Category Archives: cultural appropriation

Using your Voice Makes You a Target

By Guest Contributor M.Dot, cross-posted from New Model Minority

Returning a book back to the library Monday, I decided to look at the magazine section. I came across the most recent issue of The Nation and decided to pick it up. I know that Professor Harris Perry had discourse with Cornel West and Chris Hedges in May around President Obama’s positions and policies around race, racial alliances, identity and class. So I decided to read this article because it seemed to be a follow up to the conversation. It also helped that the title was “Breaking News: Not All Black Intellectuals Think Alike.” #Heheheh.

A particular part of the article spoke to me, the section where she connects voice to citizenship. She writes:

Citizenship in a democratic system rests on the ability to freely and openly choose, criticize and depose one’s leaders. This must obtain whether those leaders are elected or self-appointed. It cannot be contingent on whether the critiques are accurate or false, empirical or ideological, well or poorly made. Citizenship is voice. West exercised his voice, and I mine. But the history and persistence of racial inequality and white privilege in America means that the exercise of voice for black citizens is fraught with the dangers of surveillance. It’s yet another challenge of being black and exercising citizenship in the United States. Even as we articulate our grievances, black citizens are haunted by that “peculiar sensation” that W.E.B. Du Bois described as “always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

I thought of voice and the fact that two White men have been impersonating queer women of color on the internet.

I thought of how my colleagues, other Black women who are teachers and graduate students from across the country who write anonymously on the internet for fear of retribution from their departments and future potential employers. Whereas on the other hand, here are these two heterosexual White men assuming the identity of women of color, to further their own career ends.

I thought of how I routinely have to tell Negro men to sit down when they try and debate me about gender theory, racial theory or political economy on the internet. It’s not that I don’t mind being challenged, that is a part of the game. The issue is their willingness to challenge me while being woefully under read. When I am dialoging with people who know more than me in an academic setting or on the street, I shut the hell up and listen and learn. These men, and some women on the internet learn real quickly that they can learn from me  or ask me questions, but unless they know my arguments, and the arguments of the people I have read, I will sit them down with the quickness. My work will be respected. This ain’t JV, this is elite. I have the bills and bifocals to prove it.

As a Black woman that writes about race, gender, pop culture and sexuality on the internet, I was excited when I saw Harris Perry write,

I vigorously object to the oft-repeated sentiment that African-Americans should avoid public disagreements and settle matters internally to present a united front. It’s clear from the history of black organizing that this strategy is particularly disempowering for black women, black youth, black gay men and lesbians, and others who have fewer internal community resources to ensure that their concerns are represented in a broader racial agenda. Failing to air the dirty laundry has historically meant that these groups are left washing it with their own hands.

To say it another way, failing to air our dirty laundry leaves the deviants, the single mothers, the queers, the lesbians, the gays, the felons, the hustlers, the sex workers-basically anyone who is lewd and lascivious shit out of luck.

Using your voice makes you a target, but as Audre Lorde has famously said, your silence won’t protect you.

You use your voice lately?

How did that turn out?

You choose NOT to speak up lately?

How did that turn out?

What’s Not In A Name?: Urban Outfitters Quietly Changes Course on ‘Navajo’ Items

By Arturo R. García

In the midst of her excellent takedown of Urban Outfitters’ “Navajo” appparel line, Sasha Houston Brown focused on one suspiciously-named piece of underwear:

I doubt that you consulted the Navajo Nation about using their tribal name on sophisticated items such as the “Navajo Hipster Panty”. In fact, I recently became aware that the Navajo Nation Attorney General sent your company a cease and desist letter regarding this very issue. I stand in solidarity with the Navajo Nation and ask that you not only cease and desist selling products falsely using the Navajo name, but that you also stop selling faux Indian apparel that objectifies all tribes.

Wednesday, Sasha passed along an update to the story from the Indian Country Today Media Network: a few days after UO spokesman Ed Looram said the company had “no plans to modify or discontinue any of these products,” the word Navajo has been completely scrubbed from its’ website.

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An Open Letter to Urban Outfitters on Columbus Day

by Guest Contributor Sasha Houston Brown

Urban Outfitters

Dear Glen T. Senk, CEO Urban Outfitters Inc.

This past weekend, I had the unfortunate experience of visiting a local Urban Outfitters store in Minneapolis. It appeared as though the recording “artist” Ke$ha had violently exploded in the store, leaving behind a cheap, vulgar and culturally offensive retail collection. Plastic dreamcatchers wrapped in pleather hung next to an indistinguishable mass of artificial feather jewelry and hyper sexualized clothing featuring an abundance of suede, fringe and inauthentic tribal patterns.

In all seriousness, as a Native American woman, I am deeply distressed by your company’s mass marketed collection of distasteful and racially demeaning apparel and décor. I take personal offense to the blatant racism and perverted cultural appropriation your store features this season as “fashion.”

All too often industries, sports teams and ignorant individuals legitimize racism under the guise of cultural “appreciation”. There is nothing honorable or historically appreciative in selling items such as the Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask, Peace Treaty Feather Necklace, Staring at Stars Skull Native Headdress T-shirt or the Navajo Hipster Panty. These and the dozens of other tacky products you are currently selling referencing Native America make a mockery of our identity and unique cultures.

Your corporate website claims to “offer a lifestyle-specific shopping experience for the educated, urban-minded individual”. If this is the case, then clearly you have missed the mark on your target demographic. There is simply nothing educated about your collection, which on the contrary professes extreme ignorance and bigotry. Continue reading

Urban Outfitters is Obsessed with Navajos

by Guest Contributor Adrienne Keene, originally published at Native Appropriations

Navajo Nations Crew Pullover

Navajo Nations Crew Pullover

A search for “Cherokee” on the Urban Outfitters website reveals 1 result. A search for “Tribal”: 15. A search for “Native”: 10. “Indian”: 2. But Navajo? 24 products have Navajo in the name alone.

This post started as a massive Urban Outfitters take-down, I spent an hour or so last week scrolling through the pages of the website, and adding anything to my cart that was “Native inspired” or had a tribal name in the description. I got through JUST the women’s clothes and accessories (no mens or apartment), and had 58 items in my cart. So, then, like any good researcher, I began to code my cart for emergent themes, and the one that jumped out far above the rest? Urban Outfitters is obsessed with Navajos.

I want to show you some examples, and then talk a little about the issues with using tribal names in products that are decidedly not-. Finally, I want to share what the Navajo Nation in particular is doing about it, and the action they’ve taken is pretty cool.

Without further ado, some of the “Navajo” products to grace the pages of Urban.

From the basic:

Navajo Quilt Oversized Crop Tee

“Title Unknown Techno Navajo Quilt Oversized Crop Tee”

Truly Madly Deeply Navajo Print Tunic

Truly Madly Deeply Navajo Print Tunic

To the totally random:

Navajo Feather Earrings

Navajo Feather Earrings
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Quoted: Clutch Magazine on Kreayshawn


Note: Audio NSFW

White rappers aren’t the problem. Exploitation of Black culture is.

Black culture is diverse with various meanings; and how one defines Black culture varies from individual. In the case of Kreayshawn, I’m referring to her misinterpretation of what she thinks Black culture and hip-hop is.

One could argue she is exactly what hip-hop has become–gimmicky, devoid of substance, whack, the glorification of a street life, sexualized and talentless. If that’s the case, is she appropriating Black culture or just a part of a watered down genre?

I don’t believe for one second her image is authentic. It is one derived of the stereotypical “sister girl” trope we’ve seen time and time again. Understand, I’m not arguing whether “sister girl” actually exists. I’m not even arguing that the “sister girl” is to be shunned. But Kreayshawn’s image, how she carries herself, her lyrics are all derivative of her very limited view of Black culture.
- From “Kreayshawn: Another Case of Appropriating Black Culture,” by Bene Viera, June 6

What Went Wrong With Outsourced

By Guest Contributor Monique Jones, cross-posted from moniqueblog

Before I get to the huge review of “Charlie Curries a Favor from Todd”, I figure I should have a post where I analyze Outsourced as a whole, particularly becasue the show has been cancelled. Will NBC listen to what I have to say and use my suggestions as valid input on what to do or not do in their next culture shock office sitcom? No. In fact, I’d be shocked to pieces if someone from NBC even knows I, and Moniqueblog, exist. But at least my opinions will be here for the record.

I’ll tackle this in four parts, starting from the broadest to smallest of issues: 1) How the premise of the show was tackled, 2)How the characters were developed (with a subset on the sartorial choices the characters made, as the clothes also tell a bigger story-and perhaps one of the most egregious mistakes-of where the show veered the wrong way), 3) How relationships were handled, and 4) The character of Todd: how his characterization could’ve been saved mid-season. Let’s jump in, shall we?

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Table For Three: The Racialicious Roundup on ‘Run The World (Girls)’

By The Racialicious Editorial Board

Beyonce might not completely run the world, but she’s certainly dominated the blogosphere news cycle since the release of the video for “Run The World (Girls).” Rather than each of us having a go at analyzing the song and the video, we decided it best to get together online and talk about not just the message Beyonce’s song is promoting, but how it fits in with other representations of Girl Power, as well as the song’s problematic backstory.
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