Debate This: Are “Mohawk” Or “Mohican” Hairstyles Kinda Offensive?

Wendy Stokesby:


This morning, my girl friend, who is a beauty writer, sent me an email with a link to a Stylist UK post about the hair and makeup on the models for the Issey Miyake show at Paris Fashion Week. The runway models had their hair pulled high up into sleek ponytails crafted into a ridge coming out the top of the head. Stylist UK called the style — dubbed “the Mohican” — “a high-maintenance take on the punk classic.”

Mohican (also called Mahican) is obviously a reference to the Native American tribe from what is now the central New York/Massachusetts area. (Mohegan, which sounds similar, is actually a different Native American tribe from what is now Connecticut.)  At some point in the history of punk rock, punks adopted the Mohawk hairstyle and the “Mohican” style, too. (I’m sure we’re all, of course, familiar with Mohawks — another hairstyle worn by punks that clearly takes it’s name from the Native American tribe, the Mohawks.  These days, there are other variations, like fauxhawks and ponyhawks, which Wikipedia tells me is what Sanjaya Malakar wore on “American Idol” back in 2007.) The hairstyles get referenced as being “punk,” but their true original source is Native American. As my friend wrote, “I know that in the UK ‘mohican,’ can refer to a punk rock hairstyle, but I’m still giving this major side-eye.”  That got me thinking.

I’d never considered whether non-Native people wearing these hairstyles might be offensive — or at least, kinda tone deaf. The hairstyles originate from cultures belonging to thousands of people; they’re not fads like butterfly clips or the sock bun. On one hand, it could be interpreted as a sign of assimilation and therefore acceptance when something is so ingrained in the culture that most people aren’t aware of its true origin.But cultural signifiers like Native American headdresses, the Hindu dot (the tilaka), or Najavo patterns? Those are often straight-up appropriated to line someone else’s pockets.

When called out for their appropriation, people will try to pass it off like it was meant as a compliment or an ode to the original source. Still, it’s generally pooh-poohed when cultural signifiers to be appropriated by other cultures because it’s often done with a lack of credit and/or financial renumeration and/or cultural sensitivity. (See: the Paul Frank debacle of Fashion’s Night Out 2012.) For most of us, the Native American culture from which these mohawk hairstyles originated is not our culture. So, don’t we — whether we’re runway models or punks — look silly parading around in them?

I don’t know what the answer is, since neither mohawks nor mohicans are styles I would want to wear, anyway. But these pics did make me go Hmmm, though. Curious about your thoughts — let us know in the comments.

[Stylist UK]
[Native Appropriations]
[Wikipedia: Mohawk]


Original by Jessica Wakeman

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