Dreadlocks. The style that White people have been wearing since the 1960’s. I’d never really thought about them other than vaguely wondering if they got mildewed in the centre after being washed. But now I was being informed, very strongly, that these clumps of hair were deeply offensive to Black people. Why? Because Black people were punished at work and at school for wearing dreads and braids and even just their hair in natural poofy curls.
I can understand intellectually that it would be frustrating and unfair to not be allowed to wear your natural hair style to work while Johnny gets to wear the same style. Although I fail to see how Johnny cutting off his dreads is going to make things more equal. It seems like an everyone loses situation.
Then there was the little girl who wanted a Japanese Tea Party for her birthday. People instantly cried out “cultural appropriation” and “racism”. At least up until Japanese people stepped up and said it certainly was not.
Cultural appropriation can be a real thing but it can also be incredibly hard to sort out. A big company took Native patterns, without payment, and put them on a t-shirt. That’s definitely cultural appropriation. But what about the average person who picks up a shirt or other garment while traveling? Is it cultural appropriation to wear it? Most of my friends agreed that if someone was given a garment it’s safe to wear but how is anyone supposed to know it was a gift? The shirt looks the same whether it was a gift or not.
The other part of cultural appropriation is the judgement. There’s no knowledge of what the individual is like or what they believe but they have beaded braids or an embroidered shirt so they’re guilty of racism. Sentenced and judged without even knowing.
And as more people learn about cultural appropriation, the tighter and more ridiculous it becomes. First it was fighting against corporations then individuals who wore certain clothes or styled their hair too similar to what a POC would wear, then it moved onto words White people can’t say and emojis that White people can’t use.
That Facebook emoji has black skin so you can’t use it.
Even yoga’s come under fire. I refuse to believe that every single White person who’s ever done a downward dog is racist.
Last year we had the pussy cat hat, made as a symbol of protest against Donald Trump, specifically a reference to the comment he made of “grab em by the pussy”. It wasn’t a protest against trans women or women of colour, although it definitely ignored them. The worst that could be said against the protestors was they were tone deaf. And, honestly, nothing was stopping a single woman of colour from making a hat in any colour she wanted. I know someone who knit one in the trans flag colours. There were free patterns online and they could be knit in brown or black.
As we enter another year I’m noticing more and more the dislike of White people, especially cis White women. Lots of “where were the cis White women when there were Black issues to be protested”. I don’t know. But I do know that this is not the first time cis White women have protested and I do agree that there should be people on both sides standing up for each other.
I’m looking at the States from Canada and see a president sowing dissent among his government and citizens. I see cuts to health care and children’s food programs. I see LGBTQ rights crumbling and I see people up in arms about a knit hat on a statue. Yes, she is a very important figure who made an incredible difference. She’s also dead and is unlikely to care. The statue was not disfigured, the hat is not permanent. And there are so many other issues to worry about right now.
Facebook is suspending accounts for complaining about White people because it’s “racial prejudice” to the point where people are calling White people “yt people” to get around the scans. There are police disproportionately killing POC or arresting them. Judges are sentencing POC with long sentences, much longer than White people. Black preschoolers are suspended and expelled for minor issues that White children get a time out for. Black children are seen as older than their age and they’re given less pain medication when they’re sick and in the hospital. All these are more important than a hat.
I think the hardest part of the cultural appropriation issue is it leaves people feeling there’s no room for dissent or criticism because as soon as you disagree, you’re obviously racist and being judged by your friends. Most of my friends on Facebook are introverts and this is the bulk of their social interaction. Being ostracized on Facebook becomes a big deal.
I’m a firm believer that people own their own body. That means they have the right to say no (or yes), they have a right to wear their hair the way they want and the right to wear the clothes they want. It’s not my right to walk over to someone and tell them their hair is cultural appropriation. It’s hair. They’re not stealing sacred artifacts out of burial grounds. Can we please focus less on cultural appropriation and more on human rights? There’s enough of them at risk right now.