I hate to do it, but I just have to! There has been a ton of buzz online this week over a comment singer/reality star(?)/shoe designer Jessica Simpson made while being followed by paparazzi on the way to her car outside an LA restaurant. She was asked if she was going to ask her ex boyfriend (NFL star Tony Romo) to return the boat she gave him. She replied that she didn’t care about the boat and that she is not an “Indian Giver.” Naturally, drama-lusting TMZ.com made a huge deal about the comment and said they had heard a few Native American rights organizations were going to put out statements regarding this blatantly racist, off-hand remark.
For those who missed it, you can watch it here.
Wikipedia defines an “Indian Giver” as
a North American English expression used to describe a person who gives a gift (literal or figurative) and later wants it back, or something equivalent in return. The phrase is considered a racial stereotype and is often offensive, as it implies that Native Americans commonly practiced this behavior. It is unclear exactly how this expression came to be, but the consensus is that it is based on Native Americans having a distinctly different sense of property ownership as opposed to those of European ancestry. One theory holds that early European settlers in North America misinterpreted aid and goods they received from Native Americans as “gifts,” when in fact they were intended to be offered in trade, as many tribes operated economically by some form of barter system, or a gift economy where reciprocal giving was practiced. It is also theorized that this stereotype may have been coined or exaggerated by the conquering European groups to denigrate the native people as dishonest and thereby justify their conquest.
So, how do you feel about the term? Personally, I find it a bit offensive, but I’m not overly sensitive about it. I do feel people should choose their words more carefully, though, and think before they speak. To use the term “Indian giver” is just plain…well, ignorant. Based on the history behind the term (according to wikipedia) it seems the Indians who were being called “Indian givers” were not trying to take away something that they had given away, there was just a misunderstanding between the two cultures. So, using the term “Indian giver” seems like a poor choice of words in this context. When you think about it, Native Americans have given away much more than they have asked to be returned. Anyway, I think it was silly of TMZ to make such a big deal about it…and maybe even sillier that I’m blogging about it here, too!