Inclusive Culture and Cultural Appropriation

Inclusive – including everything concerned; enclosing; embracing.

Cultural appropriation – exploiting the culture of less privileged groups.

I’ve read articles on why white people shouldn’t engage in belly dancing or wear braids or ethnic prints or dreadlocks. Everyday Feminism has an article entitled If People of Color Had ‘White Fetishes’ with a ridiculous video. It discusses the idea that “In a misguided attempt to appreciate other cultures, many socially progressive folks end up exoticizing and, as a result, dehumanizing people of different cultures.” I think that we’ve gone too far at this point.

In my eyes, the goal of an inclusive society is to remove lines of differentiation, while maintaining respect for traditions and beliefs. To say that belly dance is only for middle eastern women is to draw a cultural line not to be crossed. Cultural lines are similarly drawn regarding dreads and cornrows. The common denominator of the outcry about cultural appropriation, as I see it, is that to coopt any action/practice/appearance that is primarily associated with a particular racial or cultural group is a racist act.

I’m not saying that it isn’t done with racist intents in many instances, but its also done simply because someone likes the look, or as a political statement, or for any of a thousand reasons. Dreads were worn for thousands of years before Bob Marley made them a political statement. Many people actually see dreads as a “lazy” hairstyle. (They’re not, as they take a significant amount of upkeep, but there you have it.)

I understand the feelings you have when something you identify as being “mine” or “ours” is being done by those you may consider “other.” I feel that way at times. People want to hold on to that which identifies them as part of a group. It’s what gives us the stereotypes that, for better or worse, set us apart from the huge amorphous blob that is humanity. We all want to feel special in some way. We want to be acknowledged as part of the group, but at the same time we want to belong to society at large. Separate, but together.

Unfortunately, racism and bigotry still inform a lot of the opinions we hold. Even when we try our best to refrain from making blanket judgments, it still happens every day. Spend a day paying attention to your thoughts concerning the people around you. You don’t need to share them with anyone – just be honest with yourself. What’s the first thing you think of when you see a group of Asian kids? What about the group of teenagers at the mall with their hair all different colors and chains hanging off their belts? How comfortable do you feel when you pass a group of young men wearing their pants around their hips with their boxers showing? What’s the first thing that goes through your mind when the white guy in the suit pulls in front of you to grab a prime parking spot?

Getting caught up in the cultural appropriation outcry only masks what’s really happening. People are still more worried about what other people are doing and thinking than about themselves. What’s important is not why the white guy standing on the corner in dreads has chosen to wear his hair like that. What’s important is why do you feel that way? Even more important – what are you going to do to move people foward, into that racially inclusive, equal society that everyone wants, but no one seems to want to work at?