By October 28, 2013 16 Comments Read More →

Open Letter to the ‘PocaHotties’ and ‘Indian Warriors’ this Halloween

Photo on 2011-10-26 at 14.55

Dear Person that decided to dress up as an Indian for Halloween,

I was going to write you an eloquent and well-reasoned post today about all the reasons why it’s not ok to dress up as a Native person for Halloween–talk about the history of“playing Indian” in our country, point to the dangers of stereotyping and placing of Native peoples as mythical, historical creatures, give you some articles to read, hope that I could change your mind by dazzling you with my wit and reason–but I can’t. I can’t, because I know you won’t listen, and I’m getting so tired of trying to get through to you.

I just read the comments on this post at Bitch Magazine, a conversation replicated all over the internet when people of color are trying to make a plea to not dress up as racist characters on Halloween. I felt my chest tighten and tears well up in my eyes, because even with Kjerstin’s well researched and well cited post, people like you are so caught up in their own privilege, they can’t see how much this affects and hurts their classmates, neighbors and friends.

I already know how our conversation would go. I’ll ask you to please not dress up as a bastardized version of my culture for Halloween, and you’ll reply that it’s “just for fun” and I should “get over it.” You’ll tell me that you “weren’t doing it to be offensive” and that “everyone knows real Native Americans don’t dress like this.” You’ll say that you have a “right” to dress up as “whatever you damn well please.” You’ll remind me about how you’re “Irish” and the “Irish we’re oppressed too.” Or you’ll say you’re “German”, and you “don’t get offended by people in Lederhosen.”

But you don’t understand what it feels like to be me. I am a Native person. You are (most likely) a white person. You walk through life everyday never having the fear of someone mis-representing your people and your culture. You don’t have to worry about the vast majority of your people living in poverty, struggling with alcoholism, domestic violence, hunger, and unemployment caused by 500+ years of colonialism and federal policies aimed at erasing your existence. You don’t walk through life everyday feeling invisible, because the only images the public sees of you are fictionalized stereotypes that don’t represent who you are at all. You don’t know what it’s like to care about something so deeply and know at your core that it’s so wrong, and have others in positions of power dismiss you like you’re some sort of over-sensitive freak.

You are in a position of power. You might not know it, but you are. Simply because of the color of your skin, you have been afforded opportunities and privilege, because our country was built on a foundation of white supremacy. That’s probably a concept that’s too much for you to handle right now, when all you wanted to do was dress up as a PocaHottie for Halloween, but it’s true.

I am not in a position of power. Native people are not in positions of power. By dressing up as a fake Indian, you are asserting your power over us, and continuing to oppress us. That should worry you.

But don’t tell me that you’re oppressed too, or don’t you dare come back and tell me your “great grandmother was a Cherokee Princess” and that somehow makes it ok. Do you live in a system that is actively taking your children away without just cause? Do you have to look at the TV on weekends and see sports teams with mascots named after racial slurs of your people? I doubt it.

Last night I sat with a group of Native undergraduates to discuss their thoughts and ideas about the costume issue, and hearing the comments they face on a daily basis broke my heart. They take the time each year to send out an email called “We are not a costume” to the undergraduate student body–an email that has become known as the “whiny newsletter” to their entitled classmates. They take the time to educate and put themselves out there, only to be shot down by those that refuse to think critically about their choices.Your choices are adversely affecting their college experiences, and that’s hard for me to take without a fight.

The most frustrating part to me is, there are so many other things you can dress up as for Halloween. You can be a freaking sexy scrabble board for goodness sake. But why does your fun have to come at the expense of my well-being? Is your night of drunken revelry really worth subjugating an entire group of people? I just can’t understand, how after hearing, first-hand, that your choice is hurtful to another human being, you’re able to continue to celebrate with your braids and plastic tomahawk.

So I know you probably didn’t even read this letter, I know you’ve probably already bought and paid for your Indian costume, and that this weekend you’ll be sucking down jungle juice from a red solo cup as your feathers wilt and warpaint runs. I know you’re going to scoff at my over-sensitivity. But I’m telling you, from the bottom of my heart, that you’re hurting me. And I would hope that would be enough.


Adrienne K.

PS- I wonder if you saw these posters? Because I think they illustrate my point really well.

UPDATE 10/27: Have a look at some of the costumes I’m talking about. I think it makes my arguments a lot clearer.

(Article and image by Adrienne Keene)

Posted in: Racism

16 Comments on "Open Letter to the ‘PocaHotties’ and ‘Indian Warriors’ this Halloween"

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  1. ghostofzigz says:

    reading this letter… i see the myth that all white people have power is as astonishing as the myth that others do not have power… its time for a cross cultural reality check: money = power, and it doesn’t care about skin color…

    there is only 1 race: human, and we are ALL part of that family, and any divergence from this is abusive and divisive… which is very profitable to a few and promoted by those same few profiting from it…. as well as those clinging to this trained dogma designed to enrich the few… in support or opposition.

    The culture and dignity of all must be respected. Human rights for everyone everywhere every time.

    We are one.

    • Cathy says:

      Good points. Also, people will continue to do what they wish to do, and that is a good thing for all of us, even when we disagree. We certainly do not want to start down the slippery slope of censorship. Afterall, we are talking about costumes. Would the same concerns be raised if we were dressing up as Christopher Columbus, or a Hawaiian princess? I know we’re talking about an oppressed group. However, we cannot tell people what they can and cannot do. We can only let our voices be heard, perhaps changing a few minds in the process. If you strongarm people’s choice away, they get fearful. If they get fearful, they get angry. If they get angry…it’s a problem. We are, after all, talking about costumes.

  2. Annoyed says:

    This isn’t a joke, right? This is yet another piece on “cultural costumes” that fails to mention anything to do with white (European) cultures being appropriated as “costumes”. Of course, it is implied that only white people do these sorts of things. I’m of European and Native heritage, and it doesn’t bug me to see people dressed as a geisha or Pocahontas – what irritates me the most is that liberal outrage surrounding these costumes fails to ever disparage people who dress as Vikings, “Rednecks”, Cowboys, or anything else that’s mainly an element of a white community.

    I’m not arguing the costumes aren’t silly and juvenile, I’m arguing that ALL cultures are being appropriated. I saw a black man dressed as a Viking just the other day downtown. That’s no different than a white girl dressed as a sexy Sioux.

    • Kate says:

      I think you missed the point. Cultural appropriation is inevitable, especially being in a country where majority of people are immigrants. The problem comes from a race who is in power, using that power to oppress others. You are not to dress up as someone’s culture. Anyone can be a redneck or cowboy, they are not race specific. But saying, I’m going to dress up as a black person for Halloween is very offensive. Therefore, you should not dress up as anyone’s race. Halloween is a time to play pretend, pretend you’re a doctor, a vampire, a fairy, or even a person you know. The focus should not be on race or ethnicity. Vikings, you could argue because technically they are Scandinavian people, so I would agree that if they are offended by the Viking costumes, then people should stop wearing them. This also goes for people who dress up as priests or nuns. Something that is so important to someone’s life like race or religion, should not be made a joke of. I saw someone dressed as a ‘wife beater’ this is also something people should avoid. If you want Halloween to be fun, then you should avoid costumes that remind people of the oppression they face everyday.

  3. Ellen says:

    You got it. I won’t dress up as an Indian for Halloween. Nor will my children.

  4. Hayden says:

    “You are in a position of power. You might not know it, but you are. Simply because of the color of your skin, you have been afforded opportunities and privilege, because our country was built on a foundation of white supremacy. That’s probably a concept that’s too much for you to handle right now, when all you wanted to do was dress up as a PocaHottie for Halloween, but it’s true.”

    What the?! White privilege? Natives get more privileges than anyone I know! Granted I am Canadian, I don’t know what the policies are like in the states, but in Canada, everyone up to 1/8 native gets free schooling, can get lower grades AND OBTAIN THE SAME DEGREES, tax free gas, tons of government grants, funds for education and housing, and more. You are more likely to be hired (and less likely in some cases due to prejudice), in many places because of the equality ruling. Military for example. Air Canada is another. Any government job really.

    Hell to me it seems you guys are pretty advantaged rather than disadvantaged.

    I’m not a completely insensitive dick head – I know your people went through some HORRIBLE things – schools for natives back in the day were atrocious, you were robbed of your land, etc. BUT

    In 2013, don’t hate the white man this hard. You guys are getting hooked up a hell of a lot more than I do – someone who works full time while going to school full time to pay for it, pays for all my own ****, my own rent, yet all I hear about in the media is your complaints/wanting more.

    • Native Beauty says:

      Why is it that everyone thinks we as native people are given everything free!
      We PAY for you’s every single day!!
      We live on reservations! Reservations where we are surrounded by bush and swamp. While you guys live in these beautiful cities……thats the trade off we get from your white government….our people were almost destroyed because of your government….but we still live on.
      Exactly what you said! “WE WERE ROBBED OF OUR LAND”
      As for us wanting more…..We never wanted more…we just want what your government took from us what was rightfully ours right from the beginning…

    • Kate says:

      Wow I must have missed out on all my privileges. The only ones I got were poverty, foster care, homelessness and abuse. Then after lots of counselling, I struggled on a student budget because no one paid for my schooling. And I pay the same taxes as everyone else living in the city. So I don’t know where you got your information. Probably somewhere between majority of Aboriginals living in poverty, to the housing crisis, to Fist Nations people being persecuted in their own homes. When you grow up in severe third world-like conditions in a country where everyone else is flourishing, when the air you breath is so polluted from pipeline breakages in your water supply and the animals you hunt are all poisoned, when your house is so cold in winter because there is no insulation, when everyone around you has trauma so deep in their soul they can’t love themselves or fully connect with the people around you…your lucky to go to school, own a home, or even to raise your own children. I will gladly trade you all my privileges for yours.

  5. metis says:

    All through school I was the only metis or of aboriginal decent in my class. I worked harder than anyone in my class to get my grades. And I work harder than anyone to keep my job. It makes me sick when one of my people can mess up everything and have us labeled as drunks and people living off the government. But also being of white decent it annoys me when we miss judge others because the colour of their skin. All in all not one single culture is better than the other. Everyone is racist in some way shape or form. We just have to deal with it and prove to them that there are some of us who actually work for our education and money rather than sitting on our butts getting hand outs. I am a proud aboriginal and if they wanna dress like us so be it. Just shows that they like our culture. It would be nice if there was more material and native beading on it but there isn’t so deal with it. Just do not give us a bad name and we won’t give you a bad name. Thanks

  6. Non Dawes Cherokee says:

    When I dress myself in the morning I wear a Cowboy hat, boots, jeans and shirt. When I go out I add a vest. Sometimes I might have chaps on from working with horses.

    I’m reminded of the fact that the only difference in the West is that most natives may wear a ball cap instead. Should someone dress up in a stereotyped outfit and show ignorance? There’s no cure for stupidity. Do some research, know what and who you are representing. What I wear everyday is traditional and historically accurate. Also it is job related and specific to my trade as a Farrier. We only put on ceremonial dress for special occasions.

    Oh and on Halloween I’ll be dressed as a Pirate. There’s one of those in my ancestry and the garb will be authentic.

  7. Valerie says:

    Personally I do not find it offensive to dress up idolizing a certain culture. What I find offensive is the misrepresentation of culture. In Native American cultures we are not just from the Prairies, and there was no such thing as sex objects in the different cultures. Making costumes that objectify native women as sex objects who had clothes that didn’t properly cover their breasts or butts is racist. All I’d like is if someone is going to dress up as a certain culture is to know what culture they are objectifying and stay true to that culture. You wanna dress up as a chief know what group of native that Chief is from, ect…

  8. Kitty Carnes says:

    WOW reading a lot of the comments here.. and I see people just proving her points left and right! White privilege at its worst! Keep on proving her right… idiots lol!

  9. Authentic Viking says:

    Now that white folks are the minority, it is time to start being a little less pointed to the caucasians. Halloween is about being something you are not. If you are a cook, dress up as a janitor or a trainman. My heritage is that of a Norwegian. I take it very seriously and hold the little of our traditions dear to my heart. To see a clown version of what football paints as a berserker or swilling fermented beverages makes me kind of chuckle. I don’t take it personally as I am comfortable in my skin. My friends from all around the planet, I hold dear like brothers and sisters. Leave your luggage at the door and melt into the American Melting Pot. United we stand. Divided we fall.

  10. Lola says:

    When I was little I wanted to dress as Disney Princesses and Pirates because I wanted to be them. They were beautiful and adventurous. Even now as an adult the root of my dressing up is because I want something from what I am dressing up as that I don’t get in my everyday life. Beauty, freedom, super-hero strength.

    Do you think that these people choosing to be a person of culture, any culture, profession, or cartoon super-hero, is in the thought and spirit of cultural suppression? Do you think they pick an outfit and think, “Yes I want to poke fun at a this group and suppress them by misrepresenting their culture to a party!”

    Or do you think in choosing something they could not be themselves because they see something of a group of people they could not be on a daily base? I like this Viking because it looks strong and I am weak. I want to be a priest because I am lost and they always look so sure. I want to be a cat because my cat is the only one who loves me when I am sad. I want to be Pocahontas because she is strong and beautiful, and no one has told me I am strong, sexy, or beautiful.

    I am going to be a puppy dog this year, because my dog gets to stay home and sleep, bark at the mailman, and not wear cloths. And that sounds like a good time to me. I just hope he doesn’t get offended about me misrepresenting him because I can’t lap water and I am not going to go around sniffing peoples bottoms.

    The problem with people dressing as a culture or race is they get it from only a small part from one image they know. And they don’t know how someone of certain culture would dress. They see a Viking horned helmet and wear it not knowing that Vikings would use those horns to drink out of or as real blowing horns. Or that each plaid of a kilt is not just a pattern but belongs to a Scottish family. They don’t know that the colors in their outfit they saw online represents the Four Directions. So instead of blaming their ignorance why not educate them? Instead ask them to a party and show them how they could correctly dress?

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