A Tribe Called Red’s ‘Caucasian’ T-Shirt and the Myth of ‘Reverse Racism’

By Jamilah King Jun 17, 2014

First Nations trio A Tribe Called Red is in the hot seat after one of its members wore a t-shirt modeled after the Cleveland MLB baseball team with the word "Caucasians" written across the front. Travis Lupick over at The Straight has more:

Promotional photographs show Ian Campeau (aka DJ NDN) sporting an ironic version of the Cleveland jersey that’s been altered to read "Caucasians" instead of "Indians." It also includes a white head with a dollar sign above it instead of the baseball team logo’s Indian face and feather.

According to a message Campeau posted on Instagram, at least one concert promoter has received emails calling for the cancellation of a show scheduled for June 13 to 15.

"So we’re suppose to play Westfest next Sunday," Campeau wrote. "The organizers have been receiving thinly veiled threatening e-mails in protest to me performing. Here’s one of them. This is my hometown. So disappointing."

Campeau also posted screenshots of e-mails sent to local promoters, one of which read, in part: "I must take issue with you booking a racist, hypocritical band, A Tribe Called Red. If any non-Native band featured some of the song they do like Indian Girl, no doubt TRC member, Ian Campeau, who has been showing wearing a racist T-shirt, would be making a complaint to the human rights commission."

We hear the term "reverse racism" all the time, and researchers have found that whites think it’s on the rise. The problem is that arguments ignore the systemic racism that exists and give people actual cultural, political and financial power in society. It’s why the Washington DC NFL football team and Cleveland’s MLB baseball team is allowed to keep their racist names and make millions of dollars off of racist iconography, and there actually has to be a debate about why that’s unacceptable. Campeau’s T-shirt is a snarky retort to way that Native imagery is used — constantly — in our culture.