May 29, 2014 - Kimye Appropriation Representative of U.S. Pop Culture’s Obsession with Native American Extinction, By Danielle Miller
“The only good Indian is a dead one”… Although Native Americans are alive and thriving celebrities and fashion companies would rather depict Natives as extinct while continuing to commit appropriation of various tribal cultural items and symbols.
“Kill the Indian save the man” along with the previous quotation were both sentiments upheld by Richard Pratt, the man who opened Carlisle boarding school in 1879 and implemented assimilation of Native Americans.
I questioned how aware of this history Kanye was with the Yeezus shirt picture which included the caption “God Wants you” under a Native corpse. I fail to see how anyone can interpret this depiction or any other works by Wes Lang of as acts of “good intentions”. Pratt was good intentioned in his relations with Natives so that proves just how lethal “good intentioned” romanticism can be.
While many claim our nation has come far from this horrible period in history the obsession to erase Native people continues.
The consumption of Native cultures with no remorse or intentions of reciprocation encompasses America’s origins and ongoing systems of imperialism. Celebrities one of the promoters and beneficiaries of these systems are the encapsulation of what I perceive to be a wasicu– the personification of greed.
Besides the obsession to depict natives as extinct, Americans have historically taken that romanticism of death to the next level by literally desecrating Native burial grounds and thieving remains.
This fascination with Native death carries through with other superstitions. Television shows constantly bring up “Indian burial grounds” as cause for any paranormal activity or evil. Ultimately demonizing the very cultures they pillaged and expanded upon.
Another demonstration of Non Native fascination with Native death and appropriation is the continued auctioning of stolen Native items or “artifacts”.
Waddington’s, the Toronto auction house, was forced to pull a blood stained child’s tunic from being sold. This child’s tunic shows how desensitized Americans and Canadians have become towards Natives that were even considering auctioning this item!
Its sickening how many can find pleasure in the varied representations of violence inflicted on indigenous people and call it “art” especially when our Native women face some of the highest statistics of violence and native children are still being misplaced from their communities through the foster care system.
The most recent escapade of Kim and Kanye was the appropriation of the thunderbird symbol on their jackets depicted in one of their wedding photos. The hypocrisy of the situation was reinforced when Kanye went on his usual tirade to criticize the way the media depicted him through tabloids and SNL skits. If he wants people to empathize with his family being misrepresented why can’t he do the same for the Native communities he appropriates from?
And what is up with Kanye’s choice to uphold racism by Wes Lang, who has not only created artwork offensive to Natives, but has also used blackface?
In one interview Lang revealed his reasoning behind the images along with his privileged sense of entitlement:
“I like to take American history and then completely ignore it. I come at it visually, taking images and telling my own story. I did a bunch of blackface stuff a couple of years ago. That was a little touchy. I wasn’t doing it to piss people off. I was doing a work about Abraham Lincoln, and I came across these images of little mammies. The images were striking and simple, and I was attracted to them.” DC: So you’re attracted to loaded imagery? WL: I’m covered in it, personally. [indicates his tattoos of women, skulls, crosses, and Indians] I’ve always been a collector of weird imagery, even when I was little.” DC: Do you think you’re challenging the audience when you draw a figure in blackface? Do you trust that they’ll know where you’re coming from? WL: I’m taking it out of its context and putting it into my context and hoping that people can understand that I’m not glorifying this stuff.”
While Lang recognizes that he is placing it in his “own context” he is completely disregarding the fact that it is not his place to appropriate racist images or to “reframe” them; by doing so he trivializing racism and white washing history. Just the concept of reframing racism from colonial white lens is problematic in itself.
The way Lang describes “Indians” as part of the imagery he listed as “weird” shows his complete disconnect with Native people. Categorizing Natives with skulls crosses and weird imagery is just as bad as the way people categorize Natives with other fictional groups to justify their stereotypes.
Many will probably bring about the next argument that frequently comes up, that we give power to imagery by choosing what is or isn’t offensive. When it comes to images of black face or dead Native Americans they will always be offensive no matter how we sugar coat and “interpret” them. They dehumanize and marginalize human beings and that has systemic effects.
Another argument people fall back on is that Kanye is just reclaiming racist images and bringing discourse. It’s exploitative to use Native Identity and Historical Trauma as a springboard for “discourse” and ultimately profit when you exclude the voice of those communities.
As someone who isn’t a member of the black community it’s not my place to decide if Kanye has the right to “reclaim” the confederate flag or blackface. As a Native American it is within my place to call out cultural appropriation that marginalizes Natives.
This entitlement of non-Natives to tell us what we should and shouldn’t be offended by needs to stop; especially when our people are still dealing with the bigger issues that are connected to the negligence of those who marginalize and dehumanize us.
Kim is not off the hook either. Many Native Americans have grown tired of the Kardashians and their frequent acts of appropriation.
Kim has made herself accountable for her negligence when she recently posted a blog lamenting about her new found awareness of racism since the birth of North West.
“I feel a responsibility as a mother, a public figure, a human being, to do what I can to make sure that not only my child, but all children, don’t have to grow up in a world where they are judged by the color of their skin, or their gender, or their sexual orientation,” Kardashian posted on her blog, run by Celebuzz. “I want my daughter growing up in a world where love for one another is the most important thing. So the first step I’m taking is to stop pretending like this isn’t my issue or my problem, because it is, it’s everyone’s…”
So Kim now is the time to practice what you preach. That means respecting ALL races, including Native Americans. I will direct you to any of the Last Real Indians Articles or to Native Appropriations blog where you can learn plenty about cultural appropriation.
I wish that non-Natives would take one moment from their privileged bubbles to understand how their actions are impacting Native children and communities. We are not trying to create division, but we are human too and we are harmed by stereotypes and images which promote genocide.
Our ancestors did not fight through assimilation so that pretentious celebrities can feel trendy and exotic. Our ancestors and relatives have literally bled and sacrificed to preserve what we hold to be sacred. The impetus of Native resistance is not something to mock and make light of.
We will continue to let you know WE ARE STILL HERE. We carry the strength of our ancestors in our cultures, traditions, blood and continued accomplishments. No matter how much you attempt to perpetuate conquest on our culture’s and identities, our spirits will never be conquered.