Monday, March 5, 2012

Cultural insensitivity

Portland in an ever relenting stream of public consciousness extols the virtues of cultural diversity. Yet there are firms like Urban Outfitters that sees cultural identities as a means to earn a buck. [Navajo sues Urban Outfitters over product names].

The appropriation of the native American (Indian people) likeness and identity dismisses their cultural worth. It matters not whether it is for a school's mascot or a sport's team name or for business profit. It is a form of racism that shouldn't be tolerated.

The Navajos are basing their lawsuit against Urban Outfitters on misappropriation of intellectual property rights. "The lawsuit seeks monetary compensation and an order permanently enjoining Urban Outfitters from using the name "Navajo" or variations of it on its products." But it is clear that it is more than a business issue.

"[T]he Navajo nation has at least 10 trademarks on the word "Navajo," which covers clothing, textiles and household products."  [LATimes]. In the business world a most important piece of property is the firm's intellectual property. A business rightfully guards against others trading on that property for their economic benefit. It seems especially egregious that any business would seek to economically benefit off a tribal identity without seeking permission and the payment of licensing fees.

But Urban Outfitters apparently finds it difficult to believe that native American tribes have intellectual property rights, and that it is fair game to trounce their culture. Worse than trying to avoid licensing fees is the products that Urban Outfitters sought to attach the 'Navajo' trademark to, e.g., the Navajo Hipster Panty and Navajo Drinking Flask. [CBSNews]. The company did 'cease and desist.'

As CBSNews noted: "the company seems to have developed a racial tone deafness to American Indians." We see that the latest suit notes that "products with the Navajo name still are sold through other company brands, like Free People, in catalogs and retail stores."  Clever huh?

Worse yet - it seems like Portland itself is tone deaf to the American Indian. I have not seen any editorials decrying this cultural insensitivity if not down right racism. The Oregonian even carried this guest columnist piece -Maybe it's a compliment. Thus, Indian People's names for school team and images used for mascots are compliments. A quick Google or Bing search would have put him straight.

It seems that uses of caricatures for products, team names, mascots, etc. are more than expressions of cultural insensitivity they are disparaging of Indian people's racial heritage.

This mammy caricature would not be used today to advertise a product. And from the image to the right it is easy to see why the native American culture opposes the 'mascot' caricature.

Yes - where is the honor and respect?

What's in a Name? Can Native Americans Control Outsiders' Use of their Tribal Names? | Cultural Survival
National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media
The Injustice of Native American Mascots: A Legal Perspective | The Sport Digest
The Mammy Caricature :
Urban Outfitters' "Navajo Hipster Panty" Is Just the Tip of the Racial Iceberg
Navajo Nation takes on Urban Outfitters, and wins
Maybe it's a compliment

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