Americans know November as the month we celebrate Thanksgiving: a turkey-fueled feast first held by the Pilgrims and their American Indian buddies, where they thanked God for a good harvest and the bountiful blessings of goodwill to each other. Right? Right?
The real story of Thanksgiving is considerably darker. To summarize: English smallpox wiped out the Patuxet; Pilgrims arrived to find abandoned villages and fields, plus a lone English-speaking, formerly enslaved Patuxet, Squanto, whose know-how assured the colonists didn’t degenerate into cannibalism (à la Jamestown). But the arriving boatloads of Puritans couldn’t leave well enough alone, because God and manifest destiny*, and their theft/slaughter/abuse sparked wars with the locals. Bloodshed ensued. After every joyous, God-ordained victory, the English held a feast thanking the Lord. Because, you know, God likes when you kill people and take their land.
Genocide ensued. Rape, death, pillaging, slaughter, English burning Native American women and children alive, decapitated heads kicked down main streets, death, slavery, rape, trails of tears, ghost dances, broken promises, incarceration, reservations, alcoholism, residential schools, cultural genocide, disappearing languages, eradicated culture, and a colonialism that continues into the present day, in which Native Americans/American Indians/First Nations people are reduced to feathered, war-whooping mascots of major sports teams. (note: these are all terms preferred by the people they signify, including “American Indian).
In light of this, let’s consider Artipoppe’s decision to (briefly) name their new wrap line the “Indian Collection.” The first wrap, 62% cashmere and 38% Egyptian cotton, featured feathers. They named it “Crow Cheyenne.”
Artipoppe must have anticipated some backlash – having gotten some for the “Made in China” wrap; the “Pearl Harbor” wrap released on the 4th of July; and the conveniently-named Mandela stars released a day or so after the peace activist’s death. So pictures of “Crow Cheyenne” came with a disclaimer:
Honoring the imaginative existence of Native Americans through a series of feathers. We create fiction, our art is not merely based on facts. We exist for your pleasure, please enjoy and let the symbolism work as it fits you and yours.
Rightly, people freaked out: at the names, at the audacity, and at the disclaimer that would give any rhetorician a field day.
Imaginary Native Americans and others alike – from both sides of the pond – immediately called out the collection’s implicit racism, reductivism, and cultural appropriation. Others leapt to Artipoppe’s defense, because, as one poster said, “People will get offended by anything these days.”
Note for companies who get into this trouble in the future: at this point, shut the f^&* up, sit the f^&* down, and apologize profusely. This could have ended quickly with some education, some South-Park-style “I learned something today”, and warm fuzzies all around.
Instead, some Artipoppe group members doubled-down**, claimed ignorance as Europeans, and chided critics for their vocal response:
“Okay, let a company name a wrap ‘Auschwitz.’ I would be offended but I would write a letter to that company, would unlike the page, and would never ever buy a wrap from them again.”
Another well-known European poster claimed that the word “Native American” was too long: “I don’t intend to use a long impractical word just because some think we should.”
Eventually, Artipoppe announced they would rename the collection – a statement made without apology or acknowledgement of the cultural appropriation. Don’t look for the non-apology, though: it poofed soon after, as did the description of imaginative Native Americans, the wrap name, and the announcement of the new collection.
Before we discuss them, let’s remember the rules: this is not about you, personally (and seriously, please read the disclaimer in that post before continuing). This is not about the owner of Artipoppe, who made some mistakes but who is surely not intending to minimize genocide. This is not about the Artipoppe admins, who remain intentionally unnamed, because they are probably also nice ladies who don’t think it’s okay to steal the land of Native Americans and herd them onto reservations. It’s not about wrap collectors, or high-end wraps, or Artipoppe fans in general (who are invested in their identity as Artipoppe fans and feel that identity is under attack). This is about systemic racism, about language, and about white privilege.
So let’s start with why it’s not okay to name your wrap collection “Indian.” Every schoolkid knows that we call Those Who Migrated Across the Land Bridge and Settled the Americas “Indians” because Columbus mistook the Caribbean for India, and the Arawaks for Indians. Therefore, the name “Indian” itself is imposed from without, a misnaming by the people who began their genocide. Most people prefer Native American, American Indian, or First Nations (in Canada, where the other names are supremely offensive). So the name in itself is offensive.
(Names matter. You wouldn’t like it if everyone suddenly decided to call you Patty McIrish. Not Irish? Too bad! See how that works?)
It gets worse when you associate the name “Indian” with feathers. Basically, you collapse all NA/AI/FN culture into a monolithic entity. Then you reduce it to a single cultural marker: wearing feathers. Divorced from their actual cultural meaning, that is, which varies according to the, you know, individual culture. Feathers are an offensive shorthand for NA/AI/FN: to differentiate between East and West “Indians”, Americans often say “dot-not-feather”, which is about as offensive and reductive as you can get.
So what does it matter?So both names are offensive. Artipoppe used the offensive names, slapped on a feather motif, and … sold it. Stereotypes are bad. Making money off those stereotypes? Even worse. This profits from cultural appropriation. NA/AI/FN people tend to be rightly sensitive about this, especially coming from Europeans, because, you know, they’ve had pretty much everything else stolen from them. White people took their land, destroyed their culture, and now appropriate it to make a quick buck. Urban Outfitters did it. Anthropologie did it. Dumbass chicks at Coachella did it, the girl in the Eurovision song contest did it, and so does every non-NA/AI/FN person who slaps some beadwork on leather and calls it Cherokee.
Well, as one self-identified NDN (say it aloud) man says, “It’s convenient … making a wrap for profit when families who are indigenous cannot even wrap their own kids because they are being taken away from their families at unprecedented rates compared to the state population.” This appropriation directly tied to the suffering NA/AI/FN people undergo today. It’s not in the past.
Moreover, many self-identified First Nations mamas, and family members of First Nations people, bristled at the word “imaginative.” It plays into the wise-old-Indian trope, the idea of wise old peace-pipe smoking sages who are one step closer to nature because they’re one step closer to savage. The same man asked, “Are we imagination? Do we solely exist for your imagination somehow because we don’t exist?” Another mama said on Artipoppe’s Facebook page, “My First Nations children and husband are not imaginative.”
Yes, this matters. It matters to real, actual people who live and breathe behind the Internet. Because, you know, there are real people back there: real people whose lives are affected by stereotypes. Real people who hear the rants about lazy Indians, the jokes about firewater, the vitriol about Indian casinos.
Their children will grow up hearing these things. They will see their heritage used and mocked.
Maybe you’re not offended. You don’t have to be. But you have to acknowledge that it is your privilege not to be offended. You don’t have to think about these stereotypes, because you don’t live them. Congratulations for the luck of your birth. No one’s blaming you for it. They’re just asking for some compassion and understanding: That you can try to see what they live through. That you can listen to their stories. And maybe, you can try to see their point of view.
Maybe you could use some of that imagination.
Artipoppe could use some of it, too: to craft a real apology. To think of a better rename than “Crow 1.1″. To use their so-called avant-guard status to speak out against oppression, instead of creating it.
- Yes, the term “manifest destiny” is an anachronism here.
** Yes, I can provide screenshots if need be, but I’d rather not, because I’m too lazy to black out names and there’s no reason to publicly embarrass people.
update: an earlier title of this post referred to the wrap as the wrong name. It is/was “Crow Cheyenne.”
And as usual, massive thanks to mamas and daddies in Babywearers of Color, who continue to work hard to educate allies. Thank you to all of you who took time to talk.
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