Friday, August 6, 2010

Not the Real Thing

I am a huge fan of Adrienne K's blog, Native Appropriations. At times I have to stop myself from treating her website as a basket for all things offensive to us as Native peoples. For example, earlier this week I read about Lady Gaga saying, in regards to Arizona's SB1070, something along the lines of: "If it weren't for all you immigrants, this country wouldn't have shit." (Oooh, I can say shit on the Interweb! Not accustomed to that.) While I'm all for attempts at anti-racist sentiments, you can't throw other nations and cultures under the bus - c'mon now, Gaga.

Anyway, my first instinct was to e-mail this tip to Adrienne K. Then I realized: this has nothing to do with appropriation. It is just downright offensive to me and I want to send it to someone who will put Lady Gaga on blast for it.

Actually, this has nothing to do with the original thought I had to post, but I would like to give kudos to Native Appropriations - it's an awesome blog.

I have many memories of my move, at twelve years old, from my reservation to "the city" for the start of junior high, like being painstakingly behind in math and French class; passing a white girl in the halls and thinking she was the definition of beauty; and being chuckled at and corrected on my rez accent ("It's three, not tree!"). But one memory sticks out like a sore thumb and I've been thinking about it quite a bit since being hooked onto 'Native Appropriations.'

I was flipping through YM magazine with my friend Lisa (the same friend who, I suppose, I can thank for my proper pronunciation today) when we came across a 'trendy' pair of Native-style earrings. I can't remember whether they were feathers, beads or both, but they were very distinct. My immediate reaction was shock and outrage:

"They are stealing from our style!" I exclaimed.

"They're not stealing," Lisa said, matter-of-factly. "You should take it as a compliment that they like your style."

Always a people-pleaser and confrontation-avoider, I shrugged and flipped the page. But I still felt a fire lit under me. I knew something about this was not right.

A couple of weeks later I was back home, having a sleepover with two of my equally girly cousins. We too were flipping through a magazine admiring the latest fashions and laughing at the more "edgy" ones. And then we too stumbled across a page that featured Native-style earrings. The two of them reacted with some level of shock and disgust.

Suddenly, without much consideration, I found myself adopting Lisa's mantra and, as a result, a certain brand of "white knows best" philosophy.

"Relax," I reassured them, my nose a few millimeters closer to the sky than it had been a moment earlier. "We should be taking it as a compliment."

They didn't buy that reasoning. One of my cousins in particular shot it down, steadfast in her beliefs that it was "just copying" and "not the real thing."

Now I can look back on that time and dissect this cultural appropriation, a white response to it and my own embodiment of the dominant discourse. While not standing my ground - and worse, attempting some degree of lateral oppression - is not my finest moment, I will forgive my twelve-year-old self. After all, I never claimed to be a warrior or an activist or even outspoken at that age.

All I can do now is do my part to right (write) those wrongs.


  1. Thanks! I don't know how you find time to blog between working full-time, side projects and, ya know, trying to have some semblance of a life in there!

  2. That's a really interesting example of internalizing dominant culture -- eeps! (But yes, definitely should take it easy on 12 Year Old Vous.) Thanks for sharing. Gosh knows white 12 year old me could have said dumb things like that in my day.

  3. London, I probably *still* say dumb things to this day, just less of them. :P Thanks for the read!