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Why It’s Disrespectful for Black Women to ‘Dress Up’ as Native Americans for Halloween

• Oct 14, 2016

Last night as I was scrolling through Instagram I came upon a beautiful photo of a black woman dressed in what she described as a Pocahontas/Tribal-inspired look for Halloween. She had several photos and video clips, and all of the comments on the photos were of black women praising her artistry.

What struck me, however,  was the fact that in all these comments, I could not find a single instance wherein somebody opted to inform this woman of the highly offensive nature of her getup.

So I took the photo to my personal Facebook group called, “Black Women Who Love Makeup,” and was again, surprised to read the comments from some members:

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Native American women in the group responded to these opinions, stating that indeed, dressing or imitating their cultural garb, albeit well-intentioned, for Halloween, is offensive to their community:

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One reddit user explained it best:

Native here (Wampanoag). It has more to do with the types of “regalia” that are worn. The iconic feather headdress is reserved for a specific cultural purpose. If a native decided to go as a native for Halloween, you would not see them wearing that headdress. In fact, regalia often consists of many pieces. Each has a meaning.
A good metaphor: An atheist with no knowledge of religion whatsoever walks into the Vatican wearing the pope’s hat. He doesn’t know the meaning behind the hat, definitely isn’t seen as “worthy” by the followers of said religion, and to top it all off he took something that people have molded their lives around and simplified it as if it were just another daily lulz for them.

It didn’t matter, though. The ladies stuck by their belief that because they mean no offense, no offense should be taken. Myself and several of the other ladies in the group even attempted to give a brief history lesson on what actually happened to the real Pocahontas. We tried to explain that Pocahontas was essentially kidnapped, raped,  “married” to her captor, and died at the age of 21. We further explained that her people were decimated. It didn’t matter. Women of color, refused to accept that respecting someone else’s culture. religion, beliefs, transcends our own personal feelings.

Let us not forget, last month, Black women collectively praised this black mother for “reading a cashier for filth,” when said cashier mistook traditional african attire for a halloween costume. Now it seems that these same women have a hard time understanding the very same respect should be paid to the Native American Community:

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Now it may seem as though I’m calling out black women, so I want to be clear: I am calling out black women. And the reason is simple: we should know better. The term “cultural appropriation” is hot on the tongues of almost all modern black women. When we see images of the Kardashians rocking our styles and making it “cool,” but doing absolutely nothing for the black community, we are pissed.  Yet, we have no issue when the very same acts are being committed against Native Americans? It boggles the mind.

Every single year we see beauty gurus disrespecting the Native American community by dressing in their tribal gear because they think it’s  pretty. Ripping off their culture because it’s cool, but never once speaking in defense of these people when they are harmed. And they have been harmed and continue to be harmed.

I’ve rarely interacted with Native American people. I am not a scholar of Native American studies, but as a black woman, a native woman in my own right, it is not hard for me to respect someone else’s culture.
If we can understand why this is harmful:
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How hard is it to understand that this is likewise offensive?
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As black people gather to fight against police brutality with Black Lives Matter, we’ve become increasingly critical of those who participate in the ‘fun’ aspects of our culture — the music, the style, the lingo — without regard for our lives. Likewise, Native Americans are now in an epic fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would pollute water supplies and destroy sacred native land. And yet non-Natives seem seem more concerned with their “right” to dress up as Pocahontas as Halloween. How is that any different?

We have GOT to do better!

About Lisa Jean Francois

I'm a Lipstick-obsessed Journalist and Fashion Blogger. You can find me over on my blog or youtube channel swatching lippies and strutting around in 5-inch heels. I'm a also a brand coach, specializing in video marketing and digital brand development. Find me @lisaalamode.

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54 Comments on "Why It’s Disrespectful for Black Women to ‘Dress Up’ as Native Americans for Halloween"

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k.h.
Guest
This reminds me of that costume Disney discontinued this year. It was a costume of the character Dwayne the ‘Rock’ Johnson plays in the upcoming movie Moana. The costume had brown lace sleeves and pants with tribal tattoos. It was like brown face but for the entire body. When I showed my mom she was like,“people are overreacting. It’s a Hawaiian God so of course he’s gonna be brown” I had to explain to her, yes he’s brown, but the sleeves and stuff are unnecessary just like adding brown sleeves to a Princess Tiana costume would be. It’s quite offensive… Read more »
laila
Guest

I LOVE THIS ARTICLE!!!!!

jcluvstrnity
Guest

Somebody near needs to kick her ass!

Sabrina black
Guest
I would never, ever dress up as anybody else’s culture. Even though there is concrete evidence that the original indians in north America were dark skinned (not much different from the Ethiopians) I respect their feelings on this. We are constantly trying to defend our hair and self in mainstream and on social media. We are constantly attacked whether it’s natural hair or skin tones. We should over stand and sympathize. I don’t like how dashikis are a trend now in fashion runways so I can feel their resentment. They should gather and take native American costumes out of the… Read more »
Melyssa
Guest

Remember how the hashtag OscarSoWhite was going around and Chris Rock did the Asian joke on stage. Black people were offended blacks were not nominated, but didn’t say a word about that joke. The problem is too many people think their group is the only one that can be offended. Or try to out victim the next group. I guarantee if this had been a white girl wearing African clothing striking a pose people would have went in on her real quick.

Its the do as I say not as I do midset.

Jacky
Guest

You’re right. While expecting other cultures to respect ours, we shouldn’t forget to respect theirs too.

Ebony
Guest

She should’ve worn a Zulu headdress instead. Zulus are known for wearing similar looking feather headdresses as the Native Americans.

Ebony Allen
Guest

Native American cultural items come from Africa. The headdresses, dolls, clothes, designs, thunderbird symbol, dreamcatchers, medicine wheel, jewelry, smoking pipes, and baskets are exact copies from Southern African tribes. The Zulus are one example. Google Zulu baskets and jewelry and then google Native American baskets and jewelry and you’ll see what I mean.

laila
Guest
stop, please just stop. I hate when people do things like this, trying to make excuses for nonsense. The zulu style of headdresses are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from the native american style of headdresses. Even if they were identical, how does that still justify culture appropriation? are the women mention in this article zulu???? it is called culture appropriation, not race appropriation. Yes these women are black but their specific cultures don’t have these headdresses. Because two people are of the same race, doesn’t mean they can’t appropriate each other’s culture. there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of distinct… Read more »
Juanita Houston
Guest
I’m shocked to see the same language kaylin_garcia used in her “PSA” to Native Americans is same language we hear when nonblacks appropriate our culture. Just change her garb to that of African American and replace Native American with African American and it’s the same exact response I’ve seen online over and over. We’re always told, they’re just embracing or sharing the culture and get over it because look at what we as are people have now. How insensitive! Even after explanation, they still don’t get it? That’s hypocritical! We all want to be respected, so lets start respecting one… Read more »
Sarah Jane
Guest

I hope that someone drags it off here ignorant head if she does decide to wear it as a ‘Costume‘ for halloween!

Jay
Guest
I agree with the author. The people who think it’s OK because they’re “embracing their culture” are ignorant and hypocritical. This is just as bad as putting on blackface or yellowface. In fact it’s called brown/redface, just minus the skin painting. It’s one thing to wear a cheongsam or a kimono on special occasions out of appreciation for the cultures they’re from, it’s another to wear those and a jet black wig, slant your eyes and speak “Engrish” on Halloween and that’s equal to what you’re doing when you put on a headdress, face paint and the whole nine. Plus… Read more »
Camille
Guest
I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. A lot of people who identify as Native can and do pass as white, and activly exclude blacks with native blood from their rosters. Black women have to see people not only dressed up as us on a daily basis, but given credit for originating those trends. Where are all the people sticking their neck out on our behalf? I think as the most imitated we should have immunity from this sort of thing. Minimizing cultural appropriation to wearing other people’s clothes doesn’t help anything. They have bigger fish to fry… Read more »
Lluvy
Guest
I understand your thought process however I think you may have over complicated the issue. For me, it’s a matter of respect simple and plain. On the issue of them sticking up for us…I don’t need anyone else to speak out in regards to my faith or race or anything else that I identify as- I have a mouth and I don’t want anyone else speaking for me because I’m the best person for that job. What would be nice is if other races, other people respected my history and my people and our culture. However to get this to… Read more »
Mrs0507
Guest

It is what it is.

alezsu
Guest

Thank you, so much, for writing this. You’re 1,000% correct.

DrSelina
Guest

The response of this chick is slap-worthy.

Bobbi Williams
Guest

PREACH!!!! I am soooo with you on this!

JLTR
Guest

Is it your culture or ethnicity? No? Don’t wear it as a costume.
:3c simple enough~

donna
Guest

You are so right. We should respect their culture. We’re the first ones hollering when disrespects us!

ccangel1001
Guest
I don’t know… I’m kind of on the fence when its about a topic like this. In some ways I think costumes like these are embracing cultures, but on the other hand it can be offensive. I think that if they were to wear the costume in a respective way (showing less skin and demonstrating knowledge of their heritage) and do the research what each symbol means represents and the cultural value that it brings then it would be okay. In this case, I think the lady wanted to use the costume to be creative and stylish. I don’t think… Read more »
Tiffany Tiffsoyo Moore
Guest
Tiffany Tiffsoyo Moore

It’s offensive because as you read and stated each part of the “costume” means something. Headresses and the garbs are only to be wore on special occasions and ceremonies. Not made as a mockery and and tag it within a culture. No Native American would be ok with that. They (the costume makers) just need to stop making these outfits.

ccangel1001
Guest

I agree, I’ve heard of some Halloween stores that stopped selling Native American costumes entirely. Hopefully more will follow their steps…

Oratilwe
Guest

Yes ! Now deduct the “costume” bit and I agree !!! If you have repect, knowledge and full understanding of what you’re wearing then it’s fine. Context matters too !

Oratilwe
Guest

I have waited so long for this to be brought up, my goodness !

Thank you. Thank you so much ! It’s so sad to see that sometimes we only care about racial or cultural insensitivity when it’s our race or culture that others are being insensitive to but we couldn’t give a rat’s arse about other cultures.

Again, thank you

MudoMZQ
Guest

I agree ? with this article and am so thankful for it! I am European Black but it always upsets me when people want to claim respect and turn around to disrespect another people as if only because they are oppressed they cannot oppress others with their behavior… her response baffles me the most, how far removed from compassion. I wish people could recognize the common struggle more… and if not support, at least respect each other.

Ebony Allen
Guest

Native Americans are not the only ones who wear headdresses. Check out the Zulus.

Oratilwe
Guest

Our headdresses are completely different and like the native Americans’, are strictly reserved for royalty and special occasion. We wouldn’t dare cross that line and everyone else shouldn’t either

lindy arter
Guest

Well said.

Iruka Nnakwe
Guest

Thank you so much for this article!! Sista, I truly appreciate your bravery!
It’s ok for us to be constructively critical of each other. We can embrace everyone’s desire to have their culture respected!! Had to prompt these SAME conversations last year >o I hope we will collectively display more cultural sensitivity this Halloween.
Thank you so much!

Ellie
Guest

Great article, thankyou!

Lissy
Guest

Dressing up as another race or ethnicity is racist and stupid. You all have gone too far this time.

Bea
Guest

Cultural appropriation: a thing that makes sense and doesn’t all at once.

Paid In Full
Guest
Love the article in total agreement with you. The focus in our community is so off center its ridiculous. Native Americans are our ppl too and their culture should be just as sacred as our own. But, you’re speaking of ppl who still think they are from Africa and calling themselves African American. Most of us don’t know who we really are. We still watching the remake of Roots and celebrating black history just February as we are told. Yes we definitely need to get it together. Also black is a description, a color like the black pants or a… Read more »
Justice S
Guest

Smfh black people should know better.People rip off our culture and wear it as a mask and a costume so you do it to the next people that was a raped and beaten as our own and wear it as a costume.My fiancé is Native American I am offended.Why don’t they do something respectful and dress up as historical black figures.

kalexa1
Guest

I get it. We can’t have it both ways. Fair argument.

LeNette
Guest
I’ll state something no one else has touched on. I think a lof of Black women romanticize Native American culture and are still caught up in terms like “good hair.” Some black women somehow equate long relaxed hair, long biracial (half black-half another ethnic group), long Afro-textured hair that is parted in two braided ponytails with Native American culture as if that’s all there is to the culture. “I got long hair. If I put it in two plaits, people are going to say I look cute and pretty and Indian or Native American.” Then a lot of our people… Read more »
Tiffany Tiffsoyo Moore
Guest
Tiffany Tiffsoyo Moore

:insert the biggest slow to loud standing ovation clap: Thank you for this

LeNette
Guest

Thank you for reading my book/rant! Lol!

Imani Thomas
Guest

This was SUCH a perfect response to this article. and I agree with you that some black women equate long ‘good’ hair with Native culture. Someone once questioned me about being Native because I don’t have long straight/wavy hair.
I definitely hope that with campaigns, we can stop being from disrespecting different cultures.

ToKnow
Guest

This hasn’t got to to do with Native American’s but Cultural Appropiation. I just have a question on how African Americans feel about white people wearing African attire? Is it cultural appropiation or not?

ccangel1001
Guest
I don’t think that the question should be whether it’s cultural appropriation or not. The question should be whether cultural appropriation is good or bad in situations like these. Here’s what I think in this case. If a costume or outfit in general is being done respectively and no one is taking credit away from a certain culture or ethnicity then cultural appropriation is okay. I saw a picture of a white couple dressed up as Jay-z and Beyonce that I thought was pretty awesome, they did that without painting their face black and you could still tell who they… Read more »
maralondon
Guest

I don’t get this new concept of dressing up costumes for Halloween. I’ve never celebrated this holiday being from Britain but don’t you usually wear witches outfits and such? As for the lady telling NA that they should put up and shut over her NA costume she is just pure ignorance.

LC
Guest

Sorry not sorry I agree with this post. Just because we often experience culture appropriation and “ridicule-ization”, doesn’t mean we can get away with it doing it to other cultures. All the justifications these black women gave could be used by white people as well when they “dress up” as black people.

E.C. from D.C.
Guest

Unless you can trace the Native American in your family.…don’t wear it! Simple.

Audrey kadi-bonde
Guest

Haloween lost its meaning a long time ago. It’s ironic how as black people we can offend and be defensive about it as well. Yet step on a soap box to express how offended we are when the same is done to us. The Native Americans, Maori and the Koori have suffered a worse fate then any other ethnic groups. This is not ok at all. We make issues about cornrows ‚Senegalese twists , headscarves , Afros and so forth therefore there is no excuse for this.

octavia
Guest
I absolutely agree with this article. You can’t just see things through you own perspective and not look at another’s point of view. We are not the only people who has suffered discrimination and abuse, but we’re quick to try to act like we are. The old saying “you’ll never understand a mean until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins” holds true. We need to stop being so short-sighted and selfish. Then maybe we could actually move people to understand our issues as well. It’s kinda hard to ask others to take us seriously when we disrespect our own,… Read more »
Ginger
Guest
You are so right! Obviously-looking at my picture everyone ‘sees’ a VERY pale white woman. yet I come from a highly Native American heritage. When my Great Grandfather (white) married my Great Grandmother (Cherokee) he warned all of their children that if they were away from the farm and got hurt to tell everyone they were Black Irish. Because being black they would be helped. As a Native American they would be left in the dirt to die like a dog. His words…verbatim. My Mothers father was Native American as well. It sounds harsh but at that time, but people… Read more »
KK
Guest
It’s important to note African American women aren’t exclusive to trivializing Native American culture. I embrace educating others but lets take care with blanket all inclusive statements to “call out black women”. As an African American female resident in a densely native populated area in the state of Alaska, it’s not AA individuals who exploit the land and artistic voice of native people but rather a multitude of races who come and visit, ignorant of the history and struggles of native people who’s ancestors were here generations before us. We are all tasked as African Americans, Caucasians, Asians, etc. to… Read more »
Don'tBSoNosey
Guest

What about the Black Native Americans? Do pale/red skin Native Americans acknowledge them, or are they only offended deeply when Blacks dress up as Native Americans for Halloween?

Stephanie S
Guest

If this woman was a Black Native American then that would be a whole other issue. The point is, she isn’t, otherwise she would have stated so. It’s not a part of her culture and that’s why it’s offensive to actual Native Americans

Don'tBSoNosey
Guest

No, I have the point quite well, thank you very much. This woman wasn’t mocking Native Americans, but paying homage out of respect for Native American culture. That is the point this young lady made soundly in her response. Black Native Americans DID NOT come out against this costume, only pale/red skinned Native Americans. If Native Americans, pale/red skinned felt so strongly about “cultural appropriation”, then they’d actively fight to have all Native American costumes removed from costume stores.

Myra
Guest

I think it would be disrespectful tor anyone of any color to wear costumes for another culture. There are plenty of fictitious characters to copy.
MyraSaidIt

H
Guest

But on Halloween kids *do* dress as popes, priests, nuns, etc. and no one’s offended. They dress as leprechauns, samurais, pirates, spartans, moses, hula girls, etc etc etc which technically are all from the history of one minority group at one point (or now).

I guess I just don’t see how telling everyone they can only dress in the garb of their specific culture is better than letting people experiment and interact with the styles and history of others.

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