Friday, October 27, 2006

"Cowboys and Indians" and "Tacos and Tequilas"

In the last few hours, several people have found my blog by doing an Internet search using these terms:

"indian war paint for halloween"
"american indian halloween costume face paint"
"american indian war paint"
"halloween indian face paint example with picture"

I read this data as I ponder recent events on the UIUC campus. The Greek (fraternity and sorority) Houses are a significant element here. They have events in which a frat and sorority get together around a specific theme.

This practice started to come to awareness last year, with a "ghetto" party in which the (mostly) white students in the Greek system organized a party where they dressed up like "ho's and thugs."

This year, another party was exposed. This is the "Tacos and Tequila" party (publicly called a Fiesta). This time, students dressed as pregnant Mexican women. Some students attached little brown dolls to their shirts. Males dressed as "farmers" or "gardeners" --- the words they use publicly for what they privately said was "wetbacks" and "illegals." Of course, there is a heavy amount of liquor involved in this get together. Also coming to light are "Cowboys and Indians" parties.

From a rather disturbed perspective this afternoon, I feel some anxiety over what all of this says about society. What are we doing such that this sort of thing takes place? It isn't happening just here. The parties are happening on campuses across the nation.

Those who wrote to me saying that my posts about dressing up like Indian are hypersensitive.... please rethink that response. It isn't the innocent act you think it is.


Anonymous said...

OK, I get that you don't want people to be insensitive to the Native American Culture. However, I do believe that children should be allowed to feel what they feel and want to be what they want to be. My daughter wants to be an "Indian." This is interesting because one of her best friends is actually Indian, from India. Different to that, she is fascinated by the Native American Dress and calls it Indian. We, as a family, are not disparaging of any ethnicity and she is immersed in many cultures, living here in New York City. We are middle class people who work hard for a living, and yet we do go to a private school. That school is not for profit and is of a developmental philosophy. We pay far less than the "privelaged class" of NYC, but we consider ourselves lucky to have found our cool school. One thing I find interesting about your blog is that it does not allow that historically, Native American Indians had a certain dress and look, and why is that not OK to observe as a costume? People dress as Marie Antoinette, don't they? People dress as Vampires. The point is, people dress as things that they find intriguing and actually might want to learn more about. I am very sorry if you find it offensive, but honestly, I find it an opportunity to talk organically with my child about what she finds interesting and then that opens the door to what is there academically. She certainly means no offense, being 6, and I, most certainly do not either. In this day and age, when so little is actually taught correctly about native american indians, I find it a great "in" to talk about everything with my daughter. I am sorry if it offends your sensibilities, but then, that is something for you to deal with. At the end of the day, do you want people to be insinserely NOT talking about Native America Indians, or do you want them to learn, by hook or by crook, what is real?

A caring, concerned, but decidedly UN-PC Mom

Anonymous said...

Response to Un-PC-Mom in New York

I appreciate your participating in a conversation that you probably didn’t expect to encounter when trying to find information about Indian “costumes”. I’ve read your post a couple of times & think you may have misread Debbie’s work. I don’t see Debbie saying that supporting children’s mistaken ideas about Native Americans “offends sensibilities”. Instead, she is inviting you and the rest of the world to consider why you would want to continue to support a child’s mistaken ideas about other people – or about anything, for that matter.

You (un-PC Mom) said: historically, Native people had “a certain dress and look”. In fact, you probably know that there were/are HUNDREDS of ways of “dressing and looking”, historically, depending on one’s culture, gender, age & experience, time period, etc. You probably have yet to see a culturally authentic, historically accurate “Indian costume” for kids sold anywhere. The ones available (even the patterns sold for those who sew) are a hodge-podge of Hollywood Indian stereotyping and foolishness.

I’m wondering what resources you and your daughter would use to find information about “Indian” ways of dressing and looking? Without the most accurate resources and careful choices, the result is likely to be a pseudo-historical mélange of styles and inaccuracies that will add to her misinformation about what it means to be Indian, in either the historical or contemporary sense. Even if the costume is 100% authentic/accurate, you still run into the problem of allowing your child to think that "playing Indian" is somehow on a par with pretending to be a vampire or Marie Antoinette, which it isn't.

If your daughter’s wearing an Indian “costume” is “an opportunity to talk organically” with her, which then “opens the door to what is there academically” – where will you look for materials that won’t add to the misinformation she already has? Debbie has suggested Oyate; so do I. A lot of non-Native people are uncomfortable when they look at Oyate for the first time. The perspective is very different from that of the dominant culture. It can be painful to come face-to-face with the fact that much mainstream “knowledge” about indigenous people is actually false, inaccurate, even stupid. Good books by Native people are an excellent antidote for the misinformation that dominates popular culture.

"Mom", you mention that your child’s school is “developmental”. Many schools with that approach also implement an anti-bias approach to diversity. You might want to ask the principal and the teachers whether they use the anti-bias curriculum, and then check out the materials, yourself. One tenet is that it’s educationally and ethically appropriate to proactively support children’s authentic understandings of cultures, groups, and lives other than their own. That means challenging or doing away with activities that keep the misunderstandings alive. Anti-bias curriculum materials are available from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Maybe a question to ask is, “If there were Native children in my daughter’s school, would I be caringly, proudly ‘un-PC’ and let her dress that way for Hallowe’en? Or would I make a point of being sure that she did nothing that reflects my/her ignorance about someone else’s history and culture?”
If the answer is, “That would be something for THEM to deal with; let her dress as she likes” – then what does that show her about how to get along with other people? “Let them eat cake?” “It doesn’t matter what I don’t know, as long as I don’t MEAN to offend?”

I should probably identify myself: I'm white, married to a kind, intelligent and talented tribally enrolled Muscogee Creek man; we have 4 wonderful children and (yay!!) four amazingly wise and beautiful grandchildren. I've known Debbie for about 12 years and am honored to have worked with her from time to time.

Anonymous said...

I was taught tolerance as a child and watched my parents practice it. To us, it meant that a tolerant person is more "other" directed than "me, mine, and I" directed. It meant that sometimes, for the sake of not offending someone else, you don't do something that might, to you, not seem so offensive.

I have found my parents guidance on this to prove a very good way to be in my life. It is a very wise way to behave when interacting with other cultures--to be "other" focused, not "me, mine, and I" focused. You can make interesting and lovely friends easily and learn so much and share so much more with each other.