Let’s talk cultural appropriation. Alright, I know this was supposed to be my funny blog, but let’s just say it’s my ‘I DO WANT I WANT’ blog. So. Deal with it.
Back to the topic at hand. Appropriation. This is a concept that makes me angry on so many levels and you seem to hear it barked from every corner around Halloween. Therefore, as I find myself without a Halloween party on my agenda, what better way to spend the holiday than telling everyone how they’re wrong.
Right. First. GOD! White people! Stop it! Seriously, just stop it. It hurts my brain and heart to see the stupid things white people do, from the mind-blowingly tragic (just how many minorities have unjustly died at the hands of American cops this year??) to pathetic cultural insensitivities (like 80% of Halloween costumes). It’s so easy for the privileged majorities of the world to forget just how hard life can be for everyone else: to remember that they don’t have to worry about be rejected for a job interview because of their name, that their success won’t be called out as a bi-product of Affirmative Action, or any number of the myriad hurdles faced by millions of people who don’t get to check the right ‘ethnicity’ box.
HOWEVER. Fucking lay off the appropriation bullshit. Thanks to the wonderful interwebs, we now have more access to the world and it’s cultures. Yes, the wealth of cultural exposure might spark interest, or (gasp!) even inspiration, from those previously unfamiliar. Why should we shame someone for wearing an item of clothing they found beautiful, or dancing a dance they found enjoyable, or listening to music they found arresting? We should nurture this cross-pollination of cultures! We SHOULD strive to inspire others with our beauty and uniqueness.
I think this is where my frustration comes from. ‘Appropriation’ by definition means to take something away, therefore it’s not just about making something your own but also about taking that something away from someone else.
Therefore, those idiots that wear racist costumes at Halloween are NOT appropriating culture. They’re making racist, bigoted statements, but they’re not trying to steal a cultural identity. And conversely, those who are trying to experiment with something they’ve found inspiring are not trying to take that bit of culture away from someone else. If anything, it’s a cry out for an expanded sense identity on the part of the ‘appropriator’. They’ve discovered a fascinating cultural pearl and want to be included in the community that values it, ultimately to widen their community links. To appropriate a cultural symbol – so, by definition, saying I like that thing you do, I’m going to take it away from you – fundamentally goes against what most who are being blamed of ‘appropriation’ are aiming for. (Yes, it’s a bit of a tongue-twister, but I think you get what I’m saying)
Also – and I’m happy to be corrected if I’m wrong – but it seems to me that it’s mostly whites calling others out for appropriation. Are black Americans pissed off that white people listen to hip-hop and dress like their favourite hip-hop artists? Maybe they are, but I get the feeling it’s more of a bizarre, subtle racism on the part of whites – a segregation of sorts. ‘You do this because you’re from this culture and we do that because we’re from that culture.’
And on the other hand, let’s face it, most of your day-to-day activities could be sited as cultural appropriation. I’m going to guess that those tooting the ‘cultural appropriation’ horn love a cuisine that isn’t ‘theirs’ or listen to music that hasn’t been born of life experiences similar to theirs. So where do you draw the line?
I do believe, however, if something cultural does capture your fancy, you should investigate. Learn a bit of the history behind it, the potential symbolic nature of it. That doesn’t mean you need to get a PhD on some culture phenomenon before you can explore it yourself, but be sensitive.
And this is what it all comes down to. Chill the fuck out people and just be sensitive. It’s ok to love various forms of culture, but it’s not ok to reduce culture down to stereotypes.
So please stop comparing the people who think that sexy Pocahontas costumes are acceptable with people who are genuinely inspired by another culture and are exploring it. The former are insensitive assholes. The latter are just curious. And who are we as humans if not curious?