Nov 8, 2015 - I Say “Indian”, you say “Redskin” by Maleaha Brings Plenty
You walk into Walmart, looking for an easy and cheap Halloween costume. You walk over to the costume section, and see the usual; fake knives, clown masks, vampire makeup, etc. And then, you see the most enraging of them all: an “Indian headdress” with “authentic feathers”, neatly wrapped in an overly-complicatedly packed plastic bag. On the front is a tall girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, with the corresponding “Sassy Squaw” leather fringed bikini on and a tomahawk in her hand.
You’re outraged! You’re so offended and angry you could spit! This is a usual sight around Halloween time. Despite this, you want to just tear it off the shelf, rip it up, and throw it in the face of whoever made it. But, you know no one will listen. You’re just “overly-sensitive” and “it’s just a Halloween costume.” Maybe you should just let it go? Then you decide, nope. You’re not just going to “move on”, because this directly affects you.
You storm out of Walmart, knowing you can’t accomplish anything yelling at that poor little cashier about your racial struggles. You go home, log in to Facebook, and write the longest post you’ve ever written. It’s about how racist it is to sell costumes like the culture is just a novelty toy. A $.99 toy at the dollar store. Most of your Facebook friends like it, and comment things like, “So true”, and “Absolutely, it’s insane”. But, then someone writes, “I don’t see the big deal; it’s just a Halloween costume”.
They don’t understand. You’ve written about many things, from this to the Redskins logo and name, and they just don’t get it. You’ve tried in vain to explain why it makes you so angry and offended, but they don’t understand. You know why? It’s not their culture that’s being essentially made fun of.
When a drunk sorority girl wears an “Indian headdress” at a “harmless college party”, while throwing up her night and future, that’s a slight. When someone calls an Indian a “Redskin”, and does that stupid whooping thing, that’s definitely a slight. Despite what they always say, which is “I didn’t mean to offend anybody”, it’s definitely a slight. Not only towards you, but also towards every ancestor that came before. It’s towards every single person that literally fought, and maybe even died, to keep our traditions and culture alive. It’s because of those ancestors that we are even a people, that we are even alive!
Say that you are talking to someone who has no idea that Indians are even still around. They still think Indians died about 200 years ago, and that we are no more, no mas. They don’t necessarily wear all of the headdresses and whatnot, but they sure aren’t opposed to it all. Why? They don’t think Indians still exist. You ask how it’d be better, whether they’re alive or not. They don’t respond. Why? Because they know deep down inside that it wouldn’t be any better whether they’re alive or not.
Even when we are very openly offended, we are overlooked, told to “get over it”. No. We won’t “get over it”. We are very much here, very much alive, and very angry. If you want us to “get over it”, never mention 9/11 again. What if we wanted you to just “get over it”? It’s a tragedy, right? It’s awful right? You would be angry if people were making fun of you and your culture like that, wouldn’t you? How is it any different with us?
Consider this, you can have some of the most offensive Indian costumes in the world on the shelves of Target and Walmart, right? Right, well, let’s also add to that the good ol’ “Grape Soda Gerome” costume, shall we? Or maybe “Watermelon Windisha”? Or “Slanty-Eyed Sakura”? “Starbucks Susan”? “Terrorist Taahir”? “Turban Tahfeem”? Get the picture?
If those were on the market, the world would implode. So, what’s the difference between all those and “Sassy Squaw” or the classic “Poccahottie”? Not a thing in the world. Why can’t people see it like that? Racism is racism is racism. It’s all the same discrimination, no matter who it’s toward.
From a teenager’s perspective, this is harmful. I know some kids have identity issues, and for them to see these stereotypes so prevalent in the world around them sure doesn’t help. I am proud to be Indian, but it is hard to be Indian because of the stereotypes and racial discrimination. It’s all just so disrespectful it makes me physically sick. All some Indian kids hear is “All Indians are drunks” or “All Indians are on drugs”. And, if they have identity issues, what do they go do? They go drink and snort away their futures and lives because that’s what they think “being Indian” is about or they just want to escape the racist world we live in. Either way, I hate it, and it needs to end. I have personally heard people say racist things like that, not even thinking about how that makes me or any other Indians feel. Crazy, right?
Maybe one day, our children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren will live in a world where they won’t be referred to as “Redskins”. Maybe they won’t have to deal with the oh-so prevalent racism that we have to deal with right now. I hope, for their sakes, that it is better.
It is 2015, and this shouldn’t be happening. By now, it should be long-gone. But, since it’s not, we have to fight the good fight. We can’t let this awful racism just walk all over us. Speak up when you’re offended. Defend what’s right, and bash what’s wrong. Together, we can fix it. We Indians are strong. If we have survived this long in the world, we can continue to persevere despite the circumstances. We will live. We will survive.
Maleaha Brings Plenty (Oglala/Eastern Band Cherokee. Age 13. 10th grade)