First published on Monday the 12th of December, 2016, this piece comes in at number 13 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2016.
So Jennifer Lawrence had an itchy butt. Understandable. Happens to the best of us.
She then decided to scratch said itchy butt on sacred Hawaiian rocks.
Which is not understandable, under any circumstances. But it’s also entirely unsurprising. It’s hardly like white people disrespecting the sacred customs and treasures of indigenous peoples is a new thing.
I have no doubt that many people will think the whole situation is hilarious, just as Lawrence did when she told the audience of the Graham Norton Show. Particularly the part where she sent one of the sacred rocks cascading down the hill where it nearly killed one of her co-workers.
If you missed the whole episode, ladies and gentlemen, I present the great cross-cultural ambassador Jennifer Lawrence:
“There were … sacred … rocks — I dunno, they were ancestors, who knows — they were sacred.
"I, however, was in a wetsuit for this whole shoot so - oh my God, they were so good for butt-itching. One rock that I was butt-scratching on ended up coming loose. It was a giant boulder and it rolled down this mountain and almost killed our sound guy.
"His whole station got destroyed, it was a huge dramatic deal and all the Hawaiians were like 'Oh my god, it's the curse'. And I'm round the corner going, 'I'm your curse - I wedged it loose with my ass'."
The subtext, for anyone who missed it: “I grossly violated cultural protocols by scratching my arse on a rock I knew to be sacred, or even an ancestor. I proceeded to destroy the sacred treasure, and I thought it was hilarious. I then laughed at the natives in their understandable distress and decided to tell the story on international television. Because I’m not only ignorant, I’m also arrogant.”
In 2016, it’s staggering to hear such a tale told in bald-faced defiance. She may have been ignorant of just how deeply indigenous people feel about the violation and destruction of their treasures, but it’s hardly like Lawrence didn’t know what she was doing. She knew, and she did it anyway.
I certainly don’t want to co-opt the outrage of the Kanaka Maoli, as the native Hawiians are known, but as a person of indigenous descent myself it’s difficult not to be reminded of other transgressions that have echoed down the halls of history closer to home. I suppose, in a macabre sense, I am lucky to have a frame of reference as tangata whenua. I only have to think of how I’d feel if a Māori taonga was desecrated by a Hollywood movie star to have a fair idea of how the Kanaka Maoli feel.
Which is not to say that Lawrence should be excused. It’s not difficult to understand what a dick move it might be to scratch your arse on someone else’s ancestor. To simplify the situation even further, imagine a spot of arse-scratching on a gravestone, or an urn, or a war memorial. And imagine how the families of the dead would feel about it. Not pleased, I’d wager.
Which leads me to conclude that Lawrence fell into the long-established cultural trope of ‘laughing at the silly natives’, and thought that every other non-native person would find it hilarious. Why should she take a moment to consider how indigenous people would feel, when white cultures around the globe have spent centuries turning “the savages” into little more than living caricatures? What did she care for their customs and beliefs? She just needed somewhere to scratch her butt.
Lawrence eventually issued an apology, simply stating, “I meant absolutely no disrespect to the Hawaiian people. I really thought that I was being self deprecating about the fact that I was "the curse", but I understand the way it was perceived was not funny and I apologize if I offended anyone.”
Oh, of course Jen, that’s fine! You meant no disrespect as you disrespected the customs of the Kanaka Maoli, even though you knew you were scratching your arse on one of their ancestors. You apologise if you offended anyone. I think it’s pretty clear that you did offend quite a few people, but cool. Thanks for the token apology.
The disrespect, whether Lawrence intended it or not, is astonishing, but to many the response to the story will simply be dismissed as ‘PC gone mad’. To those who fall into that particular trap of cognitive dissonance, I’d like to draw your attention once again to the idea of rubbing your behind up against a war memorial and causing it to break. Not so funny now, is it?
But you know what? It’s exhausting having to continually find parallels and analogies to make white people understand the feelings of indigenous peoples. It’s high time that white people took responsibility for their behaviour, and made the effort to learn about other cultures.
Because, at the end of the day, is it really so difficult to be considerate of the feelings of others?