Friday, November 01, 2013

Vanity Fair's "Favorite" Halloween Costumes

Having my coffee this morning, my twitter feed included a link to a Vanity Fair slideshow of "favorite" costumes at an event that took place last night (Halloween). I wondered if Hamish Robertson (the photographer) and editors at Vanity Fair were aware that dressing as an "Indian" is inappropriate.

So I went to the slide show and saw this:

The caption (not shown because it has been changed) was "The Indian."*

I replied to the Robertson's tweet. Here's a screenshot of the tweets:

Reading Robertson's reply, I went back to the slideshow to see the adjustment. Here's what he did:

This time you see the caption. It says "FEATHERS" instead of "The Indian."*

That, of course, is no better.

That the photograph made its way onto a list of "favorite" costumes tells me that some people at Vanity Fair, a magazine I subscribe to, are clueless about this issue. That's a bit surprising to me, especially given the coverage of fashion designers who have been called out for appropriation of Native intellectual property. Native Appropriations has been doing an excellent job of documenting the fashion industry's appropriation (click here to get a list of posts Adrienne has done on this topic). Paul Frank responded to criticism of a fashion event by working with Native designers.

What can Vanity Fair do?

I recommend they read the report recently released by the National Congress of American Indians. While the title specifies mascots, the contents of the report have broader application. Obviously, it applies to images of American Indians in children's and young adult literature.

We (by we, I mean American society) are stuck in an ugly cycle in which this kind of stereotyping happens again and again, year after year. Unfortunately, it is a money maker for those who do it. On her Facebook page, my daughter pointed to the "Sexy Indian" costumes available from a Halloween costume company. She opened by referencing statistics about how many Native women are sexually assaulted (one in three) by non-Native men, making the point that dressing up and playing Indian are not harmless activities. These activities are indicative of an ignorant society that refuses to see American Indian people as people.

A powerhouse like Vanity Fair can help interrupt that cycle by publishing an essay that takes a hard look at playing Indian/dressing Indian. They can show their readers how much it happens. This means starting with children's books and activities in which children are shown or encouraged to play Indian. It means taking on esteemed children's book authors and illustrators, and the Boy Scouts, and, the Washington Redskins, too.

That's what Vanity Fair can do.

*In my original post, I made an error. The caption was not "An Indian." It was "The Indian." My post has been edited to correct the error.

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