Feminist Intersection: Ke$ha and the ongoing cultural appropriation and sexualization of Native women
I talked about this on Racialicious this week and I'd also like to talk about it here.
Photo courtesy of my friend Angel Bigstone
Several of you saw the ultra cultural appropriation performance of performances from Ke$ha on American Idol last Wednesday night - who decided in all her infinite wisdom to come out half-way through her "blah, blah, blah" song in a headdress and her version of "war paint" (I think).
It's obviously racist, ignorant, and beyond silly, but it's also an interesting statement (that I definitely won't give Ke$ha credit for knowing) about mainstream society's imagery of Native women. Not that it's her first time donning Native gear - apparently it's something she does on the regular with different pieces.
In 2008 I wrote about Juliette Lewis and her continued decision to "dress up like an Indian" with her band and what this means in her attempt to appear strong, raw, and yes even "savage" with her music. There are some particular intersections to address when we see women dressed up like this - and it has nothing to do with the fact that these people are of course getting our actual culture, traditions, and teachings all wrong.
Some folks in the Native community have said that it's good that at least they are interested in us while others, many of them women, have said that it's extremely insulting never mind the headdress and face makeup itself, but the song that Ke$ha was singing.
Case in point from my good friend Gloria Larocque:
Listen to the song for what she and the men for that matter, are saying in the song. She is suggesting that there doesn't need to be a whole lot of discussion to get her in the back seat of his car,in fact, too much blah blah blah wont' get her in the backseat at all. Throw in a headdress, she is making a targeted statement to Native American/First Nations women's sexual practices of getting into the back seat of any man who doesn't care for them (meaning they will sleep with anybody).
Now like I said I wouldn't give Ke$ha credit for knowing this – but it doesn't make it any less true in reality for Native women or any less of an offensive performance. And at what point does willful ignorance have no social responsibility attached to it? (particularly when you are a public figure?) I'm saying willful ignorance as well because it's not like Ke$ha or her entourage had no means to do some damn research before deciding that a headdress would be part of her American Idol number.
There is a whole bunch of wrong going on with Ke$ha, with Juliette Lewis, and since I'm on a roll I'll say it, Twilight and Avatar even, when we talk about the specifics of sexualization and how Native women are represented (anyone have any thoughts about Emily in Twilight: New Moon? And to quote Sandra Hale Shulman from News from Indian Country "would the Na’vi have been doomed if their women had been ugly and unsexual?")
I've also heard a lot of people in the Native community ask why these types of things are getting so much attention when we have real live issues within the community like no running water and extreme poverty going on that people aren't paying half as much attention to. But when millions of people are watching a supposed "reference" to your culture/ethnicity/race that is totally wrong - there is a bit of erasure of our people to address when they continually do it to the most insulting of extremes (sports mascots, anyone?)
What do you think?
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