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A Blog About Culture

Recognition, Situation, Identity, Reality

I sometimes take my afternoon tea out to the screened-in back porch to enjoy while lounging and watching my cats prey on chattering squirrels, beetles, and other unsuspecting lawn animals. I live near my old high school, and I can often hear the band practicing outside. (Their half-time song this year is Call Me Maybe — yes, really.) Last week, I was somehow still in my house at 9 pm on a Friday night, and I could hear the cheers and roars of the home football game. I’m all for school pride — I was an athlete in high school, which I like to remind people of nowadays– but I stopped in my tracks when I heard the band play the “Tomahawk Chop” after a touchdown.

Do you know what that sounds/looks like?

Of course, the song was something I’ve heard a million times before, but maybe it’s because I’m an adult now, or perhaps because I study issues of cultural ownership, representation, and politics all day errday, but this was the first time I realized how surreptitiously those racist values can change our perceptions. I always knew, of course, that the motion and song were racist. I just didn’t realize that I actually prescribed to the message that text was sending: Indigenous peoples are violent. That combination of sounds, which our media has taught us to recognize as “Indian,” evoked senses of imminent danger and ruthlessness in me, and some kind of bloodthirsty pride that we were crushing the other team.

But how did that happen? Here’s the process:

A. I’m scared — Why?

B. Because this song means I should be scared– Why?

C. Because it sounds like an Indian war chant– Why?

D. Because Indian people are warlike and scary

Ideological cultures rely on us to skip from A to D and forget the processes in between that made us think that way. Those processes do exist — just look at my reaction upon hearing that song. Just look at any kind of advertising. I want to know – what might life be like if those processes weren’t hidden? What if they just didn’t exist? I don’t think that will ever happen, but I think it’s worth it to recognize when it is. I feel guilty for having that reaction, and I also feel a little violated — because culture’s piggybacking onto me like a little leech that alters what I think.


The Tomahawk Chop isn’t even Native American; it was invented by Florida State University football fans. An article in online Slate Magazine posted the following just yesterday: “Like most professional athletic appropriations of Native American culture, the tomahawk chop and the war chant have little basis in Native American history. There is no indication that Native Americans ever made the gesture known today as the tomahawk chop. Tomahawks were historically not only used as weapons by Native Americans but also revered as sacred objects.”


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