Why should we be proud of Indians


Fasnacht, Mardi Gras, Carnival: It's that time again - we are in the middle of the fifth season. Last year around this time I found myself in a moderately serious conflict of conscience because the little son really wanted to go as an Indian. He already had very specific ideas about feather headdresses and war paint, and in view of his enthusiasm I was very sorry not to be able to grant him this wish. Because even though everything is supposedly allowed at Carnival, it is even better to refrain from wearing Indian costumes - including children. Why? To answer this question, I got support from Jasna Strick, a.k.a Tugendfurie, who you already know from this article. Otherwise Jasna blogs on the no difference.
Yes, that's right: The answer to this question is about (everyday) racism. Why dressing up as an Indian is a racist act was a hotly debated topic in my internet bubble a long time ago. Jasna and I tried to explain the most important aspects as clearly as possible using the questions and reactions we typically hear in such discussions. The point here is not to pillory anyone - everyday racism is so ingrained in all of us that you are often not even aware of it when you practice it. It doesn't matter if you find that out in yourself - it would be bad if you then didn't try to do something about it. Because for those affected, everyday racism is neither harmless nor funny. So it just makes sense to check yourself for viruses and Trojans from time to time in this regard, to question your own thought patterns and to change them if necessary.

"Mummy! Father! I've seen "Indians" in westerns and I think they're really great! "

Assuming your child comes to you with this or a similar saying, then you as the parent should be clear about the fact that “Indian films” are a part of western and white-dominated film industries and therefore mostly do not portray non-white people as they do really are - simply because these people are not part of the film industry and cannot influence it themselves.

The very name “Indian” is not a self-designation, but the name that the immigrants gave to the people they met. “Indians” takes no account of the fact that Native Americans are different cultures. For this reason we do not want to use the colonialist foreign name here, but speak of Native Americans (or more generally of People of First Nations).

So if your knowledge of Native Americans comes from films or books that were not written by the people themselves, you probably know little or nothing about them anyway ;-) “The Indians” doesn't exist at all, so you can go with yours or always relate your child's costume to racist stereotypes.
Okay, a little kid can't understand it like that. The children's search engine Blinde Kuh has written a whole series of small articles precisely on this topic, which can also be understandable for children. You can find it here.


But isn't it nice to be able to help yourself from different cultures and, for example, to wear clothes from other countries as a disguise?

When one culture adopts another's symbols, clothing, actions, etc., this is known as cultural appropriation. Especially when the culture from which something is taken is a minority, is suppressed, or has a past as a colonized nation. In the case of cultural appropriation, sacred or meaningful objects or acts often become elements of pop culture and lose their meaning because the bearers or performers, as members of another culture, (cannot) understand the original meanings.

Cultural appropriation falls, for example, when western fashion designers suddenly discover the bindi as an accessory and white people wear dreadlocks. This also and especially includes many elements that are used as costumes in carnival. (You can find many more links on cultural appropriation here and there.)

Cultural appropriation has a lot to do with imperialism and colonialism. Costumes as Native Americans are possible today because European immigrants sailed to America and there oppressed, mistreated, and expelled people of color and robbed their culture.

When whites today monetize the culture of people of color (e.g. in the fashion or cosmetics industry), then it turns out that the exploitation has never stopped. Suppressed cultures are disappearing more and more because dominant cultures absorb their aspects and alienate them from their purpose or meaning.

It is a privilege to be able to safely acquire aspects of another culture - in other words, a privilege: traditional clothing from oppressed cultures or religions often results in people being accused of not being able to integrate, of living in a parallel society or even of being dangerous. Until 1978 (American Indian Religious Freedom Act) Native Americans were not allowed to practice their religion in the USA. Non-Native Americans are allowed to wear feather headdress and rob it of its sacred symbolism without having to reckon with any danger.

My child is completely innocent of its colonial past! It just wants to dress up! I don't understand why as a parent I should forbid this!

Black children or First Nations children are also innocent - that's not the point. It's not about guilt, but about responsibility that grows out of history. We live in a system of discrimination and oppression. If you are white and live in Germany, you are a person with privileges and they also bring responsibility. It is the responsibility of whites who do not want to tolerate racism to not reproduce it and also to explain to their children that they have to respect other people and their cultures.

Children can understand that making a game out of other people's suffering is not okay; they may find it easier to access if you explain to them that children, too, are Native Americans and victims of violence and racism. Europeans committed genocide to Native Americans. This is nothing that is suitable to be imitated in a funny way as a “cowboy and Indian” game in gardens, tent camps or Bad Segeberg.


But you can also respectfully “borrow” things from other cultures! I like “Indians” - that's why I bought my child feather headdress in the first place! It doesn't have to be a racist act!

If I want to treat someone with respect, it means first of all that I should listen to what the person says and wants. There are many racist people in the US who say they don't want their culture to be belittled as a costume. This also includes Native Americans, e.g. here and there. And others who have been affected themselves have already explained the matter.

So dressing up as a Native American (or other suppressed culture) is not appropriate for you or your child. If you are invited to a traditional festival or the like by members of a culture that is not yours, this may (!!) be one of the few exceptions in which it is okay to adapt to the dress code. Please ask the hosts what is appropriate.

If you are interested in Native Americans and you want to express your respect for these cultures, then look around for people from these cultures, talk to them and above all listen to them. Maybe you can get a real Native American to give a talk at your child's school?

If you want to treat cultures that are not yours with respect, you can read into their history, be considerate of their self-descriptions and become anti-racist.


But it's carnival! You shouldn't see that so closely, carnival is just there to cross borders!

Perhaps it sounds strange to you, but precisely from this point of view, an “Indian costume” is completely inappropriate. Racism and cultural appropriation are nothing new and are not prohibited. No border is crossed when I use racist stereotypes, that's normal everyday life for people affected by discrimination.

In the Rhineland, the key to the town hall is symbolically presented to women on Weiberfastnacht. If power were handed over to the men in a ceremony on that day, it would be totally pointless, after all, that's the case for the rest of the year. If white people think that they should be racist at Carnival now, that is not crossing borders, but sad everyday life.


But walking around as a nun with a rosary is still allowed on Carnival, right ?!

Discrimination has to do with power and exists within a power gradient only from the powerful versus the powerless position. Nuns are part of the Christian religion and are therefore not oppressed in Germany. When other Christians use Christian symbols, they do not take anything away from anyone or alienate anything. The same would apply to a Bavarian costume.


Do we have to do without disguises now ?!

Of course, no one has to do without disguise as soon as racist costumes are no longer an option. Maybe a bit of imagination is required in some places - but that's exactly what disguises should do ;-) If you have no more ideas, you can click on Danger Bananas and be inspired by their list or see which DVDs and books in the children's room standing around and which figures are suitable as a costume.



This brings us to the end of our little guide to the topic of Indian costumes (not only) for Carnival. We hope we were able to make the topic easy to understand and are curious to see which creative disguises you might come up with as alternatives in the future.

My (Ella's) son was so infatuated with his Indian idea last year that he was really unwilling to compromise. I then tried to hear what exactly was so important to him about this costume. It turned out that he really wanted something with feathers and a bow and arrow. So we made a kind of imaginative forest man out of him.
What else you should pay attention to during Carnival: Do not paint your faces black to represent black people. Consensus is also important at Carnival. A costume is not an invitation to touch, kiss or even have sex. Even children understand that well.

Have a nice, foolish time!



Addendum: Please also read the epilogue to this article!

Since the comments (positive, negative, factually critical, insulting, thoughtful) only repeated themselves at some point, we closed the comments. If you are interested, read through the existing comments; there are also interesting discussions and links to read.

Posted in General