Dear Troy, Brent, Bill and Brann,
A year ago, I finally had the chance to see Mastodon play with Ghost and Opeth in Saskatoon. I was front row center, pressed against the gates for the first two sets. It was easily one of the best lineups I’ve seen, and an amazing night – made even cooler when Bill tossed me his pick.
Which is why my heart sank when I saw the new Mastodon “Thanksgiving” shirts.
Metal and hard rock music are still viewed as the domain of straight white men – I’ll assume you don’t need proof of this beyond the sausagefest crowd at an average metal show. But there’s plenty of us who don’t fit that category and still want to feel at home in your music. This shirt does the opposite of that for me as an Indigenous woman.
I want to believe that the shirt was designed with the intent of trying to disrupt the lie of American Thanksgiving; a holiday based on the story of Pilgrims and Indians coming together and sharing a nice meal, when in reality what occurred was genocide. And of course, a critical element of “conquering” Indigenous people used in the United States and Canada is the rape and enslavement of Native women.
I want to believe that you knew all of that when you approved this shirt.
But there are better ways to make political statements than printing t-shirts with disturbing imagery that reinforces racist myths rather than challenging them. Indigenous women are not (and never have been) subservient, silent, compliant, helpless on our knees, always ready and willing in buckskin bikinis – but that is how we are viewed, and this image contributes to an already bursting repository of that crap.
If the band’s/the t-shirt artist’s intention was to challenge historical injustices, the reaction that is already coming from the Native American community should be an indicator that it was misguided.
There is nothing subversive or edgy about a scantily clad Native American woman on her knees serving a white man who is pointing a gun in her face.
To the contrary in fact, the image reminds me of the 1982 Atari 2600 game “Custer’s Revenge”, where you play as Custer and the end goal and “reward” is raping a Native woman tied to a pole.
So if I see a typical metal fan wearing the Mastodon Thanksgiving shirt (who quite possibly bought it just because it “looks cool” and there’s a sexy lady) I’m not going to think of how great your music is. I’m going to think of the stat that one in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime, higher than any other group, overwhelmingly by non-Native men, the majority of whom are never prosecuted and how pictures like this throughout history have contributed to that. I’m going to think about all of the times I’ve been grabbed and groped even as an underaged girl while in the pit at a concert.
As Jordan at ChartAttack mentions,
…the shirt is more about empowering the person who wears it, than the oppressed people it depicts. If you’re unconnected with that heritage, wearing it imbues you with the self-important air of “knowing some controversial shit and expressing it in a controversial manner.” The ones actually affected by these issues aren’t the point…
Regardless of the intention, the shirt has your name on it, you’ve made money from it, and now it’s up to you to decide how to react.
As a fan, I want to see the shirts taken off the site and a statement from the band. There is an opportunity here to make a real stand, because your words and actions are powerful in circles where racism/sexism are rarely discussed. I think that would be pretty metal of you.
A few hours later, a response was posted on Mastodon’s Facebook page. It’s disappointing to say the least.
Obviously, none of the points that Jordan or I raised in our articles were addressed. Whoever wrote the update claims that people who are offended are ignoring the truth; essentially, they wrote a Straw Man statement against arguments that no one objecting to the shirt was actually making.
The only thing that the statement accomplished was providing bait and a forum for more racist, sexist comments toward Native Americans.
“All I know is that I’m thankful for smallpox blankets lol”
“Fuck em, they all just drunks anyways”
“No the Indians gave us the land… And now they want it back… Indian givers… Who cares it’s a shirt u don’t like the shirt, use it for a diaper u cry ass cry babies”
“I’m sorry some of my ancestors were smarter, more industrious and slightly more ruthless than the peoples they found when they got here.”
“Grow up and quit be bitches. If the Indians wanted to land,they should of fought harder. Fuck em”
“Rock and roll mother fuckers, man the fuck up! Dude has a gun pointing it a hot Indian with big tits!”
These are the people who are wearing your shirt, Mastodon. So rebellious, so ironic, so alternative.
One comment in particular caught my eye because someone on the Mastodon account actually liked it.
Hilaaaarious! Shock me shock me shock me, with that deviant behavior.
Of course, there were plenty of thoughtful responses as well. Kudos to the commenters willing to brave the shitfest:
“Not a shirt I would wear. Try sporting this shirt on a reservation and see how many people appreciate the satire. You guys are better than this.”
“So Mastodon, how much of the $22 you’re charging for this shirt will go to Native American organisations or charities? If none, then you too are profiting off the genocide of a people.”
“…in AZ Native Americans make up a good part of the metal crowd around here and frequently appear in the pit. This is the last thing I want to be wearing at a show.”
“If you were truly concerned about the plight of Native Americans, you would do something about it the other 364 days of the year, instead of exploiting this holiday to sell a tasteless shirt and make more money for yourself.”
“Mastodon, I’m a huge fan, but you say it’s “chilling to celebrate in the face of this atrocity.” Yet, you choose to sell a shirt for your profits? Do what you want, but some of this outcry is warranted, IMO. Do the right thing, don’t sell the shirt.“
And my fave:
“Protip: if you have to publicly come out and say “I’m not being racist!” you probably are.“
After this incident, I received support from Keidra Chaney (go read “Sister Outsider Headbanger: On Being A Black Feminist Metalhead” and follow her on Twitter @kdc) and Laina Dawes (author of “What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal).