High Fashion Girl: In Defense of Warpaint
This is one of the more cogent defenses of War Paint Clothing CO. (hereafter WPC) that I’ve read. (a good example for some of the other WPC defenders who seem to lack the ability to engage in dialogue)
That said, she makes some assumptions about me that I are not fair and are not accurate, namely that I had a pre-judged opinion of the place and came in there planning to cause a disturbance.
It is true that I had pre-existing concerns about this store. Living in the USA, I’ve seen native culture misappropriated on many occasions. But I also have seen people play with cultural stereotypes and re-appropriate them (i.e. the efforts by some to claim and reappropriate offensive words like the words “nigger,” “bitch,” and “dyke”). I myself am not a fan of that strategy (because most people just don’t get it, and then use the satirical use of the words as some as an excuse to continue to use the offensive words in the old ways), but I respect it. So if WPC was doing something like this, more power to them.
So I went into the store with concern but also hope that WPC was using irony and satire to make a point.
But they weren’t. Travis (one of the owners) and the others I spoke to made it very clear that they meant this as a vaguely honorific thing, not a satirical thing. (sorta like a tobacco store Indian, or a Indian head nickel) They actually thought that they were honoring native heritage!
Well it is not an honor. Putting a stereotyped plains Indian headdress on a skull is not not honoring Indian heritage or Oklahoma heritage.
This kind of “honor” feels like an insult. It feels something like this image…
(I found this image on bluecorncomics.com)
Let me take it a little further. High Fashion Girl says:
If you know anything about Native American culture, you’d know that Native Americans do not fear death. They see it as a natural part of the life cycle. In many ways, they celebrated death – not in some morbid mall goth kind of way – but in a way that honored their deep spiritual connection to life and its natural end.
Hmmm…. yeah all Native Americans think alike. We all have the same views on life and death. No, absolutely not. Tribes many different ideas about life and death. You can’t generalize like this. If you want to talk about how a certain tribes sees death, fine, but to talk about all tribes? It would be about as nonsensical as saying “all Europeans fear death” or “all Oklahomans are Bible-thumping bigots.”
If you see it that way, great, but this stereotyped image is supposed to represent all native peoples according to WPC.
OK with that issue addressed, let me move on to another issue. I agree with this blog author, that my approach was not the right approach to take. I should not have used the language that I used, and I should have come back another day (ideally with some other friends who shared my concern) to talk it over with the owners.
But I’m not going to apologize for finding the shirts to be offensive. And I won’t back down. I will keep speaking against them and I will keep encouraging others to do the same.
Finally, the blog author says that I should just take Travis at his word about the meaning of the shirts.
I disagree. The shirts are very hurtful to many people. The shirts communicate disrespect to native peoples. I appreciate WPC’s non-malicious intent, but it doesn’t change the message that the shirts communicate.