Wednesday, April 6, 2016

What Is This Cultural Appropriation Stuff?

Okay, in the last month we have had two high profile cases where this whole concept of cultural appropriation has busted loose. First, it was that African-American student at San Francisco State University that accused a white kid with dreads of cultural appropriation. Today, Justin Bieber was being ripped apart because he decided to sport dread-locks.

Now, here is what I can get behind. I know the whole black face thing is bad...and I get it. It has always had negative connotations. It's history is routed in insult. I can see why we steer clear of it. Got it. I'm on board. I understand why the Washington Redskin's logo is problematic, using a stereotyped depiction of a Native American as a logo is an understandable bad thing to do. I can even somewhat understand the uproar over those Native headdress knock off's that aren't really anything like traditional headdresses, just influenced by it, but I can see how they feed into stereotypes and can be problematic depending on how they are used, although don't see it as universally terrible.

But then comes the issue of dreadlocks. And that's where I stop and say no. That's my personal boundary on where I am NOT going to support people being upset.

In my 42 years on this planet, I've seen white people wearing dreads. It's not exactly some new thing white folks picked up. It's been around for a long time. In fact, it seems to me the word dreadlocks is about the only thing that has really been appropriated because seemingly any type of matted hair is called dreadlocks.

But, looking into the history of this varied hairstyle, there does not seem to be one clear, distinct culture it comes from. Love it or hate it, in this case Wikipedia does an interesting job of breaking down the assortment of cultures the "style" has been found in.

So, the question arises: When someone says that dreads are cultural appropriation, what culture is it exactly that is being appropriated?

It seem some folks say that the answer is "black culture" or "African culture". Wha? That's a pretty generic, all encompassing "culture". What even is that? I mean, African culture? How many countries are in Africa? How many cultures within Africa are there? How many cultures of people who originated in Africa but are now outside of Africa for a variety of reasons are there? Is the argument that there is one, giant, uniform African culture that has a copyright on this particular way of wearing ones hair? So, I don't really understand what this culture is. It doesn't account for the many, many, many cultures, sub-cultures, sub-sub-subcultures, etc that exist within any ethnic group. For that matter, all "blacks" aren't from one homogeneous culture anymore than all whites are.

So I object to these generic cultural claims that seem so wide sweeping, where blacks, or even crazier, the all encompassing POC (people of colour) and white seem to be the only two cultures that exist. And somehow, dreadlocks, or whatever you want to call hair that is twisted, matted, clumped together, or meticulously, artistically manipulated, depending on what the wearer is doing with them, are reserved exclusively for POC.  Does this mean ANYONE who is deemed POC is free to do something that appears like dreadlocks with their hair, but those deemed white aren't? I'm confused.

I've been seeing a lot of kids on twitter who are talking about cultural appropriation bringing up celebrities like Kylie Jenner, the Kardashians and some other people I don't know as examples. Apparently, they feel that when white people wear dreads, it's celebrated and seen as cool, but when black people do it, they are seen as thugs and hoodlums. Again, this is something I see as a pretty generalized view of things. I think it's far more complicated than that. But one problem I see is that way too many of these kids are watching really crappy TV and listening to terrible, terrible music.

Here is what I don't get. The Kardashians are olive/darker skinned Armenians. I would think they would fall under the category of POC. BUT, apparently, they are deemed to be white. Huh? How is this determined exactly? Who is judging? Who makes these calls? Apparently, because olive/darker skin Kardashians are seen as white, them wearing dreads is bad....very bad. Okay, well, here is one way to solve the problem...quit making stupid people famous! If they piss you off, don't watch them. When people don't watch them, they go away. Real simple.

Next thing that drives me nuts is when some say "White people can't judge what is and isn't cultural appropriation, only those who are from the culture being appropriated". Okay. Well, here is my problem with that. Does this mean that automatically, because someone says that something is appropriated from them, even though evidence suggests that this is just not true, they must be believed because they are perceived as a victim in this case? And as a result their view is above scrutiny and must be taken at face value and is the final word? There is no room for any criticism of their claims? As that Wikipedia article clearly points out, this wide range of styles melted down under one name has existed across many cultures for thousands of years. So, given that, yes, there is ample reason to challenge claims of appropriation. And it is legit. So, no, the accuser does NOT always get the final say and their view is not above being challenged.

Furthermore, what I don't understand is what exactly the problem with wearing the hairstyle is. We live in a world where cultures have mixed, blended, and influenced eachother since, well, culture started to develop in the human species. We learn from eachother, influence eachother, pick up ideas, etc, etc, you get the picture. There is going to be cross over in cultural practices. That's the way the world works. And right now, we live in a globalized world where cultures are colliding, mixing, influencing, and changing like never before. Ya, cultural practices will alter and blend. It's going to happen. It doesn't have to be seen as bad as accusers seem to imply it is.

I fail to see the damage that a kid wearing dreads is doing in the slightest. I have yet to have anyone explain how it is damaging. I don't understand how it can even be seen as insulting, although I have yet to actually see someone say that it is insulting...they just say it's cultural appropriation and therefore bad and white kids shouldn't do it.

When I was younger, I went to a ton of music festivals. And it was great. And at that time, dreads were quite popular with the damn kids. I would go to see bands and the bands would all have at least one person with dreads, and half the crowd would be sporting them. And it was black kids, white kids, hispanic kids, native kids, whoever, all wearing them, all experiencing these festivals together. No one was running around telling anyone they were appropriating anything, and everyone seemed to get along. What the hell happened? How did it suddenly become "This hairstyle for us, that hairstyle for you...NO MIXING!" When did the kids get so darn crazy. Why can't we go back to that getting along, sharing cultural practices, enjoying life stuff again? Why did it all go so off the rails? How are we getting divided when it seemed like we were united? Is the crime of a white kid wearing dreads so important that we must now divide people into who can wear and who can't wear this hair?

Furthermore, where does it end? How far is this going to go. Is everything we wear and do going to start being scrutinized and analysed and ultimately policed? Is the goal of the people who seem so mad about white kids wearing dreads to ultimately end the practice? Is the goal to compartmentalize everything based on the perceived or real influence of the practice or style? Are we requiring people to stay within a prescribed list of choices that conform to their particular "culture"?

There has to be a line. There must be a limit. Personally, I declare that this vendetta against white kids wearing "dreads" crosses a line, and no I will not feel guilty for that, and no I don't believe for a second it is because I am minimizing the voice of anyone and I am a racist jerk. I feel that I am basing this on well thought out analysis, common sense and logic.

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