In the spirit of Halloween (like two days ago), I thought it would be fun to talk about whether it’s okay to wear other people’s culture. (*Hint*Hint* It’s not okay) . Wise words once written down on the papers put up in the bathroom by my floor’s RA were “You wear the costume for the night, I wear the stigma for life.”
I’ve never really understood why people feel it is okay to dress up as someone else
inappropriately. The main problem I see with cultural appropriation is that you are only this person for a day. You don’t have to deal with the experiences of the people you are portraying on a day to day basis like they do. Take Julianne Hough, for example (pictured above on the right), she literally did blackface. Hough doesn’t know the discrimination that black people face everyday for just having the color of their skin, so for her to portray it for just one night is absolutely repulsive. Blackface is one of the most racist things (relating to black people) that you can do, well, besides calling them a n*gger and burning a cross in their front yard while yelling at them to get out of town. And I may be getting a bit sidetracked, but you get the idea.
I recall a month or two ago being asked several times ranging from 12-18 year old girls asking me if it was okay to dress up as Shuri and Okoye for Halloween. I, of course, mulled over this for a while and put much thought into it, although I probably didn’t have to. I concluded that it was okay to dress as Black Panther (you know, the actual suit, but not as T’Challa), but definitely could not dress as Shuri and Okoye. The reason for that being that you aren’t wearing a mask for them. You are legitimately dressing as a culture from what may seem like a fictional country (so it doesn’t matter right?), but what it is, is a mesh of different cultures from real African countries. Just because Wakanda isn’t a real place, doesn’t mean that some of the customs, clothing, and language isn’t real (which it definitely is). So, I politely told them that it would probably be a good idea to avoid that, find a new costume, and explained to them why it might create a problem with other people.
Moving on to less of a costume thing and more of a daily thing. Hair.
It’s been stated several times by several people, black, white, it really doesn’t matter the color because someone in every race believes that hair is just hair and that anybody can wear their hair however they like. I disagree.
What really annoys me is that those people don’t understand the cultural history behind these hairstyles. Back in Africa, braids were a way to distinguish between different tribes as well as marital status, age, wealth, religion, and social ranking. After being brought over from Africa, slaves wanted to preserve their African roots, so they braided their hair into different patterns using natural herbs from the trees around them. After slavery, many women and men found solace in going to their neighborhood hairdresser or barber who was black where they could gather as a community and talk about literally anything. It’s a generational thing (taking your kids to the local shop and meeting up with people from your community) and from what I have experienced, it’s one of the best things in the world to go get your hair done and hang around people that truly understand you and absolutely love to gossip (have you seen the “Barbershop” movies??).
These hairstyles mean more to most
(not all apparently) black people then just a simple hairstyle worn on our head. They have cultural meaning that traces all the way back to where our people are from. One major problem with people appropriating these hairstyles is simply that they are held to a higher standard than us because they are wearing it. (The picture below explains very clearly)
When we wear our OWN hairstyles, we are considered “ghetto” or “unprofessional,” but when white people wear our hairstyles, it’s “high fashion” and “unique.” Do you now understand why a lot of black people get annoyed when other people (more specifically, white people) wear our hairstyles and get more praise for it? It becomes a “trend” and for now seems cool, but what happens when it isn’t? Black people go back to being the only people wearing the style, and all of a sudden, it becomes “ghetto” again.
So, to recap, is it cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation? I think it’s cultural appropriation, but the line isn’t always clear. Who can determine what is cultural appropriation? A good way to start is to actually research it before you decide to portray a culture that isn’t yours. And maybe, just maybe, you might realize that what you are doing could be wrong…