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The exterior of Scumbags & Superstars on Wilson Avenue (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The clothing retailer Scumbags & Superstars, which has a storefront space in Bushwick and an online store, has come under fire for its “disrespectful” appropriation of Native American imagery in its logo and merchandise. The logo features a skull in the style of those featured in Nazi SS insignia wearing a Native American headdress, and is emblazoned on the business’s many articles of clothing as well as scores of other items that make liberal use of further Native American imagery.

“Disrespectful,” wrote Theo Van Nest alongside a link to the Scumbags & Superstars  page in the “Native American and American Indian Issues” Facebook group. “These people won’t respond to my emails. They delete my comments.”

Though comments criticizing the disrespectful use of Native American iconography have indeed been deleted from the Scumbags & Superstars Facebook page, its administrator — the store’s founder and co-owner, George Rosa — posted a rambling and often contradictory statement in an attempt to justify the design.

“I wanted something very easily recognizable and very ‘American’,” Rosa wrote. “I have strong views about American politics and wanted something that was militant and defiant. I added the headdress to the skull to symbolize death and tyranny. And I chose a German WWII skull. I think the juxtaposition of the two is very powerful.”

Though most responses to the explanation on the Scumbags & Superstars Facebook page express support for the store, one, by Chris Cobb, takes issue. “That is the dumbest explanation I ever [sic] heard,” he wrote. “Just because you have some sort of hipster mash-up explanation does not mean you have the right to perpetuate racist images.”

Jason Lujan, an artist based in Brooklyn who reposted Rosa’s message in the Native American and American Indian Issues group, called the store in an attempt to engage its owners and workers in a conversation about the offensive imagery.

“I initially phoned the store and was hung up on when I asked to speak to someone about the window and that Natives in the community here in New York found it offensive,” Lujan told Hyperallergic. “I had a script that said something like ‘this is a good opportunity to have a conversation’ — I called back a few more times and when I would introduce myself and the image I was hung up on each time.”

Lujan eventually visited the store, but could not engage Scumbags & Superstars workers in a conversation about the offensive logo. “I took a photo of the store window on my phone … and asked to speak to the owner,” Lujan recalled. “I was told he wasn’t there so I asked about a contact number and that I wanted to ask about the symbol and that natives I knew, and myself, found it offensive. The two men in the store shook their heads like they didn’t understand and I was met with non-responses, so I left.”

Scumbags & Superstars is the latest in a long line of enterprises to come under fire for the offensive use of Native American iconography. Most famously, the professional sports franchises the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians have long resisted calls to change their team names and insignia. Earlier this year, the Cleveland Indians announced that “Chief Wahoo,” the smiling Native American character who had served as the team’s logo since the 1940s, was being phased out. A poll last year found that most Americans did not believe the Washington Redskins team name should change.

Scumbags & Superstars is located at 16 Wilson Avenue (Bushwick, Brooklyn).

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

16 replies on “Brooklyn Store Under Fire for Native American Headdress Logo”

  1. In my view, the use of Nazi images is also profoundly ignorant of them.
    In his explanation he calls Nazis “scumbags” so I guess it’s o.k. to
    celebrate them by using Nazi design? They first used a euphemism for
    Nazi by calling it “a German WW2 skull” – which is actually appropriated
    from the SS skull and crossbones (on the dead indian logo).
    Another
    shirt design called “The Fighter” also appears to have been taken from
    Nazi design. It is a variation of the SS Waffen skull with wings, but in
    this instance it is a skull with one wing over a red square. It looks
    like a great gift for the skinhead in your family. So is it cool for
    people to use Nazi images in their hipster clothing line? That’s a level
    of cultural ignorance that is both sad and shocking.

      1. Can people with no historical links to the symbol really be said to be “taking it back”? Or are they just appropriating it all over again? And finally I have to ask WHY EVEN BOTHER???

  2. Those in privilege don’t have to deal with their own identity being
    questioned or defined by the mainstream frequently: The use of cultural
    symbols for profit with no involvement with the communities is an act of

    exploitation; these companies won’t touch any Native issues with a
    fifty foot pole but they will exploit a Native headdress in a heartbeat.

    The image of a dead Native American (despite what the owner says it is)
    wearing a headdress pushes the idea it is okay to celebrate genocide
    and should not be tolerated.

  3. I agree that it is o.k. to be offensive. But racist? Do you really want to be on that team? Or support a business that thinks using Nazi art to make money is hip and cool? I’ll just spend my money somewhere else, thank you.

  4. Really though, who cares. Its a skull and a headdress. The nazis took a symbol that is carved into ancient Buddhist temples and repurposed it. Art is constantly repurposed. Apparently pelvises have been repurposed also because so many of your heads are up them.

    1. Right there, you’re already exchanging symbols like they’re interchangeable. That has everything to do with your subject position. In other words, there are OTHER cultural symbols that offend you (Don’t tell me what they are). Now mix them up and superimpose them onto a “rad” skull (already borrowed from an earlier graphic designer) then open up a storefront in Bushwick and base your whole business around it and see how people in the community respond.
      The Nazis did many things ASIDE from repurposing Buddhist symbolism; doesn’t mean we should mimic them, okay;)

      1. Basically, this is what that headdress logo says to me and to anyone who has followed American history aside from high school basics.

    2. Who cares? Perhaps people whose ancestors, some of those very recent ancestors who were slaughtered in the genocides perpetrated against Native Americans and the numerous groups the Nazis tried to eliminate through mass murder.

      Frankly, yes, seeing the murder of my ancestors used to sell fashion by some lilly white asshole makes me ill. Just because it doesn’t matter to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.

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