Last year, I was pleasantly surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to my Halloween racism post. Usually, I get a lot of nasty e-mails informing me I’m a dirty drunken casino rat and advising me to “just go extinct already”, so it’s nice to get support from people reading my blog around the world. The defensive reactions of one particular demographic surprised me, however. I received several vitriolic emails from individuals identifying themselves as white and feminist who insisted that the seductive sq**w stereotype was purely misogynist, and not at all racist. Several people from this demographic insisted that patriarchy is the cause of all racism and that if we eliminate patriarchy, we will automatically eliminate racism. The defensive tone of these emails was a big clue to what was really going on here.
I've come to the conclusion that liberal left is dominated by white people who insist on remaining colorblind. The most taboo subject in liberal audience is whiteness and racism on the left. They are more than happy to point the finger at how racist the tea party is, but they cannot or will not look at the less obvious racism in their own camp. I’ve never bought the trickle down social justice theory, so I usually try to engage the colorblind liberals in a discussion of the implications of 5 centuries of colonialism, imperialism and white supremacy on these stolen lands. I’m almost always met with the same defensive rhetoric and the insistence that all women are equal victims of patriarchy.
I have found that most of the time, the so-called feminists who stridently claim that sexism is more important than racism are merely trying to avoid any discussion of race and any deep reflection on their own unconscious racism. It’s easy for white women to insist that sexism a more significant form of oppression than racism because they’re not affected by it personally. The problem is that this defensiveness leaves them with an incomplete and distorted understanding of oppression and prevents any productive work between women of color and white women. The same goes for white liberal men who insist that all oppression is really based only on economic class and racism will magically go away when the socialist revolution comes. If only it were that easy.
One thing that is seldom discussed is that Halloween costumes chosen by young people are increasingly influenced by Greek theme parties. These are parties are staged by senior members of the Greek system for predominantly white, privileged college students destined to be the future rules of society. The parties are carefully orchestrated and specific instruction s are usually given to those attending to dress as less privileged people of another race. The most common theme is “cowboys and Indians” followed by some type of African American stereotype such as “ghetto chicks and pimps”. Check out how many times the idea of "cowboys and indians" is suggested on this message board http://www.greekchat.com/gcforums/archive/index.php/t-2476.html
When confronted with the offensive nature of these theme parties, a representative for the fraternity or sorority almost always resorts to the standard defense that the idea for the theme party came from the mind of one rogue individual and did not reflect the thinking of the entire fraternity or sorority. Then the critic is distracted by testimonials of the Greek organization's devotiion to acts of community service. (It makes me wonder how many good works they think it takes to justify one racist theme party) This can't be an accident. It's part of a system that is feeding suggestions for racist theme parties to the young, impressionable recrutis. If you look online, you can find numerous websites where the same racial themes are suggested over and over. Racial theme parties have become an essential ritual in Greek life, it is not one individual's aberrant choice.
It’s important to analyze what is really going on behind all the “fun” and not just blindly accept the spin. While most young women who voluntarily dress as a “seductive sq**w” or a “Poca-hottie” are probably completely unaware of their role in reinforcing the racial hierarchy in this country, it’s important that cultural activists find a way to make young people conscious of what the agenda is behind the “fun.”
The Greek system is highly regimented and exists to deeply indoctrinate the future professional class. Getting accepted to a fraternity or sorority means economic success and a network of helpful contacts. The Greek system has shaped the mind of judges, generals, CEOs and even presidents. The pressure to conform to the unwritten and often subtle rules of the theme party is huge. Noam Chomsky provides a very good analysis of how and why the professional class in America needs to be deeply indoctrinated in order to be controlled.
The racial theme party functions as a teaching tool. The system needs to teach future leaders who is and who is not a suitable mate. The function of the stereotypes is to underline the difference between the white privileged caste and the rest of the country, who are stereotyped as drunken, promiscuous losers -- suitable for mockery, but not for marriage. The "Indian Princess" and "Easy sq**w" are very old stereotypes, established in the minds of the privileged class since the inception of this country. At times when it is in the white man's interests to make alliances with Native people, the "Indian princess" is prominent. At times when the Native population is an obstacle to the white man's desire for resources, the "Easy sq**w" becomes the dominant Native American female stereotype. When the corporations wanted to exploit uranium in the Black Hills and in the Four corners area, the "easy sq**w" was the dominant stereotype and it wasn't cool to be Indian. When uranium mining become heavily regulated and unpopular with the environmental movement, the "Indian princess" side of the stereotype emerged. Now that the country is looking to nuclear power to solve its energy problems, the "easy sq**w" stereotype is once again prominent. It's no accident that heiress Paris Hilton chose to be a "seductive sq**w" last Halloween. She represents privilege in this country and the mainstream media uses her to send messages to the public.
The influence of the Greek system reaches deep into communities of young people not associated with it, neo-pagans, hipsters and other segments of society adopt the Greek theme party attitude even when they are trying to imitate or honor Native people in appropriated rituals. It's important to note that theme parties are mandatory for most fraternities and sororities. Anyone who tries to opt out or to question the theme faces heavy peer pressure to conform to the model provided for him/her. This not because the system wants to make sure that the members have a good time, but because it is necessary to deeply indoctrinate them to the ideology of white supremacy before they become the future leaders of the country. They need to be taught who is to be favored in society and who is an appropriate marriage partner. To accomplish this, they are presented with a common racial stereotype and directed to act it out while consuming vast amounts of alcohol. This reinforces the stereotype and prevents it from being challenged. The fog of alcohol and the massive amount of stimulation in the form of music, play acting, drinking challenges etc, prevent any deep reflection on the activity provided for the members. The theme party assures that the members will conform to the group-think desired by those who control the institutions in this country.
The “Compton cook-out” caused outrage a few years ago and it was predictably dismissed and trivialized as merely the “bad taste” of “one bad apple.” The incident was spun by the Greek system so that it seemed like merely a small social faux-pas. The agenda was to keep anyone from analyzing the true function of theme parties. The “Compton cook-out” was designed to demonize the lowest economic caste and to reduce poor black people living in poverty to one-dimensional caricatures. When oppressed people are dehumanized and objectified as “pimps” and “ghetto chicks”, the young people involved in reproducing the stereotypes do not have to think deeply about the reality of urban poverty. They are bombarded with alcohol and superficial representations of poor African-American people and are so pre-occupied with using these people for their entertainment that they never have to stop and think about why poor African-Americans live under the conditions that they do. They don’t have to look at existing racist institutions or how they function together as a system to oppress people of color. Deep analysis and systematic thinking is replaced with the endless pursuit of “fun”. The future ruling class is kept occupied learning who is superior and who is inferior and the idea that people are poor because of some essential inferiority is reinforced by repeatedly acting out society’s most deeply rooted racial stereotypes. Combined with New Age beliefs such as the law of attraction, the ideology that some people are naturally superior and others are naturally inferior is driven into the minds of the “fun” seekers.
In the same way, the “cowboys and Indians” theme party prevents the target audience from seeing Native Americans as real, contemporary people with environmental issues and cultural concerns. The act of taking native women out of context makes it easier to indoctrinate the youth into blaming native people for their own oppression. When you are a young white male and you only see an over-sexed, wild stereotype, you only think you have the right to tame the inferior savage. Hyper-sexualizing the sq**w stereotype makes it more powerful in young minds. When you combine the power that anything sexual has to a young mind with the racist ideology that Native American women are wild and untamed and therefore in need of conquering – physically, psychologically and spiritually, you have a powerful tool for controlling people. The hyper-sexuality serves to camouflage the racism so that it can be more easily inserted into the minds of the young targets. Fraternity and sorority members are deliberately kept so busy consuming alcohol and engaging in proscribed rituals that they have no time to research the true history of indigenous people, the use of rape and sexual exploitation as a tool of colonialism or current Native American concerns about environmental racism or the desecration of sacred sites. Using racial stereotypes as entertainment serves to keep the Greeks unaware of how Native people, especially native women, have been exploited for centuries by the very corporations that one they will serve.
Racist Halloween costumes are frequently re-framed by the mainstream media as “harmless fun”. The female stereotypes are hyper-sexualized to disguise the racism, but the intent of promoting a cultural identity as a costume is still profoundly racist. Hyper-sexualized racism is still racism however it is spun by those with an agenda. There is a specific script to follow. In my previous post, I examined the “sq**w on the warpath” stance. You can see young women acting out the stereotype in the exact same way. The wild whooping, hyper-sexuality and the chopping motions with plastic hatchets and spears is no accident. It’s all part of a script that must be acted out over and over again to reinforce the racist ideology that drives their society.
What is most troubling is that this racist ideology doesn’t remain in the Greek system. It spreads throughout the entire society. Another demographic that has adopted the “seductive sq**w” stereotype as a form of diversion and entertainment is the hipsters. This group tends to excuse its offensive behaviors, particularly the wearing of the hipster headdress, as irony. Cynicism and irony have always been the purview of the privileged classes. These attitudes a luxury that oppressed people struggling with institutionalized racism cannot afford. The concept that irony excuses offensive speech and behavior is common among this demographic. Hipsters tend to promote their stance against consumerism as an excuse for a lot of offensive cultural appropriation, but very few of them that I’ve spoken to have any real knowledge of the history of colonialism and its negative impact on Native Americans. Their privilege allows them to play with cultural images and identities and take them out of context for their amusement. The problem is that the hipsters too end up with a distorted, inaccurate picture of reality and are just as vulnerable to racial indoctrination as the young people in the fraternities and sororities that they claim to have contempt for. Think how horrified the hipster who defends wearing a headdress would be if s/he realized that the act of re-creating an old racist stereotype is actually the ultimate act of conformity. Ironic appropriation keeps native women out of context so that our long history of sexaul exploitation is made invisible to the consumer of this ready-made fun.
Television and social media shapes and controls the information that our young people are allowed to have. The drinking games are part of a hidden agenda to sort out the winners and losers, the rich and the poor (who deserve to be poor) the conformists and the dissidents, the superior and the inferior. The use of hyper-sexualized images, large amounts of alcohol, competitive drinking games are all designed to reinforce neocolonialist ideology. There’s nothing accidental about the images that are fed to our young people. They are encouraged to judge each other based on standards that are fed to them by corporate America, not by their families, teachers or churches.
While it is true that all women are objectified and hyper sexualized, women of color are always depicted as inferior to white women. This is no accident. The theme party teaches white women how undesirable it is to be a “ghetto chick” or a “seductive sq**w” and how much better it is to be a white woman in this society. The ritual of re-creating the "easy/seductive sq**w stereotype reinforces the superior social position of white women. In popular culture, television, social media, and in Greek social life, white women are held up as the standard of beauty and desirability. Women of color are exoticized and sexually objectified to teach young white men that they are inferior to white women, but young white women are also being taught that they are superior to women of color. This is racism. It is well hidden as “sexy fun” but it is still racism.
When all this racism is fed to our young people as “fun” and “sexy”, it has a more powerful impact on their impressionable minds. At the same time, they are denied any coherent analysis of the history of sexual, physical and psychological exploitation of women of color in this country. Native American women are presented as a thing from nature that needs to be subdued. The “seductive sq**w is a plaything that exists to meet the needs of the white man. In the same way, the ideology that nature exists to be used up and exploited by corporations for the benefit of the superior white man is promoted. For centuries the doctrine of Manifest Destiny was deeply implanted into the minds of the privileged. The idea that this land needed to be conquered in order to benefit the superior white race runs parallel to the idea that women of color also need to be exploited for the pleasure of the white man. The drinking games and the play acting associated with young women dressing up as “seductive sq**ws” all function to hide the ugliness of the lesson and also makes it more powerful. The lesson is racist and it is aimed at both young men and young women.
Non-Indian children are taught how to play cowboys and Indians from a young age. This isn’t merely play. It’s a lesson in black and white thinking, in who is superior and who is inferior. The play acting justifies the violence of colonialism and prevents any deep analysis or understanding of how the society really functions or why some people live in poverty and others live in luxury. Children have to be taught to be racist and the ideology must be reinforced over and over again.
The same images of the 1950s that were used to keep Native American women down are recycles and modernized. The “seductive sq**w today is reminiscent of the objectified playboy bunny, but all the objectification and white supremacy found in pornography is present also. The fluffy tail has been replaced with feathers and fringe, but a racial hierarchy is also being enforced. At the same time that this objectification teaches white men that they are superior and entitled to dominate white women, it also teaches white men and white women that they are superior to Native women and entitled to control and dominate their bodies, their lands, their culture and their religion. It’s disturbing to me that young women have no understanding of the history of their own mothers’ movements towards the sexual liberation of women along with a complete lack of understanding of the evils of colonialism. It takes this type of ignorance to dress up as a “seductive sq**w" and this is just what corporate America is looking for.
When young people dress as another race for Halloween, they do this without any historical context. They accept the rituals created for them by society without questioning the real function of those rituals. Most non-Indians are extremely ignorant about what colonialism is and how it has negatively impacted the lives of contemporary native people. Very few non-Indians realize that at the beginning of the European invasion, the colonizers portrayed Native men as savages and the women as submissive prostitutes. The intent was to destroy the status of native women in order to make conquest easier. The “seductive sq**w” costume serves to reinforce these old ideas and stops all thinking about the reality of Native women’s lives. Poca-hotties, easy/seductive sq**ws are an old stereotype used to dominate and suppress Native women. Few who play with it realize that stereotype has been re-marketed and updated to make it more palatable to the young mind and hyper-sexualized to disguise the underlying racism. Few stop to think about how play acting serves a deadly serious function: to teach white men that Native women are naturally submissive to white men and disloyal to their own people. This justifies any violent act done in the name of conquering them. The racist Halloween costume isn’t kid’s play and it isn’t just good clean fun. It serves to reinforce the existing racial hierarchy and the existing systems that privilege those with white skin and disadvantage those without it. It also reaffirms to the young man that white people’s justifiable role is to force the savage native woman to conform to the capitalistic system and submissive gender role of their conquerors. Cowboys and Indians, winners and losers, oppressors and oppressed -- the play acting limits the thinking of the young mind to these two extremes.
Many people are trained to argue that all this is just good clean “harmless fun”, but there is a real human cost of racial stereotypes. The Canadian press has been filled with stories about the staggering statistics that show that aboriginal women significantly more likely to be victims of rape, domestic violence and more likely to be are forced into prostitution, because of their economic oppression. Lately, a lot of disturbing facts are coming to light.
For the whole population of the United States, one in five women are raped, but for Native women, more than one in three women are raped and we are 2.5 times more likely to be a victim of sexual violence than white women.
A report from the American Indian Women’s Chemical Health Project found that three-fourths of Native American women have experienced some type of sexual assault in their lives and that Native American women experience the highest levels of sexual and domestic abuse of any group. Is it really a coincidence that Native women are also the most stereotyped and the most exploited in "edgy fun."
According to the Department of Justice, 70% or more of violence experienced by Native American women is committed by persons not of the same race. Most often Native women are on the receiving end of violence from white men. According to the report, “Maze of Injustice: The Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Sexual Violence in the USA, at least 86 percent of reported rapes or other sexual assaults against Indigenous women are committed by non-Indian men who are rarely prosecuted or punished.
Since stereotypes have real human costs, it’s important not to casually dismiss them, but to confront them and to analyze them. Our young people need to be trained to question what is being fed to them and not to accept every idea as “edgy fun” We need to help them look at what the message is that they are giving when they dress up as another race for Halloween and we need to encourage them to examine their lives, to ask questions, to think about who really controls their "fun" and the message that they're sending.
Here are some resources that go into more depth about the issue of Native American women, sexualized violence and manipulation of the privileged classes:
Go ahead and continue sexualizing American Indian and First Nations Women
Andrea Smith: Sexual Violence and American Indian Women
Killing Us Softly 3- Advertising's Image of Women
Prostitution Research and Education: Prostitution and Racism
Colonialism and the Sexual Exploitation of Canada's First Nations Women
Abolition of Prostitution (Aboriginal Women's Action Network & Vancouver Rape Relief)
Noam Chomsky: Manufacturing Consent
The Pan Hellenic Society didn't pay me anything to write this blog.
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