Friday, April 4, 2008

appropriate otherness

White folks got it goin' on! At least, when they borrow stuff from other people to help them get it goin' on:

There's not much goin' on with whiteness that white people want to embrace. So, when they do want to embrace something and be cool in the process, they usually reach across racial gaps and grab something:

That's a white guy, dressed as an Indian (his real name? Pale Foot). Paying "honor" and "respect" to the Indians, of course. Do you think the white guy dressed up here as the University of Illinois mascot knows WHICH Indians "sold" the land on which that university now squats?

UPDATE: Did you know that edgy actor Juliette Lewis is in a rock band? And she knows just how to add some feisty spunk to her rocker-chick persona:

In an article inspired by this image, Jessica Yee writes:

We in the Native community have to witness this with every kid who dresses up like Pocahontas on Halloween, or every time we turn on the TV to watch the Redskins, Braves, or Indians play. In fact it’s been going on for so damn long that we’re kinda the only race who it’s still happening to on this extreme, public level, to the point where the fight has basically died down. Or has it?

What I find most interesting though about all this imagery, and in particular Lewis’s choice of dress with her band, is actually coming from my raging feminist point of view. In an attempt to appear strong, raw, and unapologetic, people, and in this case, a woman, [Lewis] feels like she has to appropriate Native culture to a pretty extreme extent in order to do a good job of it.

I used to think Juliette Lewis was kind of cool. Well, maybe she doesn't ridiculize herself all that often by dressing up in redface.

Oh, wait . . .


  1. Wannabe whites.
    It's embarrasing to be a white person in a group of other people like Afro-Amers, NAs or Chicanos and along come some boreass white person acting all black or whatever.
    Ya go to a pow-wow and the average Indian might have a choker or wrist band on. . . maybe be sportin a feather, but the white wannabes all show up in full Native American regalia and they're all walking around with that tight smile looking like fucking bozos and being laughed at constantly.
    People who are despeartely grasping a culture because they just don't recognize any of their own.

  2. All the stuff that white people do to appropriate other cultures acknowledged, there is the quandary of the underlying wish to be part of a legitimate (not just latte-sipping, mall-inhabiting) culture. Where is one's homeplace, who are one's people? These are fundamental, legitimate questions that result in bizarre forms of identification such as the Chief-worship at the University of Illinois. All the same, the wish to belong, to have a valid place in the cosmos has to be recognized, no matter how weird the expression, even, or especially, because of a perversely white culture which seems to eliminate any avenue of authenticity.

  3. Thank you for the comments, SH and Allan.

    SH, I again wonder just what whites would recognize as their own, if they did do so. What are some of its elements? IS it there own?

    Allan, I appreciate your point that the desire to belong to a culture is a legitimate one, and what may be a further implication here--that the desire itself should be sympathized with, if not the ways in which the desire tends to be enacted. The desire for a genuine, unproblematic sense of belonging in racial terms can leave an honest, moral and ethical white person feeling bereft. The issue of racial and cultural identity becomes, then, an example of how teaching a person that they "are" white is a form of communal abuse.

  4. " The desire for a genuine, unproblematic sense of belonging in racial terms can leave an honest, moral and ethical white person feeling bereft. The issue of racial and cultural identity becomes, then, an example of how teaching a person that they "are" white is a form of communal abuse."

    I'm beginning to believe that you have a deep sense of loathing for your white brethren. Do you see any good in white society? Are there any cultural aspects of white society that you can identify with and claim proudly?

  5. Thank you for your further comments, SH, very helpful in pushing my thoughts forward.

    No, I certainly don't feel loathing for my white brethren (and, sistren?). In fact, I mostly sympathize with them, to the extent that they are saddled with a racial system, and with a particular categorization for themselves within it, that most of them barely understand (and don't get me wrong here--I think most "people of color" barely understand these things either, though, by necessity, many of them do understand them better than most whites do).

    I also don't think that when members of the white community, if there is such a thing, "abuse" their children in the sense that I'm talking about, they do so intentionally, or consciously. "Abuse" is a loaded word that I certainly hesitate to use, but I do think it fits (perhaps I need to do a blog entry on this topic).

    I do have a lot of misgivings, though, about the concept of whiteness itself, the idea that there should be, or even is, a white race, and/or a white culture. It's great to have you here as a visitor and reader, and I hope that if you return, you'll keep in mind that what I say about "white people" certainly doesn't apply to all of them, and also that my "target of critique" is more the category of whiteness and its results than the people to whom that category applies.

  6. Macon,
    You have raised important and interestiing questions here. Keep up the good work. I will try and get others involved in the discussion.

    I agree with you on the lack of cultural identity among white people and also the question of "whiteness" that you raise. White Euro-Amers are probably the most diverse group in America. We come from many places all across Europe which are as different as any. We also inhabit many diverse geographic areas which also contributes to our diversity. Isn't it interesting that we are so resistant to accepting diversity that crosses racial boundaries?
    But back to the question. . .yes, there is a lack of cultural identity among whites. As you know from my other posts, I find that just a matter of perception. I am proud of a lot of the things white Euro-Amers have accomplished in this country. Some of it is absolutely astounding. I am also ashamed of some of the things my people do, butthat doesn't prevent me from also being proud. I believe that white people have to reach that point of acceptance before they can begin to accept others with out hesitation.. . . kinda like the psycho babble of "you can't love others till you love yourself."

  7. Sounds good, SH. I'm glad you like it here, and it would be great to have others involved in the discussion.

    I think your point about love is a good one. Toni Morrison puts it this way in one of her novels: "Love is never any better than the lover." I would only add that nearly any lover can find ways to become better. A better person, that is, and thus a better provider of love.

  8. This entry of yours is a year old, so I'm not sure if you ever read old entries, but here goes. This is my viewpoint as a Chinese American.

    I sometimes think it's more of "stuff white Americans do" than simply "stuff white people do". To go with the view of Asians as perpetual foreigners, many white Americans mistakenly believe that Asians would support the country of their cultural origin over America. I see just the opposite sometimes when I look at White Americans as a monolithic group (which they are not, but for the sake of argument...). I feel like there is a sense of lacking reverence for any European heritage.

    It is disparaging when I see white Americans do things like even talk about Europeans as being "the Other". British people are too prissy (not to mention many people failing to see the irony behind making fun of British accents), French people are cowards and hypocrites, the Irish love to get drunk, the Holocaust will always be the shame of the Germans. That last one is particularly salient in my mind when Conservative pundit Ann Coulter made a sarcastic quip about Germans about the elections. "In a poll taken in Germany during the election, it showed that 80% of the German people supported Obama over McCain. And we all know how infallible the Germans are at picking great leaders." I shouldn't confuse national origin with race, but do people ever worry about just what sort of image they're giving out when they make fun of Europeans?

    But I have seen examples of where, I think, White people can have their own solid cultural identity. My best friend is a German American. Now, if you met him yourself outside of the context of his family, he is undoubtedly American, but when I watch him interact with his family, there is undoubtedly a solid German identity ingrained in his family. It probably helps that they openly keep close ties to family that are in Europe.

    Every year, when St Patricks Day would come around in high school, I remember one girl who was always proud to display her pride in her Irish heritage. As such, rather than thinking of her as White American, I always thought of her as Irish American. Some teachers too were so proud of it that they had the school host an assembly where some teachers, who were also musicians, would play classical folk Irish music for the school. I always found something oddly admirable about all this. People who do take their European heritage more seriously than simply "latte-sipping, mall-inhabiting..." (which is, quite frankly, something that a whole lot of people in the world do these days)

    ...That sounds like a blog post for you "stuff white people do: make fun of non-American white people"


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