"For a subject worked and reworked so often in novels, motion pictures, and television, American Indians remain probably the least understood and most misunderstood Americans of us all."

-John F. Kennedy in
the introduction to The American Heritage Book of Indians

Friday, September 10, 2010

Indians and Knights T-Shirt

Sometimes I don't have to look very far to find interesting examples of "drawing on Indians".  Case in point is the following t-shirt my brother was wearing last week:

(Click to enlarge)

The full text on the shirt reads:

"Nature is at work. Character and destiny are her handiwork.
She gives us love and hate, jealousy and reverence. All that is ours is
the power to choose which impulse we shall follow.

The analogy between Indians and Knights is a new one for me but not at all surprising.  In the popular American imagination, both are highly romanticized chivalrous warriors of some distant long ago past.  But apparently we have to choose between the two.

I'm going to channel the fashion designer to figure this one out.  I'm guessing the "Knight" represents "strength" since he is covered in heavy armor.  That means the "Indian" represents "Honor" since he is wearing only his skin.

So then we have to choose between the two.  Will we choose the protection of the Knight or fight honorably like the Indian?   But what, I don't get any other choices?  Can't I be a ninja or a pirate or a cowboy?

This shirt stands as another fine example demonstrating how people envision and understand Native peoples.  The classic image of the Plains warrior on horseback is the go to symbol for "honor".  It reinforces the false notion that somehow honor is inherent to the "Nature" of Native Americans.  It's noble savagery through and through.

Then again, if recent examples have proven anything, many fashion designers don't actually put too much thought into the meanings of images but rather just go for the "look."  I imagine the weekly meeting at the design studio went something like this:

"Haven't you heard, the tribal look is totally selling with our young hipster clientele so we better put some Indians on t-shirts stat!  I don't care if it doesn't make any sense!  If it's savage it sells!"

How do I know?

Check out their website: http://www.tankfarmclothing.com/

And their latest design:

My brother's t-shirt is a great example for one other reason: I bought it for him!  It was the Christmas holiday maybe three or four years ago.  I knew my brother needed t-shirts so I bought a few he might like at the local T.J. Maxx.

At the time, I thought absolutely nothing of the image on the shirt.  Like the fashion designer behind it, I thought it looked "cool."  Just goes to show how much I've learned in the interim.  Remember, if you don't stop to look around every once in a while and ask critical questions, you might just find yourself wearing a t-shirt with an "Indian" on it!

For more on "Indians" and clothing check out my post:
Selling Blue Jeans with Indians

For more on "Indians" as a hip fashion trend check out my posts:
Hipster Indians
Glastonbury "Indians"

Some more "Indian" t-shirts from the newspaper rock blog:

Lucky Brand sells "White Lightning" t-shirt
Indian skulls in headdresses
T-shirt shows skull in headdress
"Ur-A-Nole" t-shirt

And for real Native fashion check out the wonderful:
Beyond Buckskin blog


  1. I don't know if I've seen Indians paired with knights before. People have talked about cowboys, and certainly detectives, as modern-day knights. I did it myself in my Why Write About Superheroes posting.

    Perhaps Tankfarm chose these two because they're both semi-legendary figures. Or perhaps Tankfarm simply thought they looked cool. With the horses rearing, the spear crossed with the lance, and all.

    I would've parsed this the other way: associating the Indian with strength and the knight with honor. Why? Because Indians are known for their brute animal qualities. And because knights are known for their chivalry and nobility.

    I'd be mildly impressed if someone thought the typical Indian was more honorable than the typical knight. But that's not the way I read it.

  2. Rob-

    We're probably both just reading into this way too much. After looking at the website again, it looks like Tankfarm just goes after pop culture cliches. (case in point the "Double Rainbow" t-shirt)

    Therefore, I'm calling this one just a bunch of faux hipster gibberish! I figure the designer went for the look first and then just threw in some text to make it sound dramatic (pulling cliches and stereotypes off the top of his or her head).

    This reminds me, I saw someone wearing another shirt a few weeks back prominently featuring an Indian head with war bonnet. It was in a faux sports team design as if the head were a mascot. Oh, and the brand was everyone's favorite Abercrombie & Fitch! (note the heavy sarcasm)