I love these earrings, but wearing them comes with some thinking. Once upon a time I wouldn’t have thought so much, but with the baffling continuation of hipster headdresses, Spirit Hoods and J Crew decorating their store windows with tipis, I’m careful.
I’m careful because I don’t want these earrings to invite others to interpret me as another misappropriating hipster, with beads just the gateway accessory that leads to dreamcatcher tattoos and ironic face paint.
I’m careful because I understand the messages, manifest and latent, that earrings like these could send. While other accessories have ambiguity in their cultural and racial identity (e.g. the multiple cultures associated with hoop earrings), the materials and pattern of these earrings is very specific. And with the popularity of the mis-named and generically defined “tribal style“ (also called “neo native” and “Navajo nouveau”) this summer and fall, I don’t want to blindly follow a culturally inaccurate and outsider-interpreted trend.
I’m also careful because I don’t want to be read as trying to advertise, assert, or connect to my Native heritage. Even if the style and pattern of these earrings were culturally appropriate for my own genealogy, I have no ties to that community or its members and therefore do not claim it as my own.
Because I have seen the frustration and anger that colleagues and friends feel towards these actions of careless cultural cherry picking, I’m careful about my actions what they can say about me. Much of this is about perception, it’s true, but because we live in a world where we are observed and interpreted everyday by those around us, I think a lot about how others will “read” me.
And it’s after considering all of that, that I do wear these earrings.
I wear them because I know the concerns I have about how others might interpret why I’m wearing them are unfounded.
I wear them because they’re beautiful.
I wear them because I purchased the earrings from a talented Lakota artist licensed under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act who, by selling them to me, gave me permission to wear them.
I wear them because, to the best of my understanding, the design of the earrings does not inappropriately imitate or incorporate any colors or patterns that I should not be allowed to wear. I don’t feel that these earrings are a trend that compromises, bastardizes or insults cultural or spiritual practices.
I do not wear them as part of a costume.
Have I over thought all this? Probably. But I have been fortunate enough to be welcomed into an environment where many Native scholars, activists and professionals far smarter than me have helped me learn. I claim no expertise, but am committed to continue learning. And so I think. What I have learned so far has helped me understand the frustration and anger felt as diverse cultures have been distilled into a whitewashed, historically-centered, pan-Indian stereotype suitable for public consumption.
Under other circumstances, these earrings could be used as a small part of that. For me, they’re my beautiful earrings.
For more discussion on the presence and interpretation of Native art in fashion, check out Millie’s post on cultural misappropriation in the Miss Universe Pageant and the fantastic blogs Native Appropriations and Beyond Buckskin.
Do you have any jewelry that makes you think?