“Cultural Appropriation”

3 May

So I was just told that some kids at my college are organizing an anti-cultural appropriation event thing for tommorrow to get white kids to shave off their mohawks and dreadlocks, as a sign that they are rejecting racism?!? Clearly, as a ‘white’ kid with a mohawk I have some issues with this.

I understand the concept of cultural appropriation, and I understand why it can be viewed as a bad thing. I also understand how people can make themselves out to be ignorant jerks by appropriating artifacts and practices from other cultures. However, this doesn’t logically make me think that one’s hairstyle is really contributing to racism or that changing it to a culturally appropriate hairstyle would help solve racism.

For instance, does the straightening of curly hair also suggest some sort ofcultural appropriation? Are we really going to tell people that they are wrong to straighten their curly hair? I don’t think so. So this seems like it is a one sided attack.

I think that all cultures take and borrow from others. This seems to be the way things go. It even happens on a micro level- you might make friends with someone and listen to some music that you had never heard before with them and then decide to go buy that cd and start to really get into that scene. That is a sort of appropriation, but I don’t see how it is a negative thing. What is the alternative- that we all stick strictly to the cultures of our forefathers and never change or adapt or broaden our tastes and horizons??? That doesn’t make any sense.

The use of guilt to get people to change their hair is troublesome also.  I think that sure, maybe we should have dialogue about this sort of stuff, but that ultimately a white kid with dreadlocks isn’t morally wrong. It really doesn’t matter that much. At all.

This seems like another instance of ‘liberal’ ‘politically correct’ people taking on the completely wrong fight and doing so in the wrong way. You aren’t going to effectively teach white kids about the history of their hairstyles and of racism and culture this way. And I feel like most kids already know this kind of shit.

Cultures change and adapt- they are not static. So while it is one thing to say white kids stole the mohawk from the Mohawk native americans, then you have to say but this white kid stole the mohawk from the punk scene in the UK, and then it was used in the Emo scene, and then the fauxhawk became popular amongst trendy fucks. I think that charging the trendy fucks with cultural appropriation and racism is a waste of fucking time. There are no direct lines. I don’t think anyone went ‘gee whiz I’m going to take the sweet hairstyle of this one tribe in order to oppress them further! whoopee!!!”

Shit is whack.

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6 Responses to ““Cultural Appropriation””

  1. kaitie October 19, 2007 at 8:06 pm #

    i think the thing that is missing when you talk about who appropriates is who has the power. it is one thing for two people to share music, culture and identity and for one to take from the other but what about when one group in society has more power than another group and that group with more power freely takes from other cultures without ever thinking about the consequences of that. White folks don’t have to think and often don’t think (because of the many good reasons you listed ) that what their hairstyle is might be appropriative. but POC’s whose cultural history may be connected to the hairstyles you list often do think about this. so i do agree that often the things we are appropriate are so far from the original meanings and that it might “seem” harmless but for many people those cultural meanings are still very real and are connected to a painful history and current day reality. for example the mohawk people are still finding the Canadian government for their land rights. most people in this country don’t know that, and probably don’t even know the mohawk nation exists. when folks more likely think of a hairstyle instead of a people that is a gross appropriation that still affects folks today. i am not sure if people losing all their hawks would make a difference but it sure would to some people.

  2. anarchymo October 20, 2007 at 8:34 am #

    I definitely hear what you are saying- particularly in relation to the power dynamics that go on. I do think that there is a difference between ignorant white people who are blind to their privilege and others who recognize their privilege and the history of the things they do which may be ‘culturally appropriated’. I know that within my group of friends with mohawks everyone is well aware of the history of the hairstyle as connected to Native Americans- I even just read an article about the MOahwk tribe’s continuing struggles with the Canadian government.
    My point in my post was that some things which have been appropriated have changed and developed to the point where there are multiple meanings or sources for them. So mohawks are now associated with punk and with Native Americans. I’m pretty sure that bright green mohawks spiked with glue are not confused with the Mohawk nation.
    I do not see how mohawks as a hairstyle are connected to a painful history and current day reality for the mohawk nation- I think things such as the appropriation of “native’ practices in outdoor settings, and images of ‘native’ peoples doing ‘primitive’ things are a lot more troubling. In terms of the many many ways in which the Canadian, US, and Mexican (to name a few) governments and societies oppress indigenous people, hair appropriation is so far down the list of important things that it is quite insignificant.
    Mohawks are an appropriation, but one that does not seem to misrepresent or distort the culture of the Mohawk nation or other native peoples. Claiming that a ceremony or practice or story is ‘native’ when it is a bastardization of something the practicioner knows little about and does not understand is quite destructive.
    People wearing mohawks are not in my experience going around behaving as representatives of native peoples. Claims on those peoples are not being made by mohawk wearers. There are numerous examples though of the appropriation of traditional practices, ceremonies, stories, rituals etc. that are being used by white or other non indigenous folks and being promoted as representative of native peoples. This seems to be the real trouble. I just think we need to be able to see the difference between cultural appropriation that is appropriating without trying to claim authenticity as from that culture (that is disengaging itseld and not pretending to be a part of it, but still acknowledging its roots), and cultural appropriation that is taking elements of a culture and using them in such a way that creates a different image of that culture and that is intended to represent that culture.

  3. Jewell October 12, 2009 at 1:47 pm #

    Do me a favor, don’t call your self and anarchist. As if any of you dudes are are truly anarchists. Whats this about understanding your privileged but not having to do shit about it? Yeah, sure.

  4. anarchymo November 9, 2009 at 10:16 pm #

    I’m not a dude, dude

  5. sage April 11, 2010 at 12:41 am #

    Anarchymo, I can totally understand if you feel a sense of defensiveness when you first heard about this, seeing as that’s something I felt when I first heard. Being punk and being an anarchist is something that I really identify with, and honestly, it’s something that saved my life in a lot of ways. It was the main source of sanity in my life, and was founded on views that were stable and consistent with my morals, particularly in the specific ways it critically analyzes and deconstructs society. So I completely understand how it can be hard to hear negative criticism about something you identify with and have a place for in yr heart.

    However, if a person (or group of people) is (are) white–and I’m not assuming you are, but that’s what it’s seemed like thus far–I think it’s extremely important to listen to the underprivileged groups (and put how they feel first) when learning about things like anti-racism and appropriation. Because even if you understand the context of a certain haircut, scarf, tattoo, etc you still are projecting a message outwardly that may not be understood by someone who hasn’t had a conversation with you. Like, I think that in a lot of ways, yes, the mohawk has been redefined in modern (white) american culture as being a punk thing; however as the mohawk can be viewed as separate and distant from the Mohawk tribe due to an extremely evolved period of time, I think that very idea could be a reflection of how far off incredibly appropriated American culture and society is. So, ya know, I’d think about it a little bit, and try to step away from yr defenses. It’s a hard thing.. I know I do it a lot when someone presents an ideology that is initially more radical than mine, but after letting myself cool and actually constructively think about my placement in the world, I can let myself understand.

    So hear me out maybe? I’m not tryin’ to be confrontational, but just make a bridge between where you might be now (where I was) and where I am now.

  6. anarchymo April 14, 2010 at 8:01 pm #

    I haven’t just heard of cultural appropriation, and I feel like as well intentioned as your comment was it is still patronizing and condescending its assumption that I am just learning, or new, or not at this further or more correct place where you say you now find yourself.

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