Brooklyn Store Under Fire for Native American Headdress Logo

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