Pop star and entertainer Ricky Martin, lambasted for an Instagram photo he posted of himself in a war bonnet and shades, has taken down the offending picture.
It is well known that Plains Indians headdresses hold deep spiritual significance and that each feather is earned through acts of courage. So when Martin accessorized with a Lakota headdress and hipster aviator sunglasses as a lark, the comments started to fly, as USA Today reported. While some said that those against the headdress were being too sensitive, others pointed out that donning one frivolously desecrates a sacred symbol.
“Even within Native communities from the Plains, not everyone is allowed to wear the headdress,” noted commenter @Charlenepetra, according to USA Today. “Not only is it cultural appropriation of a culture that’s been crushed for centuries but also it’s desecrating a spirituality.”
Moreover, Martin “is not native. He is not enrolled (in a tribe), he never had to face the hardship of being a tribal member in a colonized society. His culture is not being mocked, assimilated and crushed,” she pointed out.
Adrienne Keene, Cherokee, an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies at Brown University and founder of the blog Native Appropriations, has a lot to say about cultural appropriation, especially of the headdress.
For one thing, headdresses promote stereotyping by promulgating the image of the war-paint-streaked, feather-sporting, Hollywood Indian, she wrote in her entry “But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress?” In fact, she wrote, it’s as offensive as wearing blackface—and we all know how well that tends to turn out. In addition, it glosses over this country’s history of genocide and colonialism.
In other words, it has a much deeper meaning than the mere look of the item itself—and putting one on in any other context is disrespectful, even if the intent is benign.
Martin has not made a public statement, but the photo has vanished from Instagram.