LOS ANGELES – OutKast’s performance at the 46th Annual GRAMMY Awards has outraged American Indians across the country. OutKast is known for their outlandish green retro get-ups in their smash video “Hey Ya!” But many feel they crossed the line from campy to offensive with their futuristic look at American Indians with green-fringe buckskin, headdresses and smoking teepees.
Members of the Navajo community are especially offended as a recording of “The Beauty Way Song,” which is a part of Din? ceremonies, was sampled by OutKast as an introduction to their performance. The lack of response from OutKast, their label, and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS – which presents the GRAMMY Awards) has been in stark contrast to the response to Janet Jackson’s bare breast at the Super Bowl – which inspired a call for a congressional investigation within forty eight hours.
The Associated Press and CNN are reporting that CBS spokeswoman Nancy Carr issued an eight word apology on February 13: “We are very sorry if anyone was offended,” but over the weekend many Native commentators have already attacked the statement, saying that it is not enough. CBS publicized that, due to the Jackson incident, the GRAMMY Awards would be broadcast on a five-minute delay. The fact that a performance that so many Native Americans found derogatory was allowed to be broadcast calls CBS’s standards and practices into question. That the members of the Recording Academy cheered on the performance also calls the cultural sensitivity of NARAS members into question. This comes just a few weeks after the organization called for more Native participation in the academy.
Indian Country Today has repeatedly called the offices of NARAS and CBS. Both offices have acknowledged that they are aware of the controversy, but neither has made a statement to ICT at this time. A representative of Arista Records, the parent company of La Face, OutKast’s label, said that no statement was forthcoming, but that one would be issued at some point in the future. At press time no one has issued a statement or apology.
“It was pretty disrespectful,” said multi-NAMMY winner and last year’s GRAMMY winner for Best Native American Music Album, Mary Youngblood. “To think that we are still going backward like that is a concern. If there were white people up there doing black face that would not be tolerated by the African-American community. Are we going backward here? Didn’t someone say to this guy that the performance might be inappropriate? It’s unbelievable. You think things are changing and getting better, then something happens to wake you up and say ‘Wait a minute, we’re back where we started from.’ It’s disheartening.” Youngblood is a member of the academy and wants more Native Americans to join the organization in order to bring about change.
The Native rapper Litefoot, best known for starring in the film “Indian in the Cupboard,” has announced that Rev. Jesse Jackson will appear as his guest at the Gathering Of Nations Pow Wow on April 23. Litefoot has spoken with Rev. Jackson and invited him to help bring OutKast to the “Reach the Rez concert stage” at the Gathering of Nations to make a formal apology. With an annual attendance of more than 60,000 people, the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow is one of the largest Native events in the world.