Wearing my ‘Redskins = Racist’ Tee in a Bourgeois Area

Last month I picked up this delightful tee and have been giddy to wear it everywhere I go. I decided that the first time I would wear it, it would have to be in a place with high ignoramuses who bleed privilege. Yeah yeah yeah…call me out for being an attention-whore who seeks shock value, whatever. Anyway–

Where did I go? Santana Row, of course! I get this gag reflex every time I go there. Although I’m overly generalizing, it seems to me that everyone wants to be like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West out there. People who hang out there on any given day means they 1) aren’t at work or busy hustling, and 2) display their wealth in disgusting excess. The interesting thing is – San Jose is so ethnically diverse. It attracts folks from all over the world because of it’s association with Silicon Valley on top of being considered the biggest (wannabe) metropolitan city in the South Bay. Although many groups of people who reside in San Jose are minorities, many of them are very unaware of internalized oppression and the reality that they (we) are largely marginalized. They ‘pass,’ so they don’t think any more of it. Sounded to me like a perfect opportunity to give people a little dose of history, a bit of a challenge, and also kick their consciousness in gear.

So, you bet your bottom dollar I’m going to traipse myself around in this t-shirt!

The Results:

  • Lots of double-takes. Most people’s gaze went to my shirt, up to my face, and down to my shirt again.
  • Blinking eyes and raised brows. A lot of these also came in the form of pointed stares as if it were somehow offensive to them. No surprise there, but wearing a t-shirt is passive – not active, nor confrontational. (Ok, maybe visually confrontational).
  • One conversation. One guy said that he agreed with my shirt. He seemed nervous and made it a point to keep our chat very short, but overall he relayed that after learning more in-depth treatment of Native Americans in the US at school, he couldn’t believe people still use such terms.

That sole conversation was more than I expected. But as I could see the wheels in people’s heads turn, I knew that the visibility – and more importantly, readability – were a good point to my wardrobe choice. I know I’m not going to change the world by wearing the shirt, but I can challenge wearer-perceiver relationships and stereotypes that keeps people from talking about it. At the very least, I can say I’ve got them thinking about it. We all start somewhere.

To read more about how the term “redskins” is racist and offensive, I’ll point you to one of my favorite bloggers and scholars, Adrienne K.’s Native Appropriations. As for the shirt, I got mine here  from Bambu DePistola – be sure to check his music.

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