This is a sort of scattered post today.
I've been thinking about Kokopelli recently because of two events. The first event (though chronologically second) is that my partner and I visited the house of one of his good friends, who has a woven rug/runner thing tacked to the wall with like 20 Kokopellis woven along it basically in a conga line. The second event (chronologically first) is that a couple weeks ago, while over at my parents house, my sister mentioned that her friend had a tattoo (I believe, I can't think of the context, but I can't think of what else it would have been BUT a tattoo) of Kokopelli. Apparently I made a face, because my sister found it necessary to explain that Kokopelli is a "Native American god*" (again, I'm not certain that was exactly what she said, but I AM certain she didn't specify either: what tribes worship(ped) him or what his powers are believed to be). I stated that I knew exactly who Kokopelli is and that my face was for the fact that I think it's really screwed up for white people (her friend is a white person, just like my whole family) to appropriate meaningful symbols/gods from other cultures.
My sister countered that I didn't know how meaningful Kokopelli is to her friend. I don't care how meaningful Kokopelli is to white folks... pick a fertility god from a culture you have a background in... oh wait, what's that?, you didn't know that Kokopelli is a fertility god?, wow he must be SUPER meaningful to you I suppose! (Sorry, angry rant done). We dropped it soon after because regardless of whatever we'd say, it wouldn't change the fact that her friend had that tattoo** (they're permanent you know).
I thought back to that argument (which my partner was there for) when we entered his friend's house. I looked at the wall hanging, and was made intensely uncomfortable by it, but we were there to ask for a favor (or something), so I didn't say anything. Which makes me feel cruddy. I think the difference was that my sister brought it up in conversation the first time, whereas just seeing a wall-hanging isn't exactly an invitation to talk about it. But I still wish I'd said something (perhaps next time we're over I'll ask what her interest in fertility gods is?).
So obviously appropriation of Native cultures has been on my mind a lot recently.
Which brings me to Native Appropriations, and Adrienne's most recent post about white people wearing "Indian"/"Indian-style" headdresses. Now there are some things I don't love about her posts on the topic, well, really just one thing. It's that she calls them "Hipster Headdresses." Yes, most hipsters are white/come from upper-middle class backgrounds, but not all. Appropriation that those (privileged) individuals do they do as privileged white/rich people, not as "hipsters." Hipsters are not defacto privileged, there isn't "hipster privilege," so it seems stupid to say it's a "hipster" thing instead of (say) a "white thing" or a "rich thing." This is a common naming that happens in liberal/radical groups where I'll hear people talk about "hipster racism" as though it isn't the same damn racism that other white people do. It's white racism, and rich classism, it isn't special to hipsters, and they aren't a specially protected/privileged group (in my analogies on this subject I've pointed out that tea drinkers are probably predominantly white/privileged just like hipsters, but we don't call racism perpetrated by them "tea drinker racism"). Anyway.
One of the things that happened the other day while I was reading her post (wherein she describes having a clothing designer come to an old post to harrass her about being opposed to white people using headdresses as a cool new "accessory") was that I was struck with revulsion at the privileged asshole-ishness of E. Starbuck. Fuck that noise.
Which brings me to mohawks (the hairstyle, not the tribe).
I'm a white person, so I have white privilege. In high school I had dreads (not something I'm proud of these days, but at the time it didn't seem like a big deal). In college I had a mohawk. For a long time I've mourned that I "can't" have a mohawk anymore. For a while I felt I couldn't because I was out in the world where people would judge me negatively for having hair that didn't conform to "appropriate" standards (but I was going to find a job and then settle in and then shave it again). More recently (the past year and a bit) I've been feeling like I "can't" wear one because of the appropriation aspect of it. But I've been fighting that. I didn't feel like it was a choice I was making for myself, but one that was made for me, and it made me upset and sad (boo hoo, I know). I'd see a person (usually white, sometimes black) walking down the street with a mohawk and sigh longingly, and then Bluejay (my partner) had to remind me that it's appropriative and such. And I keep/kept saying "but hair! it's... anyone could think up shaving a stripe onto your head! plus! all the white hairstyles are boring" and then he'd (very smart, my partner is) point out that the reason that mohawks and dreads and such seem "cool" and "not boring" is because of uh, white privilege, appropriation, and racism. So then I spent weeks/months whining (not often) about how I guess I'd just have to come up with a "not boring" hairstyle that wasn't appropriative.
Bluejay pointed out to me that maybe I could use this as a learning experience to acknowledge how difficult it can be for other white folk to give up something that they think of as dear to their hearts (Kokopelli, sweat lodges, "moccasins," whatever) "just" because of white privilege. He pointed out that the things that I've "given up" because they were racist (not going to see Avatar, being opposed to conflict diamonds, etc.) are things that I either don't care about (like clothes/jewelry) or was anti-racist before I heard about them, and thus didn't find appealing (like Avatar), so it wasn't a very big sacrifice. I'm not sure Bluejay's idea worked in making me more sympathetic to people who cling to privilege, but it is helping me acknowledge that I am not Super Anti-Racist, but instead flawed (gasp! shock! horror!).
But hey! luckily for me (and my fragile white psyche), E. Starbuck has made it oh-so-easy for me to give up my fantasy for oppression-free mohawks. How? Because the second I read zir screed, I said to myself "oh fuck, I NEVER want to act like that privileged a wanker, that's probably what I sound like about mohawks." And I was (very close to) cured of my desire for one. I mean damn but that's a jerkish thing to do: seek out a Native person to harrass because they are opposed to you stealing their culture. Ugh.
So, I don't have a really good wrap up to this, other than I guess to acknowledge to myself and the world that I am not Super Anti-Racist, but with a little help from friends (and racist assholes) I can work to be less oppressive to others. Who knows, if I talk with Bluejay's friend about Kokopelli perhaps we can move together towards a less oppressive future.
*Using a non-capitalized "god" is not meant as a disrespect to Native cultures, but is instead due to my desire to not give a false reverence which I do not feel for any religions' god(dess)(es).
**For full disclosure I should mention that for 3 or so years in undergrad I seriously believed I'd get a full back tattoo of Quan Yin and Kali, two archetypes/goddesses/symbols that I really appreciated. At some point during that time I was talking with a Hindu friend of mine who apparently told me he thought it was fucked up that I was going to get a tattoo of a Hindu goddess even though I wasn't Hindu. I don't remember that conversation, but I do remember the one following it when he brought it up later as I mentioned some hugely disrespectful toilet paper with Hindu gods on it (I believe). He implied that what I was planning (still at the time interested in the tattoo) was only slightly less disrespectful than the toilet paper. I'm pretty sure I behaved in a privileged white way as a response (blabbing on about how she was meaningful to me, etc.). I don't know if I ever apologized to him for that (we no longer chat much). So, just to say that I'm not immune from having felt like appropriation is a-ok, but luckily I did take long enough figuring out who to design it and tattoo it and everything that I stopped wanting it.