Monday, July 4, 2011

Incense is Racist

Thanks to Sweet Reader Cass from Syracuse (also known as my sister), who laid this on me on my recent trip up north.  An Indian on a package of incense that smells like Earth, Ocean, Wind, and Fields - ka-ching!    

This hits all the trite notes - the squinting, faraway gaze, the protruding cheekbones and deep clefts around the mouth, the bear claw necklace and ceremonial headdress, the connection with nature, the pseudo-spirituality.  
Ocean seems fine, but what’s the different between Wind, Earth, and Fields?  It’s a miasma; wind blows over the fields, which grow from the earth.  Going by the pictures, you wonder if they didn’t call Fields "Flowers" because they were afraid of losing the male buying dollar.  You also have to ask yourself what clouds smell like.
This ended up at the dollar store because E. Davis International of Watertown, NY lacks strength of conviction.  Once they had the Indian drawn up they should’ve blasted the theme with both barrels - Earth, Tobacco, Buffalo Chips, and Casino.  
Too tough to chemically manufacture “Casino," you say?  Bullshit.  Your olfactory technicians can re-create the subtle shades between the ground, plants growing from the ground, and wind blowing through the plants growing from the ground, and you can’t give me a combination of alcohol breath, industrial cleanser, and soured dreams?  Have faith, E. Davis.

Some words on these posts.  

I keep using the word Indian.  And I will keep using it.  My mother is Mohawk so it’s more accurate to call me Mohawk than Indian, Native, Native American, or American Indian (like calling someone Swedish vs European).  But really, I use Indian because it’s the word my family has always used when our heritage comes up (when we’re not talking about corn, beans, and squash, counting our casino money, or communing with nature, we talk about how Indian we are).  I’m also very comfortable using the word “tribe”.  I know it’s used to classify animals, and a lot of younger Indians who prefer calling themselves Native like to use “Nation.”  I respect that, and I like the fact that tribe is being phase out by a new generation of teachers.  I also don’t plan on feeling guilty for saying or writing Mohawk Tribe.  
Further, when I say that a certain place or object is racist, the reason should be obvious.   If it’s not, we can play the old game of “How would you like it if I put a wooden statue of a Negro with exaggerated features dressed in full African tribal gear outside of my store?” or “How would you like a caricature of a Jew on a sport uniform with a really fun derogatory term for the team?” or “How would you like a Chinaman in a conical hat on an incense package featuring the scents of Green Tea, Sesame Oil, Kung Fu, and High Math Scores?”  

Okay, the last two were a stretch.  How about Small Penis?  Small Penis is a smell, right?  Chinese stereotypes suck.
I’m joking because it’s more fun than walking around pissed off all day, but these images are obnoxious and running into them all the time is tiresome.  When people learn I’m Indian, I always, always, ALWAYS get that look, the weighing one, the one Meatloaf gives Ed Norton in Fight Club when Norton tells Meatloaf he’s a member.

Their thoughts are all over that expression; “You don’t look Indian.”  It’s not hard to discern the meaning because many people over the years have had no compunction about actually expressing the thought out loud.  Next time it happens, I’ll just answer, “Funny, you don’t look like an asshole.”       
I’m not fed up with images like these because the ubiquity of headdresses makes them easier to defile (that’s what it’s called when religious artifacts are disrespected, right?); I know some tribes give out eagle feathers for especially heroic acts and that a full headdress of feathers means your life is filled with some serious shit for which you deserve respect, but I couldn’t tell you if they’re culturally significant for Mohawks.  These images and statues bother me because they make us invisible.  Indians aren't something that happened, we are here, now.  We live.  We go unrecognized because we don’t look the way we’re supposed to, but we’re here.
Our invisibility as a people in the present also makes our current problems - suicide, alcoholism, infant mortality rates, unemployment, sovereignty, etc, etc. - invisible.  When I pose with a pissed-off face next to a Cigar Store Indian, it’s partially a joke.  It’s partially venting some anger. 
It’s also a message - we’re still here.    


  1. Replies
    1. This has to be spam, yet when you click the link the first products are "Native Spirit Cards" and "Native Spirit Oracles."

      So this spam is right on point, and deserved to be published.