Just because Johnny Depp was recently adopted by the Comanche while staring as Tonto in a remake of The Lone Ranger filmed in Navajoland doesn’t mean the rest of you get a pass into Hollywood’s Indianville. I realize you all adore Depp and secretly envy his Tonto costume – crow hat and ghostly war paint and bear skins (oh my!) – and its transport into some faux Hollywood Indian cultural authenticity. But that envy doesn’t mean you all get to play Indian now.
You probably do not realize that No Doubt’s reunion was marred when they posted a music video on youtube for their first single, “Looking Hot.” Gwen Stefani, the lead singer, donned herself in a ridiculous Indian costume — a femme version of Depp, no doubt. After a flurry of criticisms from Native people, the band pulled the video and issued an apology on their website:
As a multi-racial band our foundation is built upon both diversity and consideration for other cultures. Our intention with our new video was never to offend, hurt or trivialize Native American people, their culture or their history. Although we consulted with Native American friends and Native American studies experts at the University of California, we realize now that we have offended people. This is of great concern to us and we are removing the video immediately. The music that inspired us when we started the band, and the community of friends, family, and fans that surrounds us was built upon respect, unity and inclusiveness. We sincerely apologize to the Native American community and anyone else offended by this video. Being hurtful to anyone is simply not who we are. (“In regards to our ‘Looking Hot’ music video: nodoubt.com, accessed November 3, 2012)
No Doubt’s apology echoes that of The Gap, Paul Frank, and so many others of your rank (except Depp) who have recently treated Native culture and identity like costumes, been called out for it as fundamentally racist and disrespectful by Native people, and then attempted to retreat back into positive public relations through an apology. (See October 15 blog entry on these other instances.)
Let me tell you something about apologies.
They mean nothing. They mean nothing especially when serving as deflections of responsibility for your actions and as a blame of others — teachers who taught you to be proud of manifest destiny (The Gap), a temporary lapse in judgement (Paul Frank), or bad advice from “Native American friends and Native American studies experts at the University of California” (No Doubt). And lest we not forget that, all the while, these apologies lament the hyper-sensitivity of “some” Natives (as if Natives got over it your costume could go on).
The reason you had unchecked pride in America’s past as some success story of progress and/or indulged bad fashion sense is because not only do you think all real Native people are dead, their cultures and identities frozen in a past you can treat as fashionable accessory when not a museum relic, is that you believe you are in control of America’s history as your own. And because you are in control you can rewrite it at will, to serve your purpose and tell your story: you are, after all, the great embodiment of America’s evolution into a progressive, multicultural society.
This cultural entitlement is inseparable from your historical, dare historic, ignorance. It is also a product of your disregard for Native legal status and rights — as sovereign, self-determining nations with living cultures.
If you really respected Native people, it would never occur to you to dress up in a Hollywood Indian costume and pretend that was an act of inclusivity. It would be like wearing Black face and pretending that honors African Americans. You are not fooling anyone but yourself to think otherwise.
Images of the now pulled music video have been appearing all over the web and show its reenactment of a public sexual assault of Stefani. The fact that all of this Hollywood Indian costuming is being used to sexualize violence against women is not merely offensive (as if it were ever about mere offense), it is inexcusable.