Activists Hammer Ralph Lauren over Depiction of Native Americans in Campaign


U.S. society has done such a good job of wiping American Indians out of its textbooks and minds that even some college students assume that the Indians just died out, so it’s hard to blame future U.S. leaders when things in pop culture, like Ralph Lauren‘s recent holiday campaign, keep cropping up, online community care2 said.

Just in time for the holidays, Ralph Lauren’s latest campaign served as a sad reminder of a sad past in American history. The holiday campaign featured many “stoic Indians, ” with native attributes, like braids partially hidden, a feather and a headdress. But the stoic models were also wearing Western garb typical in the glory days of pioneers manifesting their destinies in the wild, wild west. As reported in CNN,  the campaign is a crude reminder of American Indian cultural genocide where American Indians were often forced to wear the white man’s clothes, the column said.

Ralph Lauren’s images are an eerie reminder of Indian Boarding Schools. The schools had one goal: to kill the Indian, and to save the man. Pennsylvania Center for the Book explains how the Indian Boarding Schools started as one man’s vision. His name was Richard Henry Pratt, and his project was the (now infamous) “Carlisle Indian School, the first off-reservation boarding school, ” care2 said.

Pratt believed that the “Indian problem” could be eradicated through education and, by extension, civilization, versus the typical relocation and extermination methods, said care2, an online community of socially-conscious consumers.

Apart from convincing the U.S. government of his project, Pratt also convinced tribal leaders. By Pratt’s logic, American Indians were the constant victims of relocation because they weren’t educated enough, and tribal leaders agreed. What Pratt didn’t mention is that American Indian youth would be mostly educated in menial and industrial labor, and the children’s culture would be “systematically strip[ped] away” in order for them to “become ‘useful’ in American industrial society, ” the column said.

As you’d imagine, systematically stripping away a person’s culture, or cultural genocide, isn’t easy or pretty. The schools committed gross human rights violations in order to “kill the Indian, ” including a culture of corporal punishment, disease and abuse, care2 said.

Fortunately, social media schooled Ralph Lauren on this forgotten and sensitive period in American history. As CNN reports, the backlash forced the fashion brand to issue an apology for the holiday campaign: “Ralph Lauren has a longstanding history in celebrating the rich history, importance and beauty of our country’s Native American heritage, ” the company said in a statement. “We recognize that some of the images depicted in the RRL look book may have caused offense and we have removed them from our website.”

The Ralph Lauren campaign was more than clothes for sale. The campaign sold a dangerous image of how to view and treat indigenous people — images that real education has clearly failed to fix, care2 said.


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