WHERE DO YOU SIT WITH THE GREAT HEADDRESS DEBATE?

Exeter Chiefs’ trip to play Glasgow Warriors in the European Cup on Saturday has become a hot topic, for reasons unrelated to rugby.

All dressed up but nowhere to go

Political correctness has raised its head again, with the “snowflakes” in one trench and the traditionalists, dinosaurs, or behemoths – call them what you want – embedded in the trench opposite, hurling banal platitudes at each other.

If you’re not a rugby fan, this may hold little interest for you. However, I would urge you to put your head above the parapet, because this is an out of control express train that is headed your way very soon, in one form or another.

Let’s clear up what I mean by the term “snowflake” if your head has been so far below the parapet that it has almost certainly been adjacent to – if not inside – your posterior for the last few years.

A “snowflake” is a derogatory but descriptively precise term for people (generally – but not exclusively – millennials) who are “viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations,” and here I quote from the Collins English Dictionary.

And the “out of control” snowflake train I refer to has been stoked by the toxic cocktail of having nothing better to do during the pandemic than to look for things to take offence at.  Let me give you a few examples: the continued existence of meat, avocado anxiety, soya milk stress and – for the more energetic – an obsession with pulling down statues of local dignitaries whose fortunes were built on enterprises such as the slave trade. The fact that many of the latter were altruistic benefactors of local hospitals and worthy causes is conveniently overlooked, in the rush to airbrush history.

But now they’ve discovered something else to become offended about: Native American headdresses.

I quote from the Scottish Daily Record: “Glasgow Warriors are asking visiting fans from Exeter Chiefs not to attend the game on Saturday with faux Native American headdresses or chant the ‘Tomahawk Chop’ during the match.”

The Glasgow Warriors statement, issued by managing director Al Kellock, continued, “Following the pool stage draw, we set up a working group to understand and educate ourselves on this sensitive issue and gather the views of our supporters, representatives from the Native American community, the competition organisers, and Exeter Chiefs themselves. During this period, several supporters asked that we ban headdresses and the ‘Tomahawk Chop’.”

Big Chief – a victim of the PC clean-up – has been replaced by a … bird?

Several supporters? And just how many might that number be, Al? Five … ten … fifteen? Don’t sit on the fence here, Al … go on, name names.

Appeasing the sensitivities of “several supporters” is a bit like shutting down the entire economy because a few more people than normal are likely to be hospitalised or to die because of the Chinese Flu.

But then I decided to do something most unusual for me: take myself out into the objectivity of No Man’s Land, lie amongst the barbed wire of our tangled society and think about this, while watching the mortar bombs of hyperbolic vitriol fall on either side.

To put this into simple terms, I conducted some research.

Here’s the mission statement from the Tribal Trade company’s website, a clothing and accessories business founded and run by Native Americans:

“Our mission is to connect tribal people, being indigenous or non-indigenous, as they continue to learn and celebrate their connection to their heritage.”

Okay, sounds laudable, and so I read on.

“Due to their historical importance and status, traditional Native Americans now consider the wearing of headdresses without the express permission of tribal leaders to be an affront to their culture and traditions.

“There are many sides, and opinions surround headdresses and other cultural symbols being worn appropriately or not. Many activists take major offense to people wearing the headdress who haven’t earned them as it is seen as disrespectful to those who have earned theirs. From observation – most native people get upset or offended when headdresses are used as a costume or mascot – so I would recommend trying to steer clear of that if your intention is to be respectful.”

So that makes it pretty clear, doesn’t it?

However, in order to offend someone, the object of offence needs to know that they are being offended, and my literature trawl reveals no evidence of recorded instances of Native Americans being offended by Exeter supporters wearing faux headdresses. This suggests that the offence is being registered by those whose third-party sensitivities led them to the conclusion that Native Americans should, or would be offended if they were to attend an Exeter rugby match, or to accidentally walk into a bar somewhere in North America and see a televised game. And as rugby has a limited following in the US, this scenario is quite unlikely.  

Tomahawk Chop chopped

However, as I’m still in No man’s Land, I am going to admit that the wearing of faux headdresses may potentially cause offence to Native Americans, were they to know that they were being worn inappropriately.

The jury’s out as to whether having an embroidered image of a headdress on a jacket, fleece or a player’s shirt as a cultural symbol is appropriate of not, but where do we draw the line with this?

Perhaps one solution would be for Exeter Rugby Club to approach a body such as The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) and seek approval for the wearing of headdresses, both as a symbol of their bravery on the field of play and as a celebration of Native American culture. But we all know this is as unlikely to happen as an end to the perpetuity of Chinese Flu restrictions. And just for the record, dear snowflake, Native Americans refer to themselves as “Indians”, so put that in your Peace Pipe and smoke it.

And, also for the record, Tribal Trade offer Tee shirts for sale bearing images of headdresses, in addition to faux suede native princess sets. How long will it be before this becomes culturally unacceptable? It’s also worth noting that they sell clothing endorsing the practice of hunting … OMG! How could they slaughter those poor animals?  Well, maybe because there wasn’t a Morrisons where they could buy their tofu sausages in eighteenth century Alaska, Oklahoma, New Mexico or South Dakota.

So what’s the solution?

It’s as inevitable as the Chinese Flu being with us in five hundred years’ time, that those in the snowflake trench are going to win this battle; it will only be a matter of time before the wearing of headdresses and the “Tomahawk Chop” are considered as offensive as racial chanting, and are banned.

But what next?

Where will this Gestapo-styled political correctness end?

What about London Wasps? Is the image of a wasp on a rugby shirt offensive to wasps and make more people want to swat them? Will the wearing of a Fez by Saracens’ supporters be considered offensive to Moroccans? And how long will it be before images of tigers, sharks and bears will banned from the club shops of Leicester, Sale and Bristol?

Too hot not to swat?

Wherever you stand on the headdress issue, I can confidently predict that things are only going to get worse, when it comes to political correctness.

Amig@s! Have a good Christmas, if Christmas floats your boat. And, like me, do your best to survive it if it doesn’t. On the positive side, it will probably be banned in a century or so.

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