Native Appropriations: Daily Encounters and Activist Fatigue

This is an excerpt from Adrienne K.’s blog Native Appropriations.  You can read the full post at NativeAppropriations.blogspot.com.

Yesterday morning I walked into my 7:15 am “Total Body Workout” class at the gym, laughing and joking with my friend. As I turned to get my hand weights and mat, my gaze fell upon a girl in the class…wearing this shirt.

I sighed and wrinkled my nose, but turned back to my friend to continue our conversation. A few minutes before class started, my friend whispered “Did you see her shirt?! Wasn’t that on your blog?” I nodded in response.

As class went on, in between sweating through sit ups and lunges, I kept catching her reflection in the mirror behind me. Each time sent a twinge through my stomach, a quick moment of discomfort and unease. I wanted to say something. I wanted to tell her how I was feeling. But the problem was, even in rehearsals in my head, I couldn’t think of how to go about talking to her about the shirt.

In the grand scheme of images on this blog, this particular shirt isn’t that bad. I mean, I can easily sit here and tear it apart–how it represents a stereotype, how the cartoon-izing (I think I just made that word up) of the headdress takes away from it’s sacredness and power, commodifying it and making it into a mass consumer good, how the blank, empty space where a head/face should be is representative of decontextualizing the headdress and separating it from the people and places where it belongs…but anyway, it’s not an image of an Indian holding aloft a beer bong, or a severed Indian head, or any number of other blatantly racist images. She wasn’t wearing a headdress. She was wearing a shirt that she probably bought at Urban Outfitters without a second thought.

But, as I’ve talked about so many times before, these seemingly benign images have just as much power to create and perpetuate negative stereotypes as the blatantly racist ones. Because of all these images she’s seen and encountered in her life, she probably never would have thought that the dark haired girl struggling with push ups in front of her was a Native person who might take offense to her shirt.

So, you’re probably wondering, what did I say? What did I do?

Read the rest of Adrienne K.’s piece at NativeAppropriations.blogspot.com.

— Rosamund Hunter

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