reasons for that, but one that comes to mind is the Blood Quantum Laws. I’m not going to explain all that at length here — again, Google is free, and available to idiots everywhere, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Read up on it. When you understand that Native Americans were (a) first stripped of their identities and then (b) later forced to prove those identities, you may see the light as to why it’s just a tad annoying to see non-Natives flippantly lying about their heritage.) And for those of you who think no one knows that you’re lying: oh, believe me, they know. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I just got done telling you that Native Americans aren’t all the same. Well, there is in fact one trait that is common to every Native American alive today: the ability to spot a wannabe from five miles away. So do yourself a favor, and avoid being pointed at and laughed at behind your back. (Or laughed at to your front.) No one is saying that you can’t be interested in or have an appreciation for Native American culture, but rather than pretending to be something or someone you are not, embrace who you really are instead. You’ll piss off a lot less people that way…and you may discover an interesting thing or two about your own heritage while you’re at it. BOTTOM LINE: Stop it. Please…just stop it.
MYTH: Native Americans used to scalp the white man..
FACT: Scalping was invented by the white man. Again, consult with Google…it’s free, and available to idiots everywhere. As more Europeans flooded this country, the desire to move out those pesky Natives who were already there began to increase and intensify. The white man started the practice of killing and then scalping Native Americans as a way of showing off their “kill” — in much the same way hunters show off a bear skin. Scalping became so popular among the white men that scalps were actually sold and traded. (Sick, huh?) Oh, there were some Natives who were so enraged by what they were seeing that they decided to fight fire with fire, and a white scalp was collected here and there…but rest assured, it was the white man’s practice first and foremost. Another thing that Europeans were and still are very good at: rewriting history. This is how the Natives got the reputation as being the scalpers, and why the myth persists to this day. BOTTOM LINE: Stop portraying Native Americans as a bunch of bloodthirsty, scalp-collecting savages. Thanks.
MYTH: “Ugh” and “How” are Native American words that all Native Americans use. I know this is true because I’ve seen it in the movies.
FACT: You’re an idiot. “How” is an English word, as in “How did you get to be so stupid?” “Ugh” is another English word. It is an interjection used to express disgust or horror, as in “Ugh, are you really that much of an idiot?” Sure, if you watch old black & white western movies, you’ll see a lot of Native Americans raising their hand and saying “HOWWWW.” You’ll note that the “Native Americans” in those movies were actually white men wearing makeup — and the screenwriters, directors, and producers who made those old movies knew even less about Native Americans than you do. Stereotyping and racism was even more pervasive 50 years ago than it is today — and the “ughs” and “hows” were utilized by the white media to demonstrate the “lack of intelligence and savagery” of the Native American. (Yes, Norman and Beatrice, Native languages are actually quite beautiful, complex, and diverse.) BOTTOM LINE: If, after reading this, you still walk up to a Native American man or woman, raise your hand and say “HOWWWW,” you’re a bigger idiot than I thought you were.
MYTH: My grandmother’s-grandmother’s aunt’s cousin was an Indian Princess, and I am 1/8th Cherokee and 1/16th Apache.
FACT: You’re an idiot. There is no such thing as an “Indian Princess.” Native American tribes did not have such things as “princesses,” “princes,” “kings,” or “queens.” There were chiefs and there were medicine men; there were leaders, and there was rank and organization and order among the tribe, but there was no “royalty.” So sorry, Princess, but you’re not the descendant of an Indian princess…and I seriously doubt that you are 1/8th or 1/16th anything that originates from the North American side of the Atlantic.
MYTH: All Native Americans have long black hair, dark eyes and a dark complexion. You don’t LOOK Native…are you SURE you’re Native? You sure don’t look like any of the Native Americans I’ve seen in the movies…
FACT: You’re an idiot. Believing that all Native Americans look the same — or that they should look the same — is about as dumb as thinking that all citizens of New York City do or should look the same. Tall, short, thin, fat, long hair, short hair, dark eyes, blue eyes, dark hair, light hair, dark skin, light skin, medium skin…get the idea? There’s a whole lot of diversity there. (Oh…and the reason why a lot of Native American actors and actresses appear the way you THINK they should in the movies is because producers and directors already know that idiots like you won’t understand that they’re watching a movie about Native Americans unless they hire a cast that looks the way idiots expect them to look.)
MYTH: Satirizing or parodying Native Americans, their culture, traditions, or spirituality is not racist, offensive, or perpetuating stereotypes. It’s just a joke…lighten up.
FACT: You’re an idiot. Calling something satire or parody doesn’t change the nature of what it really is, or make it any less offensive or heinous. A rose by any other name would still smell like racism.
MYTH: All Native Americans catch fish with their mouths.
FACT: You are a fan of or somehow associated with The Dudesons in America. You are also an idiot.