Some people feel that if you’re born into a certain set of fashion choices or traditions it’s somehow wrong to participate in other fashion choices or traditions. They’re calling it “cultural appropriation” and it’s apparently the new worst thing you can do. For example, (the biggest contention seems to be) when white women braid their hair in cornrows, or when someone who’s not a native american dresses up like a native american for Halloween. The idea that these are racist activities, or, even bad is a completely illogical stance.
First, I want to just say that in no way am I defending the motivation of offense. If you’re doing something with the sole purpose of offending someone, you’re being a fuck, period. You have a right to do it, everyone has a right to their own motivations, and what I AM here to defend technically covers that right, because fascism is just as bad, but… you know, you’re an asshole.
Now I know this is a big issue, and there’s a lot to say. There’s a loooong conversation to be had about why feeling are being hurt. I’m going to skip most of it, and just go straight for the underlying assumptions that are being made within the arguments.
Let’s take halloween as an example. It seems to me that in order to feel insulted that someone is dressing up as your culture, present or historic, you have to assume that they are being insulting. Your personal reaction to what someone does isn’t the deciding factor in their personal motivation. That’s backward. Saying that it’s racist to dress up as another race assumes that the motive of EVERY person who does it is to insult an entire race or culture. I see the example of blackface being used a lot. Blackface has been in the past a mean spirited and shitty way for white people to insult and belittle black people. Thing is, a person's motivations can make ANYTHING an act of intolerance. EATING CHICKEN at a certain place, at a certain time can be an expression of intolerance. Gay intolerance at chick fil-a, to be specific. That doesn't mean that anyone who eats chicken is guilty of being intolerant, or that anyone who eats there, even THAT DAY intended to be that way. Maybe someone went to chick fil-a that day, and they didn’t know that a bunch of bigots were supporting a bunch of other bigots, maybe they didn't care, or didn't have another option for lunch. Just because some racist douchebags painted their face in order to express their racism doesn’t mean that EVERYONE who expresses themselves by painting their face is doing so to be a racist douche. Thinking that you can know that they are based on the race of the person doing it is racism.
Imagine a man dresses as a woman for Halloween because he wants to show others that a totally straight guy can be comfortable in a dress and make up because people should be able to do what they want, and he's supporting the idea that it's not shameful to be a woman, or shameful to be trans or that he wants gender fluidity to be normal ...... or, maybe a douche thinks it's funny to dress like a woman and he sluts it up because his costume is "slutty bitch" and he has fake blood on his thighs because in his douchey mind girls that dress slutty and get drunk deserve to be raped. Can you know the motives of all men that dress as women on halloween? Can you safely throw a blanket over all of them, and say "you're being a douche because you dressed as -whatever”? Fact is you can’t know why someone is dong something, so if it isn’t directly violating someone’s rights, you can’t say that they are wrong or shouldn’t do it.
A big part of this issue is the history of tragic disappearance of indigenous and oppressed culture. I get that history is full of a lot of shit. People have been, and still are shitty to each other based on race. Whole peoples have been wiped out. Over and over again, not just in the US. Cultures have disappeared entirely by force, and that’s a horrible thing. But we can’t pretend that doing something is the same as preventing someone from doing something, because it’s not. One person’s wearing of a cheap costume does not prevent someone else from wearing something meaningful. Getting something not quite the same as it’s original manifestation doesn’t change the way others do things. Personal expression is not a threat to the existence of other people’s personal expression, nor is it a violation of anyone’s rights.
If you can't draw a logical line around a rule you want to make that applies fairly to everyone, it isn't a good rule. That’s what having equality means: that the rules apply to everyone the same. Failing to be able to do so means it’s not about doing what’s right but rather, doing what you want based on your own perspective and personal motives. That’s fascism, by the way. So the question we need to ask when we look at this social judgment is WHERE IS THE LINE? HOW do you decide when wearing something is wrong for one person, but not another?
Culture is still in large part directly related to our genes. It’s silly to use words like “black culture”, because it implies that all black people behave in specific ways, and of course, they don’t always. They are just as capable and free to look around, and decide for themselves what they like best, and how they want to be as anyone else. But unfortunately, our language doesn’t yet have words for separating that fine connection between what we do, and the people who do it with us happening to share a lot of our genes and looks. Since a line can’t actually be drawn around culture using ethnicity it’s technically incorrect when we do it. It’s also exactly racism to use race as your line when making rules. The whole point to being free of racism is that our race doesn’t decide what we can and cannot do.
Deciding how someone can and can’t express themselves based on history is a horrible, stupid, and dangerous thing to do. History is shit, and the last thing we should do is tie ourselves and our concept of fairness to it. When the historic subjugation of a culture is used to draw a line around who is allowed to participate in its traditions, you’re attempting to blame living people for the crimes of people long dead. When guilty people die, that’s a perfect opportunity to let go of what they did, and start fresh. Trying to hang on to that guilt and place it in the hands of someone else (like, the children of their relatives) by using it to tell them what they are allowed to do or how they should feel is keeping alive racial and social strife. It’s not just counterproductive to peace, it’s racism.
WE ARE NOT THE PAST. I am not a slave owner because I’m white. I didn’t shoot any buffalo, I didn’t attempt to deprive anyone of their native language or force religion on any children. Nor would I. For me to be told I am not allowed to do something I like that is or was done by people I’m not related to by habitual history or my genome is shitty racism and oppression against me. To go ‘poor white tears’ when I point it out is shitty racism against me.
A complaint I hear when people talk about racial appropriation is the perceived unfair standards held for different races in pop culture. For example Miley Cyrus is considered cool when she has certain hair, or dances or dresses in ways that were invented by people that are/were black; yet people who are black are insulted for those very expressions. It’s hard to address this complaint with a straight face because it’s so full of simplistic erroneous assumptions. People don’t share opinions because they share genes. Every white person out there doesn’t share the same opinion about Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry’s style. They are NOT the same people as the people who are being shitty to black popular figures, or the people who don’t care about racial injustice. There’s no such thing as white perspective. There are only statistics and commonalities. Even if there are some douchey assholes out there who DO like everything white performers do, and DO simultaneously hate everything black performers do, even when those things are the same; that’s is a specific instance, and just because it might happen, doesn’t make ALL white people guilty of it. duh.
When we want to introduce a rule, we have to be able to apply it with integrity. Testing that integrity is a good way to know if what you’re trying to impose is crap - I mean: sustainable. Intent, history, race, experience, birth placement. We can’t apply these requisites to our behavior with any integrity. Let’s try:
Let’s suppose the rule is ‘dressing like a native american for Halloween is wrong’ because “heritage”. We’re talking about real people with living descendants. So, only their descendants can dress like they did in the past? Does that mean that dressing like a viking, or a witch, or a mummy is wrong? They are real people. In fact the one you are most likely to think is fictitious is actually the ONLY real example of deliberate religious/cultural slander. Witches are actual people. They are practicers of the Wican religion who have been murdered by christians and slandered for centuries. They burned REAL PEOPLE at the stake. The idea of a crooked nosed evil spell caster with warts and a pointy hat IS THE EPITOME of racist slander that was so successful most people today don’t realize they were real people.
Sorry I digress, is it wrong to dress like a german bar maid or a renaissance princess? Knights? Ninjas! Can you dress as a ninja if you’re not Asian? They’re Japanese actually, so do you have to BE Japanese? In fact, how close would your genes or cultural history have to be to make it ok? What about adopted children? What if you’re Japanese, but your specific family history leads back to people who were samurai, not ninja, or neither? Having integrity in a heritage rule would mean knowing that someone in your direct lineage dressed the way you want to dress. It’s absurd. You can’t do it.
Or does the rule only need to apply for existing cultural practices? It’s ok to dress like a viking, but not a Buddhist monk? Is heritage more about experience than it is direct relation? What about people with direct blood relation who weren’t raised to appreciate the historic culture still being practiced? Are they allowed to try? How many generations of non participation can pass, how much interbreeding can occur before we lose the right to do what people before us did?
If heritage is the rule, what does October 31st even have to do with it? What about the next day? If dressing up is wrong, what about participation in cultural activities? Is taking your non asian kid to martial arts class a racist thing to do? Why should traditional habits and clothes be the only thing a people can own? If you can own the clothes, and hairstyles, and say it’s offensive when others wear them, can you own the food? The architecture? The inventions?
There's NO WAY to draw a line around a rule like "don't dress like or act like another culture”. Nevermind that the whole world has been in a constant state of cultural overlapping flux since style and activities began. The fact is, genes don't give you a right to certain clothing or decoration or habits, nor do they prohibit it. Neither does your life experience. Neither does your grandfather's life experience. Thinking it does is RACIST. I want to be clear: YOU ARE A SELFISH RACIST IF YOU THINK YOUR RACE HAS OWNERSHIP OVER ANYTHING SPECIFIC. You don't have the right to other people expressing themselves according to YOUR preference. Just like no one else has the right to you expressing yourself according to their preference.
Dressing up like people of a different time period or culture than your own is a GOOD thing, Halloween or not. It’s a good cultural habit for kids to do it. It teaches children that it’s OK to try new things, it teaches them that difference is fun and acceptable. Think about it. Teaching children that it’s wrong will only make them wary of differences. It will make them judge against a rule with no integrity whatsoever, and that is bad for their developing intelligence. It’s lacking in critical thinking. It causes tension where there needn't be any. It stifles creativity and the sense of freedom of personal expression.
If you’re still just falling back down into “it’s offensive” think about having integrity in a rule of that magnitude. If you can say that we shouldn't do something because it offends someone, then how can you draw any kind of line at all? Almost ALL activity offends SOMEONE. Not saying specific words before eating offends some people. Having your face uncovered while owning a vagina offends some people. Not believing the same thing they do offends a lot of people. There’s no integrity there, you need to think more critically.
OMG I almost forgot about the candy. America is an obese and sick nation. Our children are getting sicker and sicker, check the statistics. From October to April we do nothing but shove one of the most dangerous things in our faces in the name of celebration. SUGAR. If you don’t know how horrible sugar is for health, please do some research. Focus on exploring the awesome that is cultural appropriation and acceptance, and lay off the candy.