Dear Troy, Brent, Bill and Brann,
A year ago, I finally had the chance to see Mastodon play with Ghost and Opeth in Saskatoon. I was front row center, pressed against the gates for the first two sets. It was easily one of the best lineups I’ve seen, and an amazing night – made even cooler when Bill tossed me his pick.
Which is why my heart sank when I saw the new Mastodon “Thanksgiving” shirts.
Metal and hard rock music are still viewed as the domain of straight white men – I’ll assume you don’t need proof of this beyond the sausagefest crowd at an average metal show. But there’s plenty of us who don’t fit that category and still want to feel at home in your music. This shirt does the opposite of that for me as an Indigenous woman.
I want to believe that the shirt was designed with the intent of trying to disrupt the lie of American Thanksgiving; a holiday based on the story of Pilgrims and Indians coming together and sharing a nice meal, when in reality what occurred was genocide. And of course, a critical element of “conquering” Indigenous people used in the United States and Canada is the rape and enslavement of Native women.
I want to believe that you knew all of that when you approved this shirt.
But there are better ways to make political statements than printing t-shirts with disturbing imagery that reinforces racist myths rather than challenging them. Indigenous women are not (and never have been) subservient, silent, compliant, helpless on our knees, always ready and willing in buckskin bikinis – but that is how we are viewed, and this image contributes to an already bursting repository of that crap.
If the band’s/the t-shirt artist’s intention was to challenge historical injustices, the reaction that is already coming from the Native American community should be an indicator that it was misguided.
There is nothing subversive or edgy about a scantily clad Native American woman on her knees serving a white man who is pointing a gun in her face.
To the contrary in fact, the image reminds me of the 1982 Atari 2600 game “Custer’s Revenge”, where you play as Custer and the end goal is raping a Native woman tied to a pole.
So if I see a typical metal fan wearing the Mastodon Thanksgiving shirt (who quite possibly bought it just because it “looks cool” and there’s a sexy lady) I’m not going to think of how great your music is. I’m going to think of the stat that one in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime, higher than any other group, overwhelmingly by non-Native men, the majority of whom are never prosecuted and how pictures like this throughout history have contributed to that. I’m going to think about all of the times I’ve been grabbed and groped even as an underaged girl while in the pit at a concert.
As Jordan at ChartAttack mentions,…the shirt is more about empowering the person who wears it, than the oppressed people it depicts. If you’re unconnected with that heritage, wearing it imbues you with the self-important air of “knowing some controversial shit and expressing it in a controversial manner.” The ones actually affected by these issues aren’t the point…
Regardless of the intention, the shirt has your name on it, you’ve made money from it, and now it’s up to you to decide how to react.
As a fan, I want to see the shirts taken off the site and a statement from the band. There is an opportunity here to make a real stand, because your words and actions are powerful in circles where racism/sexism are rarely discussed. I think that would be pretty metal of you.
Goddammit, Mastodon, what the fuck. Racism, violence against women, what a wonderful mess you’ve fucking made of this shirt.