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A letter to the Recording Academy by Andrew Brother Elk

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Dear Recording Academy,

It was truly mind boggling to witness the so-called 'entertainment' of OutKast on your Grammy Awards show. I have never seen such blatant racial stereotypes paraded on television, and in such a tacky and disgraceful manner, as you allowed to be displayed on your 2004 show. Did you not consider that dancers bumping and grinding in skimpy American Indian outfits of fringe and feathers, plus fake braids and beads, followed by the deplorable USC band in fake feather headdresses and 'war paint', might be insulting to your audience? It certainly insulted many American Indians, and far more than a single bared breast.

I wonder what your response would have been if OutKast had been bumping and grinding in yarmulkes or the religious vestments of the Roman Catholic Church? Or in the cultural costumes of the Muslims or Buddhists? We both know what it would have been: OutKast would have been told to change their costumes by the shows' producers and the Recording Academy.

But it is even worse than this, because the show and the academy are implicated in this crass stereotyping and commercialization of another culture, for onstage was a fake tepee set from which the dancers emerged. This indicates the show and the academy knew of OutKast's intentions from the beginning and did nothing to stop this insult. We were also told before the telecast that CBS had a 5 second delay to prevent offense. Obviously CBS felt this racist routine was just fine for broadcast.

Why is it apparently the policy of the Recording Academy and CBS that all cultures of the United States deserve respect EXCEPT the indigenous cultures of North America? One would think that our endurance of genocide and ethnic cleansing, and generations of discrimination and lies by government officials, would be enough to bear without having to witness these kinds of spectacles.

It is time for those in the entertainment industry to realize that racial stereotypes in the media feed social and political disrespect towards the victims of this behavior. American Indians do not deserve such victimization, nor does any racial group. You and OutKast and CBS owe all Americans an apology for this outrageous lack of decency and respect, and I would hope you all find some meaningful way to make amends to my people.

I was enjoying the program very much this year, especially the interesting pairings of musical artists like Prince and Beyonce, Foo Fighters and Chick Corea, etc. Unfortunately, my memory of the show will now be forever sullied by the disgusting last number. This for me and my people was truly an all time low in public broadcasting.


Andrew Brother Elk, Chair, Native American Cultural Center, San Francisco