Assumptions, Biases & Irrational Fantasies

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

— Atena

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.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 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 11 years, 1 month ago
  2. Indigenous Feminism and Cultural Appropriation at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture pingbacked on 10 years, 2 months ago


  1. * leslie says:

    it’s a shame your “letter” here says more about you than your intended subject. The head dress you are reffering to has been donned by millions of kids etc on halloween for decades as well as being an iconic symbol of the native americans and the positive aspects of the native american experience. Because Ms Lewis is not as limited and literal as you, she has an aesthetic and talent beyond your ability for sharp words and inaccurate claims, she does not need some cliff note as to what and why etc, she is an artist. You obviously are not. You are a critic.

    | Reply Posted 11 years, 1 month ago
  2. * leslie says:

    and I love how people dress their nit-picky, overly PC, limited view of the world with literary flair and seemingly thought out conjecture and smart form, when really your biased and and generally bland view of things is not, I’m sure, only reserved for Juliette Lewis. I’m sure alot of people piss you off weekly…. Keep up these ineffectual blogs and maybe you will expel all this tired vitriol from your system. Let’s hope or maybe you’ll just continue to be a critic.

    | Reply Posted 11 years, 1 month ago
  3. * mamablossom says:

    Thanks, Leslie. I’m glad you think I have literary flair and smart form. I do make an effort.

    – Atena

    | Reply Posted 11 years, 1 month ago
  4. * Leslie says:

    sorry I’m late on reading your response and blog so here’s the thing, people do pay regard and acknowledge the plight of the American Indian, it actually seems to have surpassed the plight of the African Americans in it’s popularity. I don’t think anyone disagrees or is flippant about the crimes against humanity that this country has comitted. But Ms Lewis has donned the Native American inspiration as one of strength and independence, a warrior. What is negative about that? Why do you imbue her with more credit than she deserves on the issue, like she should now be a spokesperson for the Native American and their history, talk about tacky and insulting if she assumed that role. What a slippery slope to walk then. YOU are the one interpreting it negatively and providing the poison, your viewpoint is not the final verdict.

    I don’t feel artists are above the law but nor should they stoop to the level of their critics and or be truly un inspired by explaining the cause or motive of their aesthetic. I like how as a white person I am automatically racist or bigoted by default if I don’t share the same miserable viewpoint as someone of ethnicity.

    How asasinine it would be if Ms Lewis were to become a spokesperson for the Native Americans when she is not Native American, she is simply and obviously a admirer, a fan, an artist who borrows from the pantheon of pop culture and history to infuse a new take and or concept of things we are familiar with. Thats art.

    | Reply Posted 11 years, 1 month ago
  5. * Leslie says:

    “I like how as a white person I am automatically racist or bigoted by default if I don’t share the same miserable viewpoint as someone of ethnicity.”

    Just to clarify I should have worded that comment as “…share the same miserable viewpoint as an INDIVIDUAL of ethnicity”. In rereading it, it sounds like I’m addressing Ethnic people in general when that was actually addressed to you, sarcasm doesn’t always translate, sorry…

    | Reply Posted 11 years, 1 month ago
  6. * Steven says:

    Actually, when an artist uses imagery that is attached to racist caricatures of people, those people have every right to ask the what and why of it from the artist, as do we all. I love the band and respect their work and I am curious as to why she chose that particular symbology, and hope it is thought out. Just because children dress like that for halloween doesn’t make it any less thoughtlessly racist….it doesn’t make it necessarily so either. If she were using blackface style facepaint she would be expected to explain why she is appropriating that particular imagery, right?

    Just because a member of a minority group asks for clarification of the motives of someone using stereotyped images that have been used to degrade them doesn’t mean they are being knee-jerk PC reactionaries. Images have meaning and power, which is why artists use them. A true artist understands the images and symbolism of what they do, use them for a reason, and can hold forth on the intention, if it is paying respect to a proud tradition then they will say so, mindlessly accepting what they do is absurd. Insulting someone for trying to explore an issue like this is childish and out of touch with the importance of symbols in our culture, and likely comes from someone who’s never had the essential value of their personhood or culture questioned.

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 10 months ago
  7. * Mimi says:

    while not QUITE the same as blackface, I see where you are going. It is more along the lines of wearing mud cloth. Blackface is not a representation of black culture at all and the fact that you would compare the two is a bit trite. I see where you want to go with this argument but your focus and presentation of issue is bad. Really bad.

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 2 months ago
  8. * Rob Schmidt says:

    Re “The head dress you are reffering to has been donned by millions of kids etc on halloween for decades as well as being an iconic symbol of the native americans and the positive aspects of the native american experience”:

    In other words, millions of kids have stereotyped Indians as belonging to the Plains cultures of the distant past. And millions of adults have taken the “iconic symbol” to mean that most Indians belonged to the Plains cultures of the distant past. Was that your point, Leslie? If so, you made it effectively.

    See “Team Names and Mascots” ( and “The Big Chief” ( for more on the stereotype you so enthusiastically embrace.

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 2 months ago
  9. * red says:

    From the look of her, I think Juliet has either some Asian, Amerindian or Eskimo in her . Her eyes… the shape of them. There’s some Asiatic in her genes somewhere. I actually ran across this blog post because I was searching for some information on her heritage.

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 2 months ago
  10. * red says:

    I suppose it could be Sami .. like Renée Zellweger

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 2 months ago

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