Written by Kevin Bronk
Photo by Courtney Hendricks
Scrambling through the chaos, I attempted to identify each band. Piles of equipment grew on stage as six Eugene bands loaded into WOW Hall for Ethos’ first annual Bandest of the Bands competition. Through the disarray I examined a small crowd wandering the room, fully clad in homemade Native American costumes. I asked the stage manager who they were. “Uh, that’s Sea Bell – the big band” he mumbled, glancing over the set list. The band had painted their faces and neatly tucked vibrant feathers into braided hair. That night, Sea Bell decided they wanted to dress as Indians – one of the many themes the band features in their energetic shows.
Since the ‘60s, the debate surrounding Native American costumes has been as heated as it’s been complex. Some argue such costuming is disparaging and others — like Sea Bell — believe it’s empowering and respectful. The debate has been widely played out with professional and college teams’ mascots and logos; the results have been varied. Stanford University, for example, dropped the Stanford Indian mascot in 1972. Now the cardinal (the color, not bird) represents the school. But the Washington Redskins, among many other teams, still uphold Indian themes.
While I was apprehensive with Sea Bell’s stereotypical Indian attire, I also had the sense the band members were well intentioned. However, well intentioned or not, some in the crowd were offended (see this e-mail Ethos received after the concert). This issue, like any other involving ethnicity, heritage, or faith is multifaceted and the means to adequately address it are muddled. The recent debates surrounding Pacifica Forum and the attempt by campus leaders to clarify the definition of hate speech depict exactly how intricate cultural considerations can be.
Diversity dilutes simplicity. Complexity creates confusion and ignorance. Far too often ignorance sprouts into hate, progresses into hate acts, and ultimately hemorrhages into violence. Understanding and compassion are the only combatants to such rampant abhorrence.
The collegiate atmosphere is ideal for engaging in the thorny dialogues surrounding racism, classism, sexism, and any other micro or macro aggressions that empower hatred and discrimination. The muscle of student voices paired with the idealism and energy of campus life create a unique opportunity to deflate hostility and gain understanding. While we’re here, it’s imperative that we attempt to engage, question, and challenge all walks of life — vile or otherwise — in order to combat hatred in all of its forms. Only then will we shift this intricate, odious paradigm.