cultural appropriation

Savage or nah?

"The idea of savagery undoubtedly enabled white American's to exercise multiple kinds of power over multiple kinds of Indians. Yet the existence of so many variations on the savage theme also suggests that stereotype might function better as a descriptive shorthand than as an analytical tool. A stereotype, we might say, is a simplified and generalized expectation - savagery, in this case - that comes to rest in an image, text, or utterance. It is a sound bite, a crudely descriptive connection between power, expectation, and representation." 

Philip J. Deloria, Indians in unexpected places, 2004, p.9

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In the past few years "savage" has become a popular word to use - so much so that on Instagram 8.6million (yeah MILLION) pictures were tagged with the hashtag #savage. The posts range from selfies of people to  inappropriate and most often offensive posts by people who the Urban dictionary refers to as "some who does not care about the consequences of his or her actions."  There is even multiple online stores that sells "savage" merchandise ( Popular culture has really embraced this word and as result attached new meanings to it but for me I cannot help but think about Phil's quote above and how it was used as a tool to exercise power over Native people.  


Every time I hear someone use the word "savage" - I feel a cringe in my stomach. I think about how extensively this terminology was used to refer to my ancestors, as a way to dehumanize them and delegitimize their cultural knowledge and ways of knowing. I think about the imagery in these pictures - imagery that attached a particular stereotype to ALL Native people - with "savage" being the common denominator..."savage warrior," "noble savage," etc. "Savage" became synonymous with Native people, so much so that the United States referred to Native people in the declaration of independence as "Merciless Indian Savages."


Not only did this dehumanize Native people to animalistic like beings, it also imposed a sameness onto all Native people - erasing the beautiful diversity of all of our Native cultures, nations, and communities. Ironically, as the use of #savage in popular culture increased so did the cultural appropriation of Native culture (see Native Appropriations - "Valentino didn't learn anything" for a good recap). Ironic because at one point in history being "savage" was considered to be demeaning and now being "savage" and appropriating "Native" culture is almost being sought after by popular culture.  While no different than any word that has been used to historically disempower and disenfranchise a particular group, I have been incredibly intrigued at how readily people use this term now - without understanding its' ties to the oppression of Native communities.