If we held Western civilization accountable for half of its stolen cultural archetypes, the world would likely end before we ever got to the second half. So ingrained is cultural appropriation in our modern world that we can’t see its effects on our psyche unless we’re looking for them.
Kylie Jenner, Miley Cyrus and celebrities of all kinds take advantage of aspects consistently related to other cultures, from physical traits to style and music. When natural features that are prominent in a particular ethnicity become ridiculed, demonized and fetishized in their natural form, and beautiful, unique and “high fashion” when adopted by others, something is fundamentally wrong.
Something is wrong when bantu knots, cornrows or dreadlocks on a black woman are called dirty or unprofessional, while their incorporation in a runway show with white models is described as “earthy.” These associations are pre-established for us to make. They inadvertently affect our lives, setting back the “progression” we claim to seek by adopting another culture’s characteristics.
Getting Polynesian or Arabic tattoos, or copying sacred henna designs that you and your friends picked out because they looked exotic and cool against your skin -— that’s cultural appropriation.
It isn’t just a matter of knowing the history — it’s a matter of believing and ultimately being it.
Cultural appropriation can spring from many different ideologies, but the most common is the desire to identify with a culture in order to feel different or “special,” even though you have no right. This is often countered with “But, I’m interested in the culture,” “I’m not trying to be racist” or my personal favorite: “My <insert ethnicity here> friend said I could.”
Your friends are not the spokespeople for their ethnicity or their culture. What’s more, if it doesn’t come naturally to you, leave it alone. In regards to being interested in the culture, there are plenty of other ways of expressing that.
Attend an African Student Union or Proyecto Latino meeting. You don’t have to be black to join Black Students Association, Women of Images or Men of Harambee. Look for campus events and discussions held by these groups and participate. There’s nothing worse in this world than rejecting education in favor of ignorance. Question that.
Why do you feel like you need an afro? Are you Buddhist? Why is Siddhartha Gautama on your necklace? Why are you wearing a headwrap? Why do you have a Celtic knot sleeve tattoo? Why are you wearing a Catholic rosary? Why are you wearing a bindi on your forehead?
Does changing your style in such a way benefit you in a way that it can’t for those whose culture and beliefs it actually belongs to and is natural for? Don’t even get me started on Halloween. Throw your Pocahontas costume in a trash can and walk away.
Consider your friends. Right now, we coexist on a college campus; we’re all going to be exposed to many new beliefs and ways of life that we find interesting.
There’s nothing wrong with admiring another culture. But, that’s no excuse for picking and choosing characteristics you find interesting so that you can be singled out in a crowd.
Bird Jackson, a contributing writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at HJackson18@wooster.edu.