The one stop for all your “Indian costumes are racist” needs!
It’s that time of year again! Halloween. Time for folks to grab the nearest Indian costume off a shelf, put it on, and prance around a costume party as they get schwasty on witches brew. Or even better, for parents to grab an *adorable* little Indian outfit to socialize their child super early into an oppressive system that benefits from the genocide and ongoing colonialism of Native peoples. But the excellent thing about this time of year, besides the fact that it will be over in a month? No, not pumpkin spice lattes…
The fact that I’ve already covered this issue so. many. times. And many different angles. So I was going to write another piece, mostly about that hideous Tonto costume above, which is about 8 feet tall in the window of my local Spirit store, but I’m over it. The bottom line is this: Don’t dress up like an Indian for Halloween. No, Pocahontas and Tonto aren’t ok because they’re “fictional” and/or “historic” “characters”–they’re based off tired stereotypes that continue to marginalize Native peoples. No, you can’t wear your Boy Scout Order of the Arrow regalia, even if a “real Indian” taught you how to make it. It’s not respectful to wear it as a costume, and I’ll argue that it’s not respectful for you to wear it ever, but that’s another post. No, the fact that you have a distant Indian ancestor does not make it ok for you to wear a $19.99 costume shop monstrosity. Especially if he/she was “Cherokee.” Our traditional clothing looks nothing like that. No, this is not the result of “PC culture” gone awry. This is about basic human decency and respect. My culture is not a costume. There are 566+ tribes in the US alone. We don’t wear skimpy dresses, fake buckskin, pony beads, and neon feathers. No, it’s also not ok to dress as a “Mexican” with a sombrero and a mustache. Or a Geisha. Or a “phat pimp.” Or a “phat rapper.” Just stay away from the racialized costumes. It’s pretty simple. There are like ten-thousand-million other things for you to dress up as. Any other objections?
So, for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be re-posting my Halloween posts from the last few years, because the argument is still the same, and will forever be the same. First up, from 10/27/2011:
Update 10/1/13: All the links still work, so all these costumes are still available for purchase. But interestingly, the descriptions have changed. So I’ve updated each of the descriptors with the new one from this year for comparison. In my opinion, it doesn’t make the costume any better, but it is noteworthy that they’ve toned down the blatant racism and misogyny. Not completely, but a bit.
After my open letter yesterday, I feel like some people still aren’t getting it (maybe it was the 100+ comments telling me to eff off?). Despite my appeals to emotion and greater human decency, it seems that many people in the world of thar’ intranets need some more physical reminders as to why dressing like a Native person this Halloween might be a problem. So I, dear random-probably-racist-internet-not-friend, am happy to oblige. Because, as a person of color, that’s my job, right? To prove to you that racism exists? To teach you why these things are wrong? To offer evidence of such wrong-doings? What fun it must be to never have to worry about such things! What a privilege!
To start off, I give you the description for that “Sexy Indian” above:
Hey cowboy – get a look at this Indian! Stop him in his tracks in this sexy Indian Dream Catcher adult costume and all your dreams will come true. There’s no need for a bow and arrow – just shoot him sexy looks and he’ll make tracks in your direction – it might get so hot he’ll put out smoke signals!
Awesome. Cowboy/Indian stereotypes, mentions of dream catchers, bows and arrows, and smoke signals! (New Description: Stop everyone in their tracks when they catch you in this Sexy Dream Catcher adult womens costume. Give Pocahontas a run for her money in the tan, faux suede, spaghetti strap mini dress, complete with an open back, faux wood and turquoise bead work and a fringed mini apron.)
But it gets better (worse?):
Put the wow back in pow-wow when you go native in this very sexy Tribal Trouble Indian adult women’s costume. They may need to break out the peace pipe because the other squaws will want to torch your teepee when their menfolk see you in this foxy costume!
“The other squaws will want to torch your teepee?” That’s….great. (New description: You’ll put the wow in pow-wow when you go native on Halloween in this sexy Tribal Trouble Indian adult womens costume. The brown, stretch, faux suede dress features a long fringe and plastic bead detail, complete with a feather embellished headpiece.)
But the “menfolk” are included in the fun too:
Go native American in this classic adult men’s Indian Brave costume. Your job – to hunt. Hunt for prey like food and beer or pretty women in this comfortable costume. Get what you want then lay back and enjoy – pass the peace pipe!
Glad women are equated with food and beer. Glad the costume is “comfortable” too. God forbid you be “uncomfortable” when you’re being an ignorant misogynist! And I won’t even with the peace pipe comment. (New Description: Go native American in this classic Indian Brave adult mens costume. Your job – to hunt. Hunt for food and beer in this comfortable costume and get your fill. Take what you want then lay back and enjoy – pass the peace pipe!)
and don’t forget the teens and tweens…they want to bring boys back to their tipi’s too!
You are an Indian Princess, able to hunt, gather and lead. In this cute Indian Princess tween costume it will be a snap to gather and lead the boys back to your tipi! Dance to celebrate the harvest or welcome a full moon in this fun costume trimmed with lots of fringe, feathers and more.
I’m sure every parent wants their daughter to be gathering boys and leading them back to the tipi. but only while they’re mocking Indian spirituality by “dancing to celebrate the harvest,” of course. (New description: Dance to celebrate the harvest or welcome a full moon in this Indian Princess teen costume. The brown, 100% polyester dress is trimmed with tan fringe and comes complete with a matching arm band, hair ornament and tan boot covers.)
and saving the worst for last:
Girl, you won’t be sitting around the campfire stringing beads in this Pocahottie Pow Wow costume! The work is done and it’s time to play cowboys and Indians, only this time the Indian picks off the cowboys that she wants. Put the wow in pow wow and practice some native American rituals in this sexy Pocahottie costume. Is that an ear of corn in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?
Yeah…I can’t. (New Description: Go native on Halloween when you don this Pocahottie adult womens costume. The brown, microsuede stretch dress features intricate Indian beading and a layered fringe hem, complete with matching feather headpiece. The pow wow won’t start until you arrive!)
I hope these can serve as examples as to why I’m so pissed off. The dripping misogyny and stereotyping is so blatant, it almost reads like satire. But these are real products, for sale on websites and in thousands of Spirit stores nationwide. Thousands of people are seeing, reading and internalizing these messages.
These costumes are hurtful and dangerous because they present a false and stereotyped image of Native people. The public sees these images, and it erases our current existence, so the larger, contemporary issues in Indian Country then cease to exist as well. When everyone only thinks Indians are fantasy characters put in the same category as pirates, princesses, and cartoon characters, it erases our humanity. Have fun thinking through that one.
But let’s be real for a minute. Can you seriously read those descriptions and still say that this is totes ok? Really. Be honest with yourself. Read them again. Think about if these descriptions were describing you and your family. Then tell me I’m being “over-sensitive.”
Thanks for playing, and have a happy, healthy, racism-free Halloween!
Other Halloween posts (I’ll be sharing some of these in full later this week):
Open Letter to the PocaHotties and Indian Warriors This Halloween
But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?
Nudie Neon Indians and the Sexualiztion of Indian Women
A Cowboys and Indians Party is just as bad as a Blackface Party
Paris Hilton as a Sexy Indian: The Halloween Fallout Begins (includes lots of links about the costume issue)
Mid-Week Motivation: I am not your costume