Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Something rotten at the Grammys
Soon after Janet Jackson exposed her breast at the Super Bowl, a bigger problem arose:
Letter: Reader rejects OutKast performance
Posted: February 09, 2004 -- 3:47pm EST
At the Grammy Awards (televised 2-8-04) this year, the hip hop artist Andre3000 of OutKast closed the show with an appalling and racist depiction of a "time traveling Native American." It could not have been more ignorant. For those who missed it: He and his backup singers/dancers appeared on stage in cartoonish lime-green "buckskin" fringed costumes. The women were nearly nude. There is no doubt this was an attempt to spoof Native peoples -- the background set was a tipi and an introductory voice over mentioned that "the Natives are getting restless." The entire performance left me with my mouth hanging open, it was that bad.
Whoever draws the line of discretion for Grammy performances (remember Janet Jackson was uninvited because of her breast!) really dropped the ball on this one. It was tasteless and horrible. Is it a coincidence that this went on in California (LA) where Governor Arnold is trying to become the next big "Indian fighter"? Certainly, he has set a certain anti-Indian tone in California.
If you saw it and do not like it, I urge you to take action and let CBS know what you think. They freely presented their opinion, now talk back to them! Go to http://www.cbs.com to provide feedback to CBS. I have not been able to find a direct route to OutKast, but will try to do so.
Please pass this on so others become aware.
Colleen Boyd, Wesleyan University
Letter: OutKast fan disappointed
Posted: February 09, 2004 -- 3:49pm EST
Did anyone see the Grammys last night? The hip-hop duo OutKast performed (live on stage) their hit "Hey Ya!" in pseudo-Indian outfits, with skimpy back-up singers wearing feathers in their headbands, a tipi, and a DJ in full feather headdress. The group then won the Grammy for Best Album of the Year, and lead singer Andre 3000 accepted in the same outfit.
My problem: I loved that song and OutKast's original video, until now. I wonder how Andre would feel if Eminem performed a rap in blackface ... I also wonder why CBS apologized for Janet Jackson showing skin at the Super Bowl, but not OutKast stereotyping a people at the Grammys.
CBS broadcast the Grammys. At http://www.cbs.com, go to "Feedback" at the bottom, then click "Complaint" and scroll to "Movies and Specials."
OutKast is at http://www.outkast.com
OutKast Fan Club,
P.O. Box 161652, Atlanta GA 30321
Grammys at http://www.grammy.com
c/o The Recording Academy
3402 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90405
(310) 392-3777 or (310) 399-3090 fax
USC's Trojan marching band also was part of the performance: http://www.usc.edu
VIDEO 46th Grammy Awards (Sun. Feb. 8):
Share your thoughts with MTV at http://www.mtv.com/news/youtellus/index.jhtml
(Also write other on-line music Web sites.)
As Debi McNutt observed last night, it feels in the past few months that public perceptions of Native cultures have regressed about 15 years. Tonight's performance is just one part of the backlash that has been building for some time.
Zoltan Grossman, Midwest Treaty Network
Geography & American Indian Studies,
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Letter: OutKast offends with stereotypical performance at Grammy Awards
Posted: February 09, 2004 -- 3:52pm EST
I was watching last night's Grammy Awards show and the last performance of the night was by I think OutKast and as I watched it I was reminded of the bogus Hollywood production numbers from the forties with a bunch of fake Indians prancing around in lame costumes and skimpy-clad girls with a feather in their headband. The only difference was the music instead of forties big band it was a black artist and rap music. Was anyone with your organization offended by this stereotyping and continued use of Native American people for a bigoted musical production. Just cause it was a black performer not white should not let them off the hook. I thought the number was in poor taste and the same type of stereotyping crap the white community has been widely and rightly criticized for. Please let me know your thoughts and if you and other Native American organizations intend to do anything about this. I think a press conference to denounce the performance is in order to educate people of this continued degradation of Native American culture.
Christopher L. Backs, Ft. Walton Beach, Fla.
Letter: OutKast mocks American Indians
Posted: February 09, 2004 -- 4:38pm EST
As a Native American I was very offended by the 2004 Grammy performance by the group OutKast of their hit "Hey Ya." They emerged from a tee-pee dressed up as "Indians" with green feathers and dancing and prancing all over the stage, and their keyboardist was even wearing a Chief's bonnet! I love that song and was very happy that OutKast won, but I was so disappointed to view that type of mockery of our culture. I really wasn't able to enjoy their performance! It reminded me of old 30's musicals representations of Native Americans, and the stereotypical characters in old "Hiawatha," Bugs Bunny type cartoons of the 40's -- 60's.
Roxanne Chinook, Bellingham, Wash.
Reactions start pouring in
Letter: OutKast should apologize
Posted: February 10, 2004 -- 8:57am EST
I watched in absolute dismay the last OutKast performance on the Grammy Awards last night. OutKast in their green Peter Pan looking "Native American" outfits were a total disrespect to all Native Americans. To dance in front of a teepee, with the short skirts and bare stomachs hanging out with feathers in their hair was so unbelievably racist that I can't believe CBS Ok'd the routine. If a Native American or any other non-black group would have performed a number painted in black face while mocking an ancient black tribal dance the NAACP, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson would now own the entire CBS network. Justin Timberlake stood up and apologized for his behavior at the Superbowl. I think OutKast and CBS should stand up and apologize for theirs.
Dawn Houle, Overland Park, Kan.
Oneida Nation response to OutKast performance
A letter to the Recording Academy by Andrew Brother Elk
Letter: Reader disappointed by Recording Academy
A couple respondents detailed the stereotypes in OutKast's performance:
Miss Indian World rebukes OutKast
Posted: February 10, 2004 -- 5:03pm EST
Dear Editor at Indian Country Today:
I have formally issued a complaint to CBS television about how appalled I am that they allowed OutKast to perform in a derogatory manner towards American Indians during the GRAMMY show.
I am a member of the Pueblo of Acoma (1/2) and Pueblo of Laguna tribes (1/2) and a student of Biology/Pre-Med at New Mexico Tech. I am also a former Miss Indian World. One of the main purposes of the Miss Indian World title is to promote the issues of American Indians and dispel stereotypes. I find it quite appalling that in the year 2004 that CBS would allow blatant disregard and disrespect to the American Indian people. There are many people (American Indian and non-American Indian) who have worked towards breaking the stereotypes and by CBS allowing this performance, CBS has pushed back the work from these people about 20 years.
CBS knew about the performance because OutKast was allowed to perform it during rehearsal. The 5-minute tape delayed broadcast was supposed to be used to cut out anything offensive, but apparently that was only if someone bared their breasts. It didn't include mocking an entire race!
So what did I find wrong with the "performance?" There are a number of other things I found wrong, but I am going to list three:
1) The tipi with "blowing smoke" is a stereotypical "device" used to mock our race. The tipi was colored in black and had various symbols that were not related to those that are typically painted on a tipi. Some of the symbols were Plains Indian beadwork designs, Hopi Pueblo designs -- all which were probably taken from clip art someone found on their computer. These symbols have expressed and distinct meaning to each tribe that uses them.
2) The drummer was wearing a war bonnet. The war bonnet is another derogatory "device" used to mock American Indians. The war bonnet is only reserved for those who are warriors, chiefs, or have been given the right to wear it. To have someone just put it on and parade around in it has mocked and disrespected ALL veterans and those killed in action. When I was Miss Indian World, my platform was to voice the issues of veterans. I spoke at veterans conventions, in front of veterans groups, students, etc. in an effort to promote respect to the men and women who have fought for our country. The disrespectful use of the war bonnet on the drummer was very hurtful to me especially when I have tried to promote respect for the vets.
3) The green leather clothing with fringes and feathers worn by the background dancers and Andre 3000. I was so hurt and appalled to see my race once again being mocked by having them wear these outfits. It is comparable to a white person performing in "blackface" or having someone dance in Catholic vestments. If OutKast's wardrobe person knew anything about American Indian regalia, they would know that WE DO NOT WEAR THAT STUFF! I was brought up in a very traditional Pueblo home and not once have I seen any fellow Pueblo men or women wear such clothing. I have also not seen a traditionally-raised person dressed in that manner at any powwow I have attended.
When I first heard the music in the beginning, I thought that the GRAMMY people had allowed a Native American group to perform on stage. But when I saw the tipi and Jack Black on the television screen, I felt so uncomfortable that I didn't know how to handle my emotions. My sister singer/songwriter Star Nayea and her friend Elaine Bomberry (sp?) were sitting in the audience and saw the whole thing live! I was uncomfortable watching the whole fiasco on television ... I can't imagine what these two American Indian women were feeling watching it live.
When the cameras rolled over the audience after the performance, I was upset to see people cheering on the performance! Doesn't CBS and the audience members know that an ENTIRE RACE of humans was mocked in such a ridiculous and disrespectful manner? I have read CBS' apology and do not believe they were sincere. Indian Country needs to get together on this issue -- and make it a big one! We can't just sit back and say "it was for entertainment" because that only means that we are "accepting" it.
Shayai Lucero, Laguna, N.M.
Harjo: Open Letter to Michael Powell, Andre 3000 and Big Boi
Posted: February 13, 2004 -- 10:47am EST
by: Suzan Shown Harjo / Columnist / Indian Country Today
Dear Gentlemen: I usually watch at least part of the Grammy Awards. It's always an interesting show and an easy way to catch acts I've heard but not seen, or never heard of at all, and to check in on old favs.
The 46th annual Grammy show had me from the beginning, with Prince and Beyonce performing the 20-year-old (gasp!) "Purple Rain," and held my attention through the lovely tribute to Warren Zevon.
Then, as I was about to turn in, I heard a Native song, saw a tipi and thought the show was about to feature an Indian act (perhaps even this year's Best Native American Music winner, Black Eagle from Jemez Pueblo, which was awarded, but excluded from the telecast). I could not have been more mistaken.
A fog machine worked overtime and greenish impressions of primordial ooze began to appear through the haze,
All of a sudden, OutKast's "Hey Ya!" exploded and the stage filled with black and white performers in Indian drag.
There was a DJ decked out in what appeared to be a white buckskin outfit and a feathered headdress of a kind that non-Indians call a "Plains Indian war bonnet."
There was Andre 3000 wearing a waist-down sarong in a sickly green color that's marketed as "sea-foam." Shredded material flowed from his costume and wrists, presumably to suggest "Indian fringe."
He wore the kind of wig that white guys wear in movies to "look Indian" -- straight-cut, shoulder-length, pow-wow-black-dyed hair, with long bangs to hide the heaviest of eyebrows -- and a chartreuse bandana and dark glasses.
Each of the women dancers wore a wig of long braids, topped with a headband and a solitary green feather, standing upright. Above knee-high silver boots, they wore sea-foam tops and shorts with shake-your-tailfeathers fringe.
And, there was the Trojan Marching Band, not in the usual helmets and burgundy and gold colors of the University of Southern California, but in green and white uniforms and plumes, with green and yellow paint on their faces.
Whoever dreamed up the production was going for an Indian effect, but it more closely approximated the Jolly Green Giant and dancing vegetables on crack.
I felt like I'd been mugged in my own home.
Note also that Andre 3000 was wearing some kind of pouch—a faux medicine pouch?—and had faux tattoos of Indian designs.
The media picks up the story
From the Native American Times:
Hip Hop act has Native Americans hopping mad at performance
Outkast mimicks Indians at GRAMMYS
Louis Gray 2/10/2004
Indian groups are calling for a boycott of the CBS television network and the GRAMMY music awards after Sunday night's broadcast of the rap group Outkast, who performed their song "Hey Ya," while dressed in fake and garrish Indian attire. Those boycotting say the performance was offensive and demeaning.
CBS, through a spokesmen said the network is "very sorry if anyone was offended," by the performance which included young women dressed in green buckskin dresses, one man wearing a war bonnet and another man shirltess and in green buckskin leggings. In the background was a tipi with smoke billowing out of it.
However, that may not be enough for boycott organizers at the Native American Cultural Center in San Fransico. Calling the performance the "most disgusting set of racial sterotypes aimed at the American Indians that I have ever seen on TV," one board member reportedly said.
Andrew Brother Elk, chair of the Indian center heading up the protests said he has filed a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The protest could not have come at a worse time for the network. CBS is already reeling from the backlash from viewers for their half time show of the Super Bowl when pop star Justin Timberlake ripped off part of Janet Jackson's shirt and exposed a breast on national television.
Indian chat rooms have been full of critical and angry comments aimed at the program.
Native Americans have only recently been a part of the GRAMMY program. Some are frustrated by the GRAMMY decision to lump all Indian acts together regardless of what genre they play. Accordinly, folk acts compete with drum groups for the Best Native American recording category.
Calls to the group's publicist have gone unreturned. Virginia Moon, the General Manager of the CBS affiliate KOTV in Tulsa told the Native American Times her station had not recieved any complaints.
From the Argus Leader:
Grammy winner offends Indians
Rap group performed with smoking tipi and feathers in headbands
Even without Janet Jackson in attendance, Sunday night's Grammy Awards show managed to brew some controversy.
A performance near the end of the live broadcast by hip-hop group OutKast has angered and offended some Native American organizations and individuals.
Performing its popular and Grammy-winning song "Hey Ya!," OutKast went onstage with a lighted and smoking tipi, a band member wearing a headdress, women dancing in green stereotypical Native American garb with feathers in their headbands and frontman Andre 3000 sporting a green outfit reminiscent of an "Indian brave" costume from 1940s Hollywood westerns.
"I thought it was pretty distasteful and offensive," said Christina Wells, a 21-year-old Native American student at the University of South Dakota who watched the performance with her friends.
"We're very sorry if anyone was offended," Nancy Cann, a spokeswoman for CBS, told the Argus Leader Monday evening.
Phone calls to OutKast's public relations team and the Grammy Association's media relations department were not immediately returned.
The Atlanta group picked up three Grammy Awards throughout the night.
One week after Jackson bared her breast during the Super Bowl halftime show, CBS took extra caution to avoid any racy or lewd situations during the Grammys by implementing a seven-second broadcast delay for the live telecast.
Yet, it allowed the OutKast bit, which some Native Americans have called racist and a mistreatment of Native American culture.
Vernon Bellecourt, a member of the American Indian Movement and president of the National Coalition of Racism in Sports and Media, didn't watch the performance. But after reading about it and seeing pictures Monday he said, "In doing it, they do a disservice to us as Indian people and a disservice to themselves in the process."
He equated it to the African-American group performing "with a grass skirt, a bone through their nose, a war lance in hand and balancing a watermelon and pork chop in the other. African-Americans would be outraged. Why do they think that's a positive portrayal of our people?"
Ironically, the Grammys handed out an award for best Native American music album earlier on Sunday.
Paul LaRoche, a South Dakota native and leader of the Native American music group Brule, watched the performance at his home in Phoenix and was disheartened.
"Those are things you just don't do," he said. "The Grammy Association should have known better."
Gabe Night Shield, a Native American rapper in Sioux Falls said, "That would be like me rapping on stage in black face paint."
The outrage wasn't confined to the Upper Midwest. The New York-based publication Indian Country filled its Web site with letters of disgust about OutKast's Grammy performance.
While the people all expressed shock or outrage at the performance, they didn't necessarily think OutKast intended to upset Native Americans.
"They probably didn't even realize that it was offensive," Wells said.
"I don't think they do that to try to diminish the people," said Wayne Evans, who teaches tribal culture and related subjects at USD. "They probably think they're doing something cute and great."
In the 1970s, the disco group the Village People featured a man in Native American dress, but LaRoche pointed out that he was actually Native American. Even if Andre does have Native American heritage, it might not make things any better for him.
"It's almost worse for him then because he should have known better," LaRoche said. "I think he's going to be better off if he says ... 'Hey, I didn't know anything about it.'"
Wells said she's not looking for OutKast to apologize.
"An apology isn't necessary to me," she said. "I would like to see it be brought in the media that this was offensive, and that it would be out there (so) that people can start understanding that it is racist and that things like this are very hurtful and degrading toward native people."
More media coverage of the OutKast outrage
Native Americans Rap OutKast
Complaint Filed with FCC over Grammy Performance
CBS Apologizes for OutKast Performance
Native Americans Are Neighbors, Not Props
The Whisper: "Native Americans are realizing the damage caused when someone tries to define the culture and image of Indian people"
NAJA Reacts to the Outkast Performance: "Where is the coverage?"
Who's Sorry Now? These Days It's Usually CBS Executives
OutKast Remains Silent While CBS Apologizes
OutKast Dances Out of Line
Litefoot and Jesse Jackson Call for OutKast Apology
A bit of a backlash
Letter: Reader questions priorities of OutKast critics
Posted: February 12, 2004 -- 9:55am EST
I find it simultaneously encouraging and disturbing that so many Natives are paying so much attention to the Outkast Grammy performance. I am refreshed that Natives feel so strongly about something that they would spend their time, energy and resources to make their opinion felt on such a weird and inaccurate image. I find it disturbing because one would think that there would be other, more pertinent matters to address for Indian country.
Although nobody contends that pop culture does not matter, or that the performance was in any way tasteful, there seems to be a cornucopia of concerns that might merit just as much passion. For example, I would think that the efforts to cut funding for United Tribes Technical College should receive at least as much attention and letters to the editor as a rap performance. I would hope that the recent 9th Circuit Court decision that somehow circumvents the Native American Grave Repatriation Act and allows for inspection of the so-called "Kennewick Man" would receive at least ten times the amount of attention as a pop music group. I would pray that all of the people that are writing the letters about OutKast's performance are also spending their valuable time writing their Congressmen and Congresswomen about all the Native children left behind in the "No Child Left Behind" initiative.
It is beautiful to be zealous and passionate about something. I think, however, that it is irresponsible to think that this is the only "hot issue" to be passionate about; there are too many Natives with much more pressing needs -- healthcare, food, supervision and education. I think that we Natives that do not have such immediate needs look for bourgeois causes to serve as euphemisms for the work that really needs to be done.
— Gyasi Ross (Blackfeet Nation) Columbia Law School Graduate, Washington, D.C.
People have addressed the "higher priorities" argument at length. For instance:
Certainly, there are other areas of life that need to be addressed and which may appear to be more urgent. Crime, substance abuse, incarceration and many other ills are relevant problems that require solutions. However, the root of many, if not most, of these is the lack of self-esteem our children experience. Over the past five centuries our religions, our languages, our ceremonies, the totality of our cultures, have been violently suppressed. Today, youth learn about Indians through distorted depictions in advertising, by watching television and movies, and through the symbols associated with athletic mascots.
Jonathan B. Hook, Ph.D., president, American Indian Resource Center
I consider racist TV programming far more dangerous, because it demeans an entire racial group. It sends a message to school children and all citizens that it is acceptable to insult racial groups and to commercialize their culture in the name of entertainment.
Andrew Brother Elk, Complaint Filed with FCC over Grammy Performance, Native American Times, 2/12/04
In short, stereotyping isn't just a symptom or result of our disgraceful policies toward Indians. Along with these policies—i.e., genocide, oppression, and neglect—it's a primary cause of the harm Indians have experienced. See The Harm of Native Stereotyping: Facts and Evidence for more on the subject.
Letter: Reader supports OutKast performance
Posted: February 12, 2004 -- 9:48am EST
I find the letters printed in opposition to the OutKast performance at The Grammys quite interesting. Many expressed offense at the use of Native American symbolism in the scenery and costumes. I find this criticism selective and hypocritical. Where was this sensitivity when the song Hey Yah was number one in the country, a song with both a Native American beat and a Native chorus set to non-traditional lyrics? Native teens and adults along with the rest of the country were groovin to this song for the past year. It is the lead song in an album that won a Grammy for Album of The Year. That is no small feat and we should look at the accomplishment of it.
If this criticism was legitimate it should have come when this song was first released by a group known for their showmanship and outrageous costumes. OutKast has performed Hey Yah countless times at other award shows as well as the video ... and yet where was the outrage then? Native themes have been used in the past by other recording artists and not always appropriately. Is it because OutKast is a Black group? I have seen Native musical groups use Native symbols in their performances ... and not always with great reverence. I take offense to the comparison to "black face and African Americans." OutKast came nowhere near that exaggeration of racism.
The group put on a popular-style performance to a popular song. No apology is required here. There was no implication that they were trying to replicate an authentic Native American dance or ceremony. It was a musical performance ... not a cultural or political statement. This past year, I have heard more non-Natives singing Hey Yah, thanks to OutKast.
Can we not see the positive here as it applies to our constant struggle to integrate Native themes into the entertainment industry? Can we not accept and appreciate that The Album of The Year featured a song with Native American theme!
— Janet D. Hill, is a television producer in Los Angeles, California
Indians are primarily protesting OutKast's performance at the Grammys, not the song "Hey Ya!" So Hill's insinuations that the protests are hypocritical miss the mark.
The only protests of the song have come in remarks such as these, from Indian Country Today, 2/19/04:
Members of the Navajo community are especially offended as a recording of "The Beauty Way Song," which is a part of Diné ceremonies, was sampled by OutKast as an introduction to their performance.
Several points should be obvious to Hill. Most people, even most Indians, don't recognize the Navajo Beauty Way Song. Even many Navajos, especially the young ones who listen to hip-hop, may not recognize it. The traditional Diné who would recognize it probably don't listen to hip-hop.
If they did listen to the song, and it upset them, then what? Their culture teaches them not to stand up and make waves. If not their culture, their history has taught them it's dangerous to confront the American establishment. For several reasons, therefore, they're probably disinclined to act.
Even if they wanted to do something, what would they do? Drive 25 miles to the nearest library, look up the address of the Recording Academy, and write it a letter? These people aren't necessarily connected to the outside world via e-mail, you know. Some don't even have phones or electricity. They're more isolated than "sophisticated" urbanites realize.
So the whole idea of traditional Diné protesting a hip-hop song is fairly ludicrous. Those who can protest it have protested it. And again, the Grammy performance is the main problem, not the song.
As for Hill's not liking the comparison of OutKast to blackface performers...so what? Who appointed her the arbiter of racial stereotyping? Many commentators have noted the comparison and deemed it valid. I'd say the majority rules on this one.
She goes on to say: "There was no implication that they were trying to replicate an authentic Native American dance or ceremony." Yes, and blackface performers never said they were trying to replicate an authentic African American dance. Sports teams never (well, rarely) say their mascots are trying to replicate authentic Native American warriors. Etc. It's just harmless fun, goes the tired refrain.
Hill's point seems to be that racism isn't bad if people don't intend it to be. Wrong. Ignorant racism can be as harmful as malicious racism.
Hill also implies the end justifies the means: "This past year, I have heard more non-Natives singing Hey Yah, thanks to OutKast." Hey, great. Lots of children have played cowboys and Indians thanks to John Wayne movies. Lots of spiritual seekers have bought crystals and dreamcatchers thanks to plastic shamans. Are these results to be happy about?
A critic adds perspective
From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
Thursday, February 12, 2004
Indians decry Grammy act as racist
By MELANIE McFARLAND
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER TELEVISION CRITIC
In the midst of our heated dialogue about decency, CBS's Grammy broadcast is providing us a lesson in what constitutes offensiveness. Problem is, American viewers are barely noticing.
Andrew Brother Elk can't help but do so. Brother Elk, chair of the Native American Cultural Center in San Francisco, was among the 26.3 million viewers who sat down Sunday evening to enjoy the Grammy Awards. Not much surprised him about it, until the final performance by OutKast's Andre "3000" Benjamin.
After Jack Black dramatically announced, "the natives were getting restless!" over a Native American chant, the lights went up, showing a smoking tepee from which Dre emerged dressed in green buckskin and feathers to perform "Hey Ya!" Dancers wearing fringed skirts, bare-midriff tops and single-feathered headbands, high stepping and pumping their fists in the air, joined him. Soon after the USC Trojan Marching Band paraded forth wearing war paint.
Many viewers considered Dre's show the most entertaining two or three minutes of an otherwise sterile evening.
Brother Elk had a very different reaction. "I was stupefied. I had never seen such blatant racist material on live television," he said. "At first I thought it was going to be some satire or a joke, but instead it was being played as entertainment."
The problem? Well, Dre's idea of dress-up and dancing inadvertently trampled on both sacred territory and kicked around stereotypes. Perhaps he didn't realize he was cheaply imitating regalia, clothing laden with symbolism where everything from the feathers and beads to the color of the clothing itself and markings on one's face has profound meaning to the wearer. (For example, Dre's DJ was wearing a feather headdress, a serious honor reserved only for worthy individuals like chiefs.)
And to a culture whose women have been sexually stereotyped in movies, television shows and on butter boxes for decades, what's more insulting than a live TV broadcast of non-Indian dancers shaking it in barely there Pocahontas gear?
For all of CBS's assurances about a five-minute delay, this was one wardrobe malfunction that slid right through. All of us were monitoring the falling boulder situation so closely that the avalanche of racial insensitivity didn't even make us blink. Stank you smelly much, indeed.
In a nation where you can buy Jeep Cherokees and Dodge Dakotas to drive to a Washington Redskins game, can we really be all that surprised? CBS should have been. That's the point. Given its recent Big Game fiasco, you'd think the network would be more aware that such a costume choice is treading in dangerous territory.
Compared to hundreds of thousands of complaints over Boobgate, apparently insulting more than 2.3 million descendants of this country's first peoples isn't that big of a deal.
By 1 p.m. Tuesday, the NACC had logged more than 1,000 calls and e-mails from around the country. News site IndianCountry.com posted letters from individual viewers, a former Miss Indian World and the Oneida Nation decrying the performance. Wednesday, the message boards at Arista.com and Indianz.com were crackling with outrage.
As a result , the NACC is urging a boycott of the National Academy for Recording Arts and Sciences, Arista records and CBS, backed by the American Indian Movement and tribal organizations around the country.
Shall we review the groups CBS has recently ticked off? Reagan fans. Reagan foes. Michael Jackson fans. Michael Jackson foes. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Millions of parents whose kids took Janet Jackson's nipple in the eye. Thousands who believe in political discourse, squelched at CBS when it refused to air a MoveOn.org ad critical of the Bush administration's $521 billion deficit during the Super Bowl.
Native Americans, welcome to the party.
CBS can't exactly cry ambush here. A description of the smoking tepee was available on the NARAS Web site days before the broadcast. Costumes had to be designed and sewn. Sets needed to be built. Didn't network executives attend rehearsals?
Yes, said CBS spokeswoman Nancy Carr. "Our response is that we are very sorry if we offended anybody," she replied.
Understandably, Brother Elk isn't satisfied with the network's apology, which doesn't specify why they should be sorry or what the offense even was. "It's the heart of the matter. If this had been white people dancing in black face or dancing in yarmulkes, people would be suitably outraged," Brother Elk said.
They aren't for a number of reasons, starting with mainstream culture's tacit imprimatur when it comes to relegating Native Americans to mascot status.
And there's no Native American organization with equivalent heft of, say, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, challenging networks to add even one or two Indian faces on television. Aside from the occasional guest spot and adaptations of Tony Hillerman novels on PBS, the only Indian character on TV right now that I can think of is "King of the Hill's" John Redcorn. And he's a cartoon.
Gary Brouse, a director at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, can tell you CBS was quite aware that OutKast's performance might be considered derogatory. As part of their mandated issues, the ICCR has been working with Native American organizations to battle the use of cultural caricatures as logos and advertisements. One of the corporations the ICCR talks to about this on a regular basis is CBS.
"The frustration is that you have corporate executives who are endorsing this. And then you have young kids — and I call OutKast young kids — and I don't blame them because they don't know any better. But corporations are not doing anything to stop this," he said.
So what about the Federal Communications Commission? Brother Elk said he received an e-mail from the agency telling him it would look into the incident. But this is an issue of offensiveness, not indecency.
Indecency, according to the FCC, is "language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community broadcast standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities." Such content cannot be broadcast between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Broadcasts, and OutKast, are protected by the constitutional right to freedom of expression, even if an act has the potential of offending an entire culture. The FCC instead leaves those decisions about what is offensive up to local stations and networks themselves.
Which takes us back to CBS's stanky apology, and Arista and the Grammy committee's lack of one.
"Every major Indian professional and educational organization has come out against this kind of activity. These are all respected institutions within the Indian community, and they're all being ignored," Brouse said.
Native American groups demand more than an apology worthy of an answering machine, but that might not happen. Right now, OutKast is cuddling its Album of the Year Grammy and two other statues. CBS remains No. 1 among viewers, many of whom didn't even notice anything controversial Sunday night. But Brother Elk is undaunted. "It's 2004. Come on, folks. It's time for people to get over their infantile responses to culture. It's time for us to stand up and say we're not going to take this anymore."
The controversy continues
One Arrested During Outkast Grammy Protest
Jackson a No-Show at Gathering of Nations
Rap's history of insulting Natives
From the Village Voice:
As Hip-Hop emerges as an empowering voice for indigenous youth, mainstream rappers still objectify Indian country
Rap, Rage, REDvolution
by Cristina Verán
April 20th, 2004 12:20 PM
Black performers who have repped names, accoutrements, and "chants" attributable to indigenous peoples of the Americas include Tupac Amaru Shakur, his name thoughtfully bestowed by his then Black Panther mom out of respect for the 16th-century Inca who battled the Spanish conquistadors in what is now Peru. Far less reverent have been the feathered headdresses sported by artists from MC Pow Wow of Afrika Bambaataa's Soulsonic Force to hip-hop's quintessential court jesters, Flavor Flav of Public Enemy and Biz Markie, to the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes—while in a suede string bikini!—on a 1999 cover of Honey. Recently, Vibe featured a headdress-donning fashion model of its own.
Some song lyrics have been equally questionable. Here's the Sugar Hill Gang, in 1982's "Apache," after shoutouts to General Custer the Indian-killer: "I sting squaws, then I run away/Hi Ho Silver, is what I say." Jay-Z, in "Girls, Girls, Girls," states, "I got this Indian squaw and on the day that I met her/Asked her what tribe she with, red dot or feather." Squaw, perhaps unbeknownst to these and such other "s-word"-dropping rappers as Common, Foxy Brown, and Chubb Rock, derives from an Algonquin term for female genitalia, but was adopted by European fur traders to refer to Native women overall.
Biggie's "Navajos creep me/in they teepee" is also, at best, misinformed: Traditional Navajo homes are hogans, not teepees. Boot Camp Click's Buckshot, meanwhile, defines his "BDI Thug" alter-ego as derived from "Thugla, who were wiped out with the Native Americans," oblivious to the word's origin not in the history of American Indians but in that of the Indian subcontinent—an ancient cult that engaged in murderous ritual rampages to honor Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction.
"American society . . . should understand that all of those images—from the Noble Savage to the Bloodthirsty Indian—are based on not on our identification but someone else's definition," cautions Spang, whose work was recently featured in Only Skin Deep, the International Center of Photography's exhibition challenging American notions of race and identity.
This country's "Black Indians"—descendants of Africans who were freed or self-liberated during slavery and adopted into tribes like the Seminoles—contributed to the debate last month when Hard Knock Radio brought together two such figures: noted Bay Area activist Marcel Diallo and Shaka Zulu of New Orleans, who dons full-feathered "Indian" regalia during annual Mardi Gras festivities. They joined phone-in guests Litefoot and Ernie Paniccioli (Cree), a legendary hip-hop photographer whose recent books include Who Shot Ya? and There's a God on the Mic, for a two-part dialogue. "[Diallo and Zulu] thought the OutKast performance was pretty cool," reports Davey D.
This echoes his experience at P. Diddy's L.A. Grammy Party, in fact. The hosts "stopped the music there just so people could watch OutKast's performance," Davey D recalls. "Everybody clapped and cheered, saying 'Man, that was incredible!' "
Nowhere has the chasm between Native America and black America been expressed more divisively in a hip-hop context than during the "Big Ballers" concert last May at Nassau Coliseum, featuring Ludacris, Busta, and other big names. Lance Gumbs, the show promoter, was excited to include Litefoot on such a bill. The predominantly black crowd, however, voiced its extreme antagonism toward Litefoot—and perhaps all Native Americans—from the start. "As soon as we came out onto that stage," he says, "people began to spit at me, throwing up their middle fingers and screaming racial obscenities."
"Fuck you, prairie n_____s!" "Go back to your teepee, red motherfucker!" an angry chorus of woo-woo-wooed boos—all of these were spewed before Litefoot said even one word on the mic. Backed by a flawlessly choreographed stage show comprising Ho-Chunk and Aztec traditional dancers and B-boy legends from the Rock Steady Crew, Litefoot and company walked off the stage in disgust when the third song had hardly begun. The 60,000-strong crowd of tittie-baring, wannabe-blinging, "I'm a ho"-chanting Ludacris fans never even gave this Indian a chance.
"I have never bought into that facile, disingenuous fable that oppressed people cannot be racist," says Paniccioli, who was present at the Coliseum and who has otherwise been warmly embraced by hip-hop's biggest stars and among many sectors of the Black community.
Andre 3000's performance "was nothing more than another look into the Slave Mentality that still owns America."
Lapps see parody as a way to be included in society: "They WANT to be 'victims of parody' now."
"Native Americans have no sense of humor. They also need to learn to separate entertainment from reality."
Tipis, feather bonnets, and other Native American stereotypes
Indian women as sex objects
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