I was a sophomore in high school, about 15 years old, when a rather hostile group of cheerleaders and football players cornered me, yelling, as I sat on a bench in the quad between classes. “Don’t you have school pride?” a cheerleader shouted. “You should feel proud! We’re honoring your people!” one football player hollered.
I was the only Native American (as far as I knew) at Woodbridge High School in Irvine, California. Irvine is a planned city in Southern California and one of the safest cities in the United States, but I didn’t feel safe that day.
I had met one-on-one with the principal, my guidance counsellor, a few teachers and several students to share my negative feelings toward our school’s mascot – an anonymous Native American “warrior” with long, flowing, jet-black hair, a large nose and huge muscles. I guess I thought if I made it known that I felt appropriating Native American imagery was offensive, they’d stop. I was outnumbered, though, and my personal feelings didn’t matter. But that’s the thing: As Native people, especially as urban Natives (what we Indigenous people living in urban centers call ourselves), we are almost always outnumbered. So, we go unnoticed and unheard. Our opinions never really matter.
Students wore goofy, cartoonish costumes of our mascot (and his equally tasteless “warrior princess” girlfriend) at pep rallies and games. The pair would dance and do occasional acrobatic moves, as they made their grand entrance to the deafening sounds of the school’s marching band, playing the quintessential Hollywood fight song that, for me at least, conjures up images of a scene from an old Western movie: “savage” Indians on horseback approaching a village of settlers…Uh-oh, there must be trouble.
Check out the piece I did for CUNY-TV’s newsmagazine show “219 West” that aired recently…
Bow ties, tailored suits, and button-downs are not usually associated with women’s fashion. But founders of Brooklyn-based fashion brand, Marimacho, have created a line of clothing for masculine-identified women who prefer a more dandy approach to dress. Amy Stretten has this fashion forward story. [Fast forward to 10:27 for my piece]
Today marks two very important days. One is the 55th anniversary of the day black civil rights activist, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. This act of courage propelled the black civil rights movement and many equal rights laws were passed because of it. The other is also very important – it’s World AIDS Day.
Remembering Rosa Parks
Today I’m remembering Rosa Parks’ activism and dogged determination to make life better, not just for black Americans, but all people. Thank you for your sacrifices. When I feel like my life is difficult, I always think back to those who came before me and everything they had to endure. The fight is not over, though, and I promise to keep my commitment to make things better for the next seven generations.
World AIDS Day
In a similar vein, I’m also remembering the lives lost and the battles being won against HIV/AIDS. We have lost too many innocent people to this awful disease. We need more education, outreach and prevention. I am glad that so many celebrities are supporting efforts like the “Sacrifice Your Digital Life” campaign and bloggers, tweeters and social network users alike are changing their default photos to red ribbons. I just hope people will continue the activism in the coming year, starting first by getting tested. The best way to begin the health revolution to end the spread of HIV/AIDS is to use protection and get tested regularly because, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
And, as my very wise and eloquent Mother said today, “I hope this is the last World AIDS Day.”
I love Halloween…but I don’t love racist Halloween costumes. And, sadly, it seems like the “go to” Halloween costume is often an “Indian Chief” or a scantily clad “Indian Princess.” When in doubt, wear something brown, cut some fringe, put a headband around your head and attach a feather. Now, you’re an Indian!…??!!
I thought I was the only one who felt sick to my stomach seeing someone dressed up in costume as an “Indian Chief” or “Muslim,” but to my surprise, I’m not! There is quite a bit of buzz online about racist Halloween costumes and how to avoid being racially/ethnically offensive, while still having fun.
As ClayCane.net explained,
I saw people dressed as Mexicans, Asians and sporting the ever popular Afro wig. Putting on an Afro wig or a sombrero is not a costume. Batman or Superman is a costume, being ethnic for a night isn’t—it’s offensive.
Please think critically when you pick your Halloween costume. Just because your friend who is Native American/Black/Asian/Latino/whatever is not offended, does not mean the costume is not offensive to others! Halloween is about fun…not disrespect.
We have the day off from school tomorrow in recognition of Columbus Day. I don’t recall ever having Columbus Day off before, but apparently New York takes the holiday pretty seriously. There are even parades and other events in different parts of the five boroughs to celebrate the “discovery of America.”
In school we are taught to respect Columbus because without him “we” might not be here today. (Obviously, in public school, we are not educated from the perspective of the native inhabitants.) But, according to sources like UnderstandingPrejudice.org,
Many people are surprised to learn that Christopher Columbus and his men enslaved native inhabitants of the West Indies, forced them to convert to Christianity, and subdued them with violence in an effort to seek riches.
NORMAN, OKLAHOMA – Ronnie Washines, Native American Journalists Association President responds to RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s use of the racial slur, “Injun” (a racial slur for Native Americans) during an interview with Sean Hannity on FOX News. Steele said that the Republican Party platform is “one of the best political documents that’s been written in the past 25 years – Honest Injun on that.”
Washines’ response on behalf of NAJA and the larger Native American community:
“I am thoroughly outraged that the leader of the National Republican Party would use such repulsive language on national television. Those of us in journalism have tirelessly worked to ensure that political leaders, newsrooms and the public be respectful to all cultures when speaking publically. Michael Steele’s scurrilous tongue does no service to his group and only undermines the positive work of those who sincerely seek to respect one another in all of our working relationships. I urge Michael Steele to carefully word a sincere apology to the Native American community, which could help stop such uneducated archaic racist remarks from being made in the future. We here at NAJA are available to assist him and his organization with obtaining an accurate understanding of Native America.”
In case you have not yet seen the video yet, watch it here.
WASHINGTON, DC – Last night President Barack Obama spoke to Congress and the nation during the annual State of the Union Address. Check out the video below if you missed any of it or want to hear it again. Topics covered were: the economy, including the stimulus bill and jobs; the environment, including the energy and climate bill; education, including tax credits and pell grants; health care, including Michelle Obama’s plan to end childhood obesity and the health care bills; defense, including national security and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; and, discrimination, including equal pay laws. As usual, Obama supporters were enamored by his eloquence and inspiring and encouraging words. Unfortunately, not all members of congress were as excited about what the president had to say. There were many members of Congress who stayed in their seats while the rest of the house gave Obama a standing ovation.
I had the privilege of watching the address while in Washington, DC on Capitol Hill at the Hyatt Regency hotel with the Health Action 2010 conference.