September 9, 2012

Paul Frank's Racist Powwow

The other day, I got a Google alert that an article was written using the words "Native American" and "Fashion." It turns out, the article was about Paul Frank Industries' Fashion's Night Out party.* The description was only two sentences long, but I learned enough to realize that something bad was going down.

"Paul Frank celebrated Fashion’s Night Out with a neon-Native American powwow theme. Glow-in-the-dark war-painted employees in feather headbands and bow and arrows invited guests to be photographed on a mini-runway holding prop tomahawks."

So, I searched for the company on Facebook, and sure enough, they had posted over 1,000 images from this powwow party. I posted this picture (above left) on Beyond Buckskin's Facebook page, with the caption, "Oh good. Mock scalping. And here I was, worried that Native American people were underrepresented in the fashion industry."

And many of you responded. So many people reacted to the obvious racism, and posted on Paul Frank's wall, and reported the images as 'Racist', that within 24 hours of that first image post, the entire albums were removed from Paul Frank's FB page.

But there was no apology. The party still happened, and images are still out there (click here, for example). Let's walk through some of these images. First, the logo is of the Paul Frank monkey in a headdress. We've talked about Headdresses so much on here and on the Native Appropriations page, we feel like broken records:

Second, there were kids there. Lots and lots of kids, encouraged to dress up and play Indian. Evidently, this is our legacy:

Third, there was alcohol there (right behind these kids below), and the vodka mix drink names are just as racist as the party planners: Rain Dance Refresher (with vodka, lemonade, and sweetened ice tea), Dream Catcher, and Neon Teepee (with vodka, cranberry juice, soda water, 7up, and Red Bull):

Finally, these weren't just plain ol' white kids playing Indian. Now every race and every color and every age group is doing it. It is truly a sad day to see other People of Color oppressing Native American people and making a mockery of their cultures.

This is my letter to Paul Frank:
To whom it may concern: 
Thank you for removing the Powwow pictures from your Facebook page. However, the party still happened, and the images are still out there. We want an apology, Paul Frank. 
Since you are profiting off of a caricature of our cultures, a donation to a Native American youth arts program would be fitting to accompany your apology. Furthermore, if you are genuinely interested in Native American design, I suggest you collaborate with Native American designers in the future. 
Your actions are highly offensive, and it is ridiculous to see this level of racism still occurring in 2012. 
Jessica R. Metcalfe, PhD (Turtle Mountain Chippewa)
Beyond Buckskin
Please see Native Appropriations blog for a more robust rebuttal to Paul Frank's Racist Powwow.

Update: Paul Frank apologized on his Facebook page:
"Paul Frank celebrates diversity and is inspired by many rich cultures from around the world. The theme of our Fashion's Night Out event was in no way meant to disrespect the Native American culture, however due to some comments we have received we are removing all photos from the event and would like to formally and sincerely apologize. Thank you everyone for your feedback and support."
Update: This isn't just a party, it is actually a collection of tees:

Click here to tell Paul Frank what you think about their racist party, their apology, and their continued sales of their 'Indian' and 'Dream Catcher' tees.

*UPDATE: For clarification, I am referring to Paul Frank Industries in this article, not Paul Frank, the man. Click here to read the clarification letter.

*UPDATE: Paul Frank Industries has reached out to Native Appropriations and Beyond Buckskin to move forward and create a positive outcome from this terrible situation. We will seek to further our goal of educating about the (mis)appropriation of Native American cultures, and seek to promote collaborations between companies and Native American communities. Click here to read the details.