Congratulations to Jena Malone, who released a song and a video today! But I have to follow that up with an immediate un-congratulations, because for some insane reason, she titled it ‘Indian Giver’.
Seriously? Is there not a single celebrity on the face of the earth who knows how to Google something other than their own name? The phrase ‘Indian giver’ is used to mean someone who gives a gift that they have no intention of letting someone keep. They give you something but then want it back, which is how the first European settlers interpreted the behavior of the native tribes they encountered in America. The Native American custom of gift-giving differed from the European custom in that it wasn’t one-sided; if a gift was given, something of equal value was expected to be offered in return. Basically it was a trade, but because the settlers misunderstood the interactions, the phrase came to be synonymous with ‘shady business dealing’.
So just to catch you up, the phrase that Jena used as the title for her song is not only dated and offensive, but wholly inaccurate. Like the word ‘Oriental’, which described Asia and its inhabitants from a (literal) Western perspective, the phrase is an antiquated example of Anglo-centrism, and the fact that Jena used it for the name of a song doesn’t mean that she’s automatically labeled a racist, but it does betray her ignorance on the topic.
And unfortunately, she’s hardly alone in that regard. We’re having a weird insurgence right now of shitting on Native Americans. If celebrities aren’t aren’t actively insulting their history like Jena did, they’re appropriating the culture by wearing headdresses everywhere from their Twitter photo to the cover of ELLE. It’s 2014, you guys. Get yourself an internet connection.