This season Project Runway welcomed its first-ever Native American designer, textile artist Patricia Michaels. The show raps up tonight and the Taos, New Mexico designer is one of the final three competitors.
But whether Michaels wins or loses tonight, having her viewpoint and hand-crafted talents highlighted on one of the most popular shows on TV has been, quite honestly, a welcome change from several recent factory-made fashion appropriations of Native American culture.
Like a pap smear or tax season, it happens every year: People wear racist and sexist costumes on Halloween. Hell, maybe you've done it yourself! You didn't know what to be for that one party so you jammed some feathers in a headband and called yourself Pocahontas. Or you grabbed a toy donkey and a poncho and went as a cartoonish Mexican. We've all made mistakes and hopefully learned something from them, like how not to be the offensive asshole hanging out by the pumpkin keg. Because seriously, you really shouldn't wear that stuff.
Halloween is a notorious time for offensive outfits. If you're still not sure what your costume is going to be this year, make sure you don't go the culturally appropriative route. Dressing up as "another culture," is racist, and an act of privilege. Fortunately, thanks to some college students behind Students Teaching About Racism in Society (STARS), an Ohio University organization, cultural appropriation is getting some more attention through their series of posters boldly challenge racist costume ideas.
So it goes like this: "[your favorite music blogger]: Readers, please check out Band A. Band A hails from Culture A (represent!) but sounds exactly like underrepresented Culture B. Like, can you believe your ears, doesn't it sound like Band A just sounds like all of these bands from Culture B that work hard and get little recognition in our giant Culture A?" This week it's time to sit down and talk about Extra Classic, a band from San Francisco, California; their love of Jamaican music; and what I'm going to deem the Vampire Weekend model of cultural appropriation.
Don't Explain, a collaborative effort between blues revivalists Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa, hit stores yesterday. It features a range of traditional blues, soul and even gospel classics first made famous by the likes of Billie Holiday, Etta James, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. Of course, the intention is homage, but the artists are facing criticisms about cultural appropriation.
The opening track, "Sinner's Prayer" (lyrics) was recorded by both Lowell Fulson and Ray Charles in the 1950s. Here's their version:
Appropriation is often done in the name of a supposedly greater cause. Those in power tell us that we should wait our turn. They are working on extending a helping hand, it's OK for them to speak for us, because they need to speak for us to help us achieve liberation. Even speaking up about appropriation, whether in the form of cultural or ideological, is shouted down.
I brought up the old disability rights movement adage 'nothing about us without us' in a recent post. And the same should hold true for feminism. Instead of speaking for people, we should be centring the voices of the people currently relegated to the fringes. When the mouse speaks up to inform the elephant that her tail is being stepped on, it is the responsibility of the elephant to lift her foot. The onus is not on the mouse to wait for the elephant to move, to cut off her own tail to escape, to attempt to dig herself out.