Many people, upon being called out for cultural appropriation, justify their casual racism by saying that they themselves are from that culture or they have an ancestor from the culture.
Miss Grand United States, Emily Irene Delgado, came under fire recently after her performance at the Miss Grand International Pageant in Venezuela. In a portion of the pageant, participants were asked to wear a costume that represented their home countries.
Delgado chose to wear a brown, heavily fringed mini-dress with kneehigh leather boots topped off with a headband, feather and face paint. She proceeded to parade around the stage miming a “war” hoop and pretending to “scout” things out dramatically.
Ashley Callingbull, the first-ever Indigenous Mrs. Universe from the Enoch Cree Nation in Canada, was one of the first people to call Delgado out on Twitter.
“This is NOT who we are,” Callingbull wrote on Twitter. After the controversy, Delgado referenced her own Indigenous ancestry as a reason for her choice of costume.
Callingbull spoke to this, tweeting, “If she really was Native she would know our history, wouldn’t mock us like this and would know that our culture isn’t a costume.”
Delgado’s claim to Indigenous ancestry, whether it’s accurate or not, is part of a much larger issue. When people do stupid, racist things, they try and cover it up by claiming to be or have someone in their family who is Indigenous and because of that, their racism is okay. It’s not.
With Elizabeth Warren’s questionable ancestry, we’ve been able to see the debate over who is Indigenous and who isn’t come into the national spotlight. Warren is one of those people who has claimed Indigenous ancestry, thanks to her Ancestry.com results — something so many people flock to as evidence of Indigenous roots. This fight over what makes an Indigenous person Indigenous is ongoing and divides Indian Country even today.
For me personally, what makes me Indigenous is my connection to my community, history, culture, family and identity. Everything I do, I do as a Crow person — as an Indigenous woman. My identity is not something I can take off and put on whenever I please, something many other Indigenous people can agree with.
There are always going to be those people in the world that think their Cherokee princess grandmother is a good enough excuse for their shitty behavior. However, there will also always be those people who won’t hesitate to call them out (peep #NativeTwitter).
Delgado, if you really are Indigenous in any capacity: Please learn your tribe, their history and who they are today. A simple Google search will tell you why your representation of the U.S. at the Miss Grand International Pageant was awful.
As for the rest of you: November is Native American Heritage Month. Please spend this month NOT telling Indigenous people about your Cherokee princess grandmother or your Indigenous ancestry. I’m not saying this to shame you or invalidate your existence.
I’m saying this as the Indigenous person who has to explain myself, history and culture to you because you invited yourself into a space that doesn’t really belong to you.
I’m saying this because I don’t want to waste any more of my time politely nodding and smiling while I listen to you explain why you’re special because you’re also Indigenous on your great-great-grandmother’s half-brother’s uncle’s side. It’s exhausting.