Pharrell Williams managed to ruffle feathers this week after his cover on Elle UK was revealed. Williams, whose most recent notoriety came from his “Happy” song and Arby’s-style Vivienne Westwood hat, donned a Native American headdress.
Can you say “appropriation?”
Native American headdresses are a sacred part of Native culture. They’re only worn by chiefs and warriors, but of course there are those cultural appropriators who find it fashionable and ethnic chic. Many in the Native American community, and even those people who are not but know better, voiced their concerns about Elle’s cover on Twitter using the hashtag #NOThappy.
Eventually Williams decided an apology was the appropriate form of action. “I am genuinely sorry,” Williams wrote in a statement provided to Buzzfeed. “I respect and honor every kind of race, background and culture.”
You would think during the styling of the shoot someone should have known the headdress was a bad idea. But unfortunately Elle initially bragged about the styling. “We persuaded Elle Style Award-winner Pharrell to trade his Vivienne Westwood mountie hat for a Native American feather headdress in his best ever shoot,” the editors wrote. Since the cover wasn’t well received they have since changed it to, “We persuaded [Pharrell] … to collaborate with us on his best ever shoot.”
Elle UK may be a little biased for labeling it his “best,” because I’m pretty sure there are tons of people who are still scoffing at the blatant prop usage of Native American culture.
Not only are people using Twitter to voice their objection to the cover, many have taken to Facebook. A support group for a South Dakota reservation is calling for a boycott of Elle UK and Williams on its Facebook page. “You have no right to wear a headdress that is so sacred to Native people. Those headdresses are earned, and not worn to make a buck or draw attention. They have meaning and are worn by our men with pride and dignity,” wrote Gail Lichtsinn.
Maybe one day magazines and artists will realize the sacredness of Native American culture, and find a better way to appreciate and honor it, besides bastardizing it.
Yesha Callahan is editor of The Grapevine and a staff writer at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.