If you’re interested in cultural representations of Native Americans, I highly recommend the blog Native Appropriations. Recently Adrienne K. posted about an article in a student-government-funded newspaper at Cal State U.-Long Beach that stands out for its disrespectful, hostile tone. The article, titled “Pow Wow Wow Yippee Yo Yippy Yay,” was a “review” of the annual powwow sponsored by the American Indian Student Council. It had never occurred to me that you would review a cultural event as though it were just another form of entertainment, like a new movie, but that’s the least of the issues here. The full article, from the Union Weekly (via OC Weekly):
Some key excerpts:
…it really seemed like a large, Native American themed flea market. Some of the food vendors just seemed to unceremoniously add the word “Indian” to whatever food they were peddling. Indian tacos? What the fuck are Indian tacos?
…like a Mexican pizza from Taco Bell, but shittier. The only experience I have with fry bread is watching a show about how incredibly unhealthy it is to consume, and watching its rapid consumption on campus grounds.
The entire scene felt disingenuous and cheap. Donations are great, and necessary, tossing them unceremoniously on the ground is crass and borderline obscene. Even the homeless have hats and cups.
I flinched several times while reading the article. I grew up in Oklahoma surrounded by Native American cultures, both because I lived in an area where several tribes were very visible and because my mom is part Cherokee herself and several close relatives married people enrolled in other tribes. Even though I know that in most of the U.S. Native Americans are often culturally invisible and most people haven’t gone to tons of powwows or sat around watching the women in the family sewing ribbon shirts in the living room, I still sometimes forget that these things aren’t instantly recognizable and interesting to other people, or that they could see something that I was taught to be respectful and appreciative of and have such a different reaction.
Of course, this article goes beyond being unfamiliar or uninterested. The author, the paper’s campus editor, clearly didn’t want to learn what was going on. I mean, even if you’ve never heard of one before in your life, just a minimal Google search will explain to you than an Indian taco is, more or less, a taco on fry bread (the Osage Nation even has an annual competition). An image of a dancer is used to highlight a mocking, mean-spirited “review,” as though the powwow’s only function was to entertain uneducated outsiders.
The Union Review and the author of the article issued the typical non-apology “apology” statements — we’re just here to let all sides of the debate have a voice! We’re sorry if anyone got themselves all offended, we really didn’t expect this reaction at all! — which is also available at the OC Weekly link above.
As Adrienne points out, though the “Asians in the library ” rant from a UCLA student got a huge amount of attention, there’s been much less about this. It highlights the point Tami made at What Tami Said: overtly disrespectful and/or racist behavior on campuses shouldn’t shock us, if we’re paying attention.