Oh, Pharrell Is Part Native American? Here’s Why It Doesn’t Matter

Source: Elle UK via showbizgeek.com

Indian Country Today

Oh, Pharrell Is Part Native American? Here’s Why It Doesn’t Matter

The internet is a wonderful place for people who don't really know what they're talking about to openly speculate and confuse those who'd really like to understand the issues—that's not news. But with the latest cultural-appropriation scandal, involving Pharrell Williams wearing a feather headdress on the cover of Elle UK, Pharrell fans and self-appointed experts are pushing back by citing a detail buried in an article on the O, the Oprah Magazine New Zealand site:

"The young man whose name is derivative of his father’s (Pharaoh) and who says he has Native American and Egyptian heritages…"

Bloggers, Facebook pundits and even journalists are speculating that this claim may dull the outrage over the image—but does it work that way? Does some American Indian DNA in Pharrell's double helix make the headdress fashion choice OK? In a word, no. Here are four reasons why:

1. Not All Indians Wear Feather Headdresses

While the feather, specifically an eagle feather, is a sacred symbol in many Native American cultures, the "war bonnet" style headdress Pharrell is wearing is very specific to Plains tribes. An article at native-languages.org cites the figure of 12 tribes; this is a very small number considering that there are 566 federally recognized tribes and innumerable others that either aren't federally recognized or simply gone due to assimilation or genocide. Some of the feather-headdress-wearing tribes are large and well-known—the Lakota, the Crow, the Cheyenne—but saying that all Indians wear feather headdresses is—to use a very superficial example—like saying all Europeans wear lederhosen.

RELATED: Hipster Headdresses at Coachella: Yep, It Happened

2. Feathers Are Earned Over the Course of One's Lifetime

Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations explains this nicely in her oft-cited "But Why Can't I Wear a Hipster Headdress" post:

"Eagle feathers are presented as symbols of honor and respect and have to be earned. Some communities give them to children when they become adults through special ceremonies, others present the feathers as a way of commemorating an act or event of deep significance. Warbonnets especially are reserved for respected figures of power."

3. "Part Native American" Doesn't Cut It

A lot of people who don't self-identify as American Indian have some American Indian heritage. Many of them don't even know it. Others have a vague idea of Native heritage—there can be a grain of truth to family lore or even the "my grandmother was a Cherokee princess" cliché. But having an American Indian ancestor or relative isn't a license to use that relative's culture spontaneously and without context. Here's another way of looking at it: Many of the people who are appalled by this image are deeply connected to their Native culture and live it every day. If they say the picture is hurtful, it's hurtful, and a Cherokee grandmother doesn't change that. (By the way, the Cherokee did not have "princesses" and did not wear feather headdresses—these are two topics covered in the FAQ at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.)

Having a Native ancestor doesn't get you off the hook if you don't bother to do the homework—and if you bother to do the homework, you will not wear the headdress, and there will be no hook off of which to get… Q.E.D.

4. He's Not Paying Tribute to His Culture

For the sake of argument, say some of the above points didn't hold up. Say, perhaps, Pharrell's Native ancestor was from a Plains tribe that wore feather headdresses, and that he had studied the culture and it informed his daily life, and he had been given the feathers for accomplishments. The headdress remains a sacred ceremonial item, to be worn on special occasions. There's no tribute in wearing the headdress on the cover of Elle UK, flanked by "The Secret Life of Keira Knightley" and "All Natural Hair: 23 Products to Try Now." This is a spiritual item; on the cover of Elle UK it becomes secularized, trivialized, accessorized. Those who hold the headdress sacred might well say this is the opposite of a tribute.

We said it before: You really should have stuck with the mountie hat, Pharrell.

Comments (170)
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coolhorse
coolhorse

There were over 500 Nations and who is to say what each of them did or did not do.

Some of those Nations were lost forever so again who knows what is what.

If he is proud of his heritage and he shows the headdress in a positive light then so be it.

I can see the complaint if it was portraying his love for HIS heritage in a negative way.

Bottlefinger
Bottlefinger

I understand your thoughts on the ALL OF A SUDDEN native with a picture with a head dress. I grew up and saw Redbone on Midnight Special. They are native and have every right to attire themselves thusly BUT it inspired in me a desire to know more. I was blown away by the dance, the attire and their look. I ended up in rock-n-roll bands wearing moccasin boots but that was it. I have since then read many books that have illuminated a great respect and love for the culture and I list Black Elk, Chief Joseph and Crazy Horse as some of my heroes. Jumping on the band wagon is very nauseating for me, let alone natives. The culture is due its respect and the spiritual part of it is proven truer to me everyday. Sometimes an awkward moment opens the doors to inspection into something new and enlightening.

Getoveryourself
Getoveryourself

No body better wear a cowboy hat cause they might offend some rednecks. Jeez, get over yourself. Come on you're no longer hunter-gatherers; you go too Costco. I respect everyone. Until they start aggressively whining for 'equality'. Have a little pride. Take the high road. So some lame pop star wore a headdress. Shows how lame he is. But you getting your feathers all ruffled over it makes you lame too.

johnsmith101
johnsmith101

this is an excellent article, thank you.

Redpaint _37
Redpaint _37

Nervy

Ms Peggy Lee
Ms Peggy Lee

all my relations❤

BlackCloud.
BlackCloud.

There is great misunderstanding...
And it still is killing people silently today..
It is separating families
The Whole "Black" and "White" narrative was created by a man named Walter Plecker.
He was a eugenist and hated the fact that Darkskinned people were truthfully putting Indian, on the birth certificates of their babies.
So Amerindians that "seemed" white were changed to white
and Amerindians that had darker skin were reclassified as black.

There were no cameras back then, but people drew paintings of Amerindians.
Plenty of people try to cover this up, but when dealing with the truth, truth will reveal itself , u just gotta look.
Many people self Identify as "African American" or black, but they never really look into their actual heritage through the years.
Plz do research on this because "black people" are the other Indians that the government has been covering up.

ApkModsZone
ApkModsZone









NacaLady
NacaLady

I'm in the same boat. My family has lived here in south TX for many generations. Mixed in with a few Spanish and Italians. It's terrible that Native ancestry roots are lost to us. Many members of my family claim Apache but they don't really know. It's like my great grandparents didn't talk about it with their children and focused on assimilation in the early 1900's. I wish I could claim something. Makes filling out this Census 2020 thing a bitter reminder of a culture lost.

monokpeter
monokpeter


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