Wednesday, April 1, 2009

romanticize indigenous people

[There's further discussion of the episode
described in this post at Burning Man's,
here and here at Debunking White,
and in
this SWPD comments thread;
Christine Garvin also reflects on the post below
in the context of international travel by white folks,
at Brave New Traveler]

So apparently, as the news excerpts below explain, some "Burners"--a particular kind of mostly white folk, a kind who usually try really hard to get away from their normalized whiteness--recently tried to throw a Native American-themed party. Instead, they ended up with white all over their faces.

So often, white people who want to reach out beyond the boundaries of "normal" life end up reaching too much into the lives of others. Actually, and oddly enough, when they think they're reaching out to something authentically non-white, what they're actually doing is conjuring up a fantasized, stereotypical, and romanticized version of something that's only supposedly non-white.

In many cases, because this conjured-up version of another culture is so false and self-serving, and because it's so distant from actual non-white ways of living and being, the result is, just for starters, an insult to the very people that the white romanticizers thought they were emulating and "honoring." And because this way of moving away from whiteness by dipping into another, supposed "culture" is so common--think sports mascots, dreamcatchers, jazz, hip hop, written Chinese, henna, and so on--it ends up making the white person who does it seem not less white, but instead, as white as ever.

If you don't know what Burning Man is, it'll help to skim this explanation before reading the news-report excerpts below.

Maybe some good will come out of this episode? There's certainly a lot to be learned here, for any white person willing to really, sincerely listen.

[Update: from the polyvocal comment thread for this post--which includes some comments from apparent indigenous and Burning Man people--here are some suggested sources on common problems with white/indigenous contact: Oyate, White Shamans and Plastic Medicine Men (which is a film on YouTube), and "Who Owns Native Culture?" I also recommend this page at Blue Corn Comics.)

Burners Torched Over Native Party

Local Native Americans go to war against insensitive Burners and win.

By David Downs
East Bay Express

There was supposed to be a "private" Burner party last Saturday night at the Bordello in Oakland, complete with three hundred guests, twenty DJs spinning thumping techno and bass, dancers, a fashion show, micro-massages, raw food, an absinthe bar, and coconuts. Instead, the event ended in tears.

More than fifty Bay Area Native American rights activists converged on the historic East Oakland property at 9:30 p.m. to ensure the shutdown of popular Burning Man group Visionary Village's "Go Native!" party. The fired-up Hopis, Kiowas and other tribal members spent more than four hours lecturing the handful of white, college-class Burners about cultural sensitivity until some of them simply broke down crying. The emotional crescendo capped a month-long saga that started with a tone-deaf dance party flyer, led to an Internet flame war and a public excoriation of Visionary Village's young, neo-hippy leaders before real tribal elders in the East Bay demanded a cancellation of the event.

The strange saga all began in early February when Visionary Village — a loose group of artists and other young people who enjoy the annual Burning Man arts festival in Nevada — began routine publicity for a Burning Man-style "private event" at the Bordello on E. 12 Street in Oakland. The online flyer circulated on read: "GO NATIVE" in an Old West font set against a desert sun, and the dance party was advertised as a "fundraiser for the Native American Church." Native-rights activists got wind of it and publicized additional text from the web site indicating four "elemental rooms" would be themed: "Water: Island Natives (Maori); Air: Cliff Natives (Anasazi); Earth: Jungle Natives (Shipibo); Fire: Desert Natives (Pueblo)." Ravers were offered a discount off the $20 door fee "if you show up in Native costume," and the money would fund "neurofeedback research demonstrating causality between medicinal use [of peyote], improved brainwave patterns, and heightened mirror neuron activity in users." The 140-year-old Bordello property abuts Interstate 880 and an ancient Ohlone Indian site dated to the 12th century B.C., which was also promoted.

By Wednesday, March 25, Native Americans across the country were seething on the comment boards, especially — a popular web destination for alternative news and culture. American Indian Movement West member Mark Anquoe, a 39-year-old San Francisco resident, said he'd never seen such a swift reaction. The Burners touched a third rail when they invoked the Native American Church, which has had to fight for legal status from the United States for years. The costume discount, lumping distinct tribes in with each other and the promise of debauchery next to sacred Ohlone land, only added gasoline to the inferno. Commenters demanded that the event be canceled, started a petition amongst rights groups, and some began threatening Visionary Village with arson and rape. . . .

The Burners quickly backpedaled online, signing a petition to distance the event from any Native themes and stating: "The decorations in the Air Room include a parachute. Our organizers are dressing as time-traveling aliens, Nickelodeon cartoon characters, and fire-dragons because that is how they identify their native identity. That is their NATIVE ATTIRE/COSTUME. . . . Please stop slandering our event and misleading people."

But the bonfire was too big. Real Native Americans promised to protest the event and some DJs egged them on. On Friday, March 27, IndyBay reporter and UC Berkeley attendee Hillary Lehr proposed a meeting of both sides in Mosswood Park to work out their differences. Visionary Village leaders "Caapi" and Byron Page attended the meet with Anquoe and others. The Native Americans persuaded the Burners to come to the Intertribal Friendship House on International Boulevard in Oakland that night. There, they got blasted by Natives young and old for their party idea. . .

Within the dark, labyrinthine walls of the 140-year-old former brothel, old Native Americans were lecturing young Burners on what it meant to be Indian. Lit by dim lamps under red glass lampshades, tribal elder Wounded Knee DeOcampo — wearing a black T-shirt that read "original landlord" — stood over performance artist "Cicada" in her sparkly, sheer scarf and layered hipster garb, lecturing her about his grandmother's forcible kidnapping and rape at white hands.

"There's a lot of pain," he said. "I don't want you to agree with me, I want you to understand!"

Caapi said his team's hearts were in the right place and they did not intend to steal Indian culture. "I think everyone here and inside of our community at large know how poorly promoted this event was in its iconography, in its text, in the affiliations and implications. I think perhaps after tonight the intent will be recognized for the good heartedness it was and the absence of anything resembling cultural appropriation."

But for every apology, the group often inserted a foot into its mouth. Some Burners said they'd been trained by shamans to build altars, others sang racist childhood songs, or noted the lack of Native Americans at Burning Man (which occurs on an Indian reservation). Others asked for Indian help with their Burning Man projects, prompting a Hopi woman to go off.

"I'm trying to articulate my feelings as best I can without completely losing it," she said. "What we do is not an artistic expression. And you don't have artistic license to take little pieces here and there and do what you want with it. That's something you people don't understand, probably never will understand.

"Name your little villages whatever you want, but don't ever associate it with Native Americans. Call it the Crystal Ranch or something. Call it the Mars Ranch. If you want to be spiritual — go be a Druid or something."

The back and forth went on until 1 a.m. and everyone was emotionally beaten, exhausted, and silent. No further reparations are planned, but the topic still smolders on places like The organizers lost thousands of dollars in party planning fees, and face the continued ire of the Natives as well as their own Burner peers.

The entire story is here; h/t: delux vivens @ Debunking White

[My thanks to an anonymous commenter for pointing out the problem with the original title of this post, "romanticize native americans"]


  1. That's an amazing story. I've been thinking and talking to people about this kind of cultural appropriation for awhile now (starting off particularly with 'neo-pagan' community, which i was one a part of), and it's almost impossible to ever get through to anyone, especially because the appropriation so often wrapped up in ideas about religion/spirituality. And if people are closed off about one thing and able to use it to justify almost any behavior, it's religion - even a religion that's been continuously invented and reinvented since the 1950s.

    But i also think that the neo-pagan appropriation of indigneous cultures is really just a version of the sort mentioned in this post, which is just a version of the kind of white people 'playing indian' that's been going on since the 19th century, and the religion thing is in part just a convenient excuse.

    You're totally right in saying, "So often, white people who want to reach out beyond the boundaries of "normal" life end up reaching too much into the lives of others." I think that means, however, that one of the things that white people who are striving to be anti-racist can do is to put their creative, community-building energies towards finding non-appropriative ways of getting beyond the boundaries of normal life.

    The sense of connection and authenticity and meaningfulness and depth that people find in these appropriative activities are real and necessary. It's just that in a racist culture, the easiest tool to achieve them is a racist tool. People are gonna be hard pressed to give that up, no matter how much anti-racist moralizing they're confronted with unless they have an alternative to turn to.

  2. I'm glad the Natives stood up for themselves and I hope the Burners learned a valuable less. Unfortunately I'm sure some of the Burners are going to frame themselves as the victims and do one of those "I'm sorry you were offended" non apologies.

  3. I totally agree that the Burners were out of line and disrespectful. The Native Americans had PLENTY of reason to be upset and I'm glad they took action.

    However, you have to be careful with statements like:

    And because this way of moving away from whiteness by dipping into another, supposed "culture" is so common--think sports mascots, dreamcatchers, jazz, hip hop, written Chinese, henna, and so on--it ends up making the white person who does it seem not less white, but instead, as white as ever.

    In some cases, this is totally true. But in others, it's just white Americans who are interested in a part of now-Americanized culture, since there are so many influences here. My brother is a jazz musician and he's white - he just really likes jazz music. I have a friend who lived in Japan for 5 years and she's white but she has Japanese art up all over her house. Neither of these people are pretentious or trying to be anything other than white. However, I have also known white people who have gotten Chinese characters tattooed on their neck because it seemed "cultural" even though they knew nothing about it. It can really go either way...

    In any case, I think that's a different discussion than what these Burners were doing, which was totally disrespectful.

  4. I always find it odd that white people try to detach from their own culture so much. many times when you embrace your own culture you find common ground, understanding and an unbreakable bond with other cultures. Whether it be through common resistance movements, indigenous rights struggles, civil rights struggles or common religious values, each world culture has a at least one common story and common thread in the fabric of humanity. By embracing your own history you become more aware, more sensitive and more educated about others cultures.

    Now some parts of culture do come from socio-economic situations, so in the discussion of hip-hop and jazz is a little more complicated. I grew up in the highest concentration of white poverty in the United States, and hip hop was for many people the very reason to get up in the morning. It didn't matter the color of one's skin, or where their ancestors came from, the message was about poverty, struggle and pain, and to the impoverished of the world, those feelings are universal.

  5. "Water: Island Natives (Maori)"
    Since when did Maori qualify as "Native Americans"?

  6. Good point, Anonymous. Maybe I should change the post title to "romanticize indigenous people"?

    (btw, please choose a name for future comments)

  7. "One of the things that white people who are striving to be anti-racist can do is to put their creative, community-building energies towards finding non-appropriative ways of getting beyond the boundaries of normal life."


    Thanks for blogging about this. I am hoping to do anti-oppression work and basic conciousness raising surrouding 'stuff white people do'and how it is perceived in different communities.

    I called the dialogue the Friday before the event and tried to facilitate face-to-face interaction to further honesty and understanding. I have now been called a white accomplice to a "hit" on the Visionary Village Community by an individual in VV. Which is interesting considering I helped Visionary Village people out at Burning Man last year and was trying to help VV clarify their intention. But I also wanted VV to acknowledge the pain they had causesd the Native community through dishonest interactions and lack of respect for the Native community's completely legitimate feelings (as if anyone has the right to tell anyone else whether or not they have legitimate feelings, especially white folks).

    So now I am a hit-woman. That's new. I am always surprised when people who feel they don't need to participate in anti-oppression work but are the very people who probably need it most.

    I agree that new avenues of 'legitimatization' of cultural appropriation have been created in alternative spiritual largely-white communities such as Burning Man. However, I don't think we should immediately dismiss all of Burning Man as appropriative. I have attended Burning Man with people of color and don't want to have their presence and impact in this scene be forgotten or ignored just because it is largely white... Also, I have seen many spiritualities evolving that are unique to the playa community and a new way for people to relate to the world that may be very valuabe in preventing additional cases of appropriation. These experiences have helped people to become more compassionate, more respectful, and more accountable to their communities. I have seen this firsthand. I wonder where all of these people would go for spiritual inspiration if they didn't have Burning Man... I don't know, it's just interesting to think about.

    At the discussion Saturday night, many members of the Native community acknowledged the search of folks for a spirituality, of a quest for knowledge of our roots and divine inspiration and understanding to promote our common dreams of a better world. But I respect what they said after that: "Find your own." I would love to continue dialoging with others exploring this boundary.

    I think that awareness and conversation around appropriation in this community is essential to promoting positive growth in communities without stealing from or disrespecting others. I think a lot of the BM community hasn't challenged themselves around issues of privilege and this is apparent in the many blogs and emails surrounding this event.

    I see many possible interactions between these groups that could be so beautiful and mutually supportive. However, none of these will happen if the group with all the privilege doesn't reality check by learning how to be allies and how to show respect. You gotta give it to get it.

  8. As one of the few non-Native Americans who were actually present in the meeting on Saturday night mentioned in David Down's article, let me set the record straight about "white burners."

    First, most of the burners who planned this event are of mixed race origin.

    Second, the Village itself, is a mixed-nationality, multi-denominational organization. (For example, the Hare Krishnas, who are Indian from India, are making the meal plan.)

    Creating bridges between religion, race and culture and creating a temple where we can learn about Evolving toward the ecologically sustainable, Visionary community of the future is the POINT of Visionary Village.

    If you want to criticize Burners for being white priveledged, decadent ravers, go criticize the ones who are running a titty bar, not the ones who are building a multi-denominational temple!

    It's interesting that neither the Native American activists present in the meeting, nor the reporter, actually took time to ask the 5 organizers of the village, and the 3 organizers of the camp within it, nor the ten or so other burners in the room what their actual racial affiliation was.

    In fact, 3 of the organizers are of mixed blood, including mixed Native American ancestry, one identified himself in front of the room as "Chinese/Black/White/Native" multiracial, and one of the camp members who showed up that night is part Native American (and grew up in Section 8 housing.

    "White priveledge" doesn't describe ANY of the Burners who showed up that night. It is a racial stereotype, not a factual observation.

    None of us are exactly shining examples of "white privelege" in our day to day lives -- more like a sad example of the way the middle class has all but disappeared in this country- while college educated, most of us are living in badly maintained and overpriced shared rental housing. Some of us are recently unemployed due to the downturn, or even facing evictions. Some of the organizers do not own cars, carpooled or took the bus to the event, or drove dented beat up used cars.

    One of the burners present even identified himself as Native American and spoke out in favor of Burning Man. His quote conveniently did not make it into the sensationalized and biased story.

    As for me, others might call me white, but like many people who descend from immigrants to the US in the last century, my ancestors were by no means "priveledged white people."

    When they escaped their homeland and arrived in this country to labor in dangerous, toxic jobs, under dangerous conditions, in the coal mines, They lived in slum tenement housing and were thought of as disposable migrant labor.

    The next generation was still poor --my father was raised during the depression, in poverty, with uneducated relatives, many whom did not speak English as their first language. It usually takes three generations in this country to rise out of your roots of oppression --- and by then, we don't want to look back and admit them.

    My father became the first person ever in his family (with scholarships and part time jobs) to get an education and graduate college.

    I've never thought of them as my roots as priveleged, but as an example of the true American dream that you can come on a boat from nowhere, not speaking the language, with no job skills and nothing but a suitcase, and make something of yourself in this country.

    While growing up in the 60s, at the dawn of the civil rights movement, I wasn't very white identified. Back then, "white" meant pure bread, straight blond hair/blue eyes, WASP. I was too ethinc, and was often ridiculed by the other kids.I ate lunch with the "outcasts" -- the Jewish kids, the black and interracial kids who came from down town into the suburbs on buses. (Back then they called it the "busing movement.")

    My first boyfriend, in fact, was a Native American, and my longest relationship was with a man who was multiracial--part black.

    My brother in law is also mixed race (half Latin American) and I consider him family.

    So please don't call me, or any of the other burners (who were conscious and empathetic enough to spend our Saturday night listening to a large group of angry Native Americans rant and rage at us for a party that we had already profusely and publicly apologized for and voluntarily canceled), a white supremacist or racist! We are far from it!

    The fact is, that in this country, America, we have the opportunity to EVOLVE and move forward out of whatever oppression we were born into.

    While bootstrapping yourself out of Immigrant poverty is by no means the same as the horrible genocide and oppression that Native Americans have suffered for 500 years, and are finally, I hope and pray, rising above, I think that it's time for all of us to EVOLVE beyond these distinctions of "who is allowed to practice what religion" and what we're supposed to be because of what our ancestors believed in thousands of years ago. It's ONE WORLD now, a rainbow world, where 7 million people in America alone are mixed race, and our president is mixed race.

    The race we were born into isn't the issue anymore --pulling together and getting past our boundaries in order to share the abundance of this planet is the answer. Come on, people, all together now, let's talk about THE HUMAN RACE.

  9. Can you add a post to stuff white people do, "talk about the Human Race in order to invalidate what they consider claims to racism". Ignoring systematic oppression, injustice,and the obvious power dynamics present in our society that has created a socialized conception of race that cannot be denied.

  10. Wow, that's a hot mess. Getting out of normal life is fine, but doing it by getting into others in disrespectful ways just, you know, isn't. Fantasies about who they are, yes, especially bad.

    Anonymous at 2:16, in several ways your answer is, in the literal sense of the word, appalling. It shows you to be a pale-face. You've got white on your face. And so on. The Horatio Alger story of your family is like a white triumphalist's list of cliches about what a great, colorblind country America supposedly is. And the post isn't criticizing ALL Burners. It's about those who had such trouble hearing Native American objections to their appropriative plans.

    One of the burners present even identified himself as Native American and spoke out in favor of Burning Man.

    That's priceless! It's nice to know that you've got a very special Native American friend, who could help you ignore what those other mean NAs were ranting on and on so nonsensically about. Did that friend help you choose just the right feathers to put in your hair too?

  11. I can be anonymous, too!April 3, 2009 at 12:40 AM

    I was at the event as well. Thanks for doing so much deconstruction work.

    It's pretty obvious from Anonymous@216's comment(s) and space-hijacking that most of the Native community left pretty disjointed about the affair. On one hand, there was a stage created by both parties (well, two of the five self-identified organizers carried the torch 75% of the way before Saturday night) in which a lot of important information and feelings and (oh my gawd, scary!!) rage came out. Then, well, this comment goes to show exactly what we feared most: that most of them clearly didn't get it.

    We inherit dispossession, disenfranchisement and transgenerational stress disorder. Others inherit a wealth, education, and a privilege built on that dispossession, dienfranchisement and stress order.

    The post-dialogue whining I've seen in so many online soliloquies have alluded to a couple of things: Clearly, we ndnz were SO MEAN. We apparently have not done enough to bridge the gap with a group of mostly white people or people who pass as white or are completely disassociated from any "Native ancestry" they may have.

    What more of these "mixed-racial-ancestry" white people who pass as white people and are as ignorant as white people on being Native in the world today should be asking is, how did it get to the point that most of their cultural inheritance didn't make it to them? Who took that away from them and why?

  12. I think both “sides” should be commended for how they handled the situation. From my point of view, a conflict arose between two groups and they resolved it through pro-active discussion, diplomacy, and walked away with more understanding of the issue. Isn’t that the ideal solution for conflicts? Hats off to both groups.

    Personally, I also thought the writer’s tone was very patronizing towards the “Burners”. Nearly 50,000 people from all over the world attend Burning Man and it’s becoming more of an international gathering each year. Visionary Village is one camp out of thousands of other theme camps at the festival. There really isn’t a convenient stereotype for a “Burner” anymore. One of my most memorable experiences at Burning Man was seeing an old couple retake their marriage vows in front of their family.

    For the record, I am an Asian female immigrant who grew up dirt poor with parents who didn’t understand English in the ghetto parts of Oakland in the 80s and I’ve been to Burning Man 5 times.

  13. My favorite part of this article is something my partner pointed out.

    "If you want to be spiritual — go be a Druid or something."

    In other words, if you want to appropriate someone else's culture to serve your personal spiritual needs, it's fine if you do it to these other people we don't care about.

    Not saying this invalidates what the speaker was saying, but... man.

  14. "In other words, if you want to appropriate someone else's culture to serve your personal spiritual needs, it's fine if you do it to these other people we don't care about. "

    If i may hazard a guess, i think it's more like:
    In other words, if you want to appropriate the no-longer-existent culture of long dead, white people, that's totally not hurting anyone. Ancient Celts, Greeks, Norse, etc. all converted to Christianity on the path to Western Europe colonizing the whole world. In my opinion, that makes the discarded refuse of their cultures completely fair game for anyone to use, particularly white kids who might otherwise be making "vision quests" or "sweat lodges"

  15. It's a little dated at this point (1996) but there's an incredible documentary called "White Shamans and Plastic Medicine Men" that deals with a lot of this subject matter. It's probably the only thing I remember from my intro to anthropology class, and it still stays with me..

  16. Thank you Saia, I see it's on YouTube, in three parts--I look forward to watching it.

  17. It looks like just two of the three parts of "White Shamans and Plastic Medicine Men" are there. Anyone know if the whole thing's online anywhere? Other sources along these lines would be helpful too.

  18. I would strongly recommend the Oyate website, at The people at Oyate write reviews of books about indigenous people and have devoted ample time to deconstructing stereotypes and myths about them as presented in popular books like "Little House on the Prairie."

    This website is just one of the many tools for self education house right there in the Bay Area.

  19. I think it would be worthwhile for folks to take a look at this website:

    Who Owns Native
    , which is chock full of papers and accounts about appropriation and indigenous people's efforts to protect what they have left.

    Therein lies the greater question: why are folks so torqued about Native people telling them 'No, you can't do this?'

    From what I've seen over the years so much of the 'honoring' of Native people and 'reclaiming' feels like it's more of a question of who is going to make a buck at the end of the day. The canceled event feels like one more manifestation of that practice, for good or for ill.

    If people at the meeting ran into that level of anger, there had to be something behind it. And for once, they got to say what needed to be said.

    Anonymous@2:16 pm: it's all well and good to talk about evolution but you can't evolve if you don't respect. You're asking folks to put aside years of taking crap just so that you can feel better - at least that's how it reads.

  20. regarding the "go be a druid" me, that sounds like a suggestion to tap into one's own heritage, perhaps? I mean, if I want to dig back and find my pre-christian spirituality, that's what it is. Cobalt, who do you think is disrespected by suggesting folks go be druids?

  21. My reaction is "chill out." The intention behind the event needs to be taken into account. If Burning Man had to take into account every possible cultural sensitivity, the annual event in Black Rock City would be as creative and exciting as a PTA meeting.

    When I go to Burning Man, I get my buttons pushed, my boundaries stretched, and my sensibilities torched--and I'm glad it happens. Let's not take this too seriously.

  22. David Downs strikes me as a major fake as far as reporters go. His past articles suggest to me that he focuses on this kind of conflict, not out of a desire to examine race in America but as a way to make a name for himself through a somewhat incendiary journalism. I'd get a second opinion on anything this guy writes.

  23. @ anonymous:

    I'm a white woman of upper middle-class birth whose 2 college degrees will not allow her to find a job right now. My father was a working class man from Arkansas, first in his family to attend college. I am in no way under the delusion that this somehow gives me a free pass to deny white privilege and participate in the continued degradation of Native American religions by white people who buy into Noble Savage bullshit.

    Do you really think white privilege is about being rich? Do you really think "come in Native costume" is respectful to Natives in any way? Do you really believe the one Native American who agrees with you cancels out the scores, hundreds, thousands who don't?

    Because the NAs I've had contact with on-line and IRL are tired of this nonsense. They're tired of fake shamans selling sweats, they're tired of being told they're "wrong" about their own religion by white people who've read books on the subject, they're tired of "Indian" sports team mascots, and they're very tired of New Age types wanting to "learn NA religion" without feeling they have to participate in a NA community.

    I wouldn't call you a racist or a white supremacist. You're not one. What you are is a possibly well-meaning person who is one hundred per cent blind to her privilege. Doesn't make you one bit less harmful or hurtful.

    As for "Creating bridges between religion, race and culture"--why would you ever build a bridge without first asking those on the other side of the river whether they also want a bridge?

  24. This has nothing to do with being white, all cultures take from other cultures. Do you think that the Japanese understand that dressing up Mickey as Jesus in the manger and Goofy as Mary during Christmas is offensive? No, they have less than 1% Christians in the country and are only trying to incorporate a foreign culture into their own. They take the pieces they like (the gift giving and commercialism) without understanding the intricacy of the religious aspect. These are not bad things but good things which all cultures to grow and develop. Cultures like Japan and China which are incorporating western ideas and culture into their traditional eastern culture which allows them to grow while keeping their own identity is what allows for progress. It is those countries that backlash and try to retain their own traditional culture that you see falling behind (such as the middle east and radical Islam).

    I cannot for the life of me understand cultural conservatives. People always look at other cultures for ideas. Whether it be South Korean literature looking at Norse gods or Western filmmakers looking at old traditions in Africa.

  25. I find it particularly hilarious that Burners who complain about "yahoos" ruining the BM festival can defend acting like "yahoos" to someone's culture and religious beliefs.

  26. @dem,

    The difference is that the Japanese did not first spend centuries attempting to eradicate the population of the US from the face of the earth while making pretty promises to us. Japan didn't take our land, insist we give up our way of life, send our children to boarding schools so our language would die, ban our religions, call us savages, literally take everything our culture had BUT Jesus and Mickey Mouse...and then wear Jesus and Mickey outfits to a "Go Gaijin, It's Counterculturally Delicious!" party.

    Maybe the Native Americans are sick and tired of being used as cartoons to talk about sports or the environment or whatever. Noble savage, savage savage, both are incredibly insulting stereotypes, and what makes it much worse is that the White- Native power imbalance is still here and still very drastic. In short, we give them the dregs of everything while reserving our right to walk all over, parody and purchase or steal their cultures and religions.

    That all seems pretty obvious when you think about it for five seconds, huh?

  27. I actually have to second the point that the whole Vision Village group was only a very, very small portion of the whole burning man scene, and it would not be fair to generalize about some many people on the basis of this small group.

    My impression is that most of what goes on in Burning Man village is in fact fairly original and most resemblances to various cultures living or dead is unintended. (Perhaps a result of the Jungian theory that all people share certain things by nature.) Nor are all Burning Man attendees white.

    I also have to agree with the writers suspicion that the journalist who wrote the article was sensationalizing this particular incident.

    And I think there is a certain cynical stereotyping going on here. One that says that anyone society deems white, who does anything but wear plaid pants and vote Republican is somehow "trying to be black/native/etc".

    But then again a blog with a name like "Stuff White People Do" seems to be very much into stereotyping.

    One thing that doesn't seem to occur to some people is that by stereotyping things like enjoying the outdoors, reading science fiction, playing chess, environmental activism, folk music or any number of things as "stuff white people do", that they may be discouraging young blacks or latinos who think they might be interested in them.

  28. Anonymous, I find it telling that your post says NOTHING about the real, live Native Americans involved in this incident. Why are you so much less interested in listening to them than you are in protecting Burners?

    Also, you wrote,

    I think there is a certain cynical stereotyping going on here. One that says that anyone society deems white, who does anything but wear plaid pants and vote Republican is somehow "trying to be black/native/etc".

    But then again a blog with a name like "Stuff White People Do" seems to be very much into stereotyping.

    You should look more closely before you assess; otherwise, you look careless, and you run the risk of looking stupid. You could start with this blog's subtitle, for instance ("The ways of white folks, I mean, some white folks . . ."). Then read some of this blog's posts--they're usually about common white tendencies, most of which most white people don't even know they probably have. Describing those tendencies is very different from the common meaning of "stereotyping."

    One thing that doesn't seem to occur to some people is that by stereotyping things like enjoying the outdoors, reading science fiction, playing chess, environmental activism, folk music or any number of things as "stuff white people do", that they may be discouraging young blacks or latinos who think they might be interested in them.

    I've written no posts entitled "enjoy the outdoors," "read science fiction," "play chess," "participate in environmental activism," or "enjoy folk music." Most of the posts here are efforts to clarify, again, common white tendencies. Objectionable ones. Tendencies that those who harbor them should wake up to, and then stop enacting. And tendencies that young blacks and Latinos often tend to know about already, and that they also tend to have little interest in adopting.

  29. I'll have to second the point that that one particular village was only a tiny obscure fraction of the whole burning man scene. And I'll also have to second drydock's suggestion that this reporter did appear to be sensationalizing this particular incident and upholding it as the "norm", rather than looking at how much stuff at burning man is entirely original and where any resemblence to other cultures living or dead is likely entirely coincidental.

    I think there is an element of cynicism here, that assumes any "white" person who doesn't wear plaid pants mowing the lawn, or have a picture of Richard Nixon hanging on their wall is somehow "pretending to be someone else". And where every scene whether it is Burning Man, the Pacific Northwest, or The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament that is perceived as "all/mostly white", accurately or not, *simply must* be doing someting horribly racist for kicks.

  30. Came across your blog recently, after an article was posted on Sociological Images. Gotta say I love what I'm reading so far. I think most of my comments have already been written by others, so I'm just going to say that I checked and Part #3 of the White Shamans & Plastic Men documentary is officially up on YouTube:

  31. That's great, Echo! Thank you for letting us know. I've added a note to the post about it, and I look forward to watching the entire film.

  32. The one's who stole it control it, and now the control is about to come to a bitter end for you white man, and those who bow down to you. Those who think this land is theirs because they were brought here on a ship but don't have any more right to it than you do, they are your servants who do your dirty work by cunningly infiltrating among my people with their deceit to make a way for you to have done the destruction you have done here, and they are also trespassers and will reap with you. You white man; the same inhabitants that have caused terror and pain all around the world and here in this land. You opened this land like the great whore it now is. You white man the cutthroat bastards who have no problem killing. You, who have cut Indian babies from the stomachs of Indian women, and slammed Indian babies against trees to kill them, you who still kill, and have killed for pleasure. God is angry and He is working His wrath right now. You will see more violent storms destroying your crops, more floods destroying your homes, more destruction to pay you back for ALL of the evil you have done since you first breathed on this Earth. You are a black hearted breed who has killed, stolen, and destroyed many people of color all around the world from the continent of Asia to this land. This evil place you call a Christian nation you don’t know God you have no heart. This evil land that was built on Indian blood, you have a great apocalyptic fortune coming and your misfortune will be yourself. Like Sitting Bull said a great flood will come and wipe the white man from the face of the Earth. That day is coming soon and the buffalo WILL return and every Redman that you killed will return on that great day. You call us savages you are the savages. YOU are the devils, the soulless whores, the fagots, the sodomites, the beast lovers, and the blasphemers of the world, you and your servants are the abominations with your jealously, greed, chaotic laws. You kill everything you touch from the Indian to the wolf. You are cursed and a curse, there is no good in you from birth; you are the chaff that will blow away like dust in the wind. You are of your father the devil; you are the seed of Satan and you have built destruction since your forefather Tubal-Cain made the first weapons of destruction, you are Cain the first murder. Your evil deeds will be paid back to you an uncountable fold. The Lord God is fair and always right. Vengeance will be His. What is was in the beginning so it shall be in the end.

  33. Re: Druids - As the culture and religion of the Gael are not dead, I'm actually quite certain that going off and being a "Druid" (which was not actually a religious class, so why go there for spirituality?) would be just as offensive to modern Gael as this incident was to Native Americans.

  34. I remember watching old westerns with white actors playing the part of the Indian Chiefs/Warriors. The actors were doing their best interpretation of a real- authentic, Indian warrior. But what I saw was a white man doing red-face. The white actor couldn’t help but bring his whiteness into the role with him in his attempted approximation of the culture. Talking in a proper Indian dialect, that is really patronizing and racist in its conception. So it is with whites co-opting Indian culture. They go to libraries and museums and anthropological sites to gather information on how the indigenous people lived their lives, seeking to reproduce that culture through the same rigid technical lens they apply to the rest of their lives; but the whole process is invisibly tainted by whiteness.

    White experts will exclude details of Indian life that aren’t attractive or relevant (in their eyes) and allow the subtle flavoring of their whiteness to spoil the venture. So what you end up with still- are white Indians when it would have been easier to hire real Indians in the first place.
    That is something I have never understood. You want to tell the story of the Noble Indian savage, but you try to do it with white men in red makeup and standard issue head-dress; refusing to utilize the genuine article because of our prejudice. So as an American Indian, you discover that someone else is in control of your image. Someone else now decides what is authentically Indian and what is not, without ever relying on you as its source. Someone else is rewriting history in a way that’s favorable to whites, but tragically- at your expense. Whites in their arrogance (forgive me) decided that we can tell the Indian’s story better than he can. We have the technical know-how and plenty of red paint.
    Killing the white man's red man

    "It's not a story line that will ever go away because it's a genre that's part of our American history, and we love the telling of it in a romantically tragic way. It's almost like Greek tragedy, whether it's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dances With Wolves, or The Searchers. It's all about, 'Indians have to die, and isn't that romantic?' That's a perverse ideology in our cinema."

    "More often than not, actors playing Indian chiefs, warriors, and maidens were white — Brandon, Jeff Chandler, Rock Hudson, Burt Lancaster, Richard Dix, and Sal Mineo, for instance. This sort of casting doesn't bother Smith: "I find it flattering that these great movie stars portrayed Indians." But Studi was mostly baffled by it. "At the time, I didn't know that much about Indians; I knew we were Indians, but the ones that came on TV must have been some other kind of Indians," he said. "You'd see people like Tony Curtis and Chuck Connors playing these roles, and you'd say, 'Wait a minute; this is the oddest-looking Indian I've ever seen in my life.' But there weren't that many Indian people in show business; there weren't that many Indian actors who were identifiable."

    Alternatively- we can tell the black man’s story as long as we aren’t painted in the pejorative. We’ll tell it, but we’ll need some white Heroes, as in Blood Diamond- Roots, or as in Danny Glover’s case a noble white hero, for his project on Haitian independence hero Toussaint-Louverture.
    "Producers said 'It's a nice project, a great project... where are the white heroes?'" he told AFP during a stay in Paris this month for a seminar on film."

    In other words, we need something for whites to latch onto. Whites need someone in these movies they can identify with, or they won’t go see the picture, and we won’t make any money.
    If this be the case then it shows how thoroughly and culturally ingrained “white-think is.”


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