Cultural Appropriation in Modes of Dress – steamcrunk – Feb 12

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recently in the Occupy thread there was a discussion about the choice by some white ocupados to wear their hair in dreadlocks, with feathers, or shaved into a “mohawk”. this is a good discussion and we should be having it on LF, but i’d like to keep the Occupy thread as on-topic as possible. so, after saying “someone should make that thread (not me)” i went ahead and did a bunch of research last night anyway and i would like to start this discussion with what i found.

full disclosure: i am a white person that has neither dreadlocks nor a mohawk. if at any point during this thread i appear to be engaging in enwhitening behavior, please tell me and i will correct myself. why am i posting about this at all? this topic is interesting to me because i have a lot of white friends who engage in “bizarre” modes of dress of all kinds, and i am trying to sort out my thoughts about that. i am also an artist and a character designer, and this means topics of self-expression, and personality signaling using clothing, are important to me.

im going to start with

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the original “mohawked” occupier that started the discussion

the hairstyle referred to as “the mohawk” is generally when all hair on the head is shaved except for a strip 1 to three inches wide from the forehead to the nape. the “classic” “mohawk” is worn spiked up with gel or hairspray. im using “mohawk” in scare quotes because one of the things i found was that, dude, “mohawk” is probably not the preferred nomenclature, as it means “flesh-eater” or “cannibal”. the tribe referred to as “mohawks” by whites is actually named Kanienkeha’ka.

so im going to discuss hair.

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this is a “classic” punk “mohawk”

variations include:
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the faux hawk – short back and sides, longer top, like any other number of haircuts, just styled into a crest.

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the death hawk – this is an “old school” goth thing. usually black, crest is generally very long and teased, and sides are shaved except for two long pieces at either ear.

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braided hawk – no shaving, just braids or twisted up at the sides and pulled into a crest

as it turns out, the “mohawk” tribe did not actually wear the “mohawk” hair style. even calling the style a “mohawk” is probably culturally appropriative and revisionist in of itself, as it is a white myth based entirely on the movie Drums Along the Mohawk, starring Henry Fonda, that came out in 1936. “Drums” portrayed “Mohawk” warriors with the hairstyle, which was taken from depictions of Pawnee men, who wore something very similar:

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A formal portrait of a young, unidentified, Pawnee man. The Pawnee are a native North American tribe that traditionally lived along the Platte, Loup, and Republican Rivers in the central plains. The name Pawnee comes from the pa’-rik-i word meaning horn, a term that was a tribal mark in which the hair was worn in the shape of a buffalo horn.
Creator: Trott, A.P.
Date: Between 1860 and 1867

the hair is shaved farther back from the forehead than how it’s worn in a “mohawk”, and worn in braids at the back.

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this movie started the white fad for the hairstyle, which was put into use as a rite of passage by paratroopers in WWII, who apparently believed it scared the living bullshit out of any krauts they ran into once they landed (im guessing this also ties into the white custom of yelling “geronimo” when jumping out of a plane, which probably is related to the white belief that “indians do not fear heights”, which lead to members of the Kanienkeha’ka tribe being hired en masse to work on skyscraper construction in New York City, which now has a large population of Kanienkeha’ka residents)

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so white soldiers adopted a sort of “indian” fetishism to symbolicly take on the perceived racial strengths of a people and as a way to scare Jerry with their “savage” Americanism.

anyway, actual irl Kanienkeha’ka traditional hair looked like this:

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Good Peter, Oneida leader, 1700s.

as far as i can tell, this is the traditional Kanienkeha’ka hairstyle, which is a square of hair isolated on the back crown of the head.

here is a first hand account from a white man, James Smith, who was captured during the French and Indian war and supposedly adopted into the Kanienkeha’ka tribe:


“…a number of Indians collected about me and one of them began to pull hair out of my head. He had some ashes on a piece of bark in which he frequently dipped his fingers in order to take a firmer hold, and so he went on as if he had been plucking a turkey, until he had all the hair clean out of my head, except a small spot about three or four inches square on my crown the remaining hair was cut and three braids formed which were decorated …”.

other peoples who traditionally had “mohawks” or similar hair styles include:

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the cossacks! this traditional style is called khokhol (which is also apparenly an ethnic slur, depending on context)

while we’re on the subject of cossacks, please allow yourself to enjoy one of the greatest paintings ever made, featuring all sorts of traditional cossack hair:
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the Irish, circa 300BC
this is a photo of a bog mummy that was found in 2003 called Clonycavan man. he was an exciting find because his hair contained an imported hair gel made of pine resin and vegetable oil, and it is speculated that he used it to dress his hair into a crest. people excitedly called it a “mohawk” but imo it was probably more like a Suebian knot

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“Osterby skull” with an intact Suebian knot. Osterby was another bog find. i fuckin love bog mummies!!

there is also this:


Julius Caesar wrote of the naked British Celtic warriors that “all Britons paint themselves with woad, which turns the skin a bluish-green colour; hence their appearance is all the more horrific in battle. They grow their hair long, and shave every part of their body except the top of the head and the upper lip.” He also describes their skill with chariots… “‘This is their method of chariot-warfare. First they drive their horses all over the place, throw weapons, and by means of sheer fear of the horses and the noise of the wheels create confusion in the ranks. Then, when they have broken through the troops of the cavalry, they jump down from their chariots and do battle on foot…”

topknots and moustaches for everyone.

i found a good post by a Kanienkeha’ka woman who says the following about what is and is not okay as regards whites using or participating in her culture:

Cultural appropriation is something that I have discussed before on tumblr. I think that it would be best to now specify what people cannot use from our culture/traditions. I am half Mohawk and half Mi’kmaq. I grew up on a Mohawk reserve most of my life and have been taught (and practiced) my traditions and language.

So first off let’s start with some basics before we begin.

Mohawk is a term that describes people who eat flesh. The name was given to us from a combination of things, European settlers (misunderstanding) and our traditional enemies (the “Mohawk”/Six Nations were know to be fierce warriors that would often kill and capture many of their enemies). Therefore the term itself is considered disrespectful for our people. We prefer to be called Kanienkeha’ka. This means “the people of the flint”. It is pronounced gun-yay-gay-ha-guh

Mi’kmaq is also not the traditional name for my other Nation. L’nu is the traditional word and it means “the people”. You may also state that someone is “Mi’kmaw”.

Mi’kmaw is pronounced: mig-ma

L’nu’k (sometimes there is no k) is pronounced: ull noog

Now onto the other details. I will mainly post from a Kanienkeha’ka perspective because I have much more traditional knowledge from that Nation. My mom’s Mi’kmaq reserve has lost many of their traditions.

Similarities with other Nations:

  • sweat lodges
  • fasts
  • ceremonies are still practiced – but are not at all the same as other Nations
  • longhouse style homes
  • traditional songs and dances are still practiced
  • our language is still taught and practiced
  • we have traditional masks
  • rattles
  • the use of tobacco, feathers and sage

Differences with other Nations:

  • pow-wows – we don’t consider this to be part of our traditions
  • rain dances – again not part of our traditions
  • ghost dances – see above
  • pow-wow drums or hand drums – not our traditional instruments
  • the use of the word regalia to describe our clothing
  • instead of pow-wows we have socials (kind of like a time to practice our songs and dances) with the other Six Nations
  • we use our own form of government still
  • we use a water drum that both women and men can use
  • we have a calendar to celebrate all of our old traditions
  • we have ceremonies usually once a month
  • most Mohawks are still given a Mohawk name

What you can use from our culture:

  • non-traditional Mohawk hairstyles (the kind you see at punk concerts)
  • words in Mohawk if they are taught to you by a Mohawk person who speaks the language (and if you are actually friends or relatives of the people)
  • Our rattles but only if you are offered them by a Mohawk person within a longhouse setting (or another traditional setting) – you should not bring them home (unless given as a gift) and you should never make your own
  • you may use our medicine to heal yourself only if it was given to you by a Mohawk traditional healer and it can only be used for yourself – you must follow any rules given to you by the healer or else it is considered disrespectful
  • you may be allowed to attend our socials since they are not considered traditional – it is best to ask first

What you cannot use from our culture:

  • our traditional songs and dances
  • our water drums
  • any part of our ceremonies/festivals – no pictures, paintings, etc are allowed to be used or made by any Non-Mohawk (or Non-Six Nations member)
  • our masks – you are not allowed to paint or photograph them as well; this is ultimate disrespect and complete cultural appropriation
  • our traditional clothing
  • you cannot give yourself a Mohawk name – especially if you are not Mohawk, you may be given one traditionally if you are adopted (only)
  • our traditional form of government (the structure and rules)
  • the structure of our traditional villages or longhouses
  • our traditional clans or the system we use for it
  • any of our prayers/thanks
  • you usually have to be invited into a longhouse, we do not allow just anyone to walk into a longhouse
  • our traditional kastowa’s (men’s “headdress” – I don’t like this term, but cannot think of a better term to describe it)

Note: I may add on to this list if I remember any other important things.

Many Mohawk people do not consider pow-wows traditional and for us it is not seen as personal cultural appropriation to have pow-wow traditions disrespected, however, we do understand that it is cultural appropriation for some specific Nations. The same goes for rain dances and ghost dances. We do not see the headdresses worn in the south (war bonnets, etc) as traditional for our people, so in relation to us it is not cultural appropriation but we are very much aware that it is appropriation for many other Nations.
If anything written is unclear of if you would like more information please utilize my ask or submit sections in my blog.

this original post (and the user) have vanished from Tumblr, which happens a lot when people write something like this, which tends to be reblogged tens of thousands of times, which is really troublesome for the author because it clogs up your dashboard and there’s no way to turn it off. Tumblr has bad design!!

anyway those are some data i found about “mohawk” hair.

i will end on a really good poem by Sherman Alexie about the ubiquitous claim by American whites that they are “part native american” (even my mom tells me i’m 1/6th Iroquois or something!! :I ) which is like some weird combo white guilt thing, self-excuse of “whiteness” because “actually im not white!!” while still claiming all the privilege of whiteness, and, the thing they never think about, a constant unwillingness to move past the fact that yeah, white colonists raped their way through an entire continent of aboriginal inhabitants for hundreds of years and it’s probably literally true that tons of white americans carry this horrible legacy in their genetics. and its not something to be proud of actually

“How to Write the Great American Indian Novel,” Sherman Alexie

All of the Indians must have tragic features: tragic noses, eyes, and arms.
Their hands and fingers must be tragic when they reach for tragic food.
The hero must be a half-breed, half white and half Indian, perferably
from a horse culture. He should often weep alone. That is mandatory.
If the hero is an Indian woman, she is beautiful. She must be slender
and in love with a white man. But if she loves an Indian man
then he must be a half-breed, perferably from a horse culture.
If the Indian woman loves a white man, then he has to be so white

that we can see the blue veins running through his skin like rivers.
When the Indian woman steps out of her dress, the white man gasps

at the endless beauty of her brown skin. She should be compared to nature:
brown hills, mountains, fertile valleys, dewy grass, wind, and clear water.
If she is compared to murky water, however, then she must have a secret.
Indians always have secrets, which are carefully and slowly revealed.
Yet Indian secrets can be disclosed suddenly, like a storm.
Indian men, of course, are storms. They should destroy the lives

of any white women who choose to love them. All white women love
Indian men. That is always the case. White women feign disgust
at the savage in blue jeans and T-shirt, but secretly lust after him.
White women dream about half-breed Indian men from horse cultures.
Indian men are horses, smelling wild and gamey. When the Indian men
unbuttons his pants, the white woman should think of topsoil.

There must be one murder, one suicide, one attempted rape.
Alcohol should be consumed. Cars must be driven at high speeds.

Indians must see visions. White people can have the same visions
if they are in love with Indians. If a white person loves an Indian

then the white person is Indian by proximity. White people must carry
an Indian deep inside themselves. Those interior Indians are half-breed

and obviously from horse cultures. If the interior Indian is male
then he must be a warrior, especially if he is inside a white man.

If the interior Indian is female, then she must be a healer, especially if she is inside
a white woman. Sometimes there are complications.

An Indian man can be hidden inside a white woman. An Indian woman
can be hidden inside a white man. In these rare instances,

everybody is a half-breed struggling to learn more about his or her horse culture.
There must be redemption, of course, and sins must be forgiven.

For this, we need children. A white child and an Indian child, gender
not important, should express deep affection in a childlike way.

In the Great American Indian novel, when it is finally written,
all of the white people will be Indians and all of the Indians will be ghosts.

in conclusion, kill whitey, including me. thanks for reading.