Bring On the Blackface...
Grammy Awards. Hip Hop group OutKast performs their little ditty,
"Hey Ya!" with costumes in a garrish green and clearly
mimicking Native attire (as the creators must have envisioned it).
The requisite teepee sits in the background for the slower set to get
the idea that there's somehow a connection with Aboriginal people of the
Meanwhile, the USC Marching Band is revving up the excitement and the spectacle is complete with the audience eating it up like yesterday's pizza.
Uh... need a clue here.
What the HELL was THAT all about?
Now... far be it for me to rain on anybody's American trend du jour... (it gets so damn hard to keep track of American pop culture as fads come and go like so many johns at a whorehouse)... but wouldn't African American performers have gotten the idea by now that stereotyping is pretty lame no matter how much T&A is being flashed in cheesy outfits?
Or is this another one of those "we're honouring Native people" lines of obtuse logic? It gets tough to call as sophisticated entertainment is getting in short supply lately. OutKast won the Grammy for Best Album of the Year which no doubt secures their fame right up there with the likes of Beethoven and the Beatles. Twenty years from now, the hiphop duo and their music might even make an exceedingly long list of music trivia but as far as making a lasting impression on society as a whole, the effect is dubious.
Yeah - there ARE other things more important to Native North America like gaining respect and a sincere credibility to be seen as separate but equal nations on par with the dominant governments and societies. And undoubtedly, flashing some booty in front of a hopelessly trite stereotype while mincing around in a rather gaudy display of American pop culture gone amok will do much to enhance the image of the First Nations people as they negotiate business transactions in the boardrooms of Corporate America.
Nothing says "we're to be taken seriously" like a marching band with Hollywood costumes. It's a proven recipe for the Michael Eisners, Ted Turners and Warren Buffets of the world as bizarre parodies must impress them so thoroughly they're clamouring to do business with the targets of the marginaiised segment of society.
Sort of like when Ted Danson donned blackface while 'honouring' Whoopi Goldberg at a celebrity roast. Now THAT'S entertainment. Teddy was just 'honouring' Whoopi's ethnicity by slapping on blackface as it was done during those heady years of sophisticated vaudeville humour. Al Jolson made a bundle by doing it, so it must be OK.
Yes, African Americans have made incredible progress towards equality in the U.S. since the mid 1950's. Gone are the 'Coloreds Only' waiting rooms, drinking fountains, public washrooms and obligatory seats in the back of the bus.
Can't deny Blacks employment, housing, credit or a slew of other things based on the colour of their skin.
Black Corporate America is both visible and thriving. It's not only OK to dress ethnocentrically, it's become a fashion trend in itself. Thirty years ago, wearing a dashiki at a place of employment would get the employee sent home to change. Today, it's admired and respectable.
Attitudes have changed as well and try as they might, darned if Blacks didn't settle in comfortably to the tony suburban enclaves of Laura Ashley-adorned, LL.Bean-inspired and Country Homes-styled nouveau American farmhouses set amid perfectly groomed ChemLawn greenery. Equality at last. What finer example of the Great American Dream can there be?
However, there's a bit of a problem with all this push for 'equality' and 'acceptance'.
It overlooks the fact that the very Ongwehonwe... the First People... are STILL trying to attain 'equality' and 'acceptance' in the very lands which were their domain in the first place. How is it an ethnicity not even originally from THIS continent is able to make inroads to equality yet the Aboriginal people of North America are still shoved aside like so many sequin-bejewelled polyester costumes?
Get bent, OutKast. Honour THIS.
If OutKast and other pop culture vestiges want to 'honour' Native people, how about drawing attention to the reams of Treaties which are given as much attention to them by their government as the dust which covers them?
How about 'honouring' the First Nations by listening to them when they say, "we're neither mascots or cartoons to be paraded about to garner attention and whorish dollars"?
Why is it other enthnicities' cultures and heritages are to be respected while Native societies can be exploited?
Hey OutKast: here's one for ya -
Now then. Find anything patently offensive in that? Yes???
So do most people who recognise that marginalising ANY segment of the population is wrong... regardless of ethnicity, colour of skin or any other human trait. One cannot simply pick and choose which group is acceptable to be exploited... or stereotyped... and which is definitely 'hands off'.
Sort of puts a different take on a mass-marketed and -hyped media event's message and judgement, no?
Let's make a deal.
Get rid of the Native branding of consumer products (just like Paterson's Pickininnies swapped names or went belly up). Ditch the sports team mascots resplendent with the obnoxious caricature and costuming.
Make a more serious effort to not only LOOK upon the people of the First Nations as equals, but TREATING them as equals in housing, health, employment, education, civil rights... and respect.
How about backing off from slapping a feather, loincloth and braid on every grinding bimbette and calling them 'Native' for the viewing public?
If it's necessary to 'honour' Aboriginal culture and society, why not do something productive instead of merely presenting visual Pablum for the undereducated and misinformed? Schlock and shock may create an instantaneous buzz, but REAL art keeps 'em talking for years.
(That, of course, presumes the focus is on art and not on grabbing as much cash as possible in the least amount of time. THAT being the case, leave the Native angle out of it. We prefer a dignified image over a gauche display of glitz aimed at getting the seals to applaud on cue.)
It wouldn't be so galling if the First Nations saw a blackfaced mascot of the Atlanta Slaves cavorting about on the field during halftime. The New York Hymies would be more acceptable to us as we could see everyone's getting skewered equally. If nobody complains about Goya Authentic Spic Sauce, we won't whine about the Land-O-Lakes butter maiden, Dodge Dakota or the adorable Lil Injun Brave of Mohawk Carpets.
When people start calling Black men 'boy' again, we won't mind being called 'chief'. When it becomes acceptable to call Black mothers, wives and daughters by a slang term for the female anatomy, we might consider allowing OUR women and girls to be called 'squaw'.
It's easy, really. One of your famous prayers has a line about "..doing unto others as you would have them do unto you". It's not a bad sentiment actually and we Native people go the extra mile and include 'respect' in that belief. If you don't want to be treated with disrespect, don't treat others with disrespect. Simple as that.
And shoving Native stereotypes out on a stage just as any other prop isn't respectful. Or particularly original.
It's not like the First Nations haven't been expressing their displeasure over what's been going on lately... it's that few people care to listen. They haven't cared to listen to too much from Indian Country for over two hundred years now.
It's time to listen.
And it's past time to care.
CBS broadcast the
° USC's Trojan marching band also was part of the performance: http://www.usc.edu
° ABALONE - The Native American Cultural Center of California : http://www.nativecc.com/CBSboycott.html
46th Grammy Awards (Sun. Feb. 8):
your thoughts with MTV at