Bring On the Blackface...

2004 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 First Nations.

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?

Honoured??  HONOURED??? 

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 -

 Vintage Paterson Pickininnies Candies box up for auction on ebay - It's drawing some lively bidding as well.

Whatta HOOT!!  

What a  madcap  idea for hawking candy... "Five Pickinnines for ONE CENT !"  

(Hell, those Pickininnies aren't even worth a penny a piece!!)

<cackle cackle!!> 

Oh, what's that?  That's OFFENSIVE??

Well... whattya MEAN... 'offensive'?  It's not like they're called 'niggers' or anything.  They COULD have been called 'coons' and it probably would have made for catchier advertising graphics.

Oh JEEzus.  Here we go AGAIN with all that Political Correctness crap ... give it a REST willya?

Everybody knows you can't buy a Pickinniny for a damn cent.  

They cost a lot more today.  

<aHAA-HaHaHaHaa!!> ("Ohhh dem ole cotton fields...")

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.

 

Friday, February 13, 2004
OutKast's Grammy show angers Indians

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- CBS apologized Friday to American Indians angered by OutKast's Grammy Awards performance, which featured feathers and war paint.

"We are very sorry if anyone was offended," said Nancy Carr, a CBS spokeswoman in Los Angeles.

As the final act of Sunday's Grammy telecast, OutKast's Andre (3000) Benjamin and several dancers swirled wildly around a green teepee as he sang Hey Ya. Costumes included war paint, feathers and fringe.

OutKast's hip-hoppy jive won three trophies: best urban-alternative performance for Hey Ya and best rap album and overall album of the year for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.

"I like OutKast. I like their music," said Tom Bee, an Albuquerque record producer and musician, who was nominated for the Native American music Grammy. "But I thought the show was not correct. It was degrading."

The San Francisco-based Native American Cultural Center called for a boycott of CBS; OutKast; Arista, their record company; and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which sponsors the Grammys.

The centre also has filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission and said it posted documents online explaining "why this broadcast was racist and why the companies involved need to take responsibility for their commercialization of Native American culture."

The website also urged viewers to "Turn Off CBS," and for each boycotter to ask 10 friends to do likewise.

In New York, a woman who answered the phone Friday at Arista Records' publicity office said OutKast had no immediate comment.

George Toya of the Jemez Pueblo powwow group Black Eagle, who was in the audience at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, said he was initially happy when he heard the chant that opened OutKast's performance. He thought he was about to see an American Indian group perform.

"It was a Navajo song that I recognized, and I got a little excited," said Toya, who was at the ceremony with other members of Black Eagle to pick up a Grammy for best Native American music album for Flying Free.

But the drumming was actually the intro to Hey Ya.

Toya said he couldn't believe it.

"I told my wife who was sitting beside me, 'Somebody is going to be (angry) about this,' " he said.

American Indians across the country were angered by what they said was a performance disrespectful to their culture and a perpetuation of tomahawk-and-teepee stereotypes.

The Oneida Nation criticized the performance on Tuesday.

Indianz.com launched an
online petition calling for an apology from Benjamin. By Wednesday night, there were 2,500 signatures.

Bee was particularly angered that the dancers who accompanied Andre wore feathers, a sacred symbol for American Indians.

http://www.canoe.ca/JamMusic/feb13_outkast-ap.html

CBS broadcast the Grammys.
       At http://www.cbs.com , go to "Feedback" at the bottom, then click "Complaint" and scroll to "Movies and Specials."

OutKast is at http://www.outkast.com
       OutKast Fan Club,
       P.O. Box 161652, Atlanta GA 30321


Grammys at http://www.grammy.com
       c/o The Recording Academy
       3402 Pico Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90405
       (310).392-3777 or (310).399-3090 fax

Sponsors: http://grammy.com/sponsors.aspx

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 


STILL PHOTOS:
      http://www.uwec.edu/grossmzc/outkast.jpg
      http://entertainment.msn.com/netcal/?netcal=555

VIDEO 46th Grammy Awards (Sun. Feb. 8):
       http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1484889/20040208/knowles_beyonce.jhtml?headlines=true

Share your thoughts with MTV at
       http://www.mtv.com/news/youtellus/index.jhtml
       (Also write other on-line music websites.)