On a typical day, I wear a pair of worn Adidas Sambas, with boot-cut denim jeans and a heather grey basic T-shirt.
I tell you this to illustrate how uncaring I am when it comes to fashion, style or any individual’s choice in clothing. I don’t believe in judging a person by how they’re dressed, particularly on a college campus. Women who dress “slutty” aren’t “asking for it.” Guys who wear fedoras aren’t tools. What you wear is your choice and, if nothing else, you have to own that choice.
But when you make the choice to to adopt the traditional garb or customs of another culture, as some students on campus have taken to doing, you’re engaging in the disrespectful practice of cultural appropriation. If you’re doing this, you need to stop.
If the thought of receiving another history lesson about how Western powers committed crimes that include genocide, exploitation, land theft and slavery against aboriginal, native and minority populations bores you, you’re part of the problem. If you’re physically donning a dashiki or mis-wearing a bindi, you are the problem.
Cultural appropriation is a physical manifestation of the effects of Western imperialism. It’s the act of a dominant culture adopting the customs, dress or customs of a subjugated or minority culture. Ostensibly, if you are a member of the dominant culture, you are unable to see an act you commit, perhaps in reverence, as disrespectful, but it is. Individuals who appropriate other cultures without the proper context and understanding of the appropriated culture dilute the custom and gradually remove the original significance of the practice, pattern, act or custom.
For already endangered cultures, cultural appropriation signals a death knell. Some would even prefer the culture die entirely, rather than be appropriated and absorbed into the capitalist marketing machine.
That machine, by the way, strongly favors and benefits the white power structure, adding an even more perverse twist to the situation. It enables the creation of a new business monopoly where white people, the proto-dominant culture, once again exploit minorities and groups, as well as their heritage, culture and cultural identity. The sickening irony is that, in the case of African-Americans, that culture exists as a side-effect of hundred of years of slavery to white people. It’s a side-effect that reaches into this day, with that enslavement taking shape physical, psychological and socio-economic.
Uprooting a marginalized group’s traditions to establish your own identity isn’t fashionable. Donning headscarves doesn’t make you fashionable, liberated or worldly; it makes you a cultural usurper. Contrary to what has been drilled into your head by well-intentioned individuals working to boost self-esteem issues, what other people think matters; if choices you perceive to be “hip” and “trendy” are offending people, there is a strong possibility that what you’re doing is offensive.
What cultural appropriationists do is offensive because they simultaneously debase others while establishing a defense by claiming their actions to be earnest; they are claiming an exception they do not have and co-opt a non-mainstream group’s birthright for the express purpose of constructing an identity.
In other words, yes, your sincerity might be real, but no, it is not relevant. Yes, it’s a fashion, but no, it’s not your fashion. Yes, you have a right to appreciate it, but no, appreciation does not allow you ownership.
All that being said, be offended by cultural appropriators, but don’t be aggressive toward them. Do confront them, hand them this editorial and help educate them. The melting point of maturity and socio-cultural collision that is college is the one place where such behavior should appear, and immediately be addressed. Misplaced self-expression can sear into true character. To construct an environment that aggressively assaults deviants is wholly unproductive and inappropriate.