The silliness of “cultural appropriation”

July 5, 2017

cultural-appropriationSocial media bring many gifts. Some, I’m glad I opened. Others, not so much, because they trivialize important matters in misleading ways. Such was the case with several ongoing social media threads about cultural appropriation.

The discussion centered around the fact that dreadlocks are not native to PWOC (people without color) and so should not be worn by them. If white folk fixed their hair in dreadlocks, it should be considered “cultural appropriation.”

Say what?

cultural-appropriationSo does this mean every Caribbean or black person should wear dreads? And what about a ‘fro? My naturally curly hair defaults to something suspiciously like an Afro if I do not rein it in with flatiron and blow dryer. My “natural” is much like a woman of color’s “natural.” Must I flatiron my hair because I am white and therefore should have straight hair?  But then, what about African-American women who straighten their hair? Are they culturally appropriating Caucasian hair? Apparently my DNA says I’m around 10 percent North African. Does this give me the right to wear dreads or a natural?

See what I mean? It’s complicated. Silly, at times. Definitely divisive. And I can not tell you how many hundreds weighed in on these threads.  But wait, it’s not just dreads.

cultural-appropriationFacebook’s new rainbow emoji for June Pride was also a target. The other week I saw several threads asking why straight people were using rainbow emojis? And why were they using them on non-gay related topics? After all, these posters, reasoned, it’s not a straight or “cis” symbol. And, they said, “no one’s given a shit before, so why just during Pride?”

Say what?

My Calfornia soul –San Francisco Bay area, California soul–is incredulous. So much silliness and not even valid. Because I’ve had gay and lesbian friends since before most of the commenters were even a twinkle in their parents’ eyes. And so have most of my friends. My mother went to a gay “wedding” in the 1970s, before it was a legal thing. I volunteered for more than a decade during the HIV epidemic, when it was hitting mostly gay men. One of my emotional support clients was transgender. Don’t give a shit? DON’T GIVE A SHIT???

Give me a break.

cultural-appropriationAs these people take these stands, complaining about cultural appropriation,  flying their flag “as a bi woman of color” I want to tell them to do some reading. There’s a continuum of sexuality and everyone falls somewhere on it. Very few of us are 100% straight. Lots of people could fly that same flag. Most of us have some sort of non-straight sexual orientation status if we choose to claim it.

As these people make their divisive posts, I’m in California getting ready to attend a LGBTQ business referral group that I was invited to join by one of the lesbian members. Me. “Straight me.”  Because they aren’t worried about “cultural appropriation.” They’re INCLUSIVE, as my husband pointed out. Many of my service providers are gay–I do, after all, live in the Bay area.  I refer to a longtime close friend of almost 30 years standing as my gay husband. He and my legal husband go to hockey games together. One of my nephews is gay.  As a rule, I do not concern myself with the sexual orientation of anyone except if they are the target of disrespect or hate. And then I DO concern myself. And always have.

cultural-appropriationSo do not tell me that our entire society “does not give a shit” about gays. Maybe that’s true in Cowtown, USA but it is not true across the board and it is absolutely not true where I live.

Most of us do not see these divisive boundaries. I’ll use the damn rainbow emoji to show my support whenever the hell I want.

And I’ll let my hair go natural any time I want. Or I’ll straighten it. Or I’ll shave it.

BUT HERE IS THE REAL POINT:

WHY do we need to set up artificial boundaries between human beings? Why aren’t we more concerned with tearing DOWN boundaries? Why do we feel we need to entrench cultural differences instead of celebrate them?

No one owns their culture. It can’t be appropriated or misappropriated. And besides, appropriating dreadlocks? rainbow flags? Seriously? Is this even important? I’ll answer that. NO. It’s NOT.

WHY are we concerned with these trivial matters when people are being attacked on trains when they stand up to defend a blind woman and her seeing eye dog being kicked by thugs? Dying with throats slit on a train because they stood up for a woman in a hijab? When women’s rights are being trampled? When affordable health care for all is under attack?

When all people are being targeted by terrorists and bigots, is a white person wearing dreadlocks really worth a moment’s thought?

When there’s a madman in the White House, don’t you think we need MORE rainbow emoji and not fewer?

 

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31 comments on “The silliness of “cultural appropriation”
  1. Toni McCloe says:

    Carol, I can’t agree with you more. Whatever happened to “Imitation is the highest form of flattery?”

  2. I don’t think the issue is that black and white. Not even going there because my daughter would totally debate this and I can see both sides.

    • I hear that. And I think that we over-complicate things and build walls where none need to exist. I am tired of the divisiveness. It’s not the world I thought I’d be living in at this stage of my life and it makes me very sad/

  3. At this point in our country, where everyone is just doing whatever they feel reflects their style or sexuality, I think the cultural appropriation argument is long dead. I’ve never been a fan of it, anyway.

  4. Marysa says:

    I think a lot of people take things way too seriously and overanalyze. I wish people would focus their efforts on making the world a better place, instead of picking apart little scenarios.

  5. candy says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more. So over people people being small minded. Who cares what color skin, hair, what sexual orientation, religion you are you name it. Let people be people

  6. Barbara says:

    You can’t see me right now but, I’m giving you a standing ovation! I could not agree more with everything you said. I knew I had raised my sons right when they became the only 2 straight guys on their Gay Softball team in the Gay League in Philly, (each team was only allowed 2 straight players.). I became ‘Motha Hammond’ to several of the guys on the team and loved them like my own children. As far as I’m concerned, diversity is the soul of patriotism.
    Now I’m sharing this all over!
    xob

    • Thank you. It’s this kind of honesty that lost me a “friend” not too long ago. And got me booted from an event that in retrospect I wouldn’t be caught dead at.

  7. Heather says:

    I was confused by the rainbow reactions on facebook. So often it didn’t have anything to do with the post.

  8. Joely Smith says:

    Great post! I just have so many thoughts going through my mind on this. For one thing, it would be easy to say “its just social media – ignore it – everyone has an opinion and social media is just a place for people to bitch about everything.” The FACT however is that social media is how we communicate these days – even more so than in “real life” or “in person” Social media today IS real life!
    Then we have these cultural appropriation issues as you point out. I am a 48-year-old woman living in Kansas (cowtown usa) and if I want to wear dreads at my age – oh and being white, I damn sure will! I have even considered it!
    We ALL should be able to look the way WE feel best.
    Here in Topeka, I live about 10 miles from two distinct places – One is the Rainbow House – a nonprofit organization for diversity and equality.Directly across the street from them is the Phelps Compound.
    Google the Phelps – HORRIBLE!
    Let me just say that even in Cowtown USA there are sides to take and WE DO care.
    I agree with you 100% screw this mindset of being sequestered to BS boundaries!
    I have no idea what mine would be if I had to live within them as someone with a heritage of Swedish, German, Irish, and English. Sounds boring to me! LOL
    I guess I should then be some hot blond chick who discriminates against people of other races, drinks till I pass out and eats crumpets.
    Whatever LOL

  9. Jennifer says:

    On the one hand, I agree that we are are showing support, celebrating, cultures, etc. But on the other hand, the controversy and calls of appropriation come when white women wear corn rows and are called bold and brave. When black women wear corn rows, they are called urban and gangster. I’ve worked with black women who won’t wear their hair in curls or braids at work because they feel that they would not be considered as professional. And that’s sad.

  10. Eloise says:

    We (all people) create boundaries/segregate in the world which is not what God intended to be. We ALL are family, we all are different in our own way and we should embrace our differences and love each other for those differences. To get mad at someone for using a symbol that they want meant for only their group is only creating division, if we all want to be equal we have to drop our divisions and accept ALL. A child who LOVES rainbows and doesn’t know the meaning behind the flag but happily wears or hangs it because of the prettiness is not doing anything wrong so why does it change as we age? Try and explain division/segregation to a child and issues and they will give you a confused look and ask WHY? Keep it simple people, as a child would before they are molded and changed to think more negatively and closed off.
    great topic!

  11. Jeni says:

    I always say that everyone should be who they are, not change for anyone, and not let anyone try to change them. Differences is what makes the world go round.

  12. Adaleta says:

    Things get way to over complicated and sometimes it just becomes to much!

  13. Everything is so over complicated these days.
    As the grandmother of 2 black little boys I was viciously verbally attacked in a salon for people of color were we took them to have their hair braided.
    Everything from we brought them there so we could leave and show them off to our white friends, how cultural we were keeping them
    All this and more in front of a 2 and 4 year old.We left and luckily a friend offered to come to the house to do their hair and will continue to do so.
    It’s all so crazy.

  14. Setting boundaries, I think we do this by nature. Life would be easier if we just learn to embrace each other’s culture and focus on tearing down those boundaries.

  15. Czjai says:

    A few days ago I read an article about a South Korean artist wearing dreads and how it is culturally inappropriate. I really don’t understand what the netizens were so angry about. I mean, whatever happened to ‘to each his own’?

  16. Donna says:

    “And I think that we over-complicate things and build walls where none need to exist. I am tired of the divisiveness”

    Nothing truer my sister….and it is a choice. I choose not to build walls,in my professional life no one asks me my politics, they just work with me and seem to like me very much. In my community service I just work with all kinds of people and they dont ask my politics, or religion….they seem to like me very much. I just like people…

  17. I don’t think anyone should judge anyone else based on race, religion, sexuality or anything really. We all have challenges we go through in our life and this world would be a lot better place if we were lifting one another up rather than tearing one another down.

  18. Elizabeth o says:

    We need to find meaningful ways to build bridges not walls. So much energy is wasted on debating topics that serve no other purpose than to divide not unite people. What a silly and sad waste of time.

  19. wicklessusa says:

    what a great post, essentially were all human beings, can we put away our differences and live in harmony? our country has made great strides but still we can improve.

  20. rika says:

    Such a beautiful post. Wish people could respect and be kind to others. I agree no one owns their culture.

  21. sara says:

    Agree! We need everyone to just get along, give respect, and let people be themselves!

  22. I’m with you! It seems like we are getting distracted by tons of trivial things, when there are much bigger things to focus on!

  23. The thing with cultural appropriation is that for many years, blacks were told that their braids and/or locks are unprofessional or inappropriate. Then once a white person wears it, it’s praised and considered a new hot trend. It’s appropriation because hair styles that derive from black culture are always looked down upon. What frustrates black people is that when it becomes a “trend” credit is given to white people for the style… even going as far as giving it a new name ( eg: original name: cornrows, new name that white people call it: boxer braids). It’s not fair to be told something looks ugly on you because this is the way you are naturally created (afros), yet when someone else who isn’t created that way does it, it’s okay.
    Cultural appropriation is annoying to black people because credit is never given to blacks. The styles are always publicized as if whites did it first. Even if it’s not being said, it’s the underlining of it all when credit isn’t given and styles that blacks have been rocking for so many decades is now considered a “new trend” b/c a white person did it.

    I hope this helps you understand why people feel so strongly about cultural appropriation.

  24. natalie z says:

    I think I can understand both sides from a distance but not truly relate to the complications as a privileged white female. There is so much about our society that builds up whites and gets complicated when african-americans, gays, etc… claim something as their own. They just want to feel that “pedestal” (not sure if that is the right word/sentiment) that whites live on. I think it is great that we are all talking more about the subject. It shows we are all moving in the right direction.

  25. Linda ROy says:

    I thoroughly appreciate your candor Carolann I agree. I think the issue of cultural appropriation has become so over the top and it does further divide us.as a liberal, I cringe at the fact that political correctness has been taken to such an extreme that so many of the truly important issues are lumped together and invalidated by the right.

  26. Terry Harrell says:

    We should all just wear what we want, have our hair the way we want, sing what we want to, and in general be free to do what we want as long as it does no real harm to others. Attempts to interfere with this are power plays in which some try to control others for no good reason except having power over others. Some enjoy that for some reason. Don’t let them succeed.

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