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.
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.
I was shocked not really that surprised to see that RNC Chairman, Michael Steele, was not going to be at this afternoons’s plenary. After spending the early part of my day attending one workshop after another and spending what seemed like forever in the career fair, I really wanted to skip the event altogether and take a nap. But I had a nagging feeling that some sort of drama would ensue – and I wouldn’t miss that for the world! I thought it rather funny (ironic) that Steele backed out and almost hilarious that his people attributed his absence to “food poisoning.” Come on…really?? Give me a break!
Check out the press release NABJ just sent out below:
Michael Steele, RNC Chairman Cancels NABJ Appearance
July 30, 2010 – San Diego, CA – National Association of Black Journalists Convention Convention Chair, Elise Durham was informed by Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s advance team earlier that Michael Steele was cancelling his panel discussion scheduled for 4:00 p.m. today because of food poisoning.
The RNC statement reads, “While traveling out West the Chairman came down with a bad case of food poisoning. He is disappointed to miss the opportunity to take part in this valuable dialogue and looks forward to engaging with NABJ in the very near future.”
Steele was scheduled to appear at NABJ one day after former USDA Regional Rural Director Shirley Sherrod indicated that she will take legal action against conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, who she said caused her to lose her job. Sherrod, who appeared before hundreds of journalists at the NABJ Convention yesterday, was forced to resign after Breitbart posted a video excerpt of a speech she gave to the NAACP and accused her being a racist.
Steele is scheduled to appear at a RNC fundraiser with Breitbart in California next month.
When asked by Durham if there was any relationship between his cancellation and the fundraiser, Special Assistant to the Chairman, Joey Smith said, “We don’t comment on our finance events and never have.”
This begs the question, “Is Steele really suffering from food poisoning or is he trying to avoid speaking to a room full of hungry journalists waiting to pick him apart?”