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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The cultural appropriation that I cheer

Some cultural appropriation, without consent, which I not only tolerate but cheer, in honor of Halloween:

      A child who isn't any of these things dressing as a witch
      ...or a blood-sucking Central European nobleman
      ...or the Jewish hero The Thing
      When we dressed up as Shakers at Shaker village, and felt transported to another time
      Soviet Union teenagers seeing American rockers in jeans and leather jackets and copying their look
      Butch women rocking menswear
      Black people in the 19th century passing as white for th
    eir safety
      Me enjoying trying to pass as French when in France
      Me wearing the Puerto Rican jersey of Roberto Clemente, long past able to give his consent
      A black kid dressing up as Moana
      A Latina kid dressing up as Elsa
      A white kid dressing up as Aladdin
      David Bowie dressing up as Aladdin Sane
Many people wouldn't think of these as examples of cultural appropriation. The definitions I know run something like: "taking cultural signifiers that originated with others and using them for your own purposes". In my reading, such a definition must include the examples in my list.

Significantly, I think it's possible to imagine someone in each of these cases feeling offended by the taking of their culture by someone they see as outside it, for reasons that might seem superficial, thoughtless or inappropriate. I'd have some sympathy for some of those offended people, and none for some others!

Cultural appropriation is sometimes great, sometimes a mixed bag, sometimes unintentionally offensive, sometimes deliberately offensive, sometimes a purposeful way to oppress others while they're trying to feel fun and free.

Like a lot of things, it's the way it's done, why it's done, who it's done with and for, and how it reflects people's understanding of others that matters, not the lone fact of it's being cultural appropriation at all.

There are unimaginative people who work hard and just love a character from a movie and get the rare chance to dress up and look amazing. Yes, they should know history and know a wider spectrum of people and listen to people about what offends them. And, it can be wrong to treat them all as though in their appropriation, they have committed an act of deliberate cruelty.

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