There are a lot of reasons why Chrisina Fallin/Pink Pony’s photo and non-apology are so offensive, but I’m not going to go for the most obvious. It would be easy to point out the appropriation or the tone-deaf privilege that make her think it’s clever to rebrand what she’s done as “Appropriate Culturaltion” when it is neither clever nor appropriate. And yes, of course, in her bubble she will absent the voices and opinions of the people to whom this cultural object belong and lash out that she is being horribly victimized. No, what offends me most here is that she would dare to occupy a role that native women would not. Simply stated, bonnets are not for women, at least not where I’m from. And they damn sure aren’t for white women or for anyone who hasn’t earned the right to wear them.
I remember my sister and some of the other women taking aside a relative who wanted to do something traditionally reserved for men. “This dance,” she said, “this is a man’s dance. Yes, the tree of life is for everyone, but this is a man’s dance. What you’re asking to do, you have to think of the energy that carries. This is a very masculine thing. You are a woman. Do you understand the consequences? Is that what you want?” Turns out, it wasn’t.
Over the years, I’ve struggled with women coming to ceremony and waving their feminism like Charlie Bucket’s golden ticket asserting the right to do whatever they please, tradition and protocol be damned. But they mistake their Western feminism as a one-size-fits-all proposition. My native feminism empowers me to occupy a role within my community that has been filled by generations of women before me and carried out in a sacred way, with dignity, strength, respect, and authority. When my sisters talked with our young relative, there was no abrogation of her rights. Instead, we unapologetically take our place in the circle, without bonnets, as indigenous women walking in the way of our mothers, aunties, grandmas, and ancestors.
Christina Fallin, and all of the men and women like her, will never understand that.
Albus is a beautiful ongoing portrait project between photographer and a South African model named Thando Hopa, a legal prosecutor who is using her visibility to address the negative perceptions surrounding albinism.