by James M. Branum

More discussion re: the War Paint Clothing Co. shirt controversy

with 8 comments

High Fashion Girl: In Defense of Warpaint

This is one of the more cogent defenses of War Paint Clothing CO. (hereafter WPC) that I’ve read. (a good example for some of the other WPC defenders who seem to lack the ability to engage in dialogue)

That said, she makes some assumptions about me that I are not fair and are not accurate, namely that I had a pre-judged opinion of the place and came in there planning to cause a disturbance.

It is true that I had pre-existing concerns about this store. Living in the USA, I’ve seen native culture misappropriated on many occasions. But I also have seen people play with cultural stereotypes and re-appropriate them (i.e. the efforts by some to claim and reappropriate offensive words like the words “nigger,” “bitch,” and “dyke”). I myself am not a fan of that strategy (because most people just don’t get it, and then use the satirical use of the words as some as an excuse to continue to use the offensive words in the old ways), but I respect it. So if WPC was doing something like this, more power to them.

So I went into the store with concern but also hope that WPC was using irony and satire to make a point.

But they weren’t. Travis (one of the owners) and the others I spoke to made it very clear that they meant this as a vaguely honorific thing, not a satirical thing. (sorta like a tobacco store Indian, or a Indian head nickel) They actually thought that they were honoring native heritage!

Well it is not an honor. Putting a stereotyped plains Indian headdress on a skull is not not honoring Indian heritage or Oklahoma heritage.

This kind of “honor” feels like an insult. It feels something like this image…

image from found this image on

Let me take it a little further. High Fashion Girl says:

If you know anything about Native American culture, you’d know that Native Americans do not fear death. They see it as a natural part of the life cycle. In many ways, they celebrated death – not in some morbid mall goth kind of way – but in a way that honored their deep spiritual connection to life and its natural end.

Hmmm…. yeah all Native Americans think alike. We all have the same views on life and death. No, absolutely not. Tribes many different ideas about life and death. You can’t generalize like this. If you want to talk about how a certain tribes sees death, fine, but to talk about all tribes? It would be about as nonsensical as saying “all Europeans fear death” or “all Oklahomans are Bible-thumping bigots.”

If you see it that way, great, but this stereotyped image is supposed to represent all native peoples according to WPC.

OK with that issue addressed, let me move on to another issue. I agree with this blog author, that my approach was not the right approach to take. I should not have used the language that I used, and I should have come back another day (ideally with some other friends who shared my concern) to talk it over with the owners.

But I’m not going to apologize for finding the shirts to be offensive. And I won’t back down. I will keep speaking against them and I will keep encouraging others to do the same.

Finally, the blog author says that I should just take Travis at his word about the meaning of the shirts.

I disagree. The shirts are very hurtful to many people. The shirts communicate disrespect to native peoples. I appreciate WPC’s non-malicious intent, but it doesn’t change the message that the shirts communicate.


Written by James M. Branum

May 18, 2010 at 9:15 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Or if you want to buy WPC’s logic, I suppose the use of Indian mascots is kosher.

    Take a look at the website for the Little Axe school district, “home of the Indians”:

    And look closely at the flags. You’ll see that good ol’ stereotyped Plains Indian headress

    I find this to be ironic, since Little Axe school district is located 1.1 miles (here’s the map to prove it – from the Absentee Shawnee tribe’s Thunderbird Casino, and tribally-owned convenience store and restaurant.

    And if you look at the Wikipedia article on the Shawnee people, you’ll see quite a few pictures of Shawnee people. (see and none of them look like that sterotyped image.

    So I admit that this imagery is everywhere, but that doesn’t make it any less offensive. Even in Indian country, it is prevalent.

    James M. Branum

    May 18, 2010 at 9:33 pm

  2. James, thanks for the thoughtful reply. I will come back tomorrow with a lengthier response, but one thing jumped out at me.

    You said, “I appreciate WPC’s non-malicious intent, but it doesn’t change the message that the shirts communicate.”

    The message is subjective. You are inserting offensive meaning. Just like I should not generalize about how Native Americans view death (a salient point, sir), you should not generalize that this is THE message. It’s *a* message. One interpretation. Your own.

    I still maintain that is offensive insofar as YOU choose to be offended.


    May 18, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    • Good point Grace.

      I don’t think it is only my offense though. I’ve talked to quite a few other people about it (including one scholar in Native studies) and they found it to be offensive too.

      James M. Branum

      May 18, 2010 at 10:37 pm

      • My mom is a professor specializing in NA literature/studies (and our NA blood is on her side of the family). I’ll have to run this by her and see what she thinks. It would be interesting to hear her opinion.

        I would argue that perception of those you talked to about this may be colored by your presentation. If they are offended, it is their choice to be offended, too.


        May 18, 2010 at 10:46 pm

  3. I would love to hear her take on it.

    James M. Branum

    May 18, 2010 at 11:28 pm

  4. […] 19 May This post continues a discussion from earlier […]

  5. They should just change the name to “Trust Fund Clothing” War Paint is already claimed by another clothing company previously anyway. Maybe they stole the name from them. I’m not jelous it’s a rival thing I guess. I respect the clothing companys that start from scratch with a few dollars and a idea. Sure I want my own store also, but I have to earn it one shirt at a time. I used to look at the empty retail space they now rent and just dream about how cool it would be to have a store. How else does a clothing company open a store in Oklahoma without previously existing on the streets and or internet? TRUST FUND RICH KIDS.

    Chad Odom
    Cadillac Cowboy

    Cadillac Cowboy

    October 20, 2010 at 12:11 pm

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