Letters: to Juliette Lewis
(Sent to the myspace account of Juliette and the Licks, in response to Ms. Lewis’ feathered-headdress-as-rock-and-roll-image.)
Hi Juliette (or if not Juliette, Hi Whomever Is Reading This Message),
Someone recently called to my attention how you use a feathered headdress as a part of your “Rock and roll warrior” image. I checked out your website and myspace – it seems like you’ve been using it pretty extensively, and how other people are imitating it at your concerts.
Heads up – the way that you are using of this symbol, which is a clear (and from the gist of what I read of your comments, intentional) reference to “native americans,” is careless and really pretty disrespectful.
I’m not writing this message to jump on your ass, or pretend like I’m some superior person. I have nothing to gain from that. And this has nothing to do with whether or not I like your work (from what I’ve heard, it sounds reasonably cool – kudos for following a different path).
I’m putting this out there because I can’t complain about anything anyone does if I’m not willing to back it up with some action that seeks to change things. And you should have a chance to learn about what people are saying, and change the behavior and (more importantly) the system that supports it, if you are so inclined.
You’re in a position to be heard by a lot of people, and the image you’re putting out there takes advantage of the painful history of native americans in this country without paying any respect to it. This is problematic in the extreme. (And I say ‘native americans’ specifically because your feathers refer to an idea and not any real tribe or nation, from what I can tell.)
Please check this out this myspace conversation on my friend’s blog for a much more elegant and passionate articulation about why:
Thanks for listening, and Peace
Here are my comments from the aforementioned blog:
While free expression must be permitted, the content of every expression has meaning and history. It is folly to pretend that we can do or say anything and there won’t be consequences. It is fallacy to suggest that we all have the same power when we project our voices into the world.
There is a history attached to the idea of ‘Headdress,’ which tends to refer to native american cultures. There is a sick, sick, sick history of how white people have related to or benefitted from the dessimation said native american cultures. So when a white person (e.g. Juliette Lewis) donns a symbol that represents (for better or for worse) millions people who whose subjegation and elimination were a matter of public policy, it is irresponsible of her not to acknowledge it. Sure, she can do what she wants. But she ought to be prepared to recognize what a loaded gun she is carrying. Not to do so is disrespectful, ignorant, and undeserving of defense.
We have a right to call out her misappropriation and ignorant use of other people’s incredibly painful and complex histories. Even if she didn’t know. Even if she didn’t mean it. Even if she’s really cool and we like her movies and music. Even if we’ve done it ourselves.
- Why I am a Critic of Bigoted Behavior (artistic though it may be): Wrapping up the tiny saga of correspondence with “Juliette and the Licks.” « Assumptions, Biases & Irrational Fantasies pingbacked on 5 years, 6 months ago
- Indigenous Feminism and Cultural Appropriation at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture pingbacked on 4 years, 7 months ago