This Wednesday, Miami pub crawl organizing group Keep Crawling will run a Thanksgiving Costume Pub Crawl. Dressing in costume isn't required, but participants are encouraged to come as either a Pilgrim or Native American.
While most of the jokes one could make about dressing as a Pilgrim might include cracks about looking dowdy, dressing as a Native American is tremendously more problematic. It's also offensive.
To say Thanksgiving is a touchy time to mockingly dress up like a Native is an understatement. Conventional American lore states that Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the Pilgrims surviving their first winter in America with help from the Wampanoag tribe. However, this narrative is more of a tall tale that romanticizes the harsh effects of colonization, and overlooks the mistreatment of Natives that followed: shady political treaties, forced and often violent removal of tribes from their lands, and the spread of misinformation about "savages."
That misinformation continues today, in the form of cultural appropriation. In 2012, Urban Outfitters was sent a cease and desist letter by the Navajo Nation for marketing a new "Navajo" line of tribal-patterned clothes and products despite the patterns not being authentic Navajo prints. This kind of marketing violated the Indian Arts and Crafts Act as well as Navajo beliefs about modesty (a Navajo Hipster Panty was one of the products for sale). Urban Outfitters' Navajo hip flask also was in direct contrast to the nation's reservation-wide ban on alcohol.
The Washington Redskins NFL team is facing pressure to change their name, which is a racial slur against Natives. It's been the team name since 1933. According to the Wrap, 76 journalists and media outlets have pledged to no longer use the term. President Obama himself has stated that it would be in the best interest for the team to change its name. However, the team's owner, Dan Snyder, is a staunch supporter of the name.
They're just one of several teams facing scrutiny. Mascots like the one for the Cleveland Indians have been labeled as stereotypical, racist and demeaning.
These culture-wide stereotypes have taken their toll. "Native peoples remain more likely than any other race to experience crimes at the hands of a person from another race. Native youth experience the highest rates of suicide among young people," states "Ending the Legacy of Racism in Sports & The Era of Harmful 'Indian' Sports Mascots," a study completed by the National Congress of American Indians. "With studies showing that negative stereotypes and harmful 'Indian' sports mascots are known to play a role in exacerbating racial inequity and perpetuating feelings of inadequacy among Native youth, it is vital that all institutions--including professional sports franchises--re-evaluate their role in capitalizing on these stereotypes."
Negative Native American imagery is also associated with the glut of stereotypical Native American Halloween costumes, many of which are geared towards women. These costumes are given names like "Sexy Indian," "Temptress Indian," "Sexy Pocahontas," "Sexy Pow Wow Indian," "Mystic Indian Maiden" and "Chief Hottiebody." These costumes only serve to further demean the culture of Native people, particularly Native women, who have been often stereotyped by entertainment as being servile, submissive, hyper-sexual creatures. The sad reality is that the rate of sexual assault committed against Native women is more than twice the national average, according to the Justice Department.
The casual appropriation of Native American headdresses for fashion also negates the actual cultural meaning of the headdress--a way to signify a high honor a person has achieved, much like how the American military awards special medals for valor and bravery.
Despite all this, Keep Crawling stands by its decision to encourage crawlers to dress in costume. "We give our crawlers the option of dressing in theme of the holiday. It's up to them how they would like to dress to the crawl," said John Gaebe of Keep Crawling. "Our pub crawls are often holiday themed. We take no stance on the issue. We just provide a platform for people to have a good time and celebrate a national holiday."
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So yeah, Miami, the choice is yours: dress in offensive "redface" and get hammered the day before Thanksgiving, or just go drinking on your own time without trampling on the culture of people who've been mistreated for centuries. Choose wisely.
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