Printed today in the OSU Barometer:
This letter will be angry. I won’t apologize for any vitriol or confrontation here. I don’t believe that we can have honest public discussions without being confrontational.
My anger comes from hearing, with dismay, about a party last weekend themed “Cowboys and Indians.”
I don’t know a lot about this party, other than it was hosted by a visibly white student at OSU who identifies as gay. I don’t know a lot about who attended this party other than the host, as well as a few people I recognized in Facebook pictures. I don’t know whether the party was attended by mostly lesbian and gay students, mostly straight students, mostly white students or whom.
Frankly, I find that the party happened at all abhorrent. But I mention the host’s sexuality because I am concerned with the connections between white gay identity and representations of minorities by white culture.
I believe that representations of people of color and of queer folk have a common grounding in a largely white, straight society that denies these communities their rights to self-determination.
I feel it is incumbent upon me to write this column. I could easily sit back and not express my public outrage at this party. I could easily move on and pretend this party and the racist images evoked there do not affect me.
But to wait for a person of color to express outrage at these actions is to deny my responsibility as a white person to combat racism. It is to put the burden (again and again!) on people of color to educate white people.
Yes, I used the term “racist.” Yes, I believe that for a white person to host a party themed “Cowboys and Indians” is racist.
This is because I believe there are two things that every group in this world should have the right to: dignity and self-determination.
And I believe that dressing up as “Indians” at a party harms a group of people’s right to self-determination.
The self-determination of Native Americans has historically, and is still today, under assault. Look at the mainstream media and ask how are Native Americans represented.
It was the stereotype of the University of Illinois mascot until February 2007. It is the savage Indian of Westerns. It is the sole Indian princess wearing a headdress in Disney World’s “It’s a Small World.”
Who creates these images? Not Native Americans. They are created by universities, movie studios and other institutions owned and controlled by white people.
There is no self-determination for Native Americans when white people portray what a Native American looks and acts like. White people have created a near monopoly on the mainstream representations of people of color.
And your party, asking folks to dress up like caricatures of Native Americans, is perpetuating the historical representations of racist images created and perpetuated by white society.
I am sure that you would say your party is ironic, that you knew these representations were racist, but you did it out of absurdity. I would reply that you are refusing to deal with your white privilege.
I am sure that you would say that this party is okay because some people of color attended and dressed up in this parody of Native American garb. I would reply that this claim ignores that people of color can be implicated in racism against other people of color.
Why, I am sure you would ask, does the sexuality of the host and guests matter?
This is because, in case you missed it, dominant straight culture has for the last century defined what it means to be queer: a deviancy diagnosable as a mental disorder, the eunuch Will and the flamboyant queen Jack, the myths that queers are pedophiles, that bisexuals are just sex-starved sluts, that gay men have innate fashion sense, that trannies are perverts, that lesbians just need to have sex with the right man.
This list could continue. The point is that historically and currently, dominant culture represents and defines the lives of people of color and of queer people. Dominant culture has, in effect, taken away these groups’ rights to self-determination.
And you, as white, as part of the dominant paradigm (as much as you might deny it because of your gayness), are implicated in this when you throw a party themed “Cowboys and Indians.”
At a time when people of color and queers need each other to battle systemic oppression, you dress up as a “savage,” you dress up like a “squaw.”
I would hope that you could see the connections between racist depictions and homophobic depictions. I would hope that you understand that to build alliances with people of color, whether straight or queer, you need to show that you are actively anti-racist.
At the very least, I would hope that your selfishness would make you see that in order to fight our society’s demonizing of queerness, you need the alliances of as many people as you can.
I am not surprised when many people of color do not support gay rights, do not join in gay marches and/or do not trust gay people as allies. I cannot be surprised when white queers like you choose to throw parties with racist imagery.
At the very least: you’re queer. You’ve been forced to be creative with your sexuality. At least be creative with your parties. “Cowboys and Indians”? It’s a clichÃ©! It’s as trite as the heterosexism you should be combating.
To my white lesbian and gay siblings, show me I can trust you to stand up against racism. Show me I can trust you to listen when I tell you your actions hurt other people.
Show me that there is hope that white gays and lesbians can see the consequences of their actions and choose to ally themselves with other marginalized folks, instead of identifying themselves with a dominant culture that not only demeans people of color, but also hates and demeans queers.